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.
In other words, a kink is a sexual behavior that is considered abnormal, unconventional, or strange.
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'” (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)
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 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.
 “kinky, adj. and n.” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press.
 “fetish, n.” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press.
 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.
 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.