Fetish Guide: An Introduction to Fetishes And Kinks

A woman smoking

The array of smells, objects, and experiences that arouse folks are fascinating and wonderful.

For example, strangers on Tinder have asked for pictures of me smoking a cigarette, as they found the concept of a woman smoking to be arousing. I have dated people who named my big toes and enjoyed licking them during sex. And sexual partners have asked me to pee on them.

I even stepped on a man dressed like a carpet who enjoys taking on that identity and having women in high heels step on him. I’ve had partners ask me to have sex with someone else and then come home and tell them about it. I even had friends tell me woman’s farts aroused them.

There are a seemingly endless number of desires that could fall within the broad definition of a fetish. So, let’s first define what a fetish is, then move on to where they come from and how you can explore them safely.

What Is A Fetish?

WebMD defines a fetish as “sexual excitement in response to an object or body that’s not typically sexual.” [1] For educational purposes, I often broaden that definition to include other desires not strictly related to body parts or objects. For example, I would include being turned on by sharing your partner, i.e., cuckolding, being aroused by watching sex, i.e., voyeurism, playing with power, and many other desires within the umbrella of a fetish or kink.


Are Fetishes Normal?

Some folks experience deep-rooted internalized stigma because they feel alone in their desires, but in fact, sexual fetishes are pretty common.

For example, a recent study in Montreal found that almost half of folks were aroused by a type of fetish. I would expect that the actual number is even higher, as a lot of the data was from phone interviews, and not everybody feels comfortable telling strangers on the phone what gets them off.

A man in front of his computer

The majority of fetishes are entirely healthy to explore. For example, research has shown that kinky people are less neurotic, more social, less rejection sensitive, and have a higher feeling of well-being than those who are not.

The most common fetishes include feet, voyeurism, body fluid, and body characteristics (such as size, tattoos, etc.). However, there’s also a slew of more extreme, including BDSM play while a snake climbs on you, armpit fetish, and carpets. Check out my article about extreme fetishes to learn more.


Where Do Fetishes Come From?

Some fetishes have a biological basis, and others are learned through early childhood experiences. It’s tough to scientifically pinpoint the exact cause, and like most characteristics, fetishes likely develop as a combination of biology and experience.

However, there is some evidence fetishes can be a learned response.

A study showed straight men slides of naked women projected onto a screen, followed by another image of boots. Sexual arousal was conditioned in the participants, where after several pairings, they experienced sexual arousal that initially came from the naked women just from viewing the boot.

It relates to stories about how a fetish is formed when sexual arousal becomes paired with a previously neutral item.

For example, my friend began masturbating in his mom’s walk-in closet and now is aroused by wearing/looking at dresses, women’s underwear, and other traditionally female clothing. It’s likely because he began to associate the excitement and arousal of his first sexual pleasure with being in a closet with dresses.

In addition, research shows there may also be a sizeable biological component to many fetishes, including arousal to feet.

A foot fetish is one of the most common ones, with researcher Justin Lehmiller finding that 1 in 7 people have this fantasy. One reason is you have a sensory map of the body in your brain, where every point on your body has a corresponding point in your brain. The area for our feet is directly beside the genitalia area on our sensory map. It means even though the feet are on one end of your body and your genitals are in the middle, they are right beside each other, according to your brain.

This phenomenon helps explain how common it is for feet to become eroticized!


How Do I Know If I Have A Fetish?

If you have a particular fantasy or sexual desire that often comes to your mind when masturbating or watching porn – this may be considered a fetish.

I think it’s less important to know if your sexual desire falls within the realm of a fetish and more important to think about how to accept and potentially incorporate this part of yourself into your sexual practices. Assuming everybody consents and nobody is harmed – there’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed by any fetish.

I apologize to anybody who may have made you feel bad for what turns you on. Unfortunately, we still live in a world early in the journey to becoming sex-positive.


How Do I Explore My Fetish?

There are many ways to explore a sexual fetish.

Although many fetishes can be fun to explore with partners, some choose to engage through fantasy and porn.

Does tentacle porn turn you on? You can watch porn and read erotica that shows tentacles used in sexy ways. You can also buy tentacle-shaped sex toys and play around that way. Or you can also talk to a partner about engaging in a role play where they play around with the concept of having tentacles.

A couple talking

There’s nothing wrong with being turned on by a wide variety of things as long as you engage with a partner who fully consents. Strong boundaries are essential, but you must never make anybody feel bad for what turns them on.

As I teach my students, “Don’t yuck my yum.” There’s already enough shame in our culture around sexuality, and although you should only role-play as an octopus if you want to – you should never make anyone feel bad for what turns them on, assuming it does not cause any harm. Click here to learn more about how to talk to a partner about your fetish.

One of the interesting components of living during the internet age is finding folks with the same unique desires is easy. For example, if you have a fantasy of a person dressed as a purple elephant anally penetrating you – there is a good chance there is someone out there who has the fantasy of being that purple elephant.

There are tons of groups on Reddit and fetish websites such as FetLife where you can find folks with similar desires to you.


When Can They Become Harmful?

Having a wide sexual repertoire makes your sex life more interesting, and for a lot of folks, having a particular fetish to explore can make sex more fun. However, I have seen a fetish become harmful when the person cannot enjoy sex or masturbation without engaging in this fetish.

For example, dressing up like a carpet and enjoying being stepped on could be fun to explore. However, if you can only enjoy sex as a carpet – this may significantly lower the pool of people you can sexually engage.

If you are in this situation, I would suggest talking to a therapist about how you can enjoy sex with and without engaging in your fetish.

The other way sexual fetishes can become harmful is when they involve someone or something unable to consent, like an animal or a child. To get too deeply into this one would require a whole article. But if you are aroused by something or someone who cannot consent, I suggest talking to a specialist regarding how to keep your urges under control so that nobody gets hurt.

It’s tough to be aroused by something inherently harmful, and it’s not your fault for having the sexual desire. But still, it’s your responsibility not to engage in harmful behavior.

Other than in these particular circumstances, sexual fetishes are enjoyable to explore! Like with anything, engaging in healthy communication with partners can make exploring novel sexual experiences more fun and exciting.

In addition, spending time reading about your fetish, learning your boundaries, and being open and non-judgemental will make exploring it safer and more rewarding.


Niki Davis-Fainbloom
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