I like feet. I’m turned on by many other body parts too—pretty much all of them in fact. But it’s my unabashed fondness for feet that has garnered the most remarks from partners. Some are bemused by the level of attention I give their trotters, while others are delighted to have their toes and soles sniffed and kissed. At least two partners have even remarked that my reverence has helped tamp down feelings they’d harbored about their feet being ugly in some way. Admittedly, I feel pretty good about that.
Others however, despite my adoration, have admitted feeling self-conscious about rubbing their feet all over my face. A few have refused, point-blank, to entertain my requests either on grounds that they are too ticklish to withstand my ardor or that I’m an incorrigible sexual deviant whose foot-based perversions shall not be humored on their time.
Several years ago, a friend—who knew nothing of my foot fetish—divulged that when a guy gingerly asked to kiss the ankles she’d propped on his shoulders, she screamed at him to immediately remove himself from her and, surely shook, he promptly did.
I quizzed her about the ferocity of her reaction and even did some sole baring (sorry, had to) of my own but she could only repeat that his request was “fucking disgusting.” She seemed taken aback when I told her that I thought that her response seemed harsh given how often and how enthusiastically she talked about enjoying having her ass eaten for hours at a time. “Are you kidding me?” she said. “That’s a totally different thing. That foot guy was a perv.”
If that foot guy was a perv, I guess I am too. “There is no solid statistical data on this,” says New York-based psychotherapist Dulcinea Pitagora a.k.a “the Kink Doctor.” “But in my experience in the lifestyle as well as in working with therapy clients, foot and shoe or boot fetishes are definitely the most common fetishes I hear about.”
While research on the topic is, as Pitagora suggests, scarce, a 2007 study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that among those professing to having a fetish, feet were the most common preferences for body parts or features and objects usually associated with the body. Fully 47 percent of Fetish groups subscribers in the sample the study looked at were into feet. That doesn’t tell us how many of the masses like feet- and foot-related things but among the “pervs” of 2007, it was pretty big.
The study’s authors also mention that Sigmund Freud noticed the frequent interest in feet and ascribed it to the notion that feet are—quelle surprise—a penis symbol. That may be but it doesn't really strike a chord with me personally—at least not on a conscious level.
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I chiefly credit my foot fetish to the events of an uncharacteristically long, hot English summer in my middle adolescence. Two other boys and I spent many summer days with three girls we knew from school. We sunbathed, we hung out at a local swimming pool, we went walking in some nearby woods—where the girls placed plucked daisies between their toes on more than one occasion. Despite lots of yearning from the boys—particularly me—the activity within our coed sextet remained entirely platonic.
The most titillating thing that happened from my perspective was that the girl who I was interested in ended up leaving a pair of sneakers at my house. Her two friends had been razzing her about how stinky they’d gotten over the summer. Resigned to the fact that sniffing her well-ripened British Knights would be as physically close as I ever got to her, I ended up huffing them whenever I was alone. The effect that it had on my person was so intense and profound that I feared that my erection would never subside.
In my mind the shoes were a sort of fetish-inducing double whammy; there was the smell of her plus the idea that I was beneath her, figuratively, at her feet. She came over to get them before school started but in that week or week and a half that those kicks lived at my house, I acquired an enduring and expanding fetish now in its 27th year.
Pitagora explains that for many, sexual fetishes originate during childhood when experiencing something visual or tactile results in a sexual imprint. Put another way, the seeds of my foot fetish may have been sown much earlier and it was the events of that summer that really made them apparent. She notes that children are more likely to engage in feet tickling than adults and are lower to the ground and therefore more likely to see bare feet more than taller people. Some of those experiences might result in a sexual imprint for some children, she says, while they wouldn’t for others.
“It depends on whether a person has an inherent disposition for atypical sexualities,” Pitagora says, explaining that with foot fetishes and sexuality in general, nature and nurture tend to interact. “People are born with an inherent predisposition for certain proclivities; this innate potential for atypical sexualities and fetishes may or may not be expressed. Whether or not it’s expressed depends on external stimuli and psychosexual reactions to life experience.” In other words, some people have the potential for sexual fetishes, and others don’t, but even those with this potential may not realize or become aware of that potential because of other things going on externally or internally that get in the way or take priority.
I ask Pitagora about what accounts for the subdivisions among foot fetishists: the sniffers, the toe-suckers, the sole lickers, the foot-jobbers, the people who like to be penetrated—vaginally, anally, orally—by a foot, people into stockings, folks who are into shoes and many other foot-related fetishes besides.
“The different aspects [of foot fetishism] don’t really say anything generalizable about the people into them” she says, adding that all the variations reveal is that individuals have a unique expression of sexuality based on the combination of nature and nurture she previously mentioned.
What is more generalizable, she says, is the proximity of feet and genitalia on the brain homunculus—the sensory map of the brain. The homunculus shows the parts of the body with the most sensory receptors, feet being one of those body parts with a massive amount of sensory receptors. Feet just so happen to be mapped very close to genitalia on the brain, so it also makes sense that there would be relatively frequent associations. Pitagora uses the example of people who enjoy foot massages and would consider them a romantic activity, but are not foot fetishists. Feet, she says, have a lot of potential to make a person feel good.
“I once spoke with someone who described getting a pedicure and her surprise at feeling sensation in her genitalia that mirrored the sensations she was feeling on her feet,” Pitagora says. The woman, however, didn’t identify as a foot fetishist and didn’t want to incorporate anything to do with feet into sexual interactions.
Recalling my female friend’s visceral reaction to a guy’s interest in her feet, I ask Pitagora if having a foot fetish is more of a man thing. For that reason, it might be harder for non-male partners like my friend to get on board with.
Pitagora disagrees with my assertion that a liking for feet—like a penchant for the music of Rush—is primarily gendered in that way. “There are certainly foot fetishists of every gender and sexual orientation, but not everyone is taught to speak up about their sexual preferences, and particularly those in the minority are taught to be quiet about their sexuality—and everything else,” she says. We hear most about sexuality of heterosexual males, because they are socialized to be the most vocal about their sexuality—an idea that I’ve seemingly proven herewith.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.