Foot fetishism

Foot fetishism, foot partialism, foot worshipping or podophilia, is a pronounced sexual interest in feet.[1] It is the most common form of sexual fetishism for otherwise non-sexual objects or body parts and is more prevalent in men[2] than women.[3][4]

Foot fetishism has been defined as a pronounced sexual interest in feet. For a foot fetishist, points of attraction may include the shape and size of feet and toes (e.g. long toes, short toes, painted toenails, short or long toenail beds, high arches, soles, etc.), jewelry (e.g. toe rings, anklets, etc.), treatments (such as massaging, washing partner's feet or painting partner's toenails), state of dress (barefoot, flip flops, sandals, high heels,[5] hosiery, socked feet, etc.), foot odor and/or sensory interaction (e.g. rubbing the foot, tickling, smelling, kissing, biting, licking, sucking toes, rubbing genitals on foot, etc.).[6]

Extensions of this fetish include shoes, socks, odour fetishism and tickling. Sigmund Freud also considered foot binding as a form of fetishism.[7][8][9]

Odor fetishism (pertaining to the smell of feet) seems to play a major role in foot fetishism, and is closely related to it: in a 1994 study, 45% of those with a foot fetish were found to be aroused by smelly socks and/or feet, making it one of the most widespread forms of olfactophilia.[10]

In extreme cases, an individual with a pronounced sexual interest in feet could possibly be diagnosed with fetishism disorder (characterized by the eroticization of non-living objects and/or body parts) if they are in adherence with the following symptoms:[11]

  • Experiencing recurrent sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving the use of non-living objects over a period of at least six months.
  • These fantasies, urges, and/or behaviors cause significant distress in a social, occupational, or personal environment.
  • The fetish objects are not limited to female articles of clothing used in cross-dressing or devices used for genital stimulation.

There is a clear distinction between individuals with a casual interest in feet as opposed to individuals with fetishism disorder, however, no consensus has been reached to determine where people may reside on this range of desire.

Relative frequency

Fetishism almost always occurs in males, whereas the disorder is much less prevalent in females.[12]

To estimate the relative frequency of fetishes, in 2006 researchers at the University of Bologna examined 381 internet discussions of fetish groups, in which at least 5,000 people had been participating. Researchers estimated the prevalence of different fetishes based on the following elements:

  • (a) the number of discussion groups devoted to a particular fetish;
  • (b) the number of individuals participating in the groups;
  • (c) the number of messages exchanged.

It was concluded that the most common fetishes were for body parts or for objects usually associated with body parts (33% and 30% respectively). Among those people preferring body parts, feet and toes were preferred by the greatest number, with 47% of those sampled preferring them. Among those people preferring objects related to body parts, 32% were in groups related to footwear (shoes, boots, etc.).[4]

Foot fetishism is the most common form of sexual fetish related to the body.[13]

In August 2006, AOL released a database of the search terms submitted by their subscribers. In ranking only those phrases that included the word "fetish", it was found that the most common search was for feet.[14]

Example cases

Health and disease

Some of the earliest recorded instances of foot fetishism occur in the erotic poems To a Barefoot Woman and To a Barefoot Boy attributed to the Ancient Greek writer Philostratus.[15][16] Another reference to the fetish is made by Bertold of Regensburg in 1220.[17] Some researchers have hypothesized that foot fetishism increases as a response to epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. In one study, conducted by Dr. A James Giannini at Ohio State University, an increased interest in feet as sexual objects was observed during the great gonorrhea epidemic of twelfth-century Europe, and the syphilis epidemics of the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe.[18] In the same study, the frequency of foot-fetish depictions in pornographic literature was measured over a 30-year interval. An exponential increase was noted during the period of the current AIDS epidemic. In these cases, sexual footplay was viewed as a safe sex alternative.[19] However, the researchers noted that these epidemics overlapped periods of relative female emancipation.[20] Sexual focus on female feet was also hypothesized to have been a reflection of a more dominant posture of the woman in sexual-social relations.


Similar to other forms of sexual fetishism, no consensus has yet been established about the specific causes of foot fetishism. While many works on the topic exist, their conclusions are often regarded as highly speculative.

Foot fetishism may be caused by the feet and the genitals occupying adjacent areas of the somatosensory cortex, possibly entailing some neural crosstalk between the two.[21] Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has noted amputees reporting orgasms in their feet.[22]

The cortical homunculus (also known as Penfield's Homunculus), a map of the human brain illustrating respective locations for where different parts of the body are processed, shows as possible link between the feet and toes to the genitalia.[23] There exists controversy regarding this neural crosslink, as some medical professionals have been known to question the simplicity of the map in comparison to reality.

