At the end of 2015, the British politician Simon Danczuk was suspended by the Labour Party following allegations that he'd been sexting a 17-year-old girl who had contacted him about a prospective job at his constituency office in Rochdale.
Recently, it was revealed that the teenager in question, Sophena Houlihan, was also an online dominatrix. One of the services she offered, according to the Sun newspaper and numerous other UK tabloids, was "selling toenails to pervs" for £10 a bag. As somebody who is generally disgusted by feet, I was intrigued. Was this for real? Who the hell actually wants to buy bags of toenails—and for what purpose?
So I turned to Google, ruining my Internet search history forever in the process. Despite it seeming pretty niche, there are actually a lot of people out there who get their kicks from toenails, whether they be clipped or still attached to feet. NSFW adult trading sites like ebanned, Fetishnails, and Extra Lunch Money are full of listings for toenail clippings, ranging from $10 to $30 a bag. There are also hundreds of dominatrices making a lot of money from toenail fetishists, advertising these goods on their personal websites or their Twitter and Instagram accounts.
I spoke to Mistress Sade, a dominatrix from New York, about why anybody would want to buy somebody else's toenail clippings. She said that while she doesn't sell her toenail clippings, she does send them out to men who've had sessions with her as gifts on their request. "This is something I've seen expressed far more on the internet than with subs who do live sessions with me. At least with the people I interact with, requests to acquire toenails are made by subs who either live too far away to session regularly," she says.
She tells Broadly that the subs who are interested in her toenail clippings usually want to use them as a way to worship her. "Many speak of it as a voluntary form of humiliation, of making themselves lowly, but also as a sacrament or form of devotion wherein they get to consume or possess something their goddess has discarded."
Megara Furie, a dominatrix from Glasgow, UK, began collecting and then selling her toenails around five years ago, after hearing about another mistress who had been asked for some. "I used to send these out pretty regularly. However, obviously I am restricted by biology so it is first come first served, and I charge $30 for a set," she says.
When I ask her what the men who buy her toenails usually do with them, she tells me they usually request instructions to go alongside their "treasure."
"The kink I practice is strictly consensual, but I generally tell them to chew on them for a while and swallow," she says. "I would imagine this is generally what they do with them anyway but I love the thought of subs eating my toenails."
Eating a dominatrix's toenails appears to be a fairly common method of degrading a submissive. Toenail Eating (NSFW link), a blog dedicated to female toenail domination, features several videos of forced toenail eating alongside descriptions like "Mistress Tina is a gothic girl with sweaty feet and enjoys to humiliate losers like her slave. He hasn't got another option—he is captured under the office table and Tina is ready to give him her dirty toenails" and "Hot Jenny has something special for you. She is just cutting her toenails today and she wants to force you to eat her toenails. She doesn't need the toenails any more so you can swallow them—are you ready toenail eater?"
I'm more into appreciating pedicures—and French tips are my all time favorite.
The site even includes helpful tutorials for foot care, and answers the question of whether eating somebody else's toenails is going to make you ill. Just in case you were wondering, this what Toenail Eating advises: "Toenails consist of horn and dead skin cells, and those include keratin. This consists of nothing dangerous. But it could be dangerous to eat them anyway if you think about those sharp and acute edges of a toenail—they could damage your inner stomach."
Of course, as well as being part of a BDSM humiliation ritual, there is a major link with toenail fetishists to foot worship and podophilia, also known as foot fetishism. In this case, though, it's more of an appreciation for a person's toenails while they remain on the feet as opposed to cut off. "Some subs are focused on a dom's pedicure—and like to go to the salon with them to see that get done," Sade says. "People who enjoy my feet also enjoy my nails and the changing polish colors, but nail fetishists might focus a bit more on the polish, scratching, tickling, and nail length than someone less interested in the nails. About a quarter of my foot-focused clients express keen interest in the color or length of my toenails."
Danny Kubenzi, a producer of foot fetish videos and photographs, believes toenails play a huge role in foot fetishes, especially when it comes to the appearance of the nails. "Generally, foot fetishists like to see light, pastel, and neon nail polish colors on women with dark or very tanned skin," he says. "For women with pale skin, I think black or blood red is the most popular, as it looks sexy in a gothic or pin-up style."
