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What's The Difference Between A Fetish and a Kink?

The Answer Is In The Etymology

By Neal LitherlandPublished 7 years ago 3 min read

If you're a sexually active human being in the 21st century, then you've heard the words "kink" and "fetish" before. If you're lucky, you've been to the kind of parties where these things are put on display, and those who aren't familiar with them can get a hands-on demonstration to see what they like. Leather, bondage, whips, chains, and candle wax are probably the images that come to your mind, but it's actually possible for almost anything to be a kink. The problem is that it's also possible for any kink to be a fetish.

Kind of an "all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares," sort of setup.

The difficulty is one of language. You see, a fetish and a kink are actually two different things, but the words are often used interchangeably. This can lead to a lot of miscommunication when a partner is trying to explain what they're into so you can make an informed decision before you agree to go home with them for the night.

So what's the difference? Well, the simple version is that a kink is something you like or enjoy, while a fetish is something you need to have in order to sexually function.

There's more to it than that, of course, or the article would end right here.

The History of The Terms

Let's start with fetish, since it's the word with the longer history.

The word fetish originally referred to the charms and objects carried by native inhabitants on the Guinea coast of Africa. These objects held great religious significance, and they were often seen as the conduit between the holder, and the spirits which they worshiped. Losing those fetishes was akin to losing the power they granted the holders, which could be spiritually catastrophic.

That was back in the 1600s. The word navigated into English in the 1700s, and by around 1837 the word had evolved to also mean giving irrational devotion to something in an absolute, religious sense. Fetishizing an idea, a thing, or concept, by turning it into an object of worship.

That word absolute is key, here.

It was in 1897 where the idea of sexual fetishism was coined. Just like the tribal fetishes that held power over the native's spirits, so sexual fetishes held power over a person's sexuality. Whether it was an act, a body part, or just an object like boots, latex, or gas masks, this sexual fetish was the key that allowed someone to open the door to their own sexual arousal. Without that fetish being included in some way, they simply can't participate fully.

So what about kink?

Well, kink has a shorter, less psychologically interesting history. In short, kink was a slang term used in the 1970s for someone who was sexually deviant, or perverted. As time has gone by, people interested in alternative sexuality have often branded themselves as kinky. In time that adjective went on to be used as a kind of umbrella term for all members who participated in these lifestyles, referred to in general as the kink community.

Do You Like It, Or Do You Need It?

As Men's Journal says, the primary question you have to answer is whether you enjoy something as spice, or if it's the main course for you. Is having your partner dominate you something you enjoy, or is it the domination itself (and not who's doing it) that's important? Do you enjoy the feel of leather against your skin when you're intimate with your partner, or can you not achieve that intimacy without that fetish being present?

It's important to know, and to be honest with yourself about your own needs. But it's even more important to communicate those needs to your partners using clear language that leaves no room for miscommunication.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also want to take a look at The Danger Word (It's Like The Opposite of a Safe Word).

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.



Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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