Foot fetishism, foot partialism, foot worshipping 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 and is more prevalent in men than women.
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, 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, 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.).
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.).
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.
Health and disease
The first surviving mention of foot fetish is by Bertold of Regensburg in 1220. 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. 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. Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has noted amputees reporting orgasms in their feet.
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). 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.
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