What Are the Most Common Fetishes? Sex Experts Explain

Fetishes can sometimes get a bad rap — and yes, I'm thinking of that "House of the Dragon" scene. But really, fetishes are a lot like kinks. In fact, sexual preferences like praise kinks and foot fetishes are sometimes referred to as both kinks and fetishes interchangeably.

Naturally, this begs the question: what exactly does fetish mean? Especially when there is so much overlap between fetishes, kinks, and BDSM practices in general.

Fetishes, however, are distinct in a few key ways, says Sarah Simon, a queer femme sexologist, educator, and coach.

"A fetish is commonly seen as either an object, concept, or body part that someone might fixate on such that their sexual gratification depends on its presence," Simon says. According to a study published in the Sexual Medicine Journal, the most common fetishes are related to certain body parts.

But fetishes in general are a normal part of sexuality and desire for many people. And yet, it's not uncommon for some to feel shame about their fetishes, due in no small part to the way fetishes are portrayed in the media. But Simon says fetishes are more common than you might think, and when explored consensually, they can bring a lot of excitement to your sex life.

Below, we explore some of the most common fetishes, what exactly a fetish is, and the basics of exploring a fetish responsibly.

What Does Fetish Mean?

According to Simon, a fetish is a sort of sexual fixation on something that typically isn't seen as sexual (so not genitals, breasts, or butts, for example). Often, fetishes are multisensory and involve the sight, sound, feel, or taste of a particular object or body part.

"A fetish is different from a 'turn-on' in that a fetish is a necessary and mandatory function of a person's sexual satisfaction, whereas a turn-on is more of an optional but positive contributing factor," Simon says. "For example, someone with a foot fetish might not be able to experience sexual satisfaction without a foot being part of their sexual experience," Simon says. But "someone who simply thinks feet are 'hot' are just as able to experience sexual satisfaction with or without the presence of feet."

However, what's important to understand about fetish is the difference between a consensual, communicative dynamic around an object or body part and the outright objectification of people. "Taking elements of identity or of someone's body and sexualizing them in such a way that they become objects rather than components of actual humans can be harmful and even violate lines of consent. Self-awareness, self-reflection, and active, ongoing consent-based communication with others is key when exploring fetishes," Simon says.

For example, if someone uses a wheelchair, they might encounter those who fetishize their disability — and want to pursue a disabled person not because of who they are but because it gratifies them.

"If the whole crux of that relationship is centered around the eroticization of wheelchair use, the person themselves might find themselves objectified and not afforded the complexity, humanity, or expansiveness that's required in a healthy, mutual relationship," Simon says. "In all likelihood, that dynamic would result in some kind of relational, or even sexual, harm. So it's really important to have a clear ethical compass when engaging in fetishes, especially those that involve other people."

Make no mistake, while fetishes can be a positive form of sexual exploration, they can also reproduce harmful, nonconsensual power dynamics. In some of these cases, it may be helpful to work with a therapist or sex coach to create an ethical framework to talk about and explore fetishes in a safe, respectful manner.

To get you started, Simon recommends reading "The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography" by Ariane Cruz and "Who's Been Sleeping in Your Head: The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies" by Brett Kahr.

What Is the Difference Between Kink and Fetish?

Just like any umbrella term, kink can encompass many acts, interests, and practices — and fetishes do fall under the kink umbrella. But there are important distinctions.

A kink, broadly speaking, is a nonnormative sexual interest or behavior. For example, role-play, rope bondage, and temperature play are generally considered kinks. But it's also subjective, as what is kinky to one person may feel normative to another, and what is a casual kink to some may be a core fetish for others.

"Typically, a fetish is more pervasive in your life than a kink, [and] having an idea on whether it is a kink or fetish is important to know when you have a lover so that your kinks are compatible," says sexologist Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexpert for Lovers sexual wellness brand and retailer.

In other words, a kink is something that someone may enjoy during sex but isn't something they need during sex in order to feel pleasure. But if someone has a fetish, on the other hand, it would mean that they need their fetish to be present in some way, shape, or form during sex in order to experience pleasure.

"The real difference [between a kink and a fetish] is the severity of fixation around the object's presence in a sexual context," Simon says. "This overlap is also why I think they're used interchangeably so often. Many people are kinky but are not dependent on their kink for sexual gratification."

Understanding the differences between the two — and using the terms properly — is an important way to ensure all play is consensual, clear, and accurate.

What Are the Most Common Fetishes?

There are an unlimited number of fetishes out there, but the most common are:

  • Foot fetish. Sometimes called podophilia, a foot fetish is one of the most common fetishes. "Someone with a foot fetish might exclusively feel sexual arousal and interest by the sight, idea, feeling, or engagement with feet or toes," Simon says. For beginner tips, check out POPSUGAR's guide to foot fetishes here.
  • Body fluids or urine fetish. Though any bodily fluid can be a fetish, urine is a common one. Often, someone might feel satisfaction urinating on someone or being urinated on themselves, typically referred to as a golden shower.
  • Undergarment fetish. "Someone with an undergarment fetish might exclusively find sexual satisfaction by engaging with another person's undergarment. This can include the smell of used undergarments, the feel or look of them, or the anticipation of undergarment removal," Simon says. This fetish can include socks, underwear, and bras.
  • Voyeurism and exhibitionism fetish. This fetish can involve a fixation on watching sex or having someone viewing you have sex. "This can be done by going to sex clubs, viewing porn, recording someone having sex, or having someone record you," Stewart says.
  • Latex fetish. This fetish involves latex, the actual material, either being worn, touched, smelled, or used as part of a role-play or sexual situation.
  • Humiliation fetish. Many people — particularly straight men — have a humiliation fetish, which may involve a partner consensually berating them, insulting them, or ordering them around.

How to Explore Fetishes Safely During Sex

As with any kind of sex — kinky, vanilla, or otherwise — the same basic tenants hold true when exploring fetishes. Communication, consent, boundaries, and aftercare all apply here.

Always have a deep discussion with your partner, or any potential partner, about what you're interested in, what that will look like, and to what degree incorporating a fetish matters to you. Your partner should also have the space to discuss what they want, decline anything they don't like, and negotiate the terms of introducing a new fetish into their sex life.

Before heading to the bedroom, make sure you have discussed and have a solid understanding of hard boundaries (things that are an absolute no-go) and safe words (a predetermined word that, when spoken, signifies the immediate, nonnegotiable end to play).

"You also need to discuss what your physical and emotional aftercare looks like and anything else that would help you to feel safe and secure," Stewart says. "Understanding a person's physical, mental, and emotional limits are also best practices in kink, and if you're exploring a new fetish, I highly suggest taking a class, getting educated, or getting a mentor to help you go into the intricacies of the fetish."