What’s a kink and what’s a fetish?

Definitions and labels can sometimes feel limiting—and a little uncreative. But one of the few ways categorization and precision work for us is in our sex lives. Terms like kink and fetish, for example, get tossed around interchangeably, as though one is a synonym for the other, but there is a wide gulf of difference between them. Ambiguity when indulging in a kink or fetish could make for an unfulfilling experience.

While there may be some overlap in the two—and how they can be experienced together in an encounter—there are key differences.  Let’s break down what is a kink and what is a fetish, and understand the experiential or essential nature of each.

What’s a kink?

A kink is any sexual or arousing thing that is outside of the so-called boundaries of “normal.” Normal is up for debate but—loosely—kinks are decidedly unconventional based on factors like social realms and one’s own sexual history.

Some kinks include but are not limited to:

  • Role playing
  • BDSM
  • Bodily fluids
  • Anal-specific pleasure (giving, receiving)
  • Electrostimulation
  • Costumes

If someone says they are kinky, it’s important to discuss specifically what that means. One person’s kink—such as sex toys or foreplay including anal play using any K-Y lubricant products* for pleasure—may seem kind of boring to someone else, while another could truly be shocked by it.

*Ensure this product is right for you. Always read and follow the product label.

Kinks don’t need to be so rigidly defined. Remain open to what shape they can take in enhancing your sexual experience.

What’s a fetish?

If a kink is determined by preferences to enhance a sexual experience then a fetish is defined as something that’s essential to it. Fetishes, like kinks, fall outside the bounds of what is considered “normal” within sex. But a fetish, unlike a kink, leans more toward sexual fixation and arousal by a person or object.

Some fetishes include:

  • Feet
  • Humiliation
  • Textiles like latex, leather, or nylon
  • Uniforms
  • Food play
  • Robots

Quite like kinks, there are many fetishes— they simply depend on a person’s specific interest and need.

Why the difference matters

Because there’s crossover between kinks and fetishes, it’s understandable they both are misunderstood or believed to be the other. Bottomline? A person may love dressing up while having sex, but another may need to dress up to achieve an orgasm. It really comes down to seeing if that experience is something for a special occasion (kink) versus doing it nearly every single sexual encounter to feel pleasure (fetish).

Both are legitimately fun and sexy and beautiful ways to engage with your partner. Ask yourself—especially if you’re a first-timer out exploring what other sexual modes you can include in your repertoire—if you need an object or action to be aroused to determine if what you’re looking for is a kink-related experience or a fetish. Do you need tools like sex toys or lube for you or maybe for you and your partner to achieve orgasm? Whatever your preference, specificity and honesty on what you like in bed create and help keep intimacy between partners.