Jul 252013
 

What’s the difference between kinks and fetishes?

The words ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’ are often used colloquially and interchangeably. There’s no universally agreed-upon definition of each, and while there is some consensus about what makes them different, it’s not clear where a kink ends and a fetish begins.

According to the OED, there is a difference.

kinky, adj. and n.: Someone who is kinky is “a sexually abnormal person; one who practices sexual perversions”[1]; a kinky individual is “given to sexual behaviour regarded as strange or unconventional.”[2] A kinky object is “sexually provocative in an unconventional way.”[2]

In other words, a kink is a sexual behavior that is considered abnormal, unconventional, or strange.

fetish, n. (fig. and psychol.): Colloquially, a fetish is “something irrationally reverenced.”[3] In psychology, a fetish is “an object, a non-sexual part of the body, or a particular action which abnormally serves as the stimulus to, or the end in itself of, sexual desire.”[3]

A fetish is an ‘irrational’ sexual reverence for something that isn’t typically thought of as sexual. It’s a non-sexual thing that is the central focus of someone’s sexual desire.

The Important Difference

A kink is sexual, but it’s considered sexually abnormal or strange. For a kinky person, a kink is part of sex.

A fetish is a sexual preoccupation with something that isn’t sexual — it’s singular focus on a body part, object, or practice that isn’t traditionally thought of as sexual. For a fetishish, a fetish is sex.

In an NYT review of a kink exhibition at the Museum of Sex, the difference is described as such: “A kink ‘is the use of props, costumes and role play to enhance partner intimacy.’ But a fetish ‘is when the props, costumes or role play replace the partner and the intimacy'”[4] (emphasis added).

In other words, kinks enhance intimacy; fetishes replace intimacy.

The tentative relationship between kinks, fetishes, and intimacy and the divergent nature of the way individuals conceptualize and enact intimacy is why the two terms are often misunderstood and why kinks are often viewed as more acceptable than fetishes, sometimes even within sex-positive, BDSM, kink, and fetish ‘friendly’ communities.

Examples: Foot Fetishes (/Kinks) and Puppy Play Kinks (/Fetishes)

foot-fetish

‘Beautiful Legs’ by Davey Jacobs
[CC BY-SA 2.0]

For a person who kinks on feet, rubbing a partner’s feet or sucking their toes is a way to enact intimacy. It’s a way to express attraction to a partner and/or communicate affection for a partner.

For someone with a foot fetish, the primary interest is in feet. Giving a foot massage or sucking on toes is the desired intimacy — the person connected to the feet is secondary to the feet themselves (as the object of fetishization).

For someone who kinks on animal role play, being a ‘puppy’ is a way to enact intimacy with a partner. Sitting at a partner’s feet or wearing a collar and leash is a way to express attraction to or show affection for a partner.

For someone with a puppy play fetish, the primary sexual interest is in ‘being’ a puppy — in wearing a collar, being led by a leash, and sitting at someone’s feet. For a puppy fetishist, the primary desire is to be a puppy; the person holding the leash is secondary.

Acceptability and Issues:

In my limited experience, kinks are more common and more accepted than fetishes.

I think some of the ire for fetishists (and what makes it feel acceptable to poke fun[5] at fetishists) is due to intentional and unintentional miscommunication. A common narrative among women in BDSM, kink, and fetish communities is the trouble with foot fetishists. A woman develops a some sort of relationship with a man knowing he’s ‘into’ feet. Somewhere down the line, she finds out he is far more interested in her feet than he is in her.

 


[1] “kink, n.1” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press.
[2] “kinky, adj. and n.” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press.
[3] “fetish, n.” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press.
[4] Rothstein, Edward. “‘Kink’ at the Museum of Sex: What’s Latex Got to Do With It?” The New York Times. 5 Oct. 2007. NTY.com.
[5] I’m guilty of making fun of particular kinks and fetishes, but I make no apologies — I poke fun at myself just as much (if not more) than I poke fun at anyone else.

