The term “fetish” may evoke images of black bodysuits and complicated sexual contraptions, but you may already be acting out some of the most common examples. (Spanking, anyone?) What defines a fetish isn’t what the activity or object of desire is so much as the role it plays in someone’s life. “A fetish is typically referred to as behavior that someone cannot get sexually aroused without. Fetishes can also be a term people use to describe sexual arousal that is coupled with a typically non-sexual object,” says sexologist and psychologist Denise Renye.
While people often use the terms “fetish” and “kink” interchangeably, a kink means an activity or behavior that someone enjoys that exists outside the “norm” of “traditional” sex, such as incorporating handcuffs or even balloons. Think of the differences this way: If someone’s kink is bondage, they probably get incredibly excited when they’re tied up. If someone has a bondage fetish, their entire sexuality may revolve around restraint. (There’s also the category of turn-ons: things that simply arouse a person.)
When we think of kink, we often think of BDSM, which involves an erotic power exchange through dominance and submission. BDSM is kinky, but not all kinks fall under the BDSM umbrella. Renye adds that people often have more than one kink or one fetish, and there is often overlap: For instance, someone may engage in spanking as part of a role-playing scenario in which one partner is dressed up as a schoolgirl and the other like a professor. In such an instance, the scenario would involve role-play, impact play, and even age play.
Research suggests that perhaps half of us are interested in sexual activities outside the “norm,” so if you’re interested in trying any of the following, rest assured you’re not alone. And of course, with any type of sex, acting on fetishes or kinks should always involve enthusiastic consent from all parties and safer sex practices, such as the use of condoms, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs. You never have to try anything that’s not attractive to you, but please refrain from kink shaming others. Remember, we’re trying to dismantle sexual shame.
Ready to dive in? Here’s a list of some of the most common fetishes and what they entail.
1. Impact Play
Impact play means spanking, flogging, paddling, and other forms of consensual striking. Spanking is often an easy and safe BDSM entry point that leads to exploring more, such as purchasing a crop to use with a partner. Impact play can range from a light slap on the bum to a crack of the whip.
As with any kink or fetish, it’s important to negotiate boundaries beforehand. “Safety and comfort are the most important aspects of kink,” says Renye. Do your homework before practicing impact play. Discuss the level of intensity you enjoy (or your partner enjoys), choose a safe word to shut down the action on a dime if need be, and learn what parts of the body are safe to impact. Stick with the meatier areas, like the ass and thighs, and avoid less protected areas where organs live, like the lower back.
You don’t have to stop playing make-believe when you grow up. Role-playing means acting out a sexual fantasy with your partner(s), either once or as part of an ongoing fantasy. While it can be a fetish or kink within itself, it’s also a healthy way to act out other fantasies. For instance, if you have a medical fantasy and are aroused by doctors, you probably don’t actually want your doctor to get sexy with you, because that would be creepy and abusive. The beauty of role-playing is that you can have your partner dress up as a doctor and indulge your fantasy consensually in your own home.
3. Foot Fetish
A foot fetish involves a desire to worship feet through acts such as massage, kissing, and smelling. As professional dominatrix Goddess Aviva previously told Allure, it’s an extremely common fetish. If your partner shares that they have a foot fetish, it may be initially jarring, but it’s an opportunity for you to discuss a potentially exciting new part of your sex life together. (And, if you’re into it, just think of all the foot massages headed your way!)
4. Anal Sex
You don’t need to have an anal fetish to engage in anal sex, but plenty of people do specifically get off on butt stuff. Anal play can range from adding a finger in the ass during penetrative vaginal sex to using butt plugs to having anal sex with a penis or a dildo.
While anal sex can be safe and wonderful, there is some prep work involved. Since the butthole is not self-lubricating and harbors bacteria that can lead to infection if transferred to the vagina, it’s important to stock up on lube and read up on ass etiquette before engaging in anal play. That includes safer sex precautions such as condom use. Start small and go slow, using fingers, anal toys, and plenty of lube before moving up to larger objects such as dildos or a penis.
Renye says that one of the most common fetishes centers on something that may be sitting inside your dresser right now: lingerie. “[This] may show up in sexual play between and among individuals who may not even consider themselves kinky or to have a fetish (or two or three),” she says. Again, while many people get aroused by sexy underwear, lingerie becomes a fetish when someone needs it to be present in a sexual scenario in order to fully engage or get off.
