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The Difference Between a Kink and a Fetish

Author: Tsara Shelton
Author Contact: @TsaraShelton on Twitter
Published: 23rd Dec 2022
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Additional References: Tsara's Column Publications

Summary: Clear communication can be a challenge. It helps to know what our words mean.

Main Document

It's not uncommon today to refer to a kink or a fetish among friends. I think this is, generally, a good thing. A sign that we are not overly sensitive to talk of sex and sexual exploration.

It is also not uncommon to use the terms "kink" and "fetish" interchangeably. This isn't a big deal, really. But when we think we know what something means we will often accidentally miscommunicate. And when it comes to sex talk, we can use all the help available to us in order to be clear with our partners. There is not a lot of place to practice this communication and there is not a lot of room for error. During sex we can be wickedly vulnerable, surprisingly uncertain of our own desires and reasons for them, and painfully anxious about how we will be received, as well as how we ought to receive others.

Hence, if a potential partner wants to tell you about their fetish, or if you are interested in sharing a kink, it is a good idea to know the difference between the two.

A kink is a sexual interest that heightens and enhances your arousal or sexual pleasure. It is generally something a little off the beaten path, a little taboo. Your "kink" is something beyond the conventions of sex that brings you an extra wave of sexual pleasure.

A fetish, on the other hand, is a sexual desire - generally involving an object or body part, but not necessarily - that is needed for arousal or sexual pleasure. A person with a fetish needs to imagine, have, taste, feel, see, or do the thing they fetishize in order to have complete sexual pleasure.

Sexually, we are all unique. But we are not so unique that we cannot be understood or find common interests with others. As with most things about being human, we are at once different and the same, and it is necessary to respect both truths.

A Bit More On Kinks: The definition of a kink is a sharp bend or curve in something that is otherwise straight. So if we can think of sex as a straight shot from point(s) A to B to C, etc., then any diversions enjoyed simply for extra kicks along the way could be considered a kink. It's not important to label a kink a kink, but it can be fun. And it can be empowering. It can offer the reminder that there is language out there meant to help communicate your arousal points and sexual desires. In general, you would consider something a kink if it is beyond standard sexual practices. However, I think you could call it a kink even if it is fairly standard, supposing it is specific, and it serves to add extra arousal almost without fail.

Some examples of a kink could be:

Role Play - Playing parts of different characters during sex. It can be as simple as pretending to be a nurse and their patient, or as complex as inventing an entire storyline for your play.
Exhibitionism - This kink refers to being turned on by being watched - or imagining they are being watched - during sexual acts.
Impact Play - Getting aroused by hitting and spanking. Whether it is with a hand, whip, vibrator, slipper, or any other object, it is important to discuss this kink in a clear manner before engaging.
BDSM - This is an acronym that stands for three similar (but distinct) communities involving a power imbalance. Bondage and discipline (B/D), domination and submission (D/s), Sadism and masochism (S/M). Involving dynamics like humiliation and pain, activities like spanking or handcuffing, this kink must be explored with open communication and consent. It is important to discuss the use of a safe word or something similar that will allow all partners to remain in the scene without fear of being trapped in it.

This is such a limited list of kinks, but they are common ones. Not everyone has a kink, and that's okay. Don't judge yourself or another for enjoying sex simply and without kinks or fetishes. But it is quite common to have kinks. It's important to admit and remember that. If we are afraid to admit we are interested in, or turned on by, things that seem strange, taboo, or even dangerous, how will we explore with others these desires? How will we normalize these discussions? For kinks to remain safe and sexy, we must be willing to discuss them.

This is especially true with fetishes.

A Bit More About Fetishes: A fetish, or to fetishize something, refers to the idolizing or worshiping of an object, or of objectifying and worshiping a body type, body part, or similar. As mentioned, a fetish is a sexual interest - especially toward an object or a body part - that is necessary to achieve complete sexual gratification.

Someone with a fetish, then, is not sexually satisfied without access to their fetish.

We must allow a person with a fetish the freedom to discover and discuss their needs. If their fetish is dangerous or problematic to daily life, they will need to know it is not something especially wrong with them, or especially special about them, but something that can be figured out safely. Even if that means doing the work of changing it, which is possible.

There is nothing inherently bad about having a fetish. And, indeed, it is common. If you or your partners have a fetish, be non-judgmental and comfortable discussing it. But please note: being non-judgmental does not mean always allowing something. If it hurts you or someone else, say no. Find alternative ways to explore the fetish and get help if necessary.

A few fetish examples:

Foot fetish - Also known as podophilia and partialism, a foot fetish is one where interaction with feet must be involved for sexual gratification. Arousal can come from seeing feet, toes, foot related jewelry, accessories, or footwear. The sexual desire can come from a variety of interactions including imagining, looking at, touching, smelling, tasting, kissing, penetrating, or slipping feet into high heels.
Bondage - Bondage occurs when someone is tied up, handcuffed, or otherwise restrained during sex and sex play. When bondage is a fetish, there needs to be restraints to achieve proper sexual pleasure. When it is a kink, it is an extra arousing addition.
Electrostimulation - This fetish is not uncommon among fetishes, and it must be explored carefully. It involves small electrical shocks during sexual activity for sexual pleasure. It is most often done with specific toys created for electrostimulation in order to ensure safety.
Nylon - When someone requires the addition of nylon, on a partner, themselves, an object, to enjoy sexual pleasure they have a nylon fetish.

Personal Note: I have a brother with a nylon fetish, and it caused problems during puberty. For example, he was working at a ski lodge and struggled not to go into the coat room where he would be intensely aroused by the nylon coats. When he wasn't in the coat room, he was thinking about the coat room. It was a terrible time for my brother. I only mention it to remind us that though kinks and fetishes can be fairly common, they are not without challenges. And it is for this reason I think we MUST get comfortable teaching, sharing, and talking about these topics, appropriately. My brother is now living on his own and has found completely private and safe ways (albeit creative ones!) to enhance and enjoy his nylon fetish. He is rarely troubled by the feeling in public because he can satisfy himself in private.

I'm happy that we are growing more able to discuss our kinks and fetishes in society, with less fear and judgement. I hope we continue the trend of being able to speak out and not judge while insisting on safety, enthusiastic consent, and saying no to what is not okay.

It can be dangerous to think being open to our sexuality means allowing everything.

But everything, every interest, fantasy, or arousal point, should be allowed into the conversation. It should be invited to the light and examined, regardless of how taboo or forbidden it might be.

In this way we are more able to admit to the naturalness of our strangeness's, to explore how our sexuality is part of our psychology and physiology, and to clearly state what we will and will not allow.

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Author Credentials:

Tsara Shelton, author of Spinning in Circles and Learning From Myself, is a contributing editor to

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• (APA): Tsara Shelton. (2022, December 23). The Difference Between a Kink and a Fetish. Retrieved May 24, 2024 from

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