NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, January 13, 2023

What's the Difference Between a Fetish and a Kink?

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially removed the psychiatric diagnoses for BDSM (bondage dominance discipline sadism submission masochism), fetishism and transvestic fetishism (a variant of cross dressing) from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health (see my article: What is Kinky Sex?)

What's the Difference Between a Fetish and a Kink?

The removal of these diagnoses was a recognition that people who practice these consensual sexual activities are not mentally ill based on their sexual practices.

Prior to the removal of these diagnostic codes from the DSM, these sexual behaviors were considered psychiatric problems, and they had serious consequences in child custody and other legal cases.

Although kinky sex and fetishes have become more mainstream for many people, due in part to films like 9 1/2 Weeks and 50 Shades of Gray, there's still confusion, misconceptions and stigmatization related to them.

What's the Difference Between a Fetish and a Kink?
The words fetish and kink are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between them.

    What is a Kink?
A kink refers to unconventional sexual interests or behavior.  Of course, this is subjective because what is considered unconventional to some people is considered common sexual behavior to others.  

Kink can be practiced during solo sex (masturbation) or during partnered sex with one or more people.

Kinks can include a wide variety of sexual behavior:
    What is a Fetish?
A fetish is similar to a kink, but the important difference is that most people who are fetishists need their fetish to get sexually aroused.  

Fetishes include:
  • A particular body part
  • An object
  • A sexual act
For instance, with regard to body parts, some people get sexually aroused by feet.  They are foot fetishists.  The sight, smell, taste or touch of feet get them turned on.  

Other people are turned on by other body parts, like breasts, hips, butts, legs, long hair, ears, and navels, to name just a few.  

For some people just fantasizing about their particular fetish is enough to get them sexually turned on.  

The fetish can also be an object, like something made of leather (jacket, pants, harness, etc), silk, latex, or vinyl.  It can also include high heels, stockings, underwear or other objects.

A fetish can include engaging in certain sexual acts, like having sex in public, where there is a risk of getting caught since this is considered taboo as well as criminal behavior (see my article: A Cornerstone of Eroticism: Violating Sexual Prohibitions).

Gerontophilia, which means being attracted to, having sex with or falling in love with an older person, is another fetish.  

An example would be a younger man who gets turned on by an older women--either in fantasy or reality (see my articles: Relationships Between Older Women and Younger Men and Can Modern Day Age Gap Relationships Last?).

The main difference between someone who likes certain body parts, objects or sexual activities and someone who fetishizes them is that the person who likes the body part or object can enjoy them, but the person who fetishizes them needs the fetish to get sexually aroused.  In other words, they can't get sexually aroused without the fetish.

Kinks and Fetishes
Kinks and fetishes can overlap.  

Kinks are often used in a relationship to explore different ways of relating sexually, to spice up their sex life and to enhance intimacy (see my article: The Power of Novelty to Enhance Sexual Desire in Your Relationship).

How to Explore Kink or Fetishes Safely

    Start By Exploring Sexual Fantasies With Your Partner(s)
If you and your partner(s) are new to exploring kinks or fetishes, you can start by exploring your sexual fantasies related to these sexual activities.  This is a relatively low risk way to introduce these ideas to see if your partner is interested (see my article: Tips on How to Start a Conversation With Your Partner About Your Sexual Desires).

Depending upon your partner(s)' and your own previous comfort level with kink or fetishes, you will probably need to have more than one talk about it.

If you're the one who is listening to your partner talk about their sexual desires, as long as the activity involves consenting adults, don't be judgmental.  

You shouldn't do anything you don't want to do but, at the same time, try to keep an open mind in terms of exploring what turns your partner on about this particular kink or fetish. Don't shame your partner.  

If you don't want to engage in a particular sexual activity, tell your partner you're not into it, but don't criticize your partner (see my article: Don't Yuck Anybody's Yum).

If you decide to try it, go slow at first.  Try something that you both feel enthusiastic about and consent to do.  If you both enjoy that, you can talk about it afterwards and proceed from there.

If your partner(s) isn't into it, don't pressure them.  Find other ways to explore, possibly on your own during solo sex (masturbation).

    Consent and Safety
Exploring kink or fetishes requires consenting adults who are giving enthusiastic consent (as opposed to a partner who is going along with the other partner to appease them) to the sexual activities.

Safety means you and your partner(s) have done your research in terms of knowing what's involved and how to practice your particular kink or fetish.  For instance, if you and your partner(s) want to engage in rope play, you are both thoroughly familiar with the safety issues involved.  Maybe you even take a course beforehand so no one gets hurt.

    SSC and RACK
SSC and RACK are two acronyms that are important to keep in mind with regard to consent and safety:
  • SSC: Safe, Sane, Consensual means that everything is based on safe activities, all participants are adults and of sound mind, and all participants consent to these activities.
  • RACK: Risk Aware Consensual Kink means everyone involved is aware of the risks, consents to the sexual activities and feels comfortable with these activities.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapy.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.