One of the least researched sexual fetishes is that of uniform fetishism. This is one of many different clothing fetishes (that I examined in a previous blog) where individuals are obsessed and fixated by another person’s or themselves wearing a uniform. In the section on uniforms and sexual fantasy, the Visual Dictionary of Sex (edited by Dr. Eric J Trimmer) reported that the fetish world of dressing-up involves the following in rough rank order of popularity: cheerleader, waitress, nurse, maid, secretary, office worker, schoolgirl, fitness trainer, prison guard, postal worker, military, Cleopatra, ballerina, cab driver, and nun. However, I know of no empirical research that confirms the claims made by Dr. Trimmer. A Wikipedia article on uniform fetishism also made a number of similar claims about the most common uniforms used for sexual purposes (again with no empirical evidence): police officer, soldier, schoolgirl, nurse, French maid, waitress, cheerleader and Playboy bunny. The article also made reference to some people regarding nun’s habits and aprons as uniforms.
Although there are a wide range of populist writings on sexuality and uniforms (for instance, the 1990 book Leatherfolk by Thompson discussed the dress code of leather in sexuality), there are very few academic or clinical studies. Arguably the best academic paper on uniform fetishes was published back in 1996 in the journal Sexual and Marital Therapy by Dr. Dinesh Bhugra and Dr. Padmal De Silva.
Their paper looked at the function of uniforms, and their relationship with sexual fantasy and sexual fetishism. They noted that uniforms can be seen as ‘outer skins’ that can be material and attractive in sexual terms, and that can enable individuals to display and wield power (which may be important in sexual activities involving sadism and masochism). They also note that each uniform “denotes not only an image but also a certain authority that goes with it”. Bhugra and Da Silva described the functions of uniforms as comprising the ‘five F’s’ (formal, fashion, fun, fantasy and fetish):
- Formal – The wearing of a uniform to show belonging of a person to a particular formal group (e.g., army, navy, police, nurse, etc.)
- Fashion – The wearing of a uniform to show belonging of a person to a more informal group (e.g., a musical allegiance such as goth, punk, heavy metal, etc.)
- Fun and frolic – The wearing of a uniform for fun and frolics (e.g., wearing fancy dress at a party)
- Fantasy – The wearing of a uniform to aid fantasy (often sexual) such as the evocation of masculine control (e.g., fireman) or the evocation of female nurturing and caring (e.g., nurse). Here, sexual uniform does not fulfil all the criteria for sexual fetishism.
- Fetish – The wearing of a uniform as part of a sexual fetish where the uniform has to be worn as an aid to sexual climax. This may include (for instance) rubber, plastic and leather clothing.
The authors also note that uniforms may denote expertise (e.g., the white coat of a doctor), nurturance (e.g., the uniform of a nurse or nanny), punishment (e.g., the uniform of a police or prison officer), and identity (e.g., school uniform). Therefore, the uniform may directly relate to the sexual act being performed and add to the ‘authenticity’. For instance, a klismaphiliac may want someone dressed in a doctor’s or nurse’s uniform to administer an enema, an infantilist may want someone dressed as a nanny change his nappy, or a masochist may require someone dressed in a policeman’s or policewoman’s uniform to put on and retrain them with a pair of handcuffs. They claimed that:
“Uniform as a fetish is not uncommonly reported in clinical settings. Fetishism is a paraphilia which involves being recurrently responsive to, and obsessively dependent on, an unusual or unacceptable stimulus. In order to have a state of erotic arousal initiated or maintained, and in order achieve or facilitate an orgasm, the affected individual needs exposure to the fetish object, in reality or in fantasy”.
Based on this definition, Bhugra and De Silva are adamant that uniform fetishes can and do exist. However, the academic literature on uniforms as a fetish is sparse. In A.J. Chalkley and G.E. Powell’s (1983) in-depth study of 48 clinical cases of sexual fetishism (with a total of 122 fetishes), only one case involved uniforms (although a further 28 had some kind of clothing fetish). A previous unpublished Master’s thesis study by A.J. Chalkley (1979) reviewing 170 fetishists reported only two with a uniform fetish.
A 1999 qualitative study by Kathleen O’Donnell published in Advances in Consumer Research examined the consumption of fetish fashion and the sexual empowerment of women. Based on her qualitative interviews with five women, she found support for “the theory-based propositions that females consume fetish fashions because doing so allows them to experience more positive self evaluations, and that over time these positive evaluations result in sexual empowerment in the form of increased control over sensual experience and sexual self presentation”. Obviously this was a very small sample and the study didn’t specifically examine the sexual fetishization of uniforms, but the use of sexual clothing as a form of empowerment was a novel founding.
As many clinicians have noted, there is a well known crossover relationship between fetishism, sado-masochism, and other paraphilias where the wearing of ‘uniforms’ play a critical role. However, as Bhugra and De Silva conclude:
“The relationship of uniforms in fantasy and fetish is a complex one. Often in clinical situations it becomes impossible to ascertain when fantasy leads to fetish in reality and how much of a role fantasy plays in arousal related to a fetish. From a preliminary pilot study with a small number of rubber fetishists it appears that the distinction between fetish and fantasy is difficult even for the individual”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bhugra, D. & De Silva, P. (1996). Uniforms – fact, fashion, fantasy and fetish. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 11, 393-406.
Chalkley, A.J. (1979). Some cases of sexual fetishism at a London teaching hospital. Unpublished M.Phil., University of London.
Chalkley, A.J. & Powell, G.E. (1983). The clinical description of forty-eight cases of sexual fetishism. British Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 292–295.
O’Donnell, K. (1999). Good girls gone bad: The consumption of fetish fashion and the sexual empowerment of women. Advances in Consumer Research, 26, 184-189.
Trimmer, E.J. (1978). The Visual Dictionary of Sex. London: Macmillan.
Wikipedia (2012). Uniform fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_fetishism