Where do fetishes come from?

Updated: Apr 29

One of the common questions I am asked as a clinical sexologist is: “Where do fetishes come from?” Recently I was interviewed by ABC about the origin of foot fetish. You can view the original article here.

This article is written by Kellie Scott, for Ladies, We Need to Talk.


Nadia has a very specific fetish.

"A baseball cap and it has to be worn backwards," the 40-year-old from Sydney says.

It all started as a teen, when she saw a classmate wearing one while playing footy.

"It just kind of ignited something inside of me."

When Nadia became sexually active, the fetish became more obvious. Seeing a man wearing a backwards cap gave her goosebumps.

"I [would] get chills. I found it really hard to resist."

Knowing how many people have fetishes is difficult to gauge because of the sense of shame some can feel around disclosing sexual behaviour, says Dr Sarah Ashton, a sexologist and psychologist.

But Dr Ashton says there is huge diversity in fetish behavior and preferences.

Not everyone is clear on what makes something a fetish, and we can feel alone with our sexual interests in a society that tends to shame anything outside the "norm".

ABC podcast Ladies We Need to Talk explores where fetishes come from, and why it's OK to have them.

What is a fetish?

A fetish involves arousal to an inanimate object or a specific target, says Dr Ashton.

"Usually a body part that's not a genital, or an object."

As opposed to a preference for something, like clean sheets or chocolate ice cream, a fetish has a stronger connection to sexual arousal.

"There is more reinforcement between the parts of our brain that are involved in arousal and orgasm, and the object or target that you're talking about," Dr Ashton says.

"If you're talking about a preference, then the connection would be weaker."

Dr Ashton commonly hears about fetishes related to clothing, like shoes and stockings, or textures, like PVC and latex.