Why foot fetishes are so common and how to explore your sexual interests with a partner
- Foot fetishes, aka podophilia, are more common than you may think.
- Podophilia's popularity may be related to how the brain groups neurons for the feet and genitals.
Recent research estimates that about one in seven, or 14%, of people have had at least one foot-related sexual fantasy, making foot fetishes one of the most common sexually preferred body parts besides genitals.
A foot fetish can be anything from a sexual fixation on a person's shoes to feeling aroused at the thought of someone touching, sucking, or otherwise pleasuring your toes.
But why feet? It's not like they're close to your genitals. It turns out, there are a few reasons why foot fetishes are so common, and it all begins in the brain.
Why foot fetishes are so common
A fetish is a need or desire for an object, body part, or activity for sexual excitement. This could include a focus on specific objects, like high heels or rubber, or non-genital body parts, like feet, aka podophilia.
Podophilia likely originates from a particular quirk in the area of your brain called the somatosensory nervous system. The somatosensory nervous system controls how the brain perceives sensations like texture and pain.
You know how you can tell if something is touching your left foot vs. your right hand, even if your eyes are closed? That's thanks to how the somatosensory nervous system organizes and categorizes various neurons in your brain.
In fact, there's a map of this categorized system called the somatosensory homunculus, shown below:
Now, what's important to note here is that the feet neurons are located right next to the genital ones. So, for some people, there could be a co-firing affect going on, so when the neurons in your genitals are triggered, the ones in your feet get fired up, too.
"In this somatosensory map, the feet and genitals are beside each other. There may be relatively frequent associations between the two areas, perhaps due to slight neural misfirings, which can make feet more likely to become eroticized," says Niki Davis-Fainbloom,
Note: The somatosensory homunculus was first created in 1950 by neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. While operating on the brains of patients with neurological disorders, he discovered that certain parts of the brain affected sensations on corresponding parts of the body. From these experiments, Penfield constructed representative maps of the cortex.
Another reason foot fetishes are so popular could be the fact that they are highly sensitive.
According to the Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine (CFPM), the soles of your feet contain more sensitive nerve-endings per square centimeter than any other part of your body.
Sexy foot play may also be involved in other kinks. For instance, some submissives achieve erotic fulfillment by functioning as human furniture, such as a footstool. One woman, described in a paper on sexual kinks, who identified as a service submissive explained that she received pleasure from serving her dominant in whatever way they wanted, including giving foot massages.
Signs you have a foot fetish
You may have a foot fetish if you find feet or clothing that touches those areas sexually arousing.
"Most people with this fetish are only aroused by the feet of people they are attracted to – not anyone's foot. Some folks are aroused by admiring feet but have no interest in physical contact with them, while others are aroused by licking feet, foot jobs, or even foot penetration," says Davis-Fainbloom.
Note: Foot penetration is when someone uses a foot to penetrate a body part, anus, or vagina.
Davis-Fainbloom also notes that some people prefer soft and clean feet, while others desire stronger, natural odors.
A fixation on foot-related objects, like specific shoes or hosiery, can also be part of a foot fetish. Some people may focus more on a particular part of the foot, like the toes, while others are aroused by the entire foot.
Suffice it to say, a foot fetish can look different for each person, and no object, activity, or kink is too weird as long as it's safe and consensual among all parties.
How to explore your foot fetish with others
It may feel uncomfortable or impossible to share your kinks with others, and there's actually a term for this: kink shaming.
"I see kink shaming quite often – not just the shaming of other people for their kinks, but also the shaming of ourselves for our own [kinks and fetishes]," says Erica Smith, Sex Educator at Erica Smith Education and Consulting LLC.
For that reason, "some people may not be ready to explore their fetish in real life but may want to explore and normalize it through porn," says Davis-Fainbloom. Other ways to personally explore the extent of your foot fetish could be:
- Experiment with different sensations like warm or cold objects or using massage oil or vibrators.
- Pour yourself a footbath by partially filling your bathtub and add aromatic soaps or bath salts.
Others may prefer to explore fetishes or kinks with a longtime partner they trust, while some feel comfortable sharing after a first date. Whoever it is, here are some ways to explore your foot fetish with a partner:
- Discuss accessories or preferences, like painted toenails, high heels, or stockings.
- Use your mouth to experiment with different types of kissing, nibbling, or sucking.
- Try a foot bath together that you and your partner can both enjoy.
- Combine interests with your partner. If they enjoy BDSM, a dominant partner might enjoy pressing their feet onto (or into) their submissive partner's body. Always establish consent before performing any BDSM-related activity with your partner.
Important: Just remember that there is no right or wrong way to explore your sexual preferences — foot fetishes or otherwise — as long as they are safe and consensual.
Regardless of your relationship, it's best to start slow. "I recommend having a conversation with your partner about exactly what turns you on about feet and continuing communication throughout the encounter to make sure they are comfortable," says Davis-Fainbloom.
When you introduce your partner to a fetish, start small on the first night to ease them into an idea that might be new for them. Once both parties feel comfortable, you can work your way up.
"I think it's useful to address your awkwardness or discomfort upfront," says Smith. She suggests opening the discussion in a non-sexual context with positivity and respect for all parties.
"You could say something like, 'Hey, I feel shy telling you this, but here it goes. I love our sex life, and there are some new fantasies I'd like to explore with you. Are you open to a conversation about this?'" says Smith.
Starting small with this conversation and working up to larger asks allows your partner time to get comfortable. This also makes a "yes" to more significant asks more likely in the future.
Your foot fetish is probably more common than you think and worth exploring either with yourself or others.
"We are sold a quite narrow definition of sexual satisfaction, and it usually involves one committed partner and standard penis-in-vagina sex. I encounter a lot of people who are embarrassed by their own sexual interests that diverge from that. Often, it's partially because they have no idea how common their fantasies are," says Smith.
Feet are one of the most fetishized non-sexual body parts, which may be in part because your somatosensory system groups feet and genitals together. Feet are also one of the more sensitive parts of your body, making them a popular pleasure spot for many.
"You should never pressure someone to have any sexual activity they are uncomfortable with. However, with education and normalization around fetishes, it's easier to find non-judgemental folks to explore your fetish with than ever before," says Davis-Fainbloom.
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