From threesomes to butt stuff, it seems like there are a lot of us looking for ways to spice up our sex lives. And in other cases, many of us are just looking for answers to our questions about sex—including fetish sex—that sex-ed classes never got around to covering.
Maybe you’ve realized you’re kind of kinky, or that vanilla sex isn’t necessarily your favorite flavor. You may even be wondering if the things that get you all hot and bothered are “normal,” or if you might have a fetish. (The word “fetish” is derived from the Portuguese word “fetico,” meaning “spell” or “charm,” by the way, which might explain why you feel enchanted by a certain kink.)
You’re not alone. A 2018 study commissioned by sex toy retailer EdenFantasys took a close look at the sex lives of 2,000 Americans and found that 40% of individuals surveyed self-identified as “kinky,” and 36% said they have a specific fetish. The study also found that 27% of those surveyed who were in relationships have a “secret” sex act that they’re longing to try, but were too afraid to discuss with their partner.
If you’ve been looking to explore fetish sex more, or wondering if you even have a particular fetish, we reached out to Dr. Wendasha Jenkins Hall, a sexuality researcher and educator who specializes in sexual wellness and pleasure, to answer some of the questions you may be too shy to ask.
HelloGiggles: What is a fetish/fetish sex?
Dr. Wedasha Jenkins Hall: A fetish is a strong or intense sexual attraction to an inanimate object or body part that is not traditionally viewed as sexual. Sexual attraction or arousal to a particular body part other than the genitals is further classified as partialism.
A person with a fetish may masturbate or have sex while holding, smelling, tasting, watching, or touching the object of their attraction. They may also request that their partner wear or use the particular object during sex.
HG: How do people typically discover if they have a fetish or not? Can a fetish be triggered by life events?
WJH: Sexuality researchers and behavior scientists don’t necessarily agree on the origin of fetishes, but some believe fetishes are the result of an inadvertent learned association between a nonsexual object and sexual pleasure. Some can date their sexual experience back to a specific childhood event or experience. Other researchers believe objects that were present during early sexual experiences can cause some to associate certain objects with sex and pleasure. Some fetishes are discovered through experimentation and even traumatic events.
HG: Can those with fetishes enjoy sex without incorporating their fetish?
WJH: Yes, many people with fetishes are able to enjoy sex without incorporating their fetish. Studies suggests that most fetishists can and do enjoy sex without the object of their fetish, although they tend to find fetish sex more sexually satisfying. Of course, there are some who cannot experience sexual arousal without the object of their fetish present.
HG: What is the difference between a “kink” and a “fetish”?
WJH: “Kink” and “fetish” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. “Kink” refers to sexual activities and behaviors that exist outside the norm of “traditional” sexual behavior—behavior that goes beyond your typical missionary or doggie-style. Popular kinks include BDSM, spanking, and role playing. A person can participate in different kinks without having a strong, intense sexual attraction to the specific object or behavior. In short, all fetishes are kinks but not all kinks are fetishes.
HG: What are some of the most common and uncommon fetishes?
WJH: Some common fetishes are shoe fetishes, stocking (nylon) fetishes, foot fetishes, latex (rubber) fetishes, tickling fetishes, balloon fetishes, and furry fetishes—people with an interest in animals with human traits and behaviors. Think Mickey Mouse, Barney the Dinosaur, or Bugs Bunny.
Some uncommon fetishes may be fart (flatulence) fetish, coprophilia (arousal to feces), bug fetish, and necrophilia (arousal to dead bodies).
HG: What are some easy ways that those new to fetish sex can start incorporating or exploring fetishes? What are some ways to bring up the topic of fetish sex with a sexual partner or go about finding others with similar sexual interests?
WJH: Do your research. Google is a useful tool when starting your journey into the world of sexual fetishes. There are also several books, such as Fetish Sex: A Complete Guide to Sexual Fetishes, that offer comprehensive overviews of fetishes and what they entail. This can also include checking out some fetish porn, if you’re comfortable. Just know that porn is not sex ed and depictions are highly dramatized and stylized. But browsing a few sites can give you an idea of what’s out there in the fetish world. Become familiar with what’s out there and start to think about the activities that are of interest and comfortable for you to explore.
Find a community. Believe it or not, there are several online communities dedicated to specific fetishes. There are communities on popular social media platforms, such Facebook, Meet Up, and Reddit. There is even a platform, FetLife, that is solely dedicated to members of the fetish and kink communities. For offline connections, fetish parties and clubs are a way to connect to the fetish and kink community. Again, a quick Google search can unveil a lot.
Experiment alone. Once you find a fetish that piques your interest, try exploring some porn associated with that fetish or kink and see what arouses you and what you find titillating. Just remember that porn is not real sex, so be sure to temper your expectations.
Talk to your partner. Before anything is introduced in the bedroom (or outside) it’s always important to make sure your partner is on board. Have a conversation about your desires and the activities you would like to try. Lay out some ground rules and expectations, and keep an open line of communication through the process. Introduce the fetish slowly and build from there, if your partner is willing. Remember, they can say “no” before, during, and after the act. Everything should be consensual.
HG: What are some absolute dos and don’ts for beginners?
WJH: Do start slow. Slowly and gradually adding different elements to your sexual routine can ease you and your partner into your desired fetish. This helps you both become comfortable with the fetish and learn your limits and thresholds.
Do have fun. This is a time of liberation and experimentation. You are exploring different aspects of your sexuality, and things may not go as smoothly as you envisioned. You might even realize the fetish life isn’t for you. But keeping a good sense of humor and a pleasure-focused mindset can make your experience enjoyable.
Do no harm. Make sure you get the consent of your sexual partner(s). Be certain that your activities are not coercive and do not cause intentional bodily harm or mental anguish.
HG: Is there such a thing as a “good”or a “bad” fetish?
WJH: A “good” fetish is any behavior or activity that is non-coercive and consensual and doesn’t cause harm. Any fetish that is benign or harmless for all involved is typically good for those involved.
Any fetish that causes significant distress or impairment, is coercive or non-consensual, or causes great bodily harm or physical anguish can fall into the realm of Fetishistic Disorder. This is a disorder that can be treated under the care of a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist.
HG: What are some ways to deal with feeling ashamed about having a particular fetish?
WJH: Therapy is a great option for those who may be dealing with guilt or shame around their particular fetish. And depending on your needs, a sex coach can be helpful. Talking to a professional in a safe space can help uncover the source of the shame around your fetish and help you develop strategies for how to cope. Also, they can help you figure out how to safely and consensually pursue your fetishistic desires without fear and judgement.