Ask a Sexpert: Is It a Kink or a Fetish?

Wondering if your fondness for stockings, or wax play, or whipped cream or spanking is more of a kink… or a fetish? This month in Ask a Sexpert, we examine the two often interchangeably-used terms, explore the difference between the two.

It seems like anyone with even the slightest sexual proclivity is throwing around the words “kink” and “fetish” with reckless abandon right now. Gary, just because you dated two tall women in a row doesn’t necessarily mean you have a ‘fetish for large ladies’.

On the one hand, it’s GREAT that people are becoming more open and comfortable with what turns them on and gets them off. On the other hand, the words kink and fetish have become so mainstream – and used so interchangeably – that their definitions have become more ambiguous. Which is leaving a lot of us scratching our heads when trying to figure out if that thing we like is a fetish or a kink.

What is a Kink?

A kink is something sexual that someone likes to do with themselves, or consensually with partners. It’s usually something considered outside of mainstream sexual activities which brings extra erotic energy to a sexual encounter. Think BDSM, role play or polyamory.

What’s considered kinky is pretty subjective, and dependent on factors such as what your social sphere qualifies as normal, your media exposure, your sexual history and the sexual history of your partner(s).

For example, while your mother-in-law might think that sex toys are kinky, your bestie probably considers them pretty vanilla.

According to research, the most common kinks fall somewhere along the spectrum of dominance and submission, bondage, and sadomasochism (hello, BDSM), or relate to virtual sex, orgasm control, age or role play, and bodily fluids.

What is a Fetish? 

Fetishes can involve a variety of body parts, objects, and activities, including erotic role play, handcuffs, spanking, used underwear, group sex, and voyeurism.

A fetish is similar to a kink, but the difference is that something is a fetish when it MUST be present in order for a person to achieve sexual arousal or enjoyment. This can be an act, like having sex in public, or an object, such as feet. The important thing to remember is that a fetish is something that the person cannot get aroused without. For some people simply fantasising about the fetish can be enough, while others may need to actually engage with the object or behaviour in some way.

Studies show the most common fetishes include:

  • Feet
  • Latex
  • Pantyhose/ Stockings
  • High Heels
  • Balloons
  • Uniforms
  • Suits
  • Leather
  • Piercing 

Okay, So What’s the Difference Between a Kink and a Fetish?

While there can definitely be some overlap between kinks and fetishes, the core difference boils down to whether the thing or object is something someone LIKES to enjoy or think about during sex, or whether it’s something they HAVE to do or experience in order to feel sexually gratified.

For example, if you accidentally hear your neighbours going at it and it turns you on, that’s kinky. But if you NEED to listen to or watch others having sex in order to feel aroused, that’s a fetish.

Similarly, someone who finds wearing high heels while having sex to be arousing has a high heel kink – but someone who NEEDS high heels to be present during sex in order to experience arousal has a high heel fetish.

Basically, while all fetishes are kinks, not all kinks are fetishes. And, at the end of the day, does it really matter? 

Whether you have a fetish, kink, or unique turn-on, the most important thing is to have an open dialogue with your partner/s about your reciprocal sexual desires and proceed with safety, communication and consent.