The term “fetish” may evoke images of black bodysuits and complicated sexual contraptions, but you may already be acting out some of the most common examples, such as spanking. What defines a fetish, though, isn’t what the activity or object of desire is so much as the role it plays in someone’s life. “A fetish is typically referred to as a behavior that someone cannot get sexually aroused without. Fetishes can also be a term people use to describe a sexual arousal that is coupled with a typically non-sexual object,” says sexologist and psychologist Dense Reyne.
While people use the terms “fetish” and “kink” interchangeably, a kink means an activity or behavior that someone enjoys that exists outside the “norm” of “traditional” sex. Someone’s kink may be bondage, and they may be incredibly excited when they’re tied up…or someone may have a bondage fetish, and their entire sexuality may revolve around restraint. Meanwhile, a turn-on may be something that simply arouses a person. It’s crucial to remember that people of all gender identities and orientations can be kinky, and what’s kinky to one person may be considered vanilla by another. And while being kinky still comes with social stigmas, Stephanie*, a 25-year-old woman involved in the New York City kink scene, says kinks are increasingly viewed as mainstream. “I always thought you couldn’t have an unconventional lifestyle and fall into success. Now I know you can live a kinky lifestyle and still be successful,” Stephanie says.
When we think of kink, we often think of BDSM, which involves an erotic power exchange through dominance and submission. BDSM is kinky, but not all kinks fall under the BDSM umbrella. Reyne adds that people often have more than one kink or one fetish, and there is often overlap: For instance, someone may engage in spanking as part of a role-playing scenario in which one partner is dressed up as a schoolgirl and the other like a professor. In such an instance, the scenario would involve role play, impact play, and even age play. Cosmo also featured sexual fetishes.
Curious to know what these terms mean? Read on to read about common fetishes and what they entail. Research suggests that perhaps half of us are interested in sexual activities outside the “norm,” so if you’re interested in trying any of the following, rest assured you’re not alone. And of course, with any type of sex, acting on fetishes or kinks should always involve enthusiastic consent from all parties and safer sex practices, such as the use of condoms, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
1. Impact Play
Impact play means spanking, flogging, paddling, and other forms of consensual striking. Spanking is often an easy and safe BDSM entry point that leads to exploring more, such as purchasing a crop to use with a partner. Impact play can range from a light slap on the bum to a crack of the whip.
As with any kink or fetish, it’s important to negotiate boundaries beforehand. “Safety and comfort are the most important aspects of kink,” Renye says. Do your homework before practicing impact play. Discuss the level of intensity you enjoy (or your partner enjoys), choose a safe word to shut down the action on a dime if need be, and learn what parts of the body are safe to impact. Stick with the meaty areas, like the ass and thighs, and avoid less protected areas where organs live, like the lower back. For both financial savings and safety, it’s a good idea to start out simply using your hand before investing in bigger and badder impact play toys, for example a whip or paddle.
You don’t have to stop playing make-believe when you grow up. Role-playing means acting out a sexual fantasy with your partner(s), either once or as part of an ongoing fantasy, Renye says. While it can be a fetish or kink within itself, it’s also a healthy way to act out other fantasies. For instance, if you have a medical fantasy, and are aroused by doctors, you probably don’t actually want your doctor to get sexy with you because that would be creepy and abusive. The beauty of role-playing is that you can have your partner dress up as a doctor and indulge your fantasy consensually in your own home.
Role-playing scenarios range from classic schoolgirl-and-professor scenes to the more taboo, such as daddy dom and little girl. “There’s a huge stigma on daddy and brat/princess play, but I love it. I can’t have sex without calling someone daddy,” Stephanie says. Such role-playing can involve both age play, in which one partner pretends or both partners pretend to be an age other than their own, and incest fantasies. It’s not unusual for a fetish to overlap into one or more categories.
3. Foot Fetish
A foot fetish involves a desire to worship feet through acts such as massage, kissing, and smelling. As professional dominatrix Goddess Aviva told Allure, it’s an extremely common fetish. If your partner shares that they have a foot fetish, it may be initially jarring, but it’s an opportunity for you to discuss a potentially exciting new part of your sex life together. (And, if you’re into it, just think of all the foot massages headed your way!)
4. Anal Sex
You don’t need to have an anal fetish to engage in anal sex, but plenty of people of people do specifically get off on butt stuff. Anal play can range from adding a finger in the ass during penetrative vaginal sex to using butt plugs to having anal sex with a penis or a dildo. In a recent study, 37 percent of women and 43 percent of men said they had engaged in anal sex (in which women received and men gave).