Desmond Morris considered foot fetishism the result of mal-imprinting at an early age, the tactile pressure of a foot/shoe being important in this.[24]

Freud's reading of foot fetishism also involved early imprinting, but he considered the smell of feet significant in this, as well as the foot as penis-symbol/surrogate (castration complex, especially when encountered while voyeuristic exploring the female body from below).[25] Otto Fenichel similarly saw castration fear as significant in foot fetishism, citing a future fetishist who as an adolescent said to himself "You must remember this throughout life – that girls, too, have legs", to protect himself from the fear.[26] Where fear of the (castrated) female body is too great, desire is felt not for shoes on female feet but for women's shoes alone, without women.[27]

Georges Bataille saw the lure of the feet as linked to their anatomical baseness (abjection).[28]

See also


  1. Hickey, Eric W. (2006). Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. Pearson Education. p. 165. ISBN 9780131703506.
  2. S.H., Nagler (1957). "Fetishism: A review and a case study". The Psychiatric Quarterly. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 31 (1–4): 713–741. doi:10.1007/BF01568763. PMID 13518425 via 1573-6709.
  3. Emily Dubberley (10 February 2005). Brief Encounters: The Women's Guide to Casual Sex. Summersdale Publishers LTD - ROW. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-84839-313-4.
  4. Scorolli, C.; Ghirlanda, S.; Enquist, M.; Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E. A. (2007). "Relative prevalence of different fetishes". International Journal of Impotence Research. 19 (4): 432–437. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901547. PMID 17304204.
  5. Kunzle, David (1982). "Fashion and Fetishism: A Social History of the Corset, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body Sculpture in the West". The University of Michigan. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 1982: 103 via ISBN 0847662764, 9780847662760.
  6. Kippen, Cameron (July 2004). "The History of Footwear – Foot Fetish and Shoe Retifism". Department of Podiatry, Curtin University. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2014 via National Library of Australia.
  7. Hacker, Authur (2012). China Illustrated. Turtle Publishing. ISBN 9781462906901.
  8. Carter, Keryn (2000). "Consuming the Ballerina: Feet, Fetishism and the Pointe Shoe". Australian Feminist Studies. 15 (31): 81–90. doi:10.1080/713611928.
  9. GG,WD,J, Brame,Brame & Jacobs (1996). "Different loving: the world of sexual dominance and submission London: Arrow". Villard via ISBN 978-0679769569.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. Patricia B. Sutker; Henry E. Adams (2001), Comprehensive handbook of psychopathology, p. 762, ISBN 978-0-306-46490-4
  11. Kippen, Cameron (July 2004). "The History of Footwear – Foot Fetish and Shoe Retifism". Department of Podiatry, Curtin University. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2014 via National Library of Australia.
  12. Zarei, Mina; Bidaki, Reza (February 2013). "Female foot fetishism disorder in childhood". Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 18 (2): 170. ISSN 1735-1995. PMC 3724381. PMID 23914223.
  13. "Rex Ryan's Apparent Foot Fetish not Necessarily Unhealthy – ABC News". 23 December 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  14. AOL's Accidental Release of Search Data – The Sexmind of, accessed June 2007
  15. Benner, A.R. and Forbes, F.H. (1949) The Letters of Alciphron, Aelian, and Philostratus. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press
  16. Levin, Daniel B. (2005) EPATON BAMA ('Her Lovely Footstep'): The Erotics of Feet in Ancient Greece.
  17. Coulton, G. G. (1923) Life in the Middle Ages Volume 3: Men and Manners Chapter 30 - Tricks of Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  18. AJ Giannini et al., op. cit.
  19. Shaw, WJ (1979). "Use of Relaxation in the Short-Term Treatment of Fetishistic Behavior: An Exploratory Case Study". Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 4 (4): 406.
  20. Giannini, AJ; Colapietro, G; Slaby, AE; Melemis, SM; Bowman, RK (1998). "Sexualization of the female foot as a response to sexually transmitted epidemics: a preliminary study". Psychological Reports. 83 (2): 491–8. doi:10.2466/pr0.83.6.491-498. PMID 9819924.
  21. Kringelbach, Morten. Bodily Illusions. last accessed Sept 2006.
  22. Blakeslee, Sandra (1999). Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780688172176.
  23. S.H., Nagler (1957). "Fetishism: A review and a case study". The Psychiatric Quarterly. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 31 (1–4): 713–741. doi:10.1007/BF01568763. PMID 13518425 via 1573-6709.
  24. Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy (1994) p. 279-80
  25. Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 68n
  26. Quoted in O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 327
  27. O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 343
  28. Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess (1985) p. 23

Further reading

  • Havelock Ellis (1936), Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. II, New York: Random House
  • William Rossi (1989), The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company. ISBN 0894645730
  • Sheila Jeffreys (2005), Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415351820

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