The mere mention of the word “fantasy” arouses thoughts of threesomes, buxom blondes, and role-playing. But “fetish”? That just freaks people out. But a fetish is really just a specific type of fantasy—and one that more people have than you probably realize.
“If you think of a fetish that’s a 10-out-of-10 level of intensity—someone in chains on an iron cross in their basement—it might seem really strange and uncommon,” says Scott Jacobey, Ph.D., a sex therapist who specializes in alternative sexual behaviors. “But if you take the same fetish down to a level 2—a partner saying, ‘Why don’t you tie my wrists to the bedpost?’—it seems really realistic and ordinary.”
Translation: Having a fetish doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to wear adult diapers or a furry costume. You just have to find a normally non-sexual object or action arousing—an association you probably formed in childhood, says Samantha Leigh Allen, who studies sexual fetishism at Emory University. And in these cases, “most people with fetishes are able to integrate it into their life,” Jacobey says.
So which “strange” sexual proclivities are most common—and how can you encourage your partner to embrace yours?
1. SHOE FETISH
One in five women are more excited by a new pair of shoes than their sexual partners, according to a new survey byShoebuy.com. But stilettos as a source of sexual arousal? That’s a mostly male domain. “There’s so much eroticized imagery around high heels,” says Allen. “They’ve become a symbol of feminine power and aggressiveness—of men’s craving for female dominance.” In some cases, though, a shoe fetish may actually indicate a desire to avoid real sexual interaction. “It’s a way of indirectly fantasizing about a woman,” says Jacobey.
Make it happen: If it’s the whole female-power thing that excites you, ask your girlfriend if you can pick the heels she wears out on date night, then choose the shoes that turn you on the most, suggests Sitron. And if you hook up afterward, ask her to leave the stilettos on. If it’s the kicks themselves that arouse you—and you have an open-minded partner—do a little show-and-tell with your footwear of choice. “Walk your partner through the parts of the shoe that are exciting,” says Sitron. “That might be safer and easier than, say, masturbating with the shoe.”
2. FOOT FETISH
In a recent study of fetishes published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, feet and toes were the body parts most likely to be lusted after. How come? “Focusing on the foot is kind of an act of humility—like, I’m only good enough to touch your feet,” says Jacobey.
Or the explanation could be simpler. “As a child or young person, that could have been the only part of the person’s body someone had access to,” says Justin Sitron, Ph.D, a professor of human sexuality at Widener University. “The foot became eroticized.”
Make it happen: The good news: This fetish may not be as freaky to a woman as some others, since the object of desire is still a part of her. “A foot is always attached to a woman’s body, while a shoe isn’t necessarily,” says Allen. The easiest way to incorporate your fetish into foreplay: Offer to give your partner a pedicure or foot massage—a proposal that’s culturally considered normal, and therefore, non-threatening, says Sitron. While you give her a rubdown, you can verbally admire her feet if that’s part of your fantasy.
3. BUTT FETISH
Most men can appreciate a toned backside—think Instagram star Jen Selter—but some have very specific preferences: extra-wide rear ends, say, or super-compact booties. (Sir Mix-a-Lot was right.) There’s even a name for this: pygophilia. Whereas other fetishes are usually triggered by a childhood event—a learned behavior—this one may be more innate. “The human species is naturally attracted to butts,” says Jacobey. “It’s a pretty common object of fantasy for both men and women.”
Make it happen: Since most people can understand an affinity for a nice ass, “this fetish is probably most easily integrated into a regular everyday relationship,” says Sitron. Simply suggest positions, like doggy style or reverse cowgirl, that allow easy access to her butt—then if she’s cool with it, give that booty a slap.
Does the idea of being tied up turn you on? Let us guess: You’re a dominating guy outside the bedroom. “In sexual fantasies, people seek something they don’t have in reality,” says Jacobey. “If people feel powerful and have an authoritarian position in their job or family, they often seek something very different.”
Bondage may not seem like a true fetish, but that’s probably just because it’s become more mainstream. “It’s pretty accessible,” says Jacobey. Still, some psychologists argue that act of bondage is simply a convenient forum for often-eroticized objects, like leather. “Culturally, leather has a lot of power,” says Sitron. “It’s a symbol of the bad-boy, motorcycle jacket archetype.”
Make it happen: Don’t break out the hardcore gear in the beginning. Sitron suggests starting with everyday objects, like a necktie or the tie of your robe—“things that are relatively non-threatening.” Or, if material matters, look for leather restraints that have Velco closures. That way, “it’s easier to put on and take off,” says Sitron. “The last thing you want is someone panicking and not being able to get out.”
In a recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, more than 10 percent of guys reported at least one instance of voyeuristic behavior. “Most guys like to watch people having sex,” says Jacobey. “I think it’s one the reasons why pornography is more popular among men.” Where does the urge to spy on other people doing the deed originate? As kids, most of us were taught that sex is forbidden—a private act that’s only for adults. “Taboo and hidden things build curiosity—like, What’s going on behind these closed doors?” says Jacobey.
Make it happen: In its most extreme form—say, being a Peeping Tom—voyeurism is obviously illegal. It’s also likely to freak out—or at the very least, intimidate—your partner. But if you’re still dying to share, try suggesting you individually brainstorm ways you could comfortably act it out, says Jacobey. Then compare notes. You may find that she’s cool with watching people hooking up in a hotel like The Standard in NYC (known for guests having sex in front of its big windows), or perhaps watching porn together is her limit. You won’t know until you ask.