The Countess with the whip, an illustration by Martin van Maële

Foot fetishism, also known as foot partialism or podophilia, is a pronounced sexual interest in feet.[1][2] It is the most common form of sexual fetishism for otherwise non-sexual objects or body parts.[3]

Characteristics and related fetishes

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, feet soles, toes, jewelry (e.g., toe rings, anklets, etc.), treatments (such as massaging, washing partner's feet or painting partner's toenails), state of dress (e.g., barefoot, flip flops, boat shoes, ballet flats, sandals, high heels,[4] clogs, hosiery, socked feet, etc.), foot odor or sensory interaction (e.g., rubbing the foot, smelling, tickling, licking, rubbing genitals on foot, etc.).[5]

Extensions of this fetish include shoes, socks, olfactophilia (odor fetishism), and tickling. Sigmund Freud also considered foot binding as a form of fetishism,[6][7] although this view was disputed.[8]

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 or feet, making it one of the most widespread forms of olfactophilia.[9]

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 body parts) if they are in adherence with the following symptoms:[10]

Relative frequency

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.).[3]

Foot fetishism is the most common form of sexual fetish related to the body.[11]

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.[12]

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 76 of the 459 male respondents (17%) and 23 of the 565 female respondents (4%) answered "Agree" or "Strongly agree" to a fetish interest in feet.[13]


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.[citation needed] 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.[14]

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.[15] Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran proposed that an accidental link between these regions could explain the prevalence of foot fetishism.[16]

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.[17] 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).[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

Georges Bataille saw the lure of the feet as linked to their anatomical baseness (abjection).[21]

Health and disease

Some researchers have hypothesized that foot fetishism increases as a response to epidemics of sexually transmitted infections. In one study, conducted by 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.[22] 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.[23] However, the researchers noted that these epidemics overlapped periods of relative female emancipation.[24]

Society and culture

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.[25][26] The Hindu god Brahma was aroused by the sight of Parvati's feet in the eighth-century text Skanda Purana.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Hickey, Eric W. (2006). Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. Pearson Education. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-13-170350-6.
  2. ^ King, Moses (1919). "Science, Volume 49". Science. 49. Moses King, 1919: 287.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ 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. ISBN 978-0-8476-6276-0.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Lee, Rachel (2014). "The Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature". Routledge Literature Companions. Rachel Lee: 125. ISBN 978-1-317-69841-8.
  7. ^ Hacker, Arthur (2004). China Illustrated: Western Views of the Middle Kingdom. the University of Michigan: Tuttle, 2004. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-8048-3519-0.
  8. ^ Hacker, Authur (2012). China Illustrated. Turtle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4629-0690-1.
  9. ^ Sutker, Patricia B.; Adams, Henry E. (2001), Comprehensive handbook of psychopathology, Springer, p. 762, ISBN 978-0-306-46490-4
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Rex Ryan's Apparent Foot Fetish not Necessarily Unhealthy – ABC News". 23 December 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  12. ^ AOL's Accidental Release of Search Data – The Sexmind of, accessed June 2007
  13. ^ Holvoet, Lien; Huys, Wim; Coppens, Violette; Seeuws, Jantien; Goethals, Kris; Morrens, Manuel (2017). "Fifty shades of Belgian gray: The prevalence of BDSM-related fantasies and activities in the general population" (PDF). Journal of Sexual Medicine. 14 (9): 1152–1159. doi:10.1016/J.JSXM.2017.07.003. hdl:10067/1450920151162165141. PMID 28781214.
  14. ^ Bancroft, John (2009). Human Sexuality and Its Problems. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 283–286.
  15. ^ Kringelbach, Morten. Bodily Illusions. Archived 17 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine last accessed Sept 2006.
  16. ^ Ramachandran, V. S. (1994). "Phantom limbs, neglect syndromes, repressed memories, and Freudian psychology". International Review of Neurobiology. 37: 291–333. doi:10.1016/S0074-7742(08)60254-8. ISBN 9780123668370. PMID 7883483.
  17. ^ Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy (1994) p. 279-80
  18. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 68n
  19. ^ Quoted in O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 327
  20. ^ O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 343
  21. ^ Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess (1985) p. 23
  22. ^ AJ Giannini et al., op. cit.
  23. ^ 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. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/4.4.403.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Benner, A.R. and Forbes, F.H. (1949) The Letters of Alciphron, Aelian, and Philostratus. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press
  26. ^ Levin, Daniel B. (2005) EPATON BAMA ('Her Lovely Footstep'): The Erotics of Feet in Ancient Greece.
  27. ^ Skanda Purana, Book 1, Section 1, Chapter 26, Verses 16-17. Available online at

Further reading

Media related to foot fetishism at Wikimedia Commons