Your Guide to Sexual Fetishes

Sexual fetishes are one of the most common sex-related Google searches. People want to know everything about “taboo” sex subjects. Yet, the thing is, fetishes are much more common then you might realize.

If you’re looking to explore a fetish, a partner’s fetish, or simply learn more about what a fetish even is, you’ve come to the right place.

What is a fetish & what do fetishes mean?

What do fetishes mean? Well, a fetish is a sexual desire for an object, body part, or material that one needs in order to become sexually aroused. This fixation is usually attached to a non-sexual item such as feet, latex, leather, spanking, shoes, etc. Fetishes are inherent to the person’s sexuality. “Most people are sexually aroused by something, and it’s very common to be aroused by something such as lingerie, breasts, or even a sexy dress,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist.

Some fetishes aren’t actually intense that your sex life revolves around them. You might have a leather fetish, but don’t absolutely NEED it to get sexually turned on. It just helps – a lot. Sexuality is on such a spectrum that we can’t make any concrete, inflexible statements about it without finding ourselves in a pickle. People experience fetishes differently and with different levels of intensity.

Some of the most common fetishes are voyeurism (the desire to watch others having sex), exhibitionism (the desire to be watched while having sex), feet, latex, rubber, leather, spanking, bondage, and, women’s underwear. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. If you don’t see you fetish here, it doesn’t mean there’s anything unusual or unnatural about it.


Are fetishes normal?

Fetishes are totally normal and you shouldn’t be ashamed of having one. We’re so wrapped up in shaming people for their sexual appetites, it’s no wonder people are apprehensive about flying their freak flags. Fetishes, while normal, are a desire for things that are usually not associated with sex. When things deviate from the social script, people get nervous.

We are here to kick shame to the curb. You are not a weirdo. Well, you kind of are, but weirdos are more fun, anyway.

“Fetishes are normal if they do not cross over into socially inappropriate territory,” says Jennifer B. Rhodes, PsyD, a licensed psychologist.

This means that a fetish is normal (and even OK to incorporate during sex), as long as you’re doing it with two (or more) consenting adults. If you and your partner(s) are cool with it, everything is fine. There are so many types of fetishes, there’s something for everyone.

How fetish and BDSM are different.

Fetish is often lumped in with BDSM and this is where things can get a little bit confusing. Both fetish and BDSM fall under the umbrella of Kink. Kink is anything outside of traditional or “vanilla” sex. Vanilla is your run-of-the-mill, basic, toy-free, frill-free sex. It’s the sex most people have, and that’s totally OK. People are into different things.

Some people use kink and BDSM interchangeably, but BDSM is considered a lifestyle whereas a fetish is something you need to have present (or in porn etc.) in order to get aroused. Fetishes are definitely kinky, but they aren’t always BDSM-related. You can have a leather, spanking, or bondage fetish, but you don’t need to have a fetish to practice BDSM, get it?

Furthermore, most common fetishes are usually about a non-sexual object whereas BDSM play is more about power exchange and role play. “BDSM is about playing with the roles of dominance and submission,” says Rhodes “It often involves bondage to varying degrees and can also involve psychological play where people use humiliation and playing with the sexual power exchange.”

Think of this as a Venn Diagram. The two circles are fetish and BDSM. Where they overlap in the middle is Kink.

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What to do if your partner really isn’t into it

The thing we often see when it comes to exploring fetishes is a fear that a partner won’t be into it or will flat out reject us. So, what do you do if you want to explore a fetish, but your partner is not having it at all?

This is a tricky one as it can cause a lot of friction in a relationship if it isn’t handled well, Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist. “Ask your partner what their deepest fears and disgust is around this fetish, and if they are happy for you to explore this on your own as part of your masturbation and fantasy life.”

The thing is, not everyone is going to be into what you’re into. What you need is to clearly communicate your fears, discomfort, and needs with your partner to find a workable solution. Having a partner who isn’t into exploring a fetish doesn’t mean the end of your relationship or the end of having your fetish be a part of your sex life. It just means it may have to look a different way than what you were expecting.

Which kind of fetish do you prefer? Just find out!

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Gigi Engle is a sexologist, certified sex coach, and feminist author. She teaches about pleasure-based sex education, masturbation, and the magical wonders that are sex toys. Engle's work has appeared in many publications her articles have been shared over 50 million times. She also writes a popular advice column called Ask Gigi, and her first book, All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life, debuts in January 2020. She has a degree in both English and Journalism from Fordham University College at Lincoln Center. Engle is an original member of The Women of Sex Tech and a certified member the World Association of Sex Coaches.