They’re not the same thing.
I was out at a bar with some friends of mine last month and a currently single college buddy was trying to explain the kind of woman that caught his eye.
“I’ve just got something about really athletic bodies,” he said. “That’s totally my kink.”
I cringed, not because of the implied shallowness, but because he wasn’t using the word “kink” correctly.
Here’s how I keep track of them…
Sexual attraction has to do with another person’s ability to get you sexually aroused. This often has to do with certain particular emotional/mental triggers you might have that aren’t always easy to identify.
The shape of their body just might spark sexual thoughts in your brain. Or that triggered sex impulse might come from their smell, their voice, their hair style — it can be almost ANYTHING. Sometimes we’re very aware of what triggers us (ex. “I have a weakness for redheads”) and sometimes we have no idea.
There is a difference between sexual attraction and physical attraction, however. I like this description of that distinction from LovePanky: “While sexual attraction is the raw sexual desire to hit the bed with each other, physical attraction is the fondness you experience for someone based on their appearance or behavior.”
So, a physical attraction just means you’re drawn to a person (could be in a romantic way, could be in a platonic friendship way), but sexual attraction means you want to get up ON IT.
Kink, in a general sense, is less about what draws you to another person and more about how you express your attraction to that person. Kinks are sexual behaviors, but they’re behaviors that historically have been labelled as unconventional or abnormal.
An article on DumbDomme describes kink as “a part of sex,” going on to quote a New York Times piece, which noted that “A kink ‘is the use of props, costumes and role play to enhance partner intimacy.’”
In a Slate article titled “Is Kink A Sexual Orientation?”, noted sex columnist Dan Savage was quoted as saying, “While some kinksters identify strongly with their kinks and are open about their sexual interests, being into baby bonnets or bondage isn't about who you love, it's about how you love.”
Probably the most famous kink is BDSM (a.k.a. Bondage, Discipline, Sadomasochism). If someone is into BDSM, they tend to use their proclivities for control or submission to enrich their sexual experiences with their partner(s).
So my friend didn’t have a kink for athletic bodies. However, if he found sexual fulfilment by getting dressed up as an Olympian and pretending that they were having sex during a gold medal ceremony, that would be a kink. That would be a way that he expressed himself sexually to his partner in the hopes of making their sexual connection even stronger.
Kink is NOT just about props and abnormal scenarios. Kinks are often hardwired into people as the primary way they prefer to engage with and define their sexual identities.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fetish as “an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression.”
One of the key words in that definition is “object,” because, often, fetishes don’t have anything to do with a human being at all. They might fixate on a part of a human being — like a foot fetish — but many argue that the fetish is less about the person attached to the foot and more about the foot itself.
People can have fetishes for latex clothing, bodily fluids, specific kinds of artwork — they can be extremely varied. A fetish is like a trigger item. Without having that object or body part involved, a fetishist may not be able to experience sex in any sort of fulfilling way.
(Some argue that kinks are more about abnormal ways to express yourself sexually with another person, while fetishes are more about the fetish item becoming the most important element of the sex itself.)
So, if you’re looking for how the three main terms we’ve discussed differentiate themselves…
- You might be sexually attracted to someone because they have beautiful feet.
- Or your kink might involve using toe-sucking or foot-rubbing as way to enhance the intimacy with your sexual partner.
- Or you might have a foot fetish that means that your greatest pleasure comes from using feet to obtain sexual release.
This may seem semantic, but there are major distinctions between each term. And, as more people continue to find new ways to define their sexual identities, the differences between attraction, kinks, and fetishes will become increasingly important.
More than anything, it’s good to know what you’re talking about, not judge, and keep an open mind about all of the weird, wonderful ways that people get their sexy on in the 21st century.