The concept of a foot fetish introduces so many of us to the world of fetish, the same way certain Disney Channel actors introduced us to the idea of having a crush.
A foot fetish is the first fetish most of us learn about. It is a joke among middle schoolers, a punch line in broad comedies. Foot fetishes feel safe, humor-wise—invoking them is a way to talk about sex while staying in the cartoonish, theoretical realm. Examples in media tend to treat foot fetishes as the provenance of weirdos and creeps: Charlotte’s oily shoe salesman in Sex and the City; an adult man’s obsession with a little girl’s feet in Lolita.
Like the bottom of my feet after a summer wearing sandals, this is pretty rough. Foot fetishes seem to suffer from a stigma that could better be applied to, say, gagging and choking fetishes, which can actually be deadly. Judgment around feet worship gets extreme. There is a scene in Crime and Punishment in which a character kisses a woman’s feet, and when she asks him what he’s doing, he snaps, “I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity.” Which, like—okay, bro. Foot fetishes, foot worship, and foot play can all be enjoyed without invoking human suffering.
Let’s put our best foot forward—sorry!—as we step into this delightful, misunderstood fetish.
What is a foot fetish?
First, let’s understand the difference between fetish and kink. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist and sex researcher at the Kinsey Institute, explains: “Kink is the umbrella term for any nonmainstream sexual interest. Fetish is a type of kink involving heightened attraction to or fascination with a specific object or nongenital body part.” So a foot fetish is a pronounced sexual interest in feet and foot-related items.
Is it bad to have a foot fetish?
A fetish is not a psychiatric disorder. A fetish is defined by the DSM-V only as a disorder if it causes “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” If you want to treat someone else’s toes like a selection of hard candies and they’re into it, you don’t have a problem. You have a fun activity on your hands (feet).
The word fetish tends to conjure the idea of a person who is obsessed with something they deem to be sexual to the point that they might abandon social convention, harass people, or even break the law to get what they want. Lehmiller explains that this is rare and extreme. It’s more accurate, he writes, to think of fetishes as “preferences for specific objects that enhance sex.”
How common are foot fetishes?
A foot fetish is not any more perverse than, say, liking boobs. It’s also not much less common. For all the depictions of foot fetishists as fringe freaks, foot fetishes are likely the most common of all fetishes. A study in Nature that analyzed online fetish discussion groups found that “feet and objects associated with feet” were the most frequently mentioned fetishes. Lehmiller’s research found that one in seven people who participated said that they have had a sexual fantasy that involves feet. That doesn’t mean all those people have foot fetishes. It means that feet are more integral to mainstream sexual experience than most people might assume.
Why do people like feet?
Experts don’t totally understand how fetishes develop—there is evidence that fetishes are learned over time, though some researchers think there could be a genetic component. Biology may hold the key to the high prevalence of foot fetishes. Researchers who have mapped the part of the brain related to sensation have found that the region associated with feet is located close to the region associated with genitals. Feet have thousands of nerve endings—they’re sensitive to touch. And they have hundreds of thousands of sweat glands—the sense that feet are dirty and literally low has an erotic quality for many people. Some people can achieve orgasm through their feet. Put it all together and foot licking seems as reasonable as kissing.
What’s the deal with selling feet pictures online?
On social media and Reddit forums, a thrilling rumor has spread: that for women, selling pictures of your own feet, or your used shoes, or your dirty socks is easy and highly lucrative. It’s not rare to see a viral video proclaiming that any woman with 10 toes can and should monetize them at no personal cost.
Like most get-rich-quick schemes, the reality of selling foot pictures is more complicated. There is clearly a market—see: the prevalence of foot fetishes—and some people do make money from selling foot pics. But (and this should be obvious!) sex work is skilled work! So is social media work. Marketing and monetizing your own body is not as easy as angling your iPhone lens at the floor. A number of major TikTok videos claiming that selling foot pics on a site called FeetFinder turned out to be sponsored, Morgan Sung reported for NBCNews. One video showed a couple riding a private jet and a sports car, claiming that they got “dummy rich” on FeetFinder—only for other users to point out that FeetFinder makes money, in part, by charging sellers a fee. In a hilarious and harrowing account in Bust, writer Jen Pitt detailed signing up to work at a foot fetish party; workers were told they could make $400, only to end up doing a scammy-seeming “foot audition.”
Even so, foot fetish culture has seeped into mainstream life online. “Free foot content!” an influencer might caption a post, telegraphing: “I am desired, but in a quirky way.”
What resources exist for people who are into feet?
Tons! You might want to check out the dating apps and message boards or fetish websites where kinksters gather to form community and talk about perfect pink pedicures and deliciously dirt-encrusted soles.
Originally Appeared on Glamour