Okay, What’s Really the Difference Between Kinks and Fetishes?

red handcuffs on hands

Words like kink and fetish are thrown around pretty loosely these days, but do you really know the difference between the two? Some folks use the terms interchangeably, while others consider that to be sexual blasphemy. While they might seem to convey similar meanings, kinks and fetishes actually quite different. In fact, they have totally different origins and psychological focuses. Here’s how we’re breaking it down:

Kink: A kink is something that would be considered unconventional in terms of sexual preferences and activities. For example, one of my kinks is that I like role-play, particularly dom/sub stuff. This power dynamic turns me on, but I don’t need it in order to be sexually aroused. Rather, I toy around with a wide variety of sexual activities and this dynamic adds to my pleasure.

In this example, there is a clear difference between this being a kink versus a fetish. My desire for dom/sub role play is not the only way I can get off nor is it the only way I can feel sexually stimulated.

Fetish: A fetish is generally a desire that is centered around a particular object or body part, and sometimes centered around a particular activity. It’s required for arousal, and if not in reality, at least with mental stimulation.

For example, a person with a “foot fetish” has a particularly high sexual interest in feet. In fact, someone with a foot fetish will likely need to involve feet in order to feel sexually aroused. A foot fetish can involve a variety of activities around feet, including foot worship, kissing or licking toes, high heels, or shoe wear.

Kink & Fetish Variety

Feet aren’t the only fetish. There are a vast array of kinks and fetishes. It is like a kink cornucopia out there! There’s also voyeurism (being aroused by watching others have sex IRL), trichophilia (sexual arousal from another person’s hair, like smelling, touching, or looking at it), and even urophilia (sexual arousal to urine, which could include peeing on someone or being peed on).

Do I have to like all these?

Not at all. If these descriptions are starting to make you feel weird, that’s totally okay. But while you don’t have to like them or want to try these fetishes, it’s equally important not to judge or shame people for liking them, AKA  “kink-shaming.”

Is it a problem?

As long as you practice your kinks and fetishes in a safe, sane, consensual way, absolutely not. There’s a common misconception that people with fetishes or kinks are psychologically damaged or different from other people. That is definitely not the case. In fact, studies show people who practice BDSM have a higher level of socioeconomic functioning and emotional awareness compared to control groups. Sounds like a good reason to explore some kink.

How can I discover my own kink or fetish?

In some cases, a kink or fetish is something you’re born with. That said, a person won’t know whether they are drawn to a kink or fetish until something comes up to trigger it. In other words, sometimes you don’t know if you like a kink until you try it.

One way to explore potential kinks is by using the Sex With Emily Yes, No, Maybe Guide, a resource designed to help you discover what bedroom activities you’re curious to try. Do it solo or with a partner! Either way, you’ll likely have some fun discoveries.

Another good way to discover kinks and fetishes is by watching ethical porn. What are your search terms? If you find a particular activity enticing (like power play or spanking), discuss it with your partner or a sexually open friend whom you trust to share.

Explore with an open mind and see what appeals to you. Your new kink or fetish might be waiting.

Emily Anne is a bestselling author, sex coach and educator, who specializes in helping people expand their sexual horizons through BDSM and kink. When she’s not obsessively talking about sex, she’s hiking through the Hollywood Hills. Get some sexy education on her Instagram feed