6. Group Sex
Group sex is getting it on with more than one person. If you’ve ever swiped on Tinder, you’re likely aware that many couples are searching for a third, although group sex can mean more than just a threesome. An orgy is when a group of people of all genders have sex, while a “gang bang” typically refers to one person having sex with more than two members of another gender (while the term can have violent connotations, it’s also used in the kink community to refer to consensual scenarios).
7. Sensation Play
Sensation play can refer to a huge range of activities based on the receiving or withholding of different stimuli. For instance, one partner may blindfold the other to deprive them of their sense of sight, a form of sensory deprivation, or they may drag an ice cube along their skin, a form of sensation play known as temperature play.
8. Orgasm Control
Edging, in which the submissive partner is brought to the brink of climax and then forced to stop — often done repeatedly — is an example of orgasm control. The idea here is that for as long as you like, you let your partner take the reins and determine when and how you come. As with all of the activities here, anyone can engage in orgasm control regardless of their genitalia.
Bondage is when one partner restrains the other. You can bind your partner using objects you already have around, such as a belt, or purchase specialty kink items like handcuffs or hair accessories-turned-wrist ties. To engage in restraint play safely, establish boundaries and a safe word, emphasize consent and communication at every step, and start slow.
10. Psychological Play
Some of the most intense sexual play takes place in the mind. Renye refers to psychological power play — a type of BDSM — as “mind control.” Psychological play involves implementing a sexual power exchange: Humiliation play, for example, might involve a submissive partner getting off on being called names. Consensual threats are an example of psychological play; one example is a domme warning a male submissive with a foot fetish that he’ll have to lick her feet if he doesn’t fall in line and do exactly as she says.
11. Voyeurism and Exhibitionism
Voyeurism — or obtaining sexual pleasure from watching others who are naked or having sex — is more common than you’d think. Of course, as with every other fetish, engage in voyeurism consensually, for example at a sex party where a couple has given you permission to watch; watching someone without their permission is never acceptable. The flip side of voyeurism is exhibitionism, which means achieving sexual pleasure by allowing others to watch you. It’s the sexual enjoyment of showing off. If you like to get down at a sex party, in public spaces, or even at home with the curtains open, you may be an exhibitionist.
You may have heard the term “cuck” thrown around as an alt-right slur. It’s unfortunate since cuckolding is a common kink that anyone can enjoy. Traditionally, speaking in gendered terms, cuckolding is when a husband watches as his wife (the hotwife) has sex with someone else (the bull). The husband, aka the cuck, may get to watch, but he is emasculated and not allowed to participate. It’s often a form of erotic humiliation. The female version of a cuck is known as a cuckquean. However, all genders can enjoy being the cuck, the hotwife, and the bull.
13. Erotic Humiliation
Erotic humiliation lets you reclaim embarrassment by getting off on it. “Humiliation play is a consensual power exchange that is a very typical fetish. It can help people heal parts of the self that may have been bullied as a child. There’s a sense of mastery over something that may have previously been non-consensual,” says Renye.
Spectrophilia refers to having a thing for ghosts because sometimes humans aren’t worth it. It usually involves the fantasy of a spirit, but sometimes people believe they actually have sex with one at night or while they sleep. Traditionally, a succubus refers to a female sex ghost, and an incubus is a male ghost that has sex with humans as they sleep.
15. Dominance and Submission
Dominance and submission refer to a consensual erotic power exchange between two (or more) people. Although it may sound scary, due to consent and safety precautions kinkster engage in, a D/S scene can be safer than a vanilla hook-up. “Any time that we are talking about power control, that is the safest kind of sex that partners can have because there’s so much communication, trust, and vulnerability built into these kinds of exchanges and sexual experiences,” says sex therapist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life Dr. Holly Richmond.
Autonepiophilia means adult babies. These harmless beings like to wear a crinkly diaper and often have a “mommy” or other nurturing dominant figure take care of them. It’s okay if it’s not your thing, but as kinksters like to say, don’t yuck someone else’s yum.
Urophilia is a fancy name for piss play, golden showers, and watersports. Often during piss play, there is a degree of domination and submission. For example, you may see a businessman going to his dominatrix to get peed on after a long day of barking orders. Others integrate the kink into their romantic relationships. “My partner got me into weeing on each other early on in our relationship,” says Anoushka Lee*. “I remember feeling a mixture of thoughts and emotions, all the taboos and stereotypes of it being a ‘dirty act for dirty old men,’ combined with a feeling of intense excitement and arousal.”
18. Sadism & Masochism
Sadism refers to a person, a sadist, who gets off on inflicting pain. Their necessary counterpart is masochists, those who get off on receiving erotic pain. As always, S&M relationships require consent from all parties involved. Once all parties feel enthusiastic about what’s about to go down, S&M can look like impact play, erotic humiliation, or dripping hot wax on one another.