Stephanie says that she’s observed anal play become more socially acceptable since she began exploring kink in college, and she credits mainstream media for helping to destigmatize the act (think of the infamous rimming scene in Girls, where Marnie gets her ass eaten, or the epic Broad City episode where Jeremy asks Ilana to peg him). Since the butthole is not self-lubricating and harbors bacteria that can lead to infection when transferred to the vagina, it’s important to stock up on lube and read up on ass etiquette before engaging in anal play. That includes safer sex precautions such as condom use.
Renye says that one of the most common fetishes centers on something that may be sitting inside your dresser right now: lingerie. “[This] may show up in sexual play between and among individuals who may not even consider themselves kinky or to have a fetish (or two or three),” she says. Again, while many people get aroused by sexy underwear, lingerie becomes a fetish when someone needs it to be present in a sexual scenario in order to fully engage or get off. A common lingerie fetish involves stockings, a fetish that can overlap with a love of feet. Lingerie is an example of the lesser-used definition of a fetish: an attraction to an object. (Try Harry Potter underwear to explore both role-playing and lingerie.)
6. Group Sex
Group sex is getting it on with more than one person. If you’ve ever swiped on Tinder, you’re likely aware that many couples are searching for a third, although group sex can mean more than just a threesome. An orgy is when a group of people of all genders have sex, while a gangbang typically refers to one person having sex with more than two members of another gender (while the term has past violent connotations, it’s used in the kink community to refer to consensual scenarios). The most talked-about type of gangbang is a woman being penetrated by multiple penises. However, men can be gangbanged by multiple women, while with strap-ons, anyone can play out a penetrative gangbang. If you have a group sex fetish or kink but realistically only want to have sex with one other person, try using porn, dirty talk, or role-playing with the use of sex toys to explore within your current relationship.
7. Sensation Play
Sensation play can refer to a huge range of activities based on the receiving or withholding of different stimuli. For instance, one partner may blindfold the other to deprive them of their sense of sight, a form of sensory deprivation, or they may drag an ice cube along their skin, a form of sensation play known as temperature play. When it comes to giving sensation, think of everything from tickling a partner with your hands or a feather to biting them. Impact play is sometimes placed under the category of sensation play.
8. Orgasm Control
Orgasm control is part of BDSM, as it involves an element of dominance and submission. Edging, in which the submissive partner is brought to the brink of climax and then forced to stop — often done repeatedly — is an example of orgasm control. The idea here is that for as long as you like, you let your partner take the reins and determine when and how you come. As with all of the activities here, anyone can engage in orgasm control regardless of their genitalia.
Bondage is when one partner restrains the other. It’s usually a form of dominance and submission and falls under the BDSM umbrella. You can bind your partner using objects you already have around, such as a belt, or purchase specialty kink items like handcuffs. To engage in restraint play safely, establish boundaries and a safe word, emphasize consent and communication at every step, and start slow. (And take care not to cut off anyone’s circulation!) Books such as sex educator Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Kink can help you get started.
10. Psychological Play
While physical actions, such as spanking, are often the most discussed kinks and fetishes, some of the most intense sexual play takes place in the mind. Renye refers to psychological power play as “mind control,” and it’s a type of BDSM. Psychological play involves implementing a sexual power exchange: Humiliation play, for example, might involve a submissive partner getting off on being called names. Consensual threats are an example of psychological play; one example is a domme warning a male submissive with a foot fetish that he’ll have to lick her feet if he doesn’t fall in line and do exactly as she says.
A study on fetishes published in the Journal of Sex Research found voyeurism — or obtaining sexual pleasure from watching others who are naked or having sex — to be one of the most common fetishes. Of course, as with every other fetish, engage in voyeurism consensually, for example at a sex party where a couple has given you permission to watch; watching someone without their permission is never acceptable. The flip side of voyeurism is exhibitionism, which means achieving sexual pleasure by allowing others to watch you. (A sex party is a great setting in which to do this, too.)
Remember, regardless of your fetish or kink, consent is paramount. “Kinks and fetishes are fertile grounds for misunderstandings if consent is not explicit,” Renye says. Once you obtain consent, expressing your sexual desires is one of the healthiest things you can do for your sex life: Fetishes that are repressed rather than expressed can take their toll on both individuals and relationships. As long as the desire is safe and based on consent from everyone involved, everyone deserves to pursue theirs.