According to Kubenzi, French pedicures seem to be the one that works across the board for most male podophiles. "Though I find that a little confusing because the look is so close to unpolished. Pedicured and polished toenails are a visual aid which draw attention to a woman's toes immediately, accentuating the size, shape, and length of the toenails, covering up details that might turn off a foot fetishist like unhealthy looking nails," he says.
Mark* a 20-year-old foot fetishist from Ontario, agrees with Kubenzi. He told Broadly that he first became aware of his podophilia when he was 16, and this progressed to a full-blown toenail fetish two years ago. "I've never bought toenails online," he says. "I'm more into appreciating pedicures—and French tips are my all time favorite." One of his ex-girlfriends, Katie*, was far from opposed to his fetish. Alongside toe sucking, foot jobs, and massages, she allowed Mark to give her regular pedicures. 'It was liberating to be with someone who so openly accepted my fetish, especially as there's a lot of stigma around it,' he adds.
Many of Kubenzi's viewers are particular about the gender of the foot owner, too. "I have customers who will not watch any of my videos if even a glimpse of the male participant's feet come in to the shot. For them, colorful nail polished toes are an 'OK, it's safe' signal," he says.
Alongside pedicures and clippings, long toenails on a model are also popular among podophiles. Kubenzi admits he's had a lot of requests for content when the actress has very long toenails. "These fans call it the 'talon look'. Some of the most classic content in foot fetish has been when a few models grew out their nails excessively long, say around an inch or two," he says. Sites like Yevette Nails and Jax World Entertainment also cater for these needs, showcasing pictures of long, painted nails poking out of flip-flops and high heels. Some of these sites also sell the photos and offer video content to members willing to pay extra to have their kink fulfilled.
Despite the initial specificity of such a turn-on, there appears to be massive breadth in what counts as a toenail kink—but where do these fetishes stem from anyway? Podophilia is one of the most common ones out there— a study from the University of Bologna, Italy, looking at members of online fetish forums found 47 percent of users expressed interested in feet. "Such fetishes usually start in childhood," psychologist Dr Lori Bisbey tells me. "They're usually set off by one, or a series of, incidents which later become associated with sexual feelings."
On a thread in the human sexuality section of a Topix forum, one user, John, describes his toenail fetish, explaining that it stems from his father asking him to clip his nails for him when he was a child. "I even had great fun having sex with them while he was asleep on several occasions, nerve wracking but oh so erotic. I could not get enough," he writes. Later, he says, he met a partner with excessively long toenails. "I saw that his toenails were overgrown through his socks. He drank excessively and fell off to sleep regularly, so I removed his socks and took advantage."
I even had great fun having sex with [his toenails] while he was asleep on several occasions, nerve wracking but oh so erotic.
However, some of the podophiles I spoke to on places like Kik and Reddit said that they found the idea of purchasing clippings weird. Danny*, a 28-year-old from the UK, said that while he enjoyed seeing painted or natural nails, and smelling women's feet until the point of orgasm, he drew the line at buying toenails online ("gross"). Jamie*, 30, agreed, saying: "There aren't any people I know of in the community that have ever purchased toenails. Honestly, I would find that a bit creepy, since it is a part of someone's else's body."
While a specific toenail fetish may seem strange to many of us—even those in the foot fetish community—Dr Bisbey says it's important not to judge. "In the past fetishes were seen as disorders. But most psychologists no longer police people's desires, unless they are causing harm to themselves or others, as this can lead to significant distress. Instead, we view these kinds of fetishes as being alternate sexualities."
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She says that men are more likely than women to seek out fulfilment of their sexual desires, which is why it also seems to be predominantly male toenail fetishists who buy clippings from a professional dominatrix or purchase close-up photos of pedicured toes online. It's still fairly stigamatized though—and this shame and embarrassment could be why many of the men who do this remain secretive about it.
"Changing somebody's mindset when they have a fetish they're distressed about is very hard," Dr Bisbey says. "But as long as their behaviour doesn't become obsessive or take over every aspect of their life, exploring their sexuality this way isn't necessarily a bad thing."
Megara agrees, saying at the end of the day some people just enjoy indulging in their toenail fetish as it's about "ingesting a part of their mistress or having a keepsake." After all, they're the only part of her body a foot fetishist can actually take away with them.