19. Wax play
Wax play involves dripping hot candle wax on your lover. Not only can wax play be extremely hot (sorry) but it involves the use of romantic lighting.
“Wax play is therapeutic for me,” says sex educator Erin Kennedy. “Being kinky with fibromyalgia means I’m always seeking sensations that soothe.”
For those concerned about burns, opt for a candle made for sex, such as JimmyJane’s afterglow massage candles. These candles burn at a lower temperature, so you can enjoy the heat on your body without worrying about causing injury.
Vorarephilia is the infamous cannibal kink. It means getting turned on by fantasies of eating someone, and the subject has made headlines this year due to the sexual assault allegations against actor Armie Hammer.
Of course, literally killing and eating someone is wrong. However, kinks and fetishes are already stigmatized; we don’t need to pathologize this one if someone is doing no harm. “It is usually metaphorically, or an embodied feeling, rather than a literal translation,” Dr. Richmond says. “Partners will often say, ‘I could just eat you alive I’m so turned on by you,’ but that’s driven by an urge to consume the energy of eroticism and arousal more than a real or uncontrollable desire to consume a part of the human body. Obviously, if it moves into a compulsion or biting in a way that is not consensual, this is dangerous, illegal, and certainly not sex-positive,” she adds.
The only safe and consensual way to try paraphilia is to (consensually!) add it to your dirty talk. But, maybe wait until you know someone and their preferences before whispering, “I want to cook and eat you alive, honey.”
Quirofilia is one of those kinks that sounds more far-out than it is: It simply refers to an attraction to hands. Whether you go for big, hairy hands, or soft, dainty manicured ones, considering how much we use our hands during sex, it’s a highly relatable kink.
Yes, pregnancy can be the result of sex, but it can also turn people on. Pregnancy kinks include a desire to get someone pregnant (sometimes known as a breeding fetish) and an attraction to pregnant people. “The former is one with an element of riskiness. There’s a permanent potential to be forever with the consequences of unprotected heterosexual intercourse,” says Renye. The latter may simply be an attraction to a pregnant body or could be a type of age play.
If you’ve ever gone into a porn search black hole, you may have stumbled upon anime tentacle porn. And yes, it’s okay to find it arousing. Don’t worry, you don’t need an actual octopus to enjoy tentacle play. There are lovely sex toy companies, such as Bad Dragon, who make body-safe silicone tentacle dildos for you.
24. Age Play
Age play is easy to be creeped out at, but it’s so common that you don’t even realize it. If a lover has ever called you “baby,” you’ve engaged in age play. But for people who really get into age play, it may look more like a “daddy dom/baby girl” situation where the roles are more pronounced. Remember, in our book, “baby,” “daddy,” and “mommy” can all be gender-neutral, so pick your favorite. “Age play is not pedophilia,” reminds Renye. “It is consensual play. If someone is attracted to children, that is not age play.”
25. Stranger Play
If you’ve ever hooked up with a stranger, perhaps even before getting their name, congrats, you’ve tried stranger play. “Stranger play is one of my favorites! When I was younger, I convinced myself that women found me attractive more for my personality than my body. So, a total stranger who doesn’t ‘know’ me engaging in a specific sexual scene is really affirming,” says Billy Procida, host of The Manwhore Podcast.
Gag warning: Emetophilia is a sexual fetish in which one gets aroused by vomit. Yes, it’s real, and it’s more common than you think. A lighter version of emetophilia may play out as finding it a turn-on if someone gags during a blow job. A higher octave version is simply getting wet for puke.
Klismaphilia is arousal from enemas. Some folks, usually those who enjoy receiving anal sex, will prep beforehand with an enema to make sure the mess is minimal (a trick also used on porn sets). However, others find enemas themselves arousing. This can be part of a larger medical fetish and may involve a fantasy of a doctor using an enema on you.
According to Richmond, electrostimulation is a pretty common kink. It involves using electricity for sexual purposes, and yes, it can be done safely, using kinky toys such as through a Violet Wand, for sexual gratification. It tends to be part of a bigger D/S dynamic.
Remember, regardless of your fetish or kink, consent is paramount. “Kinks and fetishes are fertile grounds for misunderstandings if consent is not explicit,” explains Renye. Once you obtain consent, expressing your sexual desires is one of the healthiest things you can do for your sex life: Fetishes that are repressed rather than expressed can take their toll on both individuals and relationships. As long as the desire is safe and based on consent from everyone involved, everyone deserves to pursue theirs.