Kink vs fetish: What are they and how are they different?

Everyone has their preferences and needs when it comes to sex — and kinks and fetishes are no exception.

We hear the terms “kink” and “fetish” more commonly now, since people have slowly become more open in talking about sex. These terms are often interchangeably used for unusual sexual play, but there are differences between them. Let’s take a closer look at those distinctions.

What is kink?

The term kink is an umbrella term that includes any “alternative” sexual interest that doesn’t fit society’s typical, mainstream sexual practices. What’s considered “kinky” or “unusual” may vary, depending on the person’s social sphere, generation, culture, and religion. 

What are common kinks?

When someone says they’re kinky, you might want to ask them to expound on that further — but, of course, make sure they’re actually comfortable to share more. Some of the most common kinks are:

BDSM. This stands for a combination of acronyms for three similar but distinct communities that find sexual pleasure in power imbalance: bondage and discipline (B/D), domination and submission (D/S), and sadism and masochism (S/M).

For this kink, pleasure can be achieved through activities like spanking, using handcuffs, and inflicting pain and humiliation on your partner (or receiving it). BDSM acts often involve one dominant partner and one submissive partner, but both consent to the situation. They usually have a safe word to communicate boundaries while remaining in the scene. 

Role-play. This is a sexual act in which two partners portray characters during sex. They can be fictional characters from pop culture, or ones completely made up by the partners involved.

Impact play. Hitting and spanking are examples of impact play. Partners usually use a hand, toy, whip, vibrator, or paddle for this sexual act. Before anything else, it’s also important for them to have a detailed discussion to communicate pleasurable boundaries of a potentially harmful act.

What is a fetish?

A fetish is a specific requirement or sexual interest that must be present for a person to experience sexual arousal and enjoyment. Generally, there are three things that make something a fetish. It should:

  1. fall outside of the typical boundaries of what society has deemed “normal” sexual activity
  2. be sexually arousing
  3. be present during the act, so the person can experience pleasure

What are common fetishes?

Fetishes can involve inanimate objects (such as high heels), known as form fetishes, or specific materials (such as leather, silk, or vinyl), known as media fetishes. Specific body parts (like feet or breasts) or even specific types of partners or behaviors may also be fetishes. Some of the most common fetishes are:

Pregnancy. There are people who have a sexual obsession with pregnant people or one of their specific features (like a swollen belly or lactation).

Foot fetish. This refers to a sexual interest in which a person requires interaction with feet for sexual gratification. They may become sexually aroused by toes, toe or foot shapes, toenails, ankles, foot-related jewelry, accessories like socks and hosiery, or foot odor. This fetish may also involve various interactions, including imagining, looking at, touching, smelling, kissing, penetrating, or placing feet in high heels.

Electrostimulation. This fetish involves the receiver experiencing sexual arousal when receiving small electric shocks during sexual activity. There are specific toys made for electrostimulation to ensure safety.

How are kinks and fetishes different?

The definitions of these two terms often overlap. But in their simplest sense, kinks are sexual preferences, while fetishes are sexual needs. Fetishes are often kinks as well, but not all kinks are fetishes. For example, a leather fetish is also a form of kink. But spanking could be a form of kink that someone enjoys but not necessarily a fetish, insofar as it’s not necessarily needed for the person to attain sexual pleasure.

Sex can be enhanced with kink, but it is not necessary. A fetishist, however, may always need their interest to be present in sexual play, to get enough satisfaction.


MasterClass. (May 5, 2022). Kink vs. Fetish: How Do They Compare? MasterClass. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/kink-vs-fetish 

Sloan, S. (April 24, 2020). Kink Versus Fetish: What’s The Difference Between The Two? MBGRelationships. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/kink-vs-fetish 
Kassel, G. (October 22, 2021). What’s the Difference Between a Kink and a Fetish? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/kink-vs-fetish

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