 

  23 Responses to “kinks and fetishes: what’s the difference?”

  1. I disagree that the person to which the fetish is surrounding is secondary with the fetish being primary. I understand the fetish comes first really but to say that the person with the fetish is far more interested in the fetish itself than the person who it is directed toward to me doesn’t make sense.

    I’ve always wondered at what point does an attraction turn into a fetish. I am sexually attracted to certain things but I don’t really consider them fetishes because I am not really preoccupied with them persay.

    Respectfully,
    mysticlez

    • I understand the fetish comes first really but to say that the person with the fetish is far more interested in the fetish itself than the person who it is directed toward to me doesn’t make sense. (emphasis added)

      This is contradictory. :)

      Your comment speaks to the difficulty in discerning kinks from fetishes. It’s the preoccupation and focus, I think, that makes them different.

      I guess I think of it this way: if I’m with a person who is into long hair (for example), and somewhere during the relationship, I cut all my hair off, if there are still things that turn him on about me, then the long hair thing is a kink. If he is no longer sexually attracted to me, then it was a fetish.

  2. Very interesting. I have always used the terms interchangeably, without ever considering that there was a difference, so thank you for pointing that out… I learned something new today.

    See?… You *CAN* teach an old dogs new tricks… Well, not *tricks* exactly, because I’d fall down a lot… But words, I can learn new words and stuff.

    • Thanks, Stephen. :)

      See?… You *CAN* teach an old dogs new tricks… Well, not *tricks* exactly, because I’d fall down a lot… But words, I can learn new words and stuff.

      Me too! As a middle-aged dog, my new trick is “speak.” Actually, that’s an old trick for me… I do it all too often.

      Can I have a treat now?

  3. In the realm of trivia, I find it interesting that the brain’s sensory receptors for the feet are adjacent the receptors for the sex organs. Sometimes/often, there is crossover. Many more people are turned on by foot contact during sex than will own up to (in my experience) and I am guessing this particular brain blip has something to do with it.

    Maybe if there’s TOO MUCH crossover, you get a foot fetishist. It would be interesting research, to say the least. I wonder in the National Institute for Mental Health would fund it? :-)

    • In the realm of trivia, I find it interesting that the brain’s sensory receptors for the feet are adjacent the receptors for the sex organs.

      I fucking LOVE that I have smarty pants readers. :)

      I’ve read a little on this here and there. I adore having my feet rubbed, not because it turns me on (it is a turn on to have someone care about me like that, but it’s not directly sexual), but because my feet hurt.

      However, I have noticed I get a little tingly when someone rubs around my ankles. Just recently, I was chatting with a pregnant friend and she mentioned something about getting a pedicure and asking the technician to avoid rubbing her ankles because she read somewhere that it can cause contractions in uterus and induce labor.

      Anyway, that’s a really interesting thought!

      Maybe if there’s TOO MUCH crossover, you get a foot fetishist. It would be interesting research, to say the least. I wonder in the National Institute for Mental Health would fund it? :-)

      You know, I thought my grant writing days were over, but I could go in for just one more NIH application. What do you say… we can co-author… :)

      • I know some folks who are pretty good with functional MRI’s…we can compare contrast foot fetishists vs. foot kinksters in seeing what lights up… but we should probably have a control group – suggestions for fetishists for a different body?!? I have a little history with NIH myself… occasional ‘rewards’ but not enough reinforcement for them to become my fetish. :)

  4. I kind of agree with mysticlez218.

    I definitely have a heavy bondage fetish – my collection of sleepsacks, hoods, armbinders, anything heavy duty and bondage providing – but the person at the other end is just as important to me as the fetish itself.

    I couldn’t just play with anyone, and I don’t. Yes I start getting excited when the lacing is tightened, the straps are buckled, and the hood goes on, but the other person is equally as responsible for that, as is the feeling that I’m literally putting my life in their hands, and trusting them with my safety.

    That said, I only get put into my heavy bondage stuff when I’ve behaved well, so it’s definitely a motive to be good, lol.

