Sex & Relationships

The Wonderful and Bizarre World of the Latex Bodysuit Fetish

There are infinite possibilities for latex ensembles for people who refer to themselves as “rubberists."

America is a culture is obsessed with flesh. Raw carnality is ubiquitous and unavoidable in music videos and advertisements, and thus people are perhaps getting increasingly desexualized. What does the future of sexuality hold for a desensitized, hypersexual society? What is beyond nudity?

Latex: a shiny second skin that comes in every hue, shape and thickness. It can constrict and contract, inventing new silhouettes for the human body. Worn in clandestine S&M scenes or integrated into street wear, the fetishized feeling latex brings exists both in public and in private. Fashion lines such as Marc by Marc Jacobs and Dior featured latex ensembles in their 2015 collections, and pop stars like Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Katy Perry have been donning latex and PVC garments for years. Lady Gaga met the queen of England in a red Elizabethan latex gown, which her Royal Highness loved.

There are infinite possibilities for latex ensembles for people who refer to themselves as “rubberists” (those who like to wear latex), specifically full-body latex suits, during BDSM activity. Porn websites such as FetishKitch and RubberEmpire focus on futuristic erotic encounters featuring latex. Full-body rubber-doll costumes inflate to exaggerate the female form, creating amplified Barbie silhouettes. Vacuum-sealed latex beds enclose the body to heighten sensitivity or play with sensory deprivation. Submissives are locked into medieval box-shaped stocks in full latex gear and tormented. In one video, a latex clad woman is sealed into an inflated latex ball and rolled around.

Most of these videos do not feature straight penetration, instead focusing on oral stimulation or vibrator-fueled orgasms. Some don’t include any sexual stimulation at all, the focus being the ritual of dressing in latex, intricate bondage or corporal punishment play.

These kind of scenarios might appear alien, if scary, to people viewing these videos for the first time, though after watching enough of them you start to see the lightheartedness in the fetish. Though the full-bodied gimp suit has been featured in popular culture several times, it’s always construed as frightening: American Horror Story’s shiny, rapacious latex man descending from the ceiling, The Collector’s serial killer costume, and Pulp Fiction’s slavish gimp man are some examples of the horror associated with full-body latex suits. People who wear costumes that obscure their identity are seen as having ulterior motives, but most of those hiding behind latex costumes do so for the sensation it brings.

I talked to sex columnist and educator Violet Blue about the sensation of wearing latex.

“Wearing rubber is a very sensory experience, and different fetishists will key into certain sensations more than others. But overall, wearing a latex catsuit has the converse sensations of feeling like a secure hug that makes you feel exposed. The wearer can feel heat and cold instantly, so a touch is more intense and a spilled drink will feel very cold (and then gone, because it just runs off). You can feel everything. The constriction on sensitive areas heightens the wearer's awareness of the areas, yet you have full range of movement,” she said.

Rubber pornography focuses on sexualizing the material rather than the human being wearing it, making rubberism by definition a fetish.

“An object (inanimate thing, animal or body part) when it stands for—condenses in itself—meanings that are wholly or in crucial parts of the text, unconscious: a fetish is a story masquerading as an object,” wrote Robert Stoller in Observing the Erotic Imagination

Latex fetishism often incorporates narrative aspects as well as visual ones.

“It's very much a visual fetish, that part is obvious to us: The wearer looks intimidating, or artificial, or submissive, or just really revealingly sexy. Rubber tends to make skin protrude; rubber masks push the lips out, openings emphasize whatever's not covered. It can also shape the body in overtly erotic ways. A significant number of latex porn/erotica consumers are imagining themselves in the scene, either as the subject or someone who can interact with the subject. Imagining oneself as the rubber doll who gets sexually used, or as the one doing the using; imagining oneself as the rubber slave at the whim of a stern mistress, or as the mistress with rubber slaveboys at her command,” says Blue.

The material enchants fetishists because it appears as a smoother, shinier second-skin, sublimating the body of the person wearing it. Latex has human qualities, but also conjures superhuman elements, which is why it has been used in so many superhero costumes.

At once latex heightens objectification of the body, often hiding the wearer’s face and putting them into intentionally degrading and humiliating roles, and subverts it by exaggerating pre-established dominant and submissive roles. Wearers can be dominant or submissive—the stereotype of the Catwoman dominatrix image conjures feelings of strength while gimp costumes evoke dehumanization. Latex magnifies the wearers’ fetishism. Rubberists submit to the material, which is attractive to fetishists not just because of the sight, but also its feel, smell and sounds.

“If shined, the rubber will feel slick on the outside, and it will also deliver scents and sounds that increase the experience; slaps and spanks sound louder, the squeak of the rubber might be a turn-on. It also makes the wearer look (and thus, feel) sexy, by the way it makes you look streamlined and smooth. Those who enjoy full-body encasement experience sensory deprivation, which can eliminate sound and sight, like a sexually charged isolation tank for the wearer,” says Blue.

It all started in 1823 when Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh invented a waterproof material that became the basis for modern latex. His name lent the name to one of the first fetish organizations, the Mackintosh Society. Latex-wear first emerged in the late 1920s in fetish magazines such as London Life, and later became popular in the 1940s and 1950s in magazines such as Exotique and Bizarre. In the 1970s John Sutcliffe published a rubberist magazine Atomage, which mainly focused on full-body latex suits, and also Sutcliffe’s method of creating rubber clothing. Atomage featured latex cowboys, executioners and gas-mask wearers in glossy high-fashion spreads.

Latex outfits can be pricey (rubber suits run into the thousands of dollars) and require heavy maintenance. Sweat and heat can destroy latex, so owners must wash and store their latex garments carefully. The maintenance of the material is part of the fetish; it is often construed as a ritual, especially for the submissive person who is sometimes required to care for the latex.

“This fetish can definitely destroy your paycheck, but the Internet is your friend when you're on the hunt for latex wearables…. But you don't have to spend a ton if you shop and look for sales on individual retailers' sites (like on Latex Wiki's extensive Shops page). The best place for latex bargains is Etsy, and you can also learn to make your own latex clothing,” says Blue.

Sola Agustsson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.