What is the difference between a fetish and a kink?

The terms fetish and kink are often used interchangeably. Some people use the term “fetish” for something that another person (with the same sexual preferences) calls a “kink”. Still other people, may say (in relation to spanking for example) “Oh spanking is a real turn-on for me, it’s one of my biggest fetishes!” So, what’s the difference between a fetish and a kink?

A fetish is a focus on, or obsession with, a specific object, part of the body, or activity, which the fetishist needs to achieve sexual pleasure and/or orgasm. Kinks are usually broader than fetishes and relate to a wider range of relatively unusual sexual interests, preferences or activities (for example bondage or exhibitionism), which the kinkster really enjoys, but does not need to gain sexual gratification.

What is a fetish?

The generally accepted meaning of a fetish is that it is a focus, perhaps even sometimes an obsession on a specific object, part of the body, or activity, which must be present, in some form, in order for the fetishist to achieve sexual pleasure and/or orgasm.

Often, objects which are fetishes will be easily relatable to sex or sexual in some way, perhaps women’s dirty panties, for example. This is not always the case though. Other, albeit less common object-focussed fetishes, can include an endless range of things, such as: stone and gravel (lithophilia), statues (agalmatophilia), balloons and trees (dendrophilia) which seemingly have nothing to do with sex. Since just about any object or activity you can imagine will be a fetish for someone, there are literally thousands of fetishes.

The A to Z of Fetishes provides a good idea of the range of fetishes which exist.

As with objects, a huge variety of activities can and will be fetishes for people. Some will relate much more closely to sex than others. For example, some people may need to be insulted, criticised and belittled by their partner in order to achieve sexual pleasure and orgasm, and so have a fetish for degradation and humiliation. Other people’s sexual pleasure and orgasms may require their partner to have sex with a third party, while they watch (a voyeurism fetish).

What is a kink?

Kinks differ from fetishes in key ways.

Kinks are usually broader than fetishes. Rather than the more specific focus of most fetishes, kinks usually relate to a wider range of relatively unusual sexual interests, preferences or activities (outside of the “mainstream”, more common, “vanilla” sexual practices of most people). Examples include: bondage, spanking and exhibitionism.

Most importantly, while a person’s kink or kinks will usually make the “kinkster’s” sexual experience (or “scene”) more exciting and enjoyable, he or she will not need the activities that are his or her kinks present or done in order to achieve sexual gratification, as IS the case with fetishes.

Kinks can be fetishes and vice versa!

Of course, individuals’ sexual interests and preferences can vary just as much as any other aspect of their personalities. Inevitably, this means that any activity – perhaps receiving a spanking – will be a strong fetish for some people, a kink for other people, of no interest to a third group of people and something that other people will not do under any circumstances (a “hard limit”).

Does it matter whether you call something a kink or a fetish?

Provided those discussing their “kinks” and “fetishes” are clear on what each other means (and, if they are playing together, they have mutual and genuine consent on what they will do), it does not really matter if they know definitions of “fetish” and “kink” that many dictionaries and “experts” (such as psychologists) assign to the terms.

However, occasionally some people in the kink community can get a bit pedantic about terminology and so knowledge and understanding of the generally accepted meaning of the terms can make for easier, more meaningful discussions with others in the BDSM community.

Where do fetishes and kinks come from?

Some people wonder if they might have been born with a particular fetish because they can always remember having it (even sometimes referencing feelings when they were quite young).

My research suggests, however, that most psychologists do not believe that fetishes are innate. Rather, psychologists who study fetishes and sexual behaviour suggest that fetishes and kinks, develop over time.

Psychologists do, though, believe that certain people are born with a relatively greater disposition than others to develop fetishes in their lives.

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