"I think if the internet did not exist, I would have never identified my feelings as a fetish."
As far as bodily functions go, sneezing is probably the most comparable to orgasm. There's the initial tickle in your body, the build up of tension, the suspense, and then suddenly, like a volcanic eruption, you feel the explosion of physical relief. It feels satisfying to sneeze.
For some, it's also satisfying to watch other people sneeze. Sexually satisfying even. And these people are discovering online that they're not alone in the community of sneezing, coughing, and cold-and-flu fetishists.
"I'm attracted to sneezing, but also other symptoms like coughing, fevers, discomfort. So you might say I'm more of a cold-and-allergies fetishist," said Emma, a 29-year-old from Canada, who's active on a site for sneeze fetishsists.
As a kid, she remembers taking a special interest in sneezes in books and television—like a scene in the animated Frosty the Snowman movie, where a character "sneezes and shivers from being in the chilled boxcar on the train," or a book about Donald Duck's nephews who get sick, which she "read over and over."
Like Emma, Terry, a 21-year-old from the northeastern United States, was interested in sneezing from a very early age, but says "it wasn't until I hit puberty that I recognized my feelings about [sneezing] were becoming sexual in nature."
Both Emma and Terry discovered through internet searches in their late teens that the intense feelings they felt throughout childhood were not only a real fetish, but there were also others out there just like them.
Online, there are several places for sneeze fetishists to convene: There's Sneeze Fetish Forum, a 3,500-member community where people trade stories and observations and tips for coming out. There's a private sub-Reddit, r/sneezefetish, for general discussion. There's The Furry Sneezing Archive, for the intersection of sneezing and anthropomorphics. And plenty of web 1.0-style sites, like Tarot of Sneezing, where an early post from the webmaster acknowledged that "there are so many things out there now relating to sneezing—chat rooms and forums, so you can interact with others who like sneezing."
The point? If you're into sneezing, you're not alone.
"I think the first time I masturbated was while listening to the sounds of someone sneezing on a fetish site," said Emma. "Suddenly I was discovering a multitude of online areas that had people who were writing and sharing the same kind of fantasies that I'd made up in my head for a decade."
Lyna, a 21-year-old from rural Missouri, became a nurse after she discovered her sneezing fetish. She was quick to clarify that she doesn't get off on watching her patients sneeze, but says her fetish played into her desire to be a caretaker.
"Most sneezes really don't turn me on at all—probably a good thing, since I work in the medical field," said Lyna, "I prefer 'tough guys' with colds who deny that they're sick until they can't anymore, with long buildups and trying to hold back the sneeze, even trying to talk while fighting the need to sneeze. I also love how a man's voice gets hoarse when he's sick, so it's deeper and gravelly. I enjoy being the caretaker."
"A lot of what I find attractive has to do with a situation or a continued loss of control," said Emma, "So a single sneeze or cough, while occasionally appreciated, is simply mundane enough for me to often ignore. If someone is completely down and out with cold symptoms or totally non-functional because of hay fever, that's far more interesting than a single sneeze."
Compared to people with fetishes like bondage, BDSM, or pup play, the sneeze fetishists I spoke to were intensely private about their sex lives. They don't hold meet-ups or conventions, and aside from the chat rooms and internet forums where they talk to each other, everyone I spoke to said they kept their fetish a secret.
"I come from a very Southern Baptist family," said Lyna, "and the area I live in is a very closed-minded small town, so unless my fetish was something to do with big trucks, no one here will ever know."
According to Dr. Chris Donaghue, sex therapist and author of Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture, it's important to remove the shame and stigma from people with unusual desires. "That's the core problem here—the shame they feel [about their sneeze fetish], not the actual act," said Donaghue.
If there's one place where the sneeze fetishists felt totally free of shame, it's online. All the people interviewed for this story described the internet as an outlet for them to express desires freely, and an escape from the isolation in their daily lives.
"I think if the internet did not exist, I would have never identified my feelings as a fetish—perhaps never even as a sexual interest," said Emma.
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