A common misconception about kinks is that they are synonymous with fetishes, and vice versa. It makes sense, considering how nonsensical the English language tends to be, with all of its synonyms and contronyms, but in this case, the two words mean very different things. Kinks aren’t fetishes, although fetishes are indeed kinky.
But what does that mean?
With increasing awareness of an interest in BDSM, much of the related jargon and terms have made their way into common parlance. Two such words are baby dolls slips they’re often used interchangeably, but as they are two different words it’s natural to wonder what the actual meanings are. What’s the difference between kink and fetish?
Like many others, I think the earliest that I became acquainted with either word was probably sometime in childhood, when I heard about a “foot fetish.” While I don’t recall the context, I know that it’s always been part of my understanding of sexuality, and I’ve always known that fetishes = something people make jokes about. Many people use the term “foot fetish,” or even just “fetishist,” to make fun of people they haven’t met—the occupied date who we think might be a creep, for instance—yet foot fetishism is frequently benign and extremely common. Like most kinky things, it is often harmless, and in many cases it’s not even a fetish, but really a kink.
What defines a kink?
Well, in short, a kink is something that A) turns us on, and is B) outside of the predetermined “norm,” e.g. two cisgender, opposite-sex people engaging in missionary-style intercourse and the like. Kink could be anything from getting excited by someone wearing stockings or becoming nearly orgasmic when smelling a partner’s sweat, to everything within the BDSM spectrum, such as bondage or sadomasochism to name just a couple possibilities. While no one sexual activity or inclination is the definition of “normal,” because it is all normal, there’s a certain societal belief about what sex is defined as for the average person. Kink lives literally anywhere outside that box.
How is a fetish different?
To make it easier to understand and also to generalize greatly, we could create a gradient from “Vanilla” to “Kink” to “Fetish.” Basically, all of the things we do that are within that predetermined “norm” lie on the vanilla side of the spectrum, where things that lie outside that box that we enjoy would be in the middle near the “kink” category, and finally, the things that we cannot sexually do without would be placed around “fetish
When someone has a fetish, they experience that attraction to the kinkier side of life but in a more exclusive way. Fetishes are differentiated by their demanding nature; when it’s a fetish and not a kink, the person in question isn’t going to be able to enjoy them without entertaining that specific desire. For some, fantasizing can be enough, and for others it might not satisfy. As we know, everybody is different! When someone has a fetish, it is something integral to that person’s sexuality, whereas a kink is an enjoyable indulgence—something delightful and delicious, but not absolutely necessary for their sexual fulfillment. Kinks are like salt: they simply add to the flavor. Fetishes are like the food itself: without them, there is no meal.