Older Than You Think: The (Often Surprising) Origins of Some of Today’s Popular Fetishes

Far from bizarre or depraved, sexual fetishes are actually a normal part of the human psyche. Many, if not most, people have a fetish or sexual preference of some kind, and the arrival of the Internet and mass communication simply made it easier to learn about them, share them, and explore them with one another. Easy, widespread access to pornography under the veil of anonymity has brought many people’s walls crumbling down, giving them an outlet to enjoy their favorite fantasies and fetishes with ease. But make no mistake–the Internet was not the first time any of these ideas first crossed into the popular culture. In fact, you might just be surprised at how long many of these fetishes and fantasies have been around.


Foot Fetishism: 12th -13th Century

Easily one of the most popular and widespread fetishes today, foot fetishism is the sexual attraction to feet, whether bare, in shoes, or socks and stockings. There are, of course, many forms to fetishizing the shape of the foot–from simple caresses and massages to kissing and licking and foot penis massages and ejaculating on the toes and arch of the foot.


A quick online search for foot fetish videos will yield a shocking number of results–clearly indicating that it is a highly popular fetish today. But what you may not realize is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, had the Internet existed thousands of years ago, those same exact clips would have been popular. Because the first written mention of feet in a sexual way goes back as far as the 1200s, though there is some debate as to whether it can be traced back even further than that. Researchers believe that foot fetishism was born from a fear of illness and STDs–and there is a historical increase in foot fetish activity during times of syphilis epidemics and plague.


The list of modern and historical foot fetishists reads like a who’s who of literary and cinematic geniuses that includes F. Scott Fitzgerald, Quentin Terantino, Thomas Hardy, Jay Leno, and none other than Casanova.


Sadomasochism: 470 BC

Often referred to as bondage, S&M, or BDSM, sadomasochism is a fetish that involves consenting partners engaging in sexual role-play most often characterized by submission and domination. Sometimes this role-play involves the dominant partner (the Dom) inflicting some form of punishment or pain on the willing sub. S&M covers a wide range of activities, and most practitioners know that it was named after the Marquis de Sade. However, while he is known for being a big fan, he certainly wasn’t the inventor of the fetish.


In fact, a look into the Etruscan empire and erotic artwork dating back as far as 470 BC has given historians quite a surprise, as they’ve found 2,500 year old depictions of orgies and very clear depictions of floggings, forced sexual encounters, and threesomes that include two men having sex with one woman while one of them spanks her and whips her rather vigorously.


Autoerotic Asphyxia: 17 th Century

More common than many people realize, autoerotic asphyxiation is a term for masturbation while cutting off the flow of oxygen–often with the use of a scarf or belt around the neck. It can be dangerous, as according to the FBI between 500 and 1000 young people die experimenting with the practice every year.


However, despite rumors the fetish was not discovered in sex clubs during the 1980s. In fact, the practice first became popularized during the 1600s, when it was actually prescribed by physicians as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. The connection between the two acts began in an odd place. Observers at public hangings often noticed that male victims would develop an erection and ejaculate at the moment of their death.

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