What Is a Fetish? A Beginner’s Guide to Kink and Fetish | Glamour

There is still a strange, judge-y haze that falls over any kind of kinky sex. Even the very idea of asking “What is a fetish?” is taboo. People tend to think that people into kinky sex are sexual deviants—nothing like “normal” people having perfectly “normal” sex.

This, I must say, is a whole lotta B.S. Kinks are actually quite common—according to a 2014 study, 50% of Americans enjoy some kind of kink or rough sex fantasy, while 36 percent have used blindfolds and bondage gear during sex—totally normal, and totally available to everyone. (No sex dungeon or BDSM club required.)

What Is a Fetish?

Kinky sex is all sex that falls outside of the boundaries of “vanilla” or traditional sex. (Think: Missionary style sex with the lights off.) It’s the catchall umbrella term that captures the wide spectrum of sexual behaviors that you might be into. It’s somewhat subjective—what one person considers “kinky” could be another person’s “vanilla.” You might think doggy style with some light spanking is super kinky, whereas another person may need to be blindfolded and ball-gagged in order to think the sex is kinky. In other words, exploring your kinky side can be as adventurous as you want it to be.

Fetishes are a specific type of kink. A fetish is a fixation on something largely nonsexual (feet, bubbles, tickling, leather, latex, cotton panties, etc.). For people with a fetish, that normally nonsexual thing is actually a huge turn-on—they’re sexually attracted to it. Most people with fetishes require that item or sex act to become sexually aroused. For instance, someone with a foot fetish may need to lick, kiss, or nibble on their lover’s feet in order to get turned on. Kink, on the other hand, can be a part of sexual intimacy, but isn’t necessarily required for the sex to happen.

Exploring Kinks and Fetishes 101

Here is what you should know about the most common fetishes and kinks, how to try them, and what gear you can buy to make the experience more memorable (and fun).


What is BDSM? BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, submission, sadism, and masochism. It sounds scary—like getting blindfolded, tied to the bed and whipped mercilessly—but that’s rarely the case. BDSM is not about the need to hurt someone or to be hurt by someone. It’s about exploring your boundaries and levels of control, not torture and misery.

How to try it: BDSM is actually the most common kink there is. It can be as quotidian as a little light spanking or biting; blindfolding your partner or asking them to bind you with fuzzy handcuffs; or various levels of sensation play (such as using blindfolds, feather ticklers, or ball gags), pain play (such as spanking, electro-stimulation, or whipping), and breath play (choking).

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The one thing all safe BDSM has in common? It’s consensual and explicitly negotiated between partners, wherein one person willingly (and enthusiastically) gives up control to the other.

Role playing

What is role playing? Role play is one of the simplest ways to explore kink—who hasn’t had some kind of sexual fantasy in their lifetime? Whether your particular turn-on is a well choreographed scene straight out of Outlander or a slightly more vague scenario like two strangers meeting at a bar, role play is a good opportunity to explore some of those fantasies. It’s like creating your own script-based porn together—it gives you both a chance to be someone else and get out of your own head.

How to try it: Role playing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. In its most basic form, it’s just about you and your partner taking on new characters and acting out a scene. For instance, you could be the sexy repairperson who has come to fix your lover’s sink. If a doctor and patient situation is more your jam, you could always get your partner a white lab coat and have them give you a full “checkup.”

Latex (and other materials)

What is a latex fetish? Sexualizing materials—latex, lace, silk, leather, nylon, you get the picture—can be both a kink and a fetish. If latex is a kink, it means you enjoy latex (think: wearing a smoking hot latex bodysuit) as a part of your sexual play. A latex fetish means that latex needs to be involved in your play in order for you to get turned on. With a fetish, you’re genuinely attracted to the material: The sound it makes on a person’s skin, the smell, and the feel of it. Again, this is totally normal.