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Hello again, dear friend Anonymous. Welcome back to our sex talk column where readers submit questions, and we do our research to craft a story that answers as many questions as we can. The topic of our latest submission: the difference between kink and fetish.
Here to help us break this down are sexologist Marla Renee Stewart, MA—sexpert for Lovers sexual wellness brand and retailer, and Angie Rowntree—founder and director of the award-winning site Sssh.com, the premier destination for sex-positive, ethical porn made from a woman’s point of view.
“‘Kink” is a broad term used to describe a vast array of sexual activities, fantasies, or desires that exist outside the conventional expressions of adult sexuality. But then again, who says what is “conventional” and what is not?
Depending your personal preferences—or on the broader social culture at any given moment—sex acts that were considered taboo and “kinky” five minutes ago might become more mainstream and accepted. So the lines can easily be blurred–even if we still call a kink a kink.
That said, most people regard BDSM play of any kind as synonymous with “kink.” Kink, though, can also encompass spanking or impact play, JOI (jerk-off instructions), roleplay, sex toys, sensation play, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and much more.
As we continue to learn more about human sexuality, it seems that even the most “vanilla” among us allow themselves to fantasize about different sexual flavors. And PS: “It’s perfectly normal and ok to have sexual fantasies that you would not want to act out in real life.” —Angie Rowntree
“A fetish is something that is objectified and used for someone’s sexual pleasure. For instance, if someone likes feet and needs them for sexual pleasure, they might fantasize about feet and/or have feet in their sexual experience, particularly if they want to experience orgasm.” —Marla Renee Stewart
“Among the myriad of expressions for sexual desire, a fetish is a very specific type of intense desire or fixation on an object, body part, or activity that may not seem expressly sexual in nature either. It is important to realize that many people engage in fetishistic behaviors just as a matter of course in terms of seeking out their various sexual preferences (i.e. preferring a hair color, pantyhose, or specific types of clothing, large breasts, shoes, etc).
“However, a bona fide fetish can present a desire or fixation that is so intense, a person might require that fetish to be part of any sexual encounter in order to achieve orgasm. For instance, a person with a foot fetish might need to wear or see high heels on their partner and/or need foot play or toe-sucking to be part of the sexual act.
“Someone with a latex fetish might need to touch or wear the material. Someone with a balloon fetish might need to touch balloons. Fetishes truly run the gamut in terms of what causes some people to fixate their arousal. As long as fetish play is explored with full consent of all participants, fetish play can certainly be part of a healthy sex life. Always remember that all BDSM and fetish play is safe, sane, and consensual.” —Angie Rowntree
What are the differences between the two?
“It is clear that ‘kink’ is a term used to describe an incredibly wide range of sexual activities, whereas a fetish is actually the tendency to fixate on a very specific object of desire or experience. A kink can enhance a sexual encounter for the participants. However, they are also capable of being gratified without kink play.
“Again—as long as your kinks and fetishes are safe, sane, and consensual, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. As with anything else in your sex life, open and honest communication between partners is key. If you are ever concerned or anxious about your fetishes or kinks, or are concerned about your partner’s, it never hurts to seek out a licensed sex therapist for help.”—Angie Rowntree
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“A kink is something that is particular to that person. One person's kink may not be another person's kink. A fetish is something that is objectified and used for someone's sexual pleasure. Fetish is needed for their orgasm or sexual pleasure, while having a kink is not.” —Marla Renee Stewart