What is a sexual fetish? The causes + 5 most common fetishes
Karma Tantric Online Magazine - READ NOW
We're Hiring! - Apply Now

What Is A Sexual Fetish?

Amanda Chatel explores the topic of sexual fetishes including the main causes and the most common fetishes you might encounter.

Human sexuality is fascinating. It’s not merely a black and white cookie, but a layered cake that’s a little of this for some people, and a lot of that for others. Because of this, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to enjoy pleasure because, simply, there is no one way to enjoy pleasure. And, honestly, if there were, how dreadfully boring human sexuality would be. It’s the complexities of desire and the complications that come with the vastness of what arouses people that makes it truly beautiful. In other words, yes, fetishes are incredible and have a very important place on the spectrum of human sexuality.

What Is A Fetish Exactly?

So what does fetish mean? In the simplest of terms, a sexual fetish is something that’s considered a bit “off-beat” that arouses a person. That something could be a place, a body part, a feeling, an inanimate object, or even a bodily function. Sexual fetishes run the gamut. From being aroused by having sex in public (exhibitionism) to oculolinctus, the fetish for licking eye balls for sexual arousal, it’s safe to assume that for anything one can imagine, there’s very likely a fetish for it. And, as long as everyone participating in a sex act that includes a fetish can consent, then no one is in any place to judge.

Did you know? – According to a 2016 survey by erotic retailer Ann Summers, the majority of people report having at least one sexual fetish. Of the 2,300 UK residents who responded to the survey, a whopping 75% of them have fetishes. So, if you were thinking you were in the minority with your fetish — no matter what it is — you’re absolutely in the majority for having one.

What Are the Main Causes Of Fetishes?

Like human sexuality itself, the psychology behind sexual fetishes isn’t cut and dry. Some say that fetishes are steeped in childhood experiences. For example, if you were spanked a lot as a child, your fetish to be spanked as an adult might be a result of that. It’s the brain’s way of processing or reconciling with the past by having a say in the spanking you receive on a sexual level. But for those who weren’t spanked as children, but love a good spanking, then that childhood experience theory doesn’t hold much water.

Other experts report that fetishes arise from wiring in the brain. As Nichi Hodgson, sex expert and former dominatrix, explained to Independent: “There’s actually a scientific theory that says there’s some cross-wiring in the brain of foot fetishists — the areas of the brain that are associated with the genitalia and the brain are next to one another.”

The same can be suggested in regards to BDSM, as philosophers like Descartes found that pain and pleasure are linked as a continuum because of their placement in the brain. There’s also the psychological processing of the reward-punishment system: you will eventually feel pleasure for your pain.

Ultimately, there is no single reason as to why people have fetishes and even those who have them, can’t explain the why or how of them. They just know they like what they like and what’s going to arouse them and eventually take them to orgasm, if that’s their end goal.

Most Common Sexual Fetishes

Although there are hundreds, if not thousands of types of sexual fetishes, even if not every one of them has been recognized or labeled, there tends to be a handful that are more common than others. One thing is for sure, some fetishes can be very strange indeed.

For the most part, the following list of fetishes, in no particular order, are the top 5 that come up most often on most lists:

Spanking Fetish

As common as spanking may seem (because who hasn’t spanked or been spanked at this point in our culture?), spanking is indeed a fetish for many people. Whether it’s the need to be spanked by someone with their hand, paddle, or a flogger in order to become fully aroused or your need to do the same to someone else, it’s a fetish. It’s also a fetish that lives up to the reward-punishment system on the psychological end of things.

spanking fetish

Foot Fetish

While there are those who can’t even stand the sight of feet, there are also those who can’t get enough of them. Foot fetishes can involve sexual gratification that comes with just worshipping feet, without even touching them, to the sexualizing of feet so much so that handjobs no longer cut it and only footjobs will do.

foot fetish

Hair Fetish

When it comes to a hair fetish, we’re not talking about just the hair on top of someone’s head, but all their hair. From their eyebrows, to their underarm hair, to their pubic hair, all the way down to the hair on their hairy toes, for those who fetishize hair there’s no such thing as too much hair and every strand of it matters. And, in a culture where the removal of hair is fairly common on women, those with hair fetishes can feel like they really hit the jackpot when they meet a woman with — gasp! — underarm and/or leg hair.

hair fetish

BDSM Fetish

Although BDSM sounds vague, if we break it down to what it actually means, in regards to fetishes, it’s about either giving over all control or taking away all control — depending on which end you and your partner prefer. BDSM also runs along a very long spectrum from BDSM “lite,” so to speak, to some pretty hardcore extremes that even go so far as to involve BDSM contracts. But, as is the case with all these fetishes, as long as it’s consensual and everyone is game, lite or extreme are just labels to differentiate.

bdsm fetish

Shoe Fetish

It doesn’t matter how many shoes you have in your closet or how many credit cards you’ve maxed out to buy those shoes, a shoe addiction is a far cry from a shoe fetish. More common in men than in women, a shoe fetish — which is usually focused on heels as opposed to your dirty three-year-old trainers — is one that finds sexual arousal in the thought of female dominance as perceived by the wearing of heels. I mean, there’s a reason why every dominatrix sports fuck-me pumps or sexy high-heeled boots, and not ballerina flats.