    • I definitely have a heavy bondage fetish – my collection of sleepsacks, hoods, armbinders, anything heavy duty and bondage providing – but the person at the other end is just as important to me as the fetish itself.

      I’m no expert (just curious and interested), but based on everything I read, I would call what you have a bondage kink, not a bondage fetish for a couple of reasons.

      1. Because you are interested in the person, just as much (if not more) than the bondage.
      2. Because (I’m assuming) it isn’t the be-all-end-all of sex for you. There are other things that turn you on/get you off.
      3. Bondage might be considered “abnormal” to the vanillas, but it’s certainly prevalent enough to be recognized as a part of sex that lots of people enjoy. In other words, it’s not irrational nor is it traditionally thought of as “not-sexual” (like fetishes are).

      Of course, this is just one person’s opinion. :)

      Thanks for your comments on this, THH. Also, best of luck being good… for the sake of being good (of course) but also, for the heavy bondage! (Yay!)

      • Just thinking about it, you’re correct. It’s definitely a kink now, than a fetish.

        But it started as a fetish for me at first I think, when I was just playing by myself ( and, I suppose, with myself, :) ), but I suppose it’s grown into a kink that I enjoy dearly with a friend now.

        It’s been an interesting road this past couple of years :D

        • But it started as a fetish for me at first I think, when I was just playing by myself ( and, I suppose, with myself, :) ), but I suppose it’s grown into a kink that I enjoy dearly with a friend now.

          That’s the cool thing about kinks and change — what was once about the thing itself evolve to be more about the person you’re playing with and the connection you have in that moment (like the trust you mentioned before).

          It’s been an interesting road this past couple of years :D

          I hear you there! It’s been a strange road for me as well. :)

  5. This is fantastic information! I’ve often wondered the difference between a fetishist and a kinkster. Or if there really was a difference. NOW I know!

    • I’ve often wondered the difference between a fetishist and a kinkster. Or if there really was a difference.

      I guess ‘officially’ there is a difference. But in common usage (which is what counts), people use them so interchangeably that I don’t know if it does really matter. (see Half Heard above).

      Thanks for the comment, Nikki!

      Oh…. so…. as a self-described ‘anal enthusiast’ (and published author of The Fundamentals of Fabulous Anal Sex), would you say you have an anal sex kink? Or an anal sex fetish?

      • It’s definitely a kink. For me, anal sex is sex in its rawest form. It’s incredibly intimate. Overwhelmingly so at times.

        Is it getting hot in here?

        *ahem*

        Thank you for the pimpage!

  6. Thanks for the info! I throw the term fetish around but I will officially re-label my own as kinks. :)

    • Ha! Look at that… I just ‘cured’ you of your fetishes. :)

      I’m a healer!

      • Hand to forehead…”BE HEALED!” crumples to ground, exorcised of fetishes….

        ps.. forget the support group, can I contract with you to help with the next one?? :)

        • Dammit. And now you have an exorcism fetish. Sorry about that. :)

          can I contract with you to help with the next one?? :)

          Yes, but only if I’m listed as a PI. :) (*sigh* I’m a dreamer… always a bridesmaid, never a bride… er, um, principal investigator)

  7. Thank you for this. I was wondering about the distinction, of if there is one, just the other day. Now I know! =)

    • No problem… I was trying to figure it out myself and figured I could share. :)

      Dumb Domme… not always the best source of information… but sometimes!

  8. I know this is an old post but completely agree about the difference. I have a sweater (more specifically wool turtlenecks) fetish and several kinks. but at times I do use them interchangeably.

  9. I love pit and pubic hair on men. I remember as a child taking showers with my dad and my face was groin level. I wanted to touch kiss and be close to his hairy penis. I now love pubic hair, bush, and natural men, which leads to smells and taste. This is what I masterbate to, but not always, but when i have sex i have to have my face in their bush. If they shave their pubes it is a big turn off. What is the kink and what is the fetish?

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