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Yes, Your Fetish Is Totally Normal

Kinks and fetishes are less taboo than ever—ours is a post Fifty Shades of Grey world where BDSM has become mainstream and shows like Broad City, Hot Girls Wanted, and Slutever have helped normalize everything from pegging to cannasexuality. It’s real progress, but it doesn’t erase the fact that for many of us, fetishes can still feel totally weird or even shameful.

The first thing you should know: fetishes are much more common than you might realize. Nearly half of participants in a representative survey published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2017 reported being into something psychologists consider outside of the “normal” range on the sexual spectrum. In an earlier survey taken in 2015 found nearly half of participants had tried public sex, a quarter had tried role playing, 20 percent said they’d experimented with BDSM, and 30 percent said they’d tried spanking.

That doesn’t mean you have to jump straight into a BDSM dungeon if you think you might have an unexplored fetish. The idea of dripping hot wax over someone’s body or having a toe in your mouth can feel a little bit… intimidating. Maybe even scary or weird, so take it as slow as you need.

Here is everything you need to know about what a fetish is, how to know if your fetish is normal, and the healthy ways you can incorporate it into your sex life.

The simplest way to define fetishes according to sexologists: normally non-sexual things that ignite sexual feelings in a person. “A fetish is sparked when things that seem completely normal, suddenly bring you great sexual satisfaction and pleasure,” says Daniel Saynt, a sex educator and founder of The New Society for Wellness (NSFW). You can have a fetish for a thing, like being attracted to feet; or a place, like having sex in public; you can even have a fetish for a texture like latex.

By definition, fetishes fall outside of the sexual “norm”—but that doesn’t mean every out there sexual desire qualifies as a fetish. There’s a line separating a fetish from something that you’re just kinda into: to be considered a true fetish, the object or act must have to be a part of a sex act for you to get turned on. If you enjoy the occasional, or even regular spanking, for example, that doesn’t mean you have a spanking fetish—people with a true spanking fetish need that act of domination to get off.

So, where do these sexual kinks and quirks come from? “Most fetishes are thought to be learned behaviors in which a person comes to associate a given object with sexual arousal through experience,” says Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want. That may come from childhood or adolescence or you might stumble upon a fetish as a sexually experienced adult. “You may not know you’re into a fetish until you try it,” adds Saynt, “which is why I always encourage people to try new things and be curious.”

Most of us can relate to having a sex fantasy that feels downright weird—but most of them are totally harmless and fine to explore. If you have a thing for fishnet stockings and your partner agrees to wear a pair to help get you off, go for it. If you get turned on by feet and enjoy watching foot porn while you masturbate, you do you. Totally normal fetishes include everything from age play, to gagging to golden showers.

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