You’ve definitely heard of foot fetishes and bondage. But, there’s basically a bottomless well of things that turn people on. You’ll often hear people refer to these interests as sexual kinks or fetishes. But what exactly are fetishes and sexual kinks? And why do people have them?
Sex therapist, Kelifern Pomeranz, PsyD, says that all fetishes are kinks, but not all kinks are fetishes. “A fetish is a sexual attraction to inanimate objects, body parts, or situations not commonly viewed as being sexual in nature, [while] a kink is a broader term that includes a variety of sexual interests, behaviors, preferences, and fantasies that are thought to be outside of the mainstream.”
According to Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the author of Tell Me What You Want, fetishes and unusual sexual interests develop gradually. A person might see a particular stimulus—like, say, a boot—while they’re sexually aroused, and eventually come to associate arousal with boots.
Or, Lehmiller says, grouping an object or body part together with orgasm might prompt a person to seek out that same object or body part in the future because the brain expects the same reward. (Orgasms, of course, floods the brain with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates motivation and pleasure.)
Fetishes get stigmatized because they’re reasonably rare, there’s a lot of sexual shame in our culture, and because they often involve impulses that puzzle the masses: Bees all over your genitals? Unbounded attraction to vomit? But the brain wants what it wants.
If you’re interested in exploring a kink or sexual fetish with your partner, communication is key. Dr. Pomeranz recommends setting aside time to talk about it. “ Set aside time for this conversation when you are both relaxed and when you are getting along.” And make sure to come informed, she adds. “Do your research and share well-informed and reliable information. Share articles, videos, books, and information from sex researchers, academics, educators, and therapists normalizing and supporting your interest.” You essentially want to put their fears and anxieties at ease. Exploring any type of sexual kink or fetish will always require consent and patience.
If you want to learn more about different forms of sexual play, here’s a list of 21 sexual kinks and fetishes you may not have heard about before.
Carole Queen, Ph.D and author of The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone describes bondage as a type of activity where you restrain your partner with things like rope, non-stick tape, or cuffs. “Bondage is a trust exercise above all, and can be done for its own sake (Japanese bondage, in particular, is aesthetically beautiful and sexy to do), or to add to other kinds of sensation, from intercourse to spanking and more,” says Queen.
She warns, however, that it should be practiced with caution as any kind of bondage that is too tight is not only uncomfortable, but can cause permanent nerve damage. To make sure you’re practicing bondage safely, it’s best to school yourself on best practices and most importantly set boundaries to ensure the safety of all those involved in the practice. One common practice is the use of a safe word, which signals that the bondage needs to end immediately.
2. Age Play
Age play is a kind of fetish that involves an exchange of power, says Jill McDevitt, PhD, a sexologist at CalExotics. In this activity, partners will role play and act as if they are different ages than what they actually are. “A common combination is an adult and a ‘baby’ who would be cared for like an infant or young child,” says McDevitt. Age play can also be categorized as a form of dominance and submission play, where the partner playing the younger person is often the submissive. This isn’t to be confused with autonepiophilia, where the person gets sexual pleasure from dressing up or acting as a baby, not necessarily the act of role playing as someone of a different age—more on that in a bit.
Quirofilia can also be known as a hand fetish. And since any eroticization of a specific part of the body is often referred to as partialism, quirofilia is sometimes referred to as hand partialism. A person into quirofilia is especially drawn to fingers and hands. Queen says that this fetish really isn’t too surprising, since hands are such significant sexual tools. “Many of us have daydreamed about the feeling of hands all over us, so this just takes such an erotic focus a few steps farther.” Quirofilia may involve an attraction to certain parts of the hands, manicures or certain acts performed by the hands, from washing dishes to handjobs. If you have a hand fetish and want to explore it with your partner, you should talk to them about ways you can introduce it into your sex life, maybe as a form of foreplay.
4. Foot fetishism
A foot fetish means you’re sexually aroused by feet, also referred to as foot partialism. People with foot fetishes may be attracted to seeing feet in certain footwear such as high heels, they might enjoy interactions with feet including massaging or toe-sucking, while some prefer embellishments on the feet such as a fresh pedicure or a tattoo.
In certain cases, a person may appreciate the feet more than the person they’re attached to, says Queen, but [feet] should really be looked at as an added source of a turn-on, not a substitute for a real connection with another person. “In fact, you can think of any kink basically this way: a “cherry-on-top” erotic treat, or a way to focus desire and arousal.”
Somnophilia, sometimes referred to as sleeping beauty syndrome, is defined as getting arousal from a person who is seemingly asleep or unconscious. This kind of fetish also involves an exchange of power, where the person awake is in a dominant position. However, it should always be approached with consent, as should all sexual kinks and fetishes, says McDevitt. “All should be approached with informed consent. Everyone should be sober. Everyone should know what to expect, and trust that acting on these kinks can be stopped anytime, for any reason.”
