Sexual expression is both a beautiful and complicated thing. What one human finds over-the-top or even repulsive, another might gladly pay heaps of money for — and that’s just the tip of the human experience.
The truth is, having an alternative sexual interest isn’t a bad thing, and while you might have some shame about your sexual preference, the thing that rocks your socks might actually be a pretty common kink.
For example, if your jam is a small sexual obsession with bondage, a leather fetish, or some impact play, that’s perfectly fine! You can find someone that desires the same thing and can lean into that sexual play with you, especially if you go looking within your local handy dandy kink community. There are also loads of global kink communities that would love to have you.
The definition of kinky sex and fetishes can be a bit subjective since the experience of kinks can feel different from person to person. Maybe you had a sexual interaction with one of your past partners who nibbled your feet and sucked on your toes in just the right way to give your brain that scintillating tingling sensation.
But when done by somebody else, an amateur toe-biter if you will, all the magic is gone, and there’s nothing there. You might like a foot-nibbling connoisseur in your regular sexual activity, but if your next heavy-petting pal doesn’t share the same sexual kinks as the last one, you’re not going to be ruined without it. Does this mean you have a foot fetish? Not necessarily.
Consider John-Michael Williams, the owner of Tykables, a fetish store that sells adult diapers to people who get turned on by being treated like babies. Williams himself actually wears adult diapers all the time for comfort. When interviewed by Healthline on the subject, Williams said:
“I don’t consider it a fetish for me because there are a lot of the different aspects of the ABDL [adult baby diaper lovers] community that attracted me to it … The only real sexual aspect of it is being attracted to a specific underwear type. I relate it to an underwear fetish. Seeing a good-looking guy in a pair of briefs or a good-looking guy in a diaper, either way, it’s seeing a good-looking guy in a pair of underwear, just a very specific type.”
What is a kink?
What are kinks, exactly? Well, it is a sort of sexual attraction outside of what your culture or society considers - for lack of a better descriptor - “normal.” For example, kissing is an act that most people partake in, so kissing is not considered a kink.
Kinks don't have to be intense to still offer sexual gratification. Thinking kinky equals BDSM activities leaves out a plethora of other fun, unique, and delicious ideas. Food play during sex would be an example of a kink. This could be something like having grapes, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries nearby to nibble on during foreplay or to bring out the chocolate sauce and turn your partner’s muscles and curves into a new attraction at Candyland.
As Dr. Rosara Torrisi, a sex therapist from the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy, explains, “A kink is something sexual that someone likes to do with themselves or consensually with partners … This is usually something considered outside of mainstream sexual activities.”
Types of kinks
Every kink has its own wonderful flavor, but some of them are similar. There are kinks, for example, based on being seen by others while engaging in sexy time; these include sexual behavior like voyeurism, group sex, or sex in public where you might be caught.
There are kinks based on power and control, like BDSM, where one partner consensually subjects the other to pre-negotiated pain and discomfort within an established set of boundaries.
There are kinks based on role play, like age play where a daddy/mommy/parental figure takes care of their little boy/girl/any-gendered-innocent (all adults are of consenting age).
There are kinks based on the idea of being caught. It can be sex in the office, bathroom, or fitting room. There are also kinks based on novelty, like getting sexual satisfaction from strangers.
Basically, humans are intelligent, horny creatures, and the biggest sex organ in the body is the brain! You can always use that brain of yours to show your partner(s) just how much fun you really are, regardless of your gender and sexual orientation.
What is a fetish?
A fetish is a kink that goes beyond the realm of sexual interest and sexual preference into the realm of requirement. Like a sexual kink, a fetish can be an act (like having sex in public), an object (like a certain item of clothing) or a body part (like feet).
Having a stocking fetish, for example, means you’re unable to get aroused unless your partner is wearing stockings — and sometimes even a specific kind and/or color of stockings.
Or take a foot fetish — this means you must either have your feet played with or play with someone else’s in order to get sexual gratification out of sex. Fetishes tend to get into the realm of more extreme acts, borderline obsessions, and things that may need mutual opt-in to be okay in a partnership (such as water sports or blood play).
Types of fetishes
Fetishism, like kinks, can run the gamut of relatively innocent to very intense. Fetishes don’t have to involve sexual intercourse to offer something akin to sexual gratification from the fetish-haver. Simply partaking in the act, such as being stepped on by very bold and beautiful high heels, might send someone who has a high heels fetish over the edge.
The most common fetishes can even be a fixation on a body part, like a foot or toe fetish. It can also be a fixation on having some kind of influence over someone else, such as a feeder fetish. This involves one person feeding the other, with the people gaining gratification as the eating partner gains weight over the long term. If you’ve got a particular itch that’s hard to scratch, you can see if it's in this exhaustive list of fetishes.
Other fetishes can involve extreme outfits, such as bringing full body latex suits (latex fetish) into your sexual practice, or putting on giant animal costumes (furry fetish).
Sometimes a fetish can involve an experience you can only do once and might not live through, such as a vore fetish (the desire to be consumed by or consume someone else), or something that involves sexual fantasy appendages, like adult sex toys that represent tentacles (a tentacle fetish).
Differences between the two
The core difference between a kink vs fetish is that, if you wanted, you could go without the kink in your life. If you’re unable to achieve sexual excitement without some level of involvement in your kink, it’s probably a sexual fetish.
If you like butts, for example, and you’re only able to achieve sexual arousal if you’re playing with or having your butt played with, then you indeed might have an anal sex fetish. If it’s something that you really want but could go without, then it’s probably a kink. Dr. Torrisi breaks down the difference as “whether it's something someone likes to do or if it’s something someone has to do in order to have sexual pleasure.”
If you’re worried about your sexual health or are having a hard time coping with your sexual desires and/or sexual fetishes, you might want to consider seeing a sex therapist or coach. There’s nothing wrong with your sexual pleasure, and if you’re experiencing psychological distress (i.e., judging yourself harshly for a certain sexual desire, or feeling like there’s something deeply wrong with you), it could be time to get some professional help.
If a therapist is outside the scope of your budget and you’re going to fly solo on your journey, there’s an abundance of resources out there. This includes everyone's sex research to reputable sexuality educators like Justin Lehmiller (author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality) and Janet Hardy (genderqueer, bisexual, polyamorous author of The Sexually Dominant Woman).
It’s worth noting, as well, that being able to discuss your kinks or fetishes with partners openly is likely to lead to more joy in your sex life. One study found that, out of all things that affect sexual satisfaction, a top factor is whether you can be open and honest with your partner about your sexual wishes.
In fact, sexpert Kate Sloane, author of 101 Kinky Things Even You Can Do, says that people into kink “have been found to be mentally healthier than the general population.” According to Sloan, “Some people’s fetish might be their entire sexuality, effectively playing the same role in their life that ‘vanilla’ (non-kinky) sex does for people who lack any fetishes. However, for others, a fetish is just a special interest that they partake in some of the time.”
Regardless of definition, being comfortable in your sexuality is of the utmost importance. Life’s too short to wallow in shame about your sexual preferences. Unless that’s your fetish. ;)