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The science behind foot fetishes

It can be difficult dating or hooking up with people off campus. Thanks to dating apps such as Tinder, Her and OkCupid, this struggle is somewhat alleviated. We base our judgments towards people only by a few pictures and (maybe) a description. You never know who you’re texting, which can be both fun, and frightening.

After about two weeks of using these apps, I had the most interesting conversation. This person appeared to be your average everyday person. When we spoke, they revealed their obsession with feet!

Foot fetishes are most commonly seen in men and have become increasingly popular over the years. A study published in a 1989 issue of Psychological Reports by Dr. James Giannini and his colleagues, theorized that the incidence of foot fetishism might increase as a reaction to epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. They mentioned a rise in this fetish dating back to the 12th century.  An increase in the arousal towards feet was seen during the more recent AIDS epidemic and is “viewed by such enthusiasts as a safe-sex alternative.”

What is it about the feet that may evoke arousal?

A lot of psychological theories about foot fetishes concern early childhood imprinting and conditioning experiences. In other words, sexual responses associated with non-sexual objects.

For example, the Wikipedia entry on “the psychological origins and development of sexual fetishism” mentions the following theories: 

“The superstimulus theory stressed that fetishes could be the result of generalization. For example, it may only be shiny skin that arouses a person at first, but in time more common stimuli, such as latex, may have the same effect.”

“The preparedness theory stated that reacting to an object with sexual arousal could be the result of an evolutionary process because such a reaction could prove to be useful for survival.”

In her sexual encyclopedia, Dr. Brenda Love explains how feet are “often the first part of a mother or father which a toddler touches.” When parents play with their toddlers, they often push them with their feet or “let them ride on one of their feet.”  “Love objects always have a barrier or obstacle to attainment and feet are less available to many partners than the genitals. The feet are also less threatening for those with coital difficulty because, unlike the genitals of a partner, they do not make demands for perfect sexual performance,” Love said. 

Neurologist and Professor Vilayanaur Ramachandran believes the brain’s somatosensory cortex explains arousal towards feet. Neurological pathways between the feet and genitals occupy adjacent areas of this cortex, suggesting there may be “neural crosstalk” between these areas of the brain.

Dr. Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices suggested that “the foot’s shape is distinctly phallic and is viewed by the fetishist to replicate the female or male genitals or the shape of a female body. Another view is that the feet and the genitals are in the same visual window, and when looking at one, the other will be in view as well; thus the two (genitals and feet) become associated in mind,” Aggrawal said.

 Foot lovers, your fetish is backed by science now!