Did you know? – Although the SM in BDSM was named after the king of kink and fetishes himself, Marquis de Sade, a French writer who spent a lot of quality time in jail for his writings, he absolutely didn’t invent sadomasochism. In Italy, near the town of Tarquinia, there’s the “Tomba della Fustigazione,” which literally translates to “Tomb of the Whipping” in English. When the tomb was discovered in 1960, it revealed a fresco of two men sexually flogging a woman — or to put it more specifically, the woman is bent over in between the two men and is giving head to one of them while being whipped by both. It’s estimated that the fresco was painted sometime around 490 BC. Takeaway? The BDSM fetish is hardly new.

What To Do If Your Partner Has A Fetish?

Now that we’ve established that fetishes are perfectly normal and far more common than many people are willing to admit to, it’s time to bring it a bit closer to home. In other words, what should you do if your partner has a fetish, especially if that fetish isn’t your cup of tea? For starters, take a deep breath and don’t freak out. Do the following if your partner:

  1. Don’t judge

    It doesn’t matter what your partner’s fetish is, the worse thing you can do is judge them for it. It’s not easy for many people to admit to the fact that they have certain fetish, let alone share it with someone else. When you judge them, you’re not just embarrassing them and ridiculing them, but making them feel like there’s something wrong with them when there is NOTHING wrong with them, no matter what their fetish might be.

  2. Talk about it

    When it comes to any type of sex, whether there’s a fetish involved or not, communication is always key. Let your partner talk about their fetish, while you listen with an open mind. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask — as long as you keep your tone and questions open and honest, and void of any sort of patronizing. (Read: be an adult.)

  3. Share your fetish

    Fun fact: There’s a very good chance that you have a fetish too, so why not take this moment as the chance to share yours? Allowing yourself to be equally vulnerable in this discussion isn’t just healthy for your relationship, but shows that you’ve had some kinky stuff on your mind too.

  4. Compromise

    While some people have zero desire to act on their fetishes and fulfill those fantasies, others are open to exploring it — and this is where things can get tricky. If your partner’s fetish is so far from anything you’d ever want to consider doing, then suggest a compromise. Naturally, no one is under any obligation to do something they don’t want to do, but if you can find a happy medium where both you and your partner are comfortable, you can at least give your partner a taste of their fetish. They might even find they prefer to keep it in their mind, as opposed to bringing it out into real life.

  5. Accept it

    Fetishes just don’t go away. They’re not phases, nor are they something that people grow out of in time. While your partner’s fetish may be completely world’s away from your fetish, it’s something about them you need to be willing to accept. It doesn’t define them and doesn’t change the person they were before you knew about their fetish. People are multifaceted, meaning they are no one thing. So accept their fetish as just another part of them.

Did you know? – Historians have found that foot fetishes seemed to skyrocket during major STI outbreaks —for example, like the gonorrhea outbreak of the 12th century and the syphilis epidemics like the ones in the 16th and 19th centuries. The thinking is that the fear of catching an STI ran so deep for some people that it had them looking to other parts of the bodies to get their, well, jollies. There was also a rise in sexual foot-play during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s too.

Did You Know You Can Incorporate Fetishes Into Tantric Massage?

No matter what your fetish is, there’s a place for it and someone who’s into exploring it with you. For example, a tantric massage is the perfect situation in which one can incorporate their fetish in a safe, judgmental-free zone, that’s all about relaxation and bliss. Karma Tantric’s Fetish Massage has all the details you need to make whatever fetish you have a reality, while enjoying a tantric massage at the same time.

Amanda Chatel is a lifestyle writer for Bustle, covering sex, relationships, women's reproductive rights, feminism, and more. She is a regular contributor to Glamour, We-Vibe, and Bolde. Other bylines include: Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Elle, Huffington Post, Men's Health, and BlackBook. She divides her time between NYC and Barcelona. | Read More

  1. Patricia_Xxx

    My partner and I always talk about our possible fetishes with quite a jovial undertone. Now I am intrigues as to whether or not we can put some of our ideas in to practice. Thanks for the confidence boost. Pat x

    • Kelly Karma

      I completely understand that your first fetish experience may be a bit uncomfortable. I find that a light conversation beforehand helps and now that you have some of Amanda’s insight you are all set to put your ideas to practice for sure! Thank you, Kelly

  2. LP

    Amanda, one word… INSPIRING! I book regularly with KT and visit the sensational Emily for her mind-blowing Dark Tantric sessions. I encourage anyone who is reading this that has curiosities towards the dark elements to explore. It can be quite a taboo to explore this side of things but this article makes you feel part of a greater community of other fetish lovers. L.P.

  3. Erica Suarez-Hillingdon

    A huge thank you to Amanda Chatel for a great article. I certainly hope she will once again contribute to the Karma Magazine with her wonderful insight.