The Psychology Behind Five Common Sexual Fetishes
We’re talking about sex a lot more these days. And as we become more comfortable talking about sex, it’s not surprising that sexual interests are also becoming a more common topic. One of those topics is fetishes and kinks. In everyday terms, a fetish is a fixation on an object or body or even some type of act that someone gets sexual enjoyment from. If you read my last article on 10 Common Sexual Fetishes Explained, you might have some familiarity with different kinks and what they are.
But what some people might not understand is where these interests could come from or what others can get out of them. And if you have a partner who expresses interest in one of them—or if you yourself are interested—you might want to know more about these kinks and the psychology surrounding them.
So, her are five common fetishes, what people might get from them, and the psychology behind them.
Sadism and Masochism
Most of us try to avoid pain as much as possible. But for someone who is interested in sadism and masochism, pain and pleasure are tied together. Some have described feeling pain combined with pleasure in sex as bringing them to another state of consciousness. In this sense, masochism—experiencing sexual pleasure from receiving pain—might be a type of meditation for those with this fetish. It is important to remember that between two consenting adults, the pain experienced is agreed upon, so it’s not like the unplanned pain of a stubbed toe or pain that will cause injury. With that in mind, some participants have said that it can increase bodily awareness. For others, their enjoyment of sadism and masochism can be a type of coping mechanism, or they might be using it as a thrill-seeking mechanism.
As to the psychology surrounding sadists and masochists, it’s not quite clear. Someone might be interested in sadism as they may feel pleasure and excitement from power, or it may be a coping or defensive mechanism for other more intense feelings. For the masochist, there may be desires to give themselves to their partner, removing responsibility from themselves, especially in the case that they are overwhelmed with responsibility in their lives outside the bedroom. Whatever the reason, it’s important to stress the necessity for respect, consent, trust, and communication in the relationship between the sadist and the masochist.
Bondage and Submission
Bondage and submission are two kinks that can be used separately or together. But what they achieve for someone in sex can be similar. For someone who enjoys being restrained during sex, there can be enjoyment in letting go. If you’re restrained during consensual sex, it means you can focus more on the pleasure that comes from sex. It’s similar for someone who enjoys being submissive. You have to trust your partner to provide the pleasure you’re seeking, which allows the submissive to simply enjoy. This is why respect, consent, trust, and communication are so important to any type of bondage or submissive activities; if you don’t have them, you will struggle to let go, trust your partner, and enjoy the sex overall.
Discipline and Dominance
Playing the role of the dominant partner may have a similar exciting feeling to the person playing the submissive—though in the opposite direction. The excitement can arise from the feelings of power and having control over their partner’s pleasure and enjoyment. Being able to be in complete control is what those interested in dominance might find arousing in this type of play. This could be attractive to someone who feels out of control in their own lives; being able to assume control in the bedroom could provide that sexual and mental balance they need. But there can also be an emotional component too. Remember that fetishes and kinks should be done within a consensual and respectful relationship; in the case of the dominant, the submissive must give over a lot of trust. As a dominant, there might also be an emotional comfort and connection in knowing your partner trusts you that much.
Lingerie, Clothing, or Shoe Fetish
Lingerie can be a fun addition to any sexual encounter, but for someone who has an underwear fetish, it may go a bit deeper than just enjoying seeing your partner in something sexy. For some, this fetish might have to do with the bodily secretions from wearing the underwear or other clothing. For others, this may stem from a childhood experience. One individual described the first time he experienced arousal from shoes was being a child and a female family member undressing from work in front of him, removing her heeled shoes first (Hock, 2016). So, sometimes a fetish can come from a personal experience pre-adolescence, which may become a part of our sexual psyche as we grow older.
While furries weren’t covered in 10 Common Sexual Fetishes Explained, it is one that’s worth mentioning. When we think of furries, we might think of someone who enjoys animated animal characters, such as artwork or even dressing up as them. This interest may also include a sexual attraction to these characters. This fetish could arise from childhood. If someone developed a crush on an animated animal character, it may be something that carried into adulthood. A study found that over 64% of participants were between 11-15 when they described themselves as furries (Hsu & Bailey, 2019)—in that, they became interested in these animated animal characters and perhaps developed a persona to match, but not that they necessarily engaged in sexual activities.
It is important to note that not everyone who considers themselves a furry does so for sexual motivations; some might just enjoy the dress-up or artwork without having any sort of sexual interest in the characters. But it’s very possible that our experiences as a child can also impact our attractions as we get older.
As we are stressing in all these fetishes, sex is best enjoyed in a respectful and consensual relationship, one where you are able to trust who you’re with and communicate your needs and concerns. You shouldn’t be forcing your kinks onto anyone else, and no one should be forcing theirs onto you. Sex is still an intimate act that requires boundaries for all individuals involved. If there isn’t respect, consent, trust, and communication, it not only isn’t a healthy environment for sexual connection, but it can also make it difficult for both people to enjoy the pleasure of sex.
But as we continue to study sex, it becomes obvious that there is still a lot to understand regarding the psychology surrounding it. Some of our interests may come from childhood experiences that impact us as we age, but some of our interests may arise later in life. Whatever our experience, it is always important that sex remain an activity where respect, consent, trust, and communication are the foundations, just as much as pleasure.
- Burton, N. (2014). The Psychology of Sadomasochism: An attempt to explain sadism and masochism. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/hide-and-seek/201408/the-psychology-sadomasochism
- Cernovsky, Z. Z. (2016). Fetishistic preferences of clients as ranked by a sex worker. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 42(6), 481-483. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2015.1070779
- Hock, R.R. (2016). Human Sexuality. Pearson Education.
- Hsu, K. J., & Bailey, J. M. (2019). The “Furry” phenomenon: Characterizing sexual orientation, sexual motivation, and erotic target identity inversions in male furries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(5), 1349-1369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1303-7
- Labrecque, F., Potz, A., Larouche, É., & Joyal, C. C. (2021). What is so appealing about being spanked, flogged, dominated, or restrained? answers from practitioners of sexual Masochism/Submission. The Journal of Sex Research, 58(4), 409-423. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2020.1767025
- Lehmiller, J. J. (2018). The Psychology of Human Sexuality. John Wiley & Sons.
- Martinez, K. (2016). Somebody’s fetish: Self-objectification and body satisfaction among consensual sadomasochists. The Journal of Sex Research, 53(1), 35-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.978494
- Schuerwegen, A., Huys, W., Coppens, V., De Neef, N., Henckens, J., Goethals, K., & Morrens, M. (2020). The psychology of kink: A cross-sectional survey study investigating the roles of sensation seeking and coping style in BDSM-related interests. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50(3), 1197-1206. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01807-7
- Sprott, R. A., Randall, A., Smith, K., & Woo, L. (2021). Rates of injury and healthcare utilization for kink-identified patients. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(10), 1721-1734. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2021.08.001
- Ten Brink, S., Coppens, V., Huys, W., & Morrens, M. (2020). The psychology of kink: A survey study into the relationships of trauma and attachment style with BDSM interests. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 18(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-020-00438-w
- Turley, E. L., King, N., & Monro, S. (2018). ‘You want to be swept up in it all’: Illuminating the erotic in BDSM. Psychology and Sexuality, 9(2), 148-160. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2018.1448297