Many people have a sexual fetish, and many of those fetishes, while common, may feel very taboo. Someone with a true fetish, though, needs to be comfortable with expressing their fetish and be able to share it with partners so they can incorporate it in their sex lives. Keeping a true fetish a secret could lead to a long, boring, unfulfilling sex life.
Depending on what social circles you roll with and what media you consume, you may hear a lot about fetishes. There are some very common ones, like a foot fetish, and some more unusual ones, like vampire fangs, but all fetishes are essentially the same thing: an interest or fixation so important to one’s sexual arousal and enjoyment that they need it involved in their erotic encounters in order to be sexually fulfilled.
Many people confuse the terms ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’, so we’ll talk more about the difference below. Let’s take a look at some basic definitions and descriptions that may help our understanding of fetishes. If nothing else, understanding fetishes and just how common they are may help eliminate some of the stigma that often surrounds sexual fetishes and those that have them…which might be you!
What is a fetish?
Vocabulary.com puts it very succinctly:
“A fetish is an extremely strong devotion to something. There are sexual fetishes and nonsexual fetishes: both are obsessive interests.
The most common use of the word fetish is probably the sexual meaning. Someone with a foot fetish is abnormally interested in feet and gets sexual pleasure from seeing, being around, and even thinking about feet. There are probably thousands of sexual fetishes, most of which are too inappropriate to write about here. A non-sexual fetish is just an excessive interest in something, like a football fan who lives and breathes everything NFL.”
Many sexual fetishes are based on familiar and common sexual kinks, so what makes a fetish a fetish is the degree to which it becomes necessary for a person’s sexual fulfilment. This is an important distinction and brings us nicely to the difference between a kink and a fetish.
What’s the difference between a kink and a fetish?
Many people use the words “kink” and “fetish” almost interchangeably, but there is one key difference. Let’s simply take a look at some various definitions of the words:
Kink: “Unconventional sexual taste or behavior.”; “bizarre or unconventional sexual preferences or behavior”; “a person with unusual sexual tastes.”
Fetish: “An object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression”; “Any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation.”; “a form of sexual desire in which gratification depends to an abnormal degree on some object or item of clothing or (nonsexual) part of the body.”
(Thanks for these definitions goes to Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and Vocabulary.com, respectively)
Basically, a kink is just any sexual desire, interest, or practice that goes outside of the norm. Many, many people have kinks and there are tons of different kinks people may have. Kinksters like to have sexual experiences involving their kinks, but they can also enjoy plenty of “vanilla” sex without their kink being involved in the act. A fetish, simply put, and clarified well by Dr. Rosara Torissi for PureWow, is a kink that is elevated to a need. A person with a true fetish needs to experience that element every time in order to have fulfilling sex.
You might be thinking, “oh god, that sounds serious!”, and depending on the particular fetish, sometimes it can be. But it’s also very, very common to have a fetish. Bustle did a survey in the UK revealing that almost 75% of respondents have a fetish. So take a deep breath…you’re normal, we promise! Just like different people have all sorts of different sexual preferences in other departments, kinks and fetishes may simply be one of those preferences if what you like. Different strokes for different folks.
If you have a fetish, you may feel the need to keep it a secret, or hide it like it’s something shameful, but it’s not. Fetishes are a common and normal part of human sexuality. If you keep yours a secret all your life, you’ll never be living as your full, authentic self sexually, and you may never experience a truly fulfilling sex life. If you have one, do your best to “own it” so you can honor it as part of your erotic experiences and find a partner who enjoys it with you.
What are some common fetishes?
Fetishes are strong sexual desires, needs, or fixations centered on certain things. While some of those obsessions are naturally sexual or erotic in nature, many are not, which is why it may seem so unusual for someone to have that thing as a fetish. Here are a few examples of some fairly common fetishes in each major category.
Inanimate sexual or non-sexual objects or ideas:
Balloons, food, sentimental things like a childhood blanket or stuffed animal, dolls, yoni eggs, chastity belts/devices, urethral sounds, used underwear, tentacles, robots, clowns, stage magic
Articles, styles, or materials of clothing or grooming:
Nylons/hosiery, high-heeled shoes, uniforms, suits, latex, leather, blindfolds, sports gear, natural body hair, piercings, pregnancy
Types of acts or behaviors – sexual or non-sexual:
Pet play, cuckolding, age play, role play, full-body “Furry” costumes and play, watersports (urine play), voyeurism, group sex, exhibitionism/sex in public, humiliation, BDSM, impact play, mummification, rope bondage
Parts of the body not typically considered sexual:
Feet, armpits, stomachs, ears, eyebrows, hair
For a more complete and detailed list than I could ever do here, check out 47 of them in “Kinks and Fetishes: An A to Z Guide” from Glamour Magazine and “25 Sexual Kinks and Fetishes We Know You’re Curious About” from Men’s Health. You may just spot something that rings true for you; a fetish you’ve had for ages without even recognizing it as such!
How does one explore & express their fetishes?
The most popular way to express and honor a fetish, maybe quite obviously, is with one’s partner. Remember, the main thing that makes a fetish a fetish is that it’s necessary for complete sexual gratification or fulfilment. So it makes sense that a fetishist needs to experience their fetish almost every time they have sex in order to truly “get off” and enjoy that experience. Some folks with fetishes can accomplish this simply by fantasizing about their fetish, or picturing it in their mind’s eye, while some people need to experience it IRL, in the moment. This can make a big difference in how much someone needs their partner to be down with participating.
Just to clarify the difference one more way, a person with a bondage kink enjoys being tied up during sex, and likes to have their partner tie them up every so often but not every time they do it, whereas a person with a bondage fetish must be tied up to get off. Therefore, it’s very important for those with a true fetish to have an understanding partner who respects their fetish and is willing and able to honor it during sex. Ideally, maybe they even enjoy the same thing! Finding a community of like-minded fetishists is common practice, and can help you meet people with similar fetishes who can help you learn to express your fetishes safely and consensually with others who “get it”.
Consent and safety planning are important considerations when fetishes are involved. Talk to your partner about ways you can honor your fetish that they are also comfortable with. Make sure you’re not involving anyone without their consent or breaking any laws to appease your fetish. Some people may be able to simply fantasize about their fetish during sex to make it work, but other people need that real experience. If you have a voyeuristic fetish and can’t just visualize watching other people having sex while you are, you may need to involve another willing couple or use legally obtained videos to fill that need.
If you have a fetish – or more than one – remember that you’re not weird or abnormal, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Hopefully you’ve been able to be honest and open about your fetish with your partner, and have found someone who respects and participates in your fetish so you can truly enjoy a complete, fulfilling sex life free of shame or stigma. If you’re not there yet, look for some local groups or online communities where you can feel seen with your fetish and know you are not alone. Then you can start to break the ice with your partner, build understanding and enthusiastic consent, and start towards working your fetish into your healthy, fully gratified sex life.