Talking to a partner about a fetish can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’ve ever experienced shame or judgment around an aspect of your sexuality. Before you begin the conversation, it can be helpful to be clear about your intentions, hopes, and fears about discussing it with your partner: Are you hoping that disclosing an important part of who you are will lead to greater closeness, regardless of whether they want to participate in your fetish? Are you hoping that they will be open to exploring your kink together? What will you do if they respond negatively?
Why should I tell my partner about my fetish?
If you feel shame around your fetish or fear rejection, you might be hesitant to talk about it with your partner. Open communication and honesty, however, can help you feel closer to your partner and enhance the overall health of your relationship (1). Especially if your fetish feels like an essential part of your sexuality, it might not be sustainable to keep it secret. If you’re worried about your partner’s reaction, or unsure how to start the conversation, it may be helpful to connect with others who’ve had similar experiences who can offer their perspectives and share what’s worked for them (2). It might also be helpful to talk it over with an understanding mental health professional. The American Association of Sex Educators, Therapists, and Counselors can be a good place to look for one.
Steps to telling your partner about your fetish:
Some people experience shame or embarrassment around their fetish. This is totally normal: Sexual desires that are seen as unusual or outside of what is considered mainstream in a particular culture are often stigmatized or misunderstood (3).
Having a fetish or kink, though, is very common. According to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, a team of Canadian researchers found that, of more than 1,000 adults surveyed, almost half were interested in a fetish or kink.
If you’d like to share your fetish with a partner, recognizing that it doesn’t mean you’re bad, weird, or immoral may help you develop the confidence to talk about it openly (4).
Connecting with others who share your fetish online or in person may help you feel more at ease with your sexuality; Fetlife is an online community for people with diverse sexual interests and can be a good place to meet people who share your kink (5). Seeking support from a therapist who is “kink-aware” and has experience working with people who have fetishes may also be helpful (6).
Decide how to tell them
Some people communicate better face-to-face. For others, especially those who may take longer to put their thoughts into words, writing a letter or an email can give you the time to say exactly what you want to say.
Depending on your own and your partner’s communication style, you might want to use humor, or be straightforward and matter-of-fact. You can also introduce them to media (a book, blog post, social media page, article, movie, TV show, or even porn) that features your fetish and let them know that it turns you on.
Choose your moment
It’s a good idea to begin conversations about sex, especially if you’re introducing a new or potentially challenging topic, in a non-sexual moment; bringing up your kink during sex might make your partner feel pressured or unsafe. Initiating a conversation at a time when you’re both feeling comfortable and relaxed can help your partner to feel more at ease and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
Share the stats
Sometimes people may be uncomfortable with kinky sex practices because of misconceptions about fetishes or the people who have them. If this is the case for your partner, it may be helpful to expose them to accurate, evidence-based information, like the Canadian study in which almost half of participants reported an interest in kink. You can also point them to the results of a 2013 study on the psychological health of kink practitioners published in The Journal of Sex Medicine: Compared to a control group of non-kinky people, those who practice BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) were found to be “less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive” and to have “higher subjective well-being” (7).
Even if your fetish isn’t related to BDSM, knowing that sexual interests sometimes regarded as extreme or out-of-the-ordinary are often associated with good psychological health may be helpful for your partner.
If you are worried about being rejected by your partner, if you think of your fetish as particularly extreme, or if it’s a core part of your sexuality, it may be tempting to minimize it. Being up-front about the extent of your fetish, though, can build trust and help you both to come up with strategies for how to incorporate it into your sex life—or to recognize that you may be incompatible.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself: Is your kink something you could go without if your partner doesn’t want to participate? Or is it an essential part of yourself that you need to explore to experience sexual satisfaction?
If your partner’s into it:
Welcome their curiosity
Especially for people who don’t have kinks of their own, it can be hard to understand why a fetish might be such an important part of someone’s sexual identity. Taking time to answer their questions can help them to get comfortable with your kink.
Even if your partner is willing to participate in your fetish, they may need some time to work up to it. Going all-in immediately might be overwhelming and make them hesitant to continue. A gradual introduction can give your partner time to figure out what they enjoy and what they may or may not be comfortable with.
In the case of activities that require practice, like rope bondage, or that involve a sensitive area of the body, like anal play, proceeding slowly is also a matter of safety: Taking your time can help you to manage risks and get familiar with your own and your partner’s physical and emotional responses to the type of play you enjoy.
If you’re turned on by bondage, for example, starting with handcuffs that are easily removed and worn for a short period of time might be a good introduction that could gradually lead up to more extensive rope play and longer sessions.
Keep their needs in mind
It can be exciting when someone you care about agrees to explore your fetish with you. Especially if it’s very important to you or something you haven’t been able to share with another person before, you might be eager to focus on your kink during most of your sexual interactions. Making sure that you make plenty of time for what they like, too, can help to ensure that they’ll want to continue playing the way that you want to for the long haul. For some couples, setting aside time specifically for fetish play, and for the type of sex your partner prefers, can be a good way to maintain a balance.
If your partner’s not into it:
Decide how important it is
For some people, a fetish is something that they can engage in casually or enjoy on their own; it may be a fun extra but isn’t essential to their sexuality. For others, a kink is an intrinsic part of their sexuality, and sex might feel incomplete or unsatisfying if it doesn’t incorporate their fetish in some way.
See if you can compromise
If your partner doesn’t want to participate directly in your fetish, you might be able to work out a compromise: Watching porn that features your fetish, writing stories or making art that includes it, or even connecting with a community of like-minded people who you can get support from and swap fantasies with can all be ways to satisfy your kink without your partner’s involvement.
If you feel that sharing your fetish with another person is the only way you can get your needs met, you can discuss consensual nonmonogamy. If your kink is one like bondage or crossdressing that doesn’t necessarily involve sexual contact, you can see if your partner would be open to you finding someone to play with. Otherwise, you can consider an open relationship in which you’re both free to explore your sexuality outside of the partnership.
Know when to walk away
For some people, a kink is an essential part of their sexuality. If your partner isn’t willing or able to participate, you can’t agree on a compromise, an open relationship isn’t an option, or if they shame you for your fetish, the partnership might not be sustainable.
As painful as it can be to end a relationship, sexual incompatibility can be a deal-breaker for some people. Fortunately, there are people out there who may share your kink; there are also those who, even if they don’t share a partner’s kink, are willing to compromise and explore.