A fascination with mirrors, or more specifically, watching yourself in sexual situations is known as katoptronphilia. “People who like this kind of play may have a mirror by their bed, or masturbate to their own mirror image,” explains Queen. In other words, katoptronphilia essentially means you enjoy having sex in front of a mirror. To bring katoptonphilia into your bedroom, make sure you have your partner’s consent and be sure to be strategic about where you place your mirrors, so you can catch the best glimpses of yourself.
Like many, this practice is often portrayed in porn, but Queen says it’s important that porn isn’t your only guide to new activity. “Porn is not intended to be how-to material, unless it is clearly advertised as such. There is [however] a small but significant genre of what I call ‘ex-ed,’ explicit educational movies.” If you want to learn more, reach out to a sex therapist or read up on materials written by them.
7. Sensation Play
“The one overarching thing often said about kink is that it is erotic play that includes the whole body, not just the genitals,” Queen explains. “Sensation play can definitely include the genitals, but it is also common to engage parts of the body we don’t think of as erogenous zones–like the back.” In sensation play, there’s a focus on the body and the many sensate experiences we can have, so flogging, massage, temperature play involving ice cubes or candles that melt at a lower temperature, tickling and other kinky play can all fall under the category of sensation play.
Electrostimulation can be considered a subset of sensation play. It involves creating arousal through a sensation of electric shock. “Electricity play uses toys/devices that issue a mild shock or sometimes a zappy-feeling pulse. This is different from vibration and can get fairly intense-feeling. Most are below-the-waist only because it’s important to keep electricity away from the heart,” says Queen. It is important to learn the ropes of this kind of play before delving into it, since using the wrong tools can be dangerous. Beginners shouldn’t use intense-shocking tools like tasers, Queen warns. “Those aren’t beginner-level at all and require quite a bit of know-how to avoid damage.”
One beginner-friendly tool McDevitt recommends is a controlled sex toy that allows you to combine the familiar pleasurable sensation of vibration with electrostimulation, like the CalExotics Impulse Intimate E-Stimulator Dual Wand. Tools like these offer several levels of electrostimulation that are safe for partners just introducing electrostimulation to their relationships.
Sexual kinks like gagging can fall under the umbrella of dominant/submission play, says McDevitt. “[It] is a vehicle for increasing the helplessness of the sub by making them drool, unable to speak, and humiliated.” Again, the practice of gagging should involve consent and communication. “Approaching a partner with a desire to explore a kink together should be clear, respectful, and I recommend also, with a sense of curiosity instead of demands,” says McDevitt. While you might think of these practices as purely sexual, they’re not. As with anything, there is emotional risk, so if you aren’t comfortable talking about gagging, electrocuting, or whipping your partner, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
10. Scene Play
Many sexual kinks and fetishes can fall under the umbrella of scene play, explains Queen, since many people in the BDSM community center their kinky activities within a scene. A scene is a preplanned story including roles that you and your partner will commit to during foreplay and/ or actual sex, think: school teacher and naughty student.
“Going into scene” means partners have talked about what they want to do (or their roles and preferences are baked into their relationship and this info is already known by both),” says Queen. Those involved in scene play often negotiate what their desires and limits are or use signifying titles such as ‘mistress or sir.’ Scene play is a contained activity, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that partners continue to play out their roles out in the real world. “Within the scene, they may act very differently than they do outside the scene, and “the scene” contains it,” says Queen. The scene often ends when both partners are satisfied, someone uses a safe word or they’re simply out of time.
11. Consensual voyeurism
Consensual voyeurism involves consensually observing others undress, have sex or engage in other sexual acts. This isn’t to be confused with spying on people without their consent, which is definitely inappropriate, not to mention illegal. Instead, in this scenario the person you’re observing should enjoy being watched and may even be putting on a show. “This can show up in many ways, including watching a partner masturbate, going to a strip club together, watching live cam videos, etc,” says McDevitt. Queen adds that consensual voyeurism can also typically take place at a swingers party or play party—parties where people participate in BDSM activities.
Sadism is typically defined as arousal at the thought of causing pain, but not just any kind of pain, explains Queen. “‘Pain’ is a tricky word in BDSM. It’s not comparable to enjoying menstrual cramps [since, literally nobody likes that!], or the sensation of getting your finger caught in a door. Kink community people tend to like the term ‘intense sensation’ better, since when someone is engaged in being spanked or whipped, pinched or pierced, or whatever may be going on, their experience may be vastly different from feeling pain in other contexts.” Instead, this sensation of pain will bring on a rush of endorphins, which to put into context, Queen compares to a runner’s high. If someone is into sadism, it’s best they look for a partner who’s a masochist, in other words, who enjoys receiving the pain.
Remember that 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon hires a woman for her writers’ room who presents as a “very sexy baby?” First: Go watch it. Second, for those of you getting revved up at the thought of an attractive adult infant, I have one word: autoenpiophilia.
