Those who have particular tastes when it comes to sex often identify as “kinky” or as “fetishists.” But these two words actually have significantly different meanings and shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
If you’re more of a vanilla person, this might not be something that you have to ever deal with, but if you’re looking to explore or spice up your sex life even a little, it’s important to know what’s going on.
First, the terms might have overlap in practice, but in meaning, they are totally different.
The difference is also simple enough…
“A kink becomes a fetish when it becomes the primary source of pleasure.”
A fetish is chiefly characterized by the fact that the individual needs something — whether during the sexual act or simply in their imagination — in order to get off. That thing is often either an object or a body part. Feet, leather and heels are common fetishes. You may need, for example, to be in contact with feet, to be looking at them or at least to be picturing them in order to achieve sexual gratification.
Many people have fetishes, so they aren’t exactly abnormal. And, generally, they are not unhealthy. There are some more bizarre fetishes, such as wearing diapers and acting like an infant, attraction to teddy bears and the idea of being swallowed by someone whole or devouring another whole. These may be a bit harder to sell to a partner, but may be perfectly harmless.
There are some fetishes that can get people into trouble along with harming others if they are put into practice. These include frotteurism, or rubbing up against someone without their consent for sexual stimulation, attraction to animals and arousal by inflicting pain on animals. Acting out these fantasies would be illegal and immoral. People with such fetishes must rely on imagination or the creation of scenarios with a consenting individual that approximate the experience that entices them. Seeking therapy may help individuals safely manage these fetishes.
Since the fulfillment of a fetish, either in mind or in action, is necessary for a person to experience sexual release, it’s important to find partners who are open to them. Unfortunately, many individuals feel shame surrounding their fetishes. Bringing one up to a partner only to be met with derision, disgust or fear is not good for anyone. There are many online communities, such as FetLife, where people can connect with others in an open, honest environment friendly to fetishes both typical and further off the beaten path.
Unlike a fetish, a kink is something that a person enjoys very much sexually, but that the person doesn’t need in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. Some kinks may have the same objects as fetishes, such as leather or feet, but the desire is less intense. Acts like hair pulling, spanking, dirty talk and consenting voyeurism or exhibitionism are other examples of kinks.
Though the fulfillment of a person’s kinks is not necessary for sexual satisfaction, but they may find them important enough to merit seeking out a partner open to exploring them. Incorporating one’s kinks may be the difference between okay/good sex and fantastic sex, and everyone deserves to have the latter.
How Do They Overlap?
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.
Think of it this way: All fetishes are kinks but not all kinks are fetishes. What might be a kink for one person ― you get turned on by seeing your partner in leather chaps ― could be another person’s fetish.
You may have an actual sexual proclivity for leather, as in, the leather itself turns you on. It’s kind of like a Venn diagram wherein things overlap constantly. There is a lot of gray area. The lines between fetish and kink can get blurry.
When I’m feeling submissive, for example, I absolutely love impact play. Spankings make me orgasm when done correctly, however, I don’t always want or need that kind of play to be a part of all of my sexual experiences.
If I were to have a spanking fetish, I wouldn’t be able to get off without that kind of play; I would walk away from a spanking-less encounter sexually unfulfilled. Since that’s not the case, my desire to be spanked is a kink, not a fetish.
Fetishes generally develop early in a person’s life and can be based on experiences during childhood or adolescence. It’s reinforced by desire and pleasure found in engaging in that behavior. Most fetishes develop from early life experiences and are patterns and behaviors that grow as the person develops sexually.
The Bottom Line
In the sex-positive community, you’ll likely find others who understand your kink or fetish without fear of shame stemming from it. Labels are less important than understanding your own sexual proclivities and desires, and being able to talk about them openly.
Anything beyond so-called traditional or vanilla sex can be considered a kink or a fetish, and can be difficult to bring up in conversation with a potential lover. The more we talk about it throughout society as a whole, the easier it will be for future generations to say what they need, without having a stigma placed on them from the beginning.
If you’re trying to decide if what you desire is a kink or a fetish, do your research and think about how that act makes you feel. When involved in a relationship or just fun, if you absolutely require something in order to orgasm, it’s likely a fetish. When it’s something you could take or leave, it’s a kink. Regardless, if we can open our minds and work towards a more sex-positive society and world, that’s never a bad thing.
Sex is supposed to be fun, so if that means getting a little kinky in order to achieve it, then let’s go!
I Allowed My Partner to Gift Me to Another Dominant
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Demeter DeLune is a writer forged in the fires of desire. If you love reading her naughty tales of love and lust, sign up for her email list.