Foot fetishism, also known as foot partialism or podophilia, is a pronounced sexual interest in feet. It is the most common form of sexual fetishism for otherwise non-sexual objects or body parts.
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:
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.).
Foot fetishism is the most common form of sexual fetish related to the body.
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.
Foot fetishism may be more common in men than in women. Researchers using a polling agency to conduct a survey of the general Belgian population in 2017 found that of 1027 respondents, 76 of the men (17%) and 23 of the women (4%) answered "Agree" or "Strongly agree" to a fetish interest in feet.
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. In a general sense, sexual fetishism can be caused by a number of factors, no singular cause for any type of fetishism has been conclusively established.
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 a possible link between the feet and toes to the genitalia. 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.
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. Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran proposed that an accidental link between these regions could explain the prevalence of foot fetishism.
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. 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 a penis-symbol/surrogate (castration complex, especially when encountered while voyeuristically exploring the female body from below). 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. 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.
Georges Bataille saw the lure of the feet as linked to their anatomical baseness (abjection).
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. 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. However, the researchers noted that these epidemics overlapped periods of relative female emancipation.
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. The Hindu god Shiva was aroused by the sight of Parvati's feet in the eight-century text Skanda Purana. Another reference to the fetish is made by Bertold of Regensburg in 1220. F. Scott Fitzgerald was described by a mistress as a foot fetishist, and himself referred to a "Freudian shame about his feet".
Actor Idris Elba has confirmed in interviews since 2013 that he has a foot fetish, for example in 2016 telling UK Esquire "I've got a foot fetish. Women's feet.", and answering in the affirmative to the question while connected to a polygraph for Vanity Fair in 2019. Other contemporary celebrities who have told interviewers, "I have a foot fetish" (or a slight variation thereof) include Brooke Burke, Enrique Iglesias, Tommy Lee, Ludacris, Ricky Martin, and Todd Phillips.
In 2020 an artist collective released This Foot Does Not Exist, a project that uses generative adversarial networks to generate new "foot pics" by text message request.
Well, I've got a f***ing fetish for feet.
I got a thing, you know. Just a thing.
YouTube title: Idris Elba Has A Foot Fetish
'You stated on The Graham Norton Show that you have a foot fetish. Is this true?' 'This is true.'
I like feet. I definitely have a fetish. I love to see a man's bare foot, but it's got to be taken care of.
I have like a foot fetish. I always look at a woman's feet.
The first thing I look at is her feet. I don't care if she's Miss America; if her toes are busted, I can't go there. I have this crazy foot fetish.
I definitely love girls with beautiful feet. I have a foot fetish. Messed up feet man, sometimes she can trick me and just wear boots and not even show her feet. But when I see the feet, it's a wrap.
I have a crazy foot fetish, like, crazy. In fact, it’s bad.
I play the guy with the foot fetish in the movie because I am a guy with a foot fetish.