Otherwise known as paraphilic infantilism, this one describes someone who derives sexual pleasure from dressing up as, or acting like, a baby. “Often times there’s a mommy figure or a daddy figure and this individual is playing the role of a child,” Lehmiller says. “Maybe they’re being fed or nursed, or wearing or using diapers, or engaging in other infantile behaviors.”
“Research suggests that there’s often an element of BDSM that overlaps with paraphilic infantilism, where the person is taking on a very submissive role,” he adds. You can readily see where a parent/infant relationship might lend itself well to dominant and submissive roles, and where certain elements of this costume (namely the diaper) might aid in sexual humiliation.
Autoenpipohiles might also take great interest in a baby bottle, potentially filled with real breast milk—and that can be a fetish, too. Lactophiles, according to Lehmiller, are “people who either want to watch a woman who’s lactating or consume her breast milk.” A Lactophilic relationship might involve man and a woman who’s expressing breastmilk—the latter derives sexual pleasure from suckling the former in what’s referred to as a “nursing relationship.”
In that same vein, let’s all turn our attention back to that Sex and the City episode wherein Carrie kink-shames her politician boyfriend (played by John Slattery) who enjoys having people pee on him. That’s urophilia, Lehmiller says, or a fetish for “people who are sexually aroused by being urinated on, also colloquially known as ‘water sports.'”
There may be a BDSM element at work here, too, Lehmiller notes: The person getting peed on is clearly submissive to the other, and having someone’s pee drip down your body might also evoke some feelings of humiliation.
Lehmiller defines necrophilia as “being sexually aroused by having sexual contact with a corpse,” a sexual interest with which viewers of 2016’s fashion horror film, The Neon Demon, might be familiar. (Recall the scene in which a morgue makeup artist has sex with the dead body on her table). “What the research there suggests is that oftentimes people who are interested in that sexual activity have sexual adjustment difficulties,” Lehmiller says. “They have a hard time meeting live partners, so they may be interested in the dead partially for that reason.”
Again, though, there may also be an extreme BDSM aspect tied up in necrophilia: Sometimes, Lehmiller explains, arousal flows from the fact that a corpse can’t fight back or consent to sexual activity. Necrophiliacs might hire a sex worker to lie inert during intercourse, safely mimicking a dead body, or explore the world of freezable sex toys designed to simulate the experience of sex with the dead (or undead, as the case may be, since some of these products have zombie or vampire themes).
Vorarephilia is often shortened to “vore,” and can also entail fantasies about eating someone or watching someone being eaten, chewed, or swallowed whole.
This cannibalism-influenced sexual interest involves getting eaten alive—”usually being consumed whole and live by a much larger person or creature,” Lehmiller explains. “There’s often also a BDSM element to that interest as well, in that there’s often this predator/prey scenario and a lot of themes of dominance and submission.”
People might indulge this niche inclination through role play, or through watching (simulated) live-action or animated vore porn, an increasingly popular adult subgenre.
Macrophilia—”sexual attraction to giants or giantesses,” according to Lehmiller—also represents a growing sector of the porn industry. Particularly arousing niches within this sexual interest include: being squished against a giant’s breasts, being crushed by a giant, being dominated by a giant, or being physically harmed by a giant. All of which seem pretty plausible in a giant-on-regular-sized-human sex scenario.
Though some macrophiles may be attracted to people that are just a few feet taller than them, macrophila is really about imagination. “It’s more based in fantasy and the use of animation, virtual reality, CGI porn, etc. to imagine and fantasize about being vulnerable, small, and powerless against a giant,” says McDevitt. Macrophiles tend to find pleasure from consuming this kind of content.
Although it’s extremely rare, Lehmiller says, emetophilia—or attraction to vomit—is real. This can mean you’re attracted to your own vomit or someone else’s; turned on by watching and listening to the vomit, or doing the vomiting yourself. There’s only been one major scientific investigation into “erotic vomiting,” in 1982. Which is to say, knowledge on emetophilia is scant, but the themes of dominance, submission, and humiliation are self-evident within this fetish.
Consider Malcolm Brenner, a man whose name you may know thanks to the intimately chronicled romantic relationship he says he sustained with a dolphin, back in the 1970s. Their courtship (which also was briefly sexual) all took place at a theme park in Florida, and was allegedly “dolphin-initiated”. This man would be classified as a zoophile, or someone who derives sexual arousal from animals.
Isn’t this just bestiality? Not quite. Zoophilia relies on emotional investment and, often, the idea that a human-animal relationship is mutually loving. Zoophilia is “more common among people who grow up on farms, and it’s also more common among people who have social interaction difficulties,” Lehmiller explains.”They might gravitate toward an animal partner rather than a human partner.”
Considered by some to be a subset of zoophilia, according to Lehmiller, formicophilia involves arousal “dependent upon small insects or creatures crawling on the body, especially the genital area, sometimes biting or stinging in the process.”
Lehmiller says he hasn’t seen too much research into formicohpilia, but what’s available has mentioned ants, cockroaches, snails, and bees as possible sources of erotic pleasure.