The Difference Between a ‘Kink’ and a ‘Fetish’


Sep 17, 2022


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Just because someone is turned on by the sight of feet, doesn’t necessarily mean they have a “foot fetish.” Instead of a “fetish,” it might just be a “kink” — the two aren’t the same.

However, in casual conversations — both online and offline — the terms are used rather interchangeably for an assortment of unorthodox sexual practices. So much so that now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know whether one is indeed referring to a kink while calling it so, or whether they mean to say, “fetish” — and vice versa.

Here’s some demystification: a kink can be anything sexually non-mainstream that piques one’s sexual interest but is not crucial to their experience of sexual pleasure. Stemming either from innate desire or developed as acquired tastes, kinks can include spanking, bondage, role play, exhibitionism, voyeurism, or absolutely anything else under the sun that isn’t strictly “conventional” in the bedroom — or, at times, not even a bedroom.

However, what qualifies as unconventional for the purpose of a kink can be subjective. Depending on how old one is or how conservative of a culture they belong to, one might find the usage of sex toys during intercourse, kinky. But for another person, using a sex toy might be vanilla. Similarly, the act of cunnilingus (or oral sex performed on a person with female genitalia) might appear kinky to some, but for most of us, it’s a routine affair.

Much like a kink, one’s fetish can sexually arouse them too — except, that’s not where their fascination with the object of their fetish ends. Unlike a kink, a fetish is integral to the sex life of a person — almost defining it, in a way.

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“Fetish is heavily tied to having a psychological need for those specific objects or acts in order to experience pleasure and or orgasm, whereas kinks can add to a sexual experience but aren’t necessarily needed to achieve sexual release,” a sex educator who uses the name, Dirty Lola, told Huffington Post. While kinks build on sexual desire, fetishes are almost central to a desire’s creation.

This explains why being turned on by the sight of feet, doesn’t have to point to a “foot fetish.” For one’s sexual fixation on feet to qualify as a fetish, it’s important for feet to be so involved in their sexual experiences that without it, they can’t experience sexual pleasure.

“[I]f massaging someone’s genitals with shoes is a fun turn-on, it might be considered a kink,” notes Francisco Ramirez, a sexual-health consultant, explaining the difference between the two. “However, if the shoe on its own is a turn-on, and it feels like a necessary part of your sexual repertoire, it might be a fetish.”

Ramirez proposed a thought experiment to further demarcate the line between the two. “If you’re curious if the thing that turns you on is more of a kink or a fetish, try closing your eyes and imagining that thing. Then, ask yourself, ‘was it more of an enhancer…or a necessity?'” It’s kink if it’s about pleasure building; a fetish, if it’s about feeling pleasure in the first place.

Elaborating on how kinks and fetishes manifest in one’s sex life, Lola notes, “I’m a submissive, and I love spankings and impact play. That kind of play adds another layer to my sex life that I love… However, I don’t always want or need that kind of play to be a part of all of my sexual experiences. In fact, there are only certain people I practice that kind of play with and I usually don’t have penetrative sex when I play heavily. The play itself is usually pleasurable and fulfilling on its own.”

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Having said that, kinks and fetishes do certainly overlap. Think of a Venn diagram, and picture this: the circle representing fetishes is a small one, located inside the larger circle representing kinks. In other words, while all fetishes are kinks, not all kinks are fetishes.

What is integral to healthy explorations of both kinks and fetishes, though, is consent. Needless to mention, it’s quite possible that two people who are prima facie attracted to each other sexually might not share the same kinks and fetishes. If one is into sadomasochism, for instance — either as a kink or as a fetish — doesn’t mean the other partner is too.

It then becomes imperative to ensure one has the consent of their partner — if they’re planning to explore their kinks and fetishes through intercourse with them.

“I’ve heard people accuse others of not being sex-positive if they didn’t want to get kinky, and that’s nonsense, super inappropriate, and basically the opposite of sex-positive,” explains Carol Queen, a sexologist. “[Kinks and fetishes] can absolutely be enhancing and exciting, but there’s no shame if someone doesn’t want to play.”

Having said that, mocking people having kinks and fetishes — or preventing oneself from exploring their potential kinks and fetishes — isn’t fair either. As Ramirez says, “It’s not the kinks that complicate our relationships; it’s our stigma of them that does.”


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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