A fetish, also known as a paraphilia — from the Greek “para” (“other”) and “philia” (“love”) — has historically been defined as a sexual interest that is out of the ordinary (1). Although experts disagree about what counts as a fetish, it usually refers to a strong sexual interest in specific body parts, items of clothing, or objects (2). A kink is an interest in sensual, erotic, or sexual activities or scenarios that are considered unusual or outside of the mainstream (3). Both fetishes and kinks are considered paraphilias, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably (4).
Because what is considered “normal” is different across cultures and changes over time, the idea that certain sexual preferences and desires are “abnormal” is controversial; there is no consensus about exactly what counts as a paraphilia (5).
How common are fetishes?
Fetishes are very common: A 2017 Canadian study involving more than 1,000 adults found that almost half of the people surveyed expressed interest in a fetish or kink.
Why do people have fetishes?
Although there are many ideas about why fetishes develop, no one knows for sure (1).
It has been suggested that fetishes may develop based on the association of certain objects or materials with early experiences of sexuality or arousal (2). Cultural factors have also been cited as potentially significant in the formation of kinks, as sexual norms and values influence what people are attracted to and what is considered taboo or off-limits (6).
Is my fetish normal?
While some fetishes are more prevalent than others, human sexuality is highly individual: People can be turned on by feet, fur coats, diapers, pee, bugs, menstrual blood, mythical creatures like unicorns or dragons, bicycles, bondage, watching or being watched during sex, and more — in other words, almost anything can be a fetish (7). Your sexual interests are normal for you!
How can I get rid of my fetish?
If you feel uncomfortable with your kink, you are not alone: The stigma associated with sexual expression outside of what’s seen as “normal” in your culture may cause shame or negative self-perception (8). If you feel bad about your fetish, it’s worth looking into why: Are you afraid of what other people might think if they knew? Are you worried that it means you’re abnormal or a bad person? Is it causing conflict in your relationship, or making it difficult to find a partner?
Research suggests that many fetishes are present early in life and become part of a person’s sexual identity, like sexual orientation (9). This means that, rather than trying to get rid of your fetish, it might make sense to explore ways to embrace it, practice it safely, and incorporate it into your sex life in a way that feels good to you. Connecting with a community of people who have kinks can help you feel less alone and learn about how other people navigate the experience of having a fetish; FetLife is a popular online social network for people with diverse sexual interests (10).
If you still feel bad about your fetish or want support in figuring out what it means for you, seeking out a nonjudgmental, “kink-aware” therapist may be helpful (11).
What if my fetish is harmful/illegal/impossible to realize?
Sometimes people have fetishes that involve a violation of consent or something that could cause serious harm. Although having this type of fetish doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, you shouldn’t act on it: It’s important to find ways to express your sexuality that keep you and others safe. This might mean journaling or writing stories, making art, or connecting with someone who shares your fetish and agrees that it must stay in the realm of fantasy. It may also be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional or sex therapist who has experience working with people who have fetishes like yours: The American Association of Sex Educators, Therapists, and Counselors is a good place to start.
In rare cases when someone struggles to avoid acting on a potentially dangerous or harmful fetish, or if distress about it is interfering with their daily life, treatment with therapy and medication may be helpful (2).
The bottom line
Fetishes and kinks represent normal variation in human sexuality; having a fetish does not mean that you are weird, bad, or immoral. Finding healthy ways to explore your kink alone or with a partner can enrich your sex life and be a source of pleasure and satisfaction. If your fetish is potentially harmful or involves a consent violation, though, it’s important not to act on it: Instead, working with an experienced and understanding therapist can help you to navigate your sexuality safely and responsibly.