I have the delightfully unique job of being a sex coach specializing in working with people with fetishes. My work involves helping folks to embrace their less common desires. Sadly, so many of my clients' first email requests are inquiries to see if I can help eliminate their sexual preferences. It breaks my heart when I receive these messages because someone’s desires can be as essential to them as their gender or sexual orientation. It’s unfortunate that so many people feel like they can’t embrace who they are.
Sure, it’s less common to be turned on by balloons (as those in the looner community are) or to want to be rolled up in a carpet and stepped on (like those with a carpet fetish). However, the harm in having these desires comes not from the wants themselves but from uneducated people who shame others for these harmless albeit less common desires. One of the respondents to a fetish survey I created shared that the impact of sharing their fetish is "sometimes good, sometimes divorce."
The most important work that sex coaches like me do is helping clients understand there is nothing wrong with having unique desires; if anything, it can help them experience more varied and stimulating sex. The first step towards creating a cultural acceptance of fetishes is education. So let’s discuss why having unique kinks and desires is actually normal and explore some tips for navigating a less common desire in a world that still has a long way to go in becoming sex-positive.
How do unique desires develop?
Our sexual preferences often become imprinted during our early childhood experiences. Almost anything can become sexualized if it’s there at the right place and time. A striking example is that goats raised by sheep become turned on by sheep instead of goats. Chilling with sheep during their sexual development leads goats to sexualize sheep (even though that makes no sense evolutionarily).
In humans, older siblings are more likely to develop a pregnancy fetish because they witnessed pregnancy during development. Does that mean that they have inappropriate feelings toward their mother? No! More than likely, it simply means that they saw a large belly around the time they started to explore their pleasure and the two became erotically paired.
If you are exposed to leather, feet, or a car during a critical time in your development, especially when it’s paired with something sexy, you may eroticize it. This is a very normal, natural bodily reaction. Quicksand used to be a more common fetish but since losing its popularity in movies, people are far less likely to eroticize it, simply because they don’t see it. You don’t need to experience shame for eroticizing anything. It is a normal reaction to your experiences.
Quicksand used to be a more common fetish but since losing its popularity in movies, people are far less likely to eroticise it, simply because they don’t see it.
There is nothing wrong with engaging in a fetish with the consent of all involved parties. Those who engage in behavior involving those who can’t consent are using the concept of fetishes to get away with their desire for power and control, which is a very different thing.
Just like no two fingerprints are identical, no two people have the same desires and fantasies. Some people's desires may be more common, like enjoying oral sex; others' desires may be less frequent, like blood play. However, fetishistic desires may not be as uncommon as you think. In a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, 44.5% of the 1,000 people interviewed expressed an urge to engage in a less typical desire and 26.5% had engaged in this behavior before.
How to disclose to a partner
So is there ever a good time to tell a partner that furry costumes turn you on or that you find pee sexy? Psychologist and sex therapist Nazanin Moali, PhD, recommends talking about your fetish before you hook up with a new partner. "Bring it up in a playful way if that is your style and talk about it similarly to any other likes and dislikes," Dr. Moali says. "If you are in a monogamous relationship, be honest about whether incorporating this fetish is something that is non-negotiable for you." Discussing your fetish can help assess your sexual compatibility with your partner earlier on and it can make it easier to incorporate your fetish as part of your play as you develop your sexual routines.
However, many people may need some more time before revealing their fetish. If you are already in a relationship and are ready to reveal your fetish, instead of dropping the bomb without warning, give your partner a heads-up that you want to discuss your sex life. Relationship and sex therapist Rachel Wright recommends "creating a container — think of a container as an imagined space you're going to enter into with a clear intention, topic, and agreements — so that both people are consenting to the conversation and can come in as prepared as possible to talk about the topic".
Tell your partner what your fetish is and, if they seem receptive, how you could be interested in exploring it together. Saying you’re into feet can mean so many things. Instead, say you want to lick your partner's toes during sex. Explain precisely how you envision exploring your desire with your partner and what you find exciting about it. It could be helpful to find porn videos showing your fetish so your partner can contemplate if or how they see themselves exploring your desire with you. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision — perhaps your partner would be interested in watching fetish porn with you, or lightly exploring the fetish, without wanting to go all the way.
What if your partner isn’t down?
If your partner is not interested in exploring your fetish, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It simply means you have different desires. In this case, Dr. Nazanin recommends you "consider if there are enough existing and overlapping sexual interests to sustain the sexual part of the relationship." Also, consider how important exploring your fetish with a partner is to your happiness and well-being.
Just because you are in a relationship doesn’t mean that your entire sexual world has to revolve around your partner. Sex and relationship therapist Kat Kova says: "It is also possible to integrate your fetish into your life in other ways (during solo play, for example) while also expanding your repertoire of sexual interests that could lead to you having a more fulfilling, and still varied, sexual life with your partner(s)." Opening up the relationship can also be an option for those who feel it is essential to explore their fetish in person.
If you experience a less common sexual desire, find a sex-positive community to help reinforce that you are not alone. Fetlife is excellent for less common kinks and there is a Reddit subgroup on just about everything. For example, the Sneeze Fetish Forum is a wonderful place for sneeze fetishists to find answers to essential questions like "Do big noses equal big sneezes?" and to find folks who embrace and celebrate their kink. You can also speak to a sex-positive coach (like me!) or therapist — sometimes, a couple of sessions can help you shift your outlook and gain the confidence to talk more openly about your desires. Work on framing your fetish positively, finding your people, and communicating your desires. And if anyone tries to kink shame you, take solace in the fact you have done the work to become that connected to your desires.
Niki Davis-Fainbloom is a prolific sex writer and coach who has hosted over 500 workshops. She has a degree in psychology and has been trained in sexual assault prevention.