In 2006, several academics teamed up to analyze chatter on hundreds of sexual forums across the internet to identify the most common kinks. The crown went to foot fetish—by a wide margin.
The study was hardly definitive. But it was also hardly unique. A decade later, psychologist Justin Lehmiller conducted a comprehensive survey of Americans’ sexual desires. He found that one in seven people had foot-focused fantasies, a high prevalence for an unconventional interest. And analyses of internet searchers repeatedly put feet near the top of the fetish pack. The fetish is so common, widely known, and freely referenced that some folks argue it’s gone mainstream. As the writer Jenny Singer put it last year in a story for Glamour, “The concept of a foot fetish [is what] introduces so many of us to the world of fetish, the same way certain Disney Channel actors introduced us to the idea of having a crush.”
But even this level of ubiquity hasn’t dispelled the shroud of misinformation and stigma that’s long surrounded foot fetishes—even some scholarly literature characterized foot lovers as isolated and socially maladapted right up into the early ’90s. Tabloids still love to run stories about creepy guys tricking folks on the street into foot photo shoots and to cite the fetish in stories on sex criminals as proof of warped psyches. In film and TV, music and memes too, feet fetishes are either used as shorthand to show someone is skeevy (think: House of the Dragon) or played for gross-out jokes (think: Love Island). Even people who don’t buy these distorted depictions often develop inaccurate ideas about the fetish for lack of familiarity. As the anonymous moderator of a sizable foot fetish forum told Zipper, “People … have the idea that we all love feet in the same way. That we all need them to get off. That we are all submissive.”
Misconceptions about this common kink are so widespread and extreme that folks like Archer Legend, a foot fetishist and content creator, say they often hear from guys asking “how to get rid of their foot fetish,” because they think their desires are deeply shameful or unnatural.
In the interest of pushing back on these surprisingly common misunderstandings and stigmas, Zipper dug into the history of foot fetishes and spoke to a dozen prominent feet lovers, including forum moderators and content creators, to build this brief guide to the basics.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Generally, the term foot fetish refers to any type or level of erotic interest in feet. But people often assume this interest extends to all feet or the sheer idea of a foot. In reality, foot fetishes are as diverse as any other kink. Foot lovers may only like feet with some specific combination of one or more of the following characteristics, for example:
- Foot size. Some people only like big feet, while others only like small ones.
- Specific contours, like particular foot shapes, arch heights, and/or toe lengths or shapes.
- Texture, like wrinkly versus smooth or soft versus rough.
- Adornments, like shoes, socks, leggings, nylons, nail polish, or jewelry.
- Cleanliness. Some people only like perfectly pedicured and/or freshly showered feet, while others only like sweaty, smelly, and/or grimy feet.
Some foot lovers solely focus on one of these features, while others like combinations of them. Many fetishists are exclusively into the gestalt characteristics of a stereotypically feminine (small, slim, curved, with a high arch) or masculine (bigger, straighter, flatter) foot, for example.
Foot lovers also differ on exactly how they like to interact with feet, with some only looking at pics online, others enjoying an up-close-and-personal viewing experience, and others still preferring to directly engage with feet rather than observe them from afar. Even within these camps, people often want to interact with feet in one or more specific scenario(s), such as:
- Sensual contact or worship, in the form of massaging, licking, kissing, and/or sucking.
- Sexual contact, such as footjobs or the use of toes for penetration.
- Torture play, like foot binding or whipping/caning (a.k.a. bastinado).
- Getting stepped on, watching feet step on, rest upon, or crush things.
Foot Play is Infinite
Foot fetishes often overlap with other kinks as well. Someone who’s also into D/s dynamics (one of the most common overlapping kinks, according to everyone Zipper spoke to for this article) might especially enjoy the sight of a submissive partner forced to worship their feet or get something special out of a dominant partner stepping on them, for example.
But feet can also play an utterly ancillary role in other kinks. Some shoe fetishists are just turned on by footwear, not the feet propping in them. So not everyone who spends a lot of time looking at feet pics or who interacts with feet during sex or other forms of intimate play necessarily has a foot fetish. And some self-avowed foot lovers aren’t particularly interested in ogling or playing with others’ feet at all. Instead, they love their own feet and seeing or feeling people worshiping, torturing, or otherwise enjoying them. (This form of the fetish can be controversial, as some folks don’t think it counts. But such exclusionism isn’t common.)
The same foot facet or scenario may hold wildly different meanings from one fetishist to another. Tickling can be sensual in one context, torture in another, for example. Toe licking might be all about smell and taste or all about humiliation for others. Getting stepped on might be all about pressure or all about submission to others.
Feet can be the focal point of a foot lover’s intimate life, a casual interest they bring into sexual play when circumstances are right to heighten their wider erotic experience or anything in between. “Sweet petite feet must be a part of my life,” says Legend. “But believe it or not, they are not my entire life.”
What people look for in and get out of feet may also change over time, the anonymous foot fetish forum moderator told Zipper. “It’s still evolving for me,” they explained by way of a personal example. “I used to only love female feet. Now, I’m noticing male feet more as well.”
To search the vast sea of foot content spread over the infinite internet, foot lovers have created rough fetish typologies. But these categories rarely reflect people’s individualized relationships with feet. As Richard Lennox, a foot fetishist and content creator, put it, the potential permutations of all the aspects of feet folks may find attractive, all the ways they might want to engage with them, and all the levels on which they might connect with feet “are endless.” So in real-life practice, many foot lovers prefer to treat each person’s fetish as its own unique thing.
In fact, Joclyn Stone, the president of operations for Footnight International, a leading foot fetish party organizer—events at which foot lovers pay to interact with foot models—explained that rather than cater to specific subsets of fetishists at any of the events she runs, she invites as diverse an array of foot models as she can. If she spots an attendee who doesn’t seem to know what they want, she’ll approach them, ask a long series of questions to get a feel for the exact nature of their unique fetish, then try to send them to the foot model who best fits their needs.
All Foot Fetishists Walk a Different Path
“The internet, scientific journals, and dinner parties are full of speculation about why some people have a foot fetish,” noted Adam Zmith, a writer who covers sex and sexuality—who’s penned a few thousand words about his own foot fetish. As early as 1905, Sigmund Freud notably suggested that people fixate on feet because toes are phallic—a notion some sexologists (but few fetishists) still echo. Other early 20th-century writers argued the fetish is a manifestation of our innate attraction to gross things. These views don’t hold up to scrutiny. Few fetishists play with feet as if they’re a phallus, after all, and many individuals—as well as entire cultures—think feet are beautiful, not base.
More recent arguments, grounded in science rather than speculation, instead suggest that:
- People sexualize feet because they’re packed full of sensitive nerve endings and are thus a pleasure center that we gravitate towards just like any other.
- The part of our brain that processes genital sensations is right next to the part that processes foot sensations, so sometimes our sensory wires get crossed.
- Many folks form chance associations between feet and eroticism during formative sexual experiences and reinforce those links through further exploration and experimentation.
- In many modern cultures, we don’t see feet on display often and learn to view them as dirty and borderline shameful, which makes them taboo and, thus, good kink fodder.
Conversely, some of us see a lot of feet in everyday life, and if we live in (comparatively) sexually permissive cultures, this invites almost casual sexual foot experimentation.