What Causes Sexual Fetishes?

Unless the fetish conditions the individual's sexual life (they aren’t capable of having a sexual relationship without the object of desire) fetishism isn’t a sexual disorder. In fact, its very common and often harmless.
What Causes Sexual Fetishes?

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Underwear, shoes, hair, feet… In some cases, even the combination of several. Many objects or body parts can be sexual fetishes for many people. However, do you know what causes sexual fetishes?

Sexual fetishes

Sexual fetishism is a paraphilia based on intense sexual excitement through an object (the fetish) regularly. In principle, it isn’t a disorder but a simple manifestation of the person’s sexuality.

Fetish behavior is generally an “aid” in normal sexual behavior that isn’t considered a disorder because it’s simply one more stimulus in a satisfying sexual relationship. It typically doesn’t cause anguish or dysfunction. In fact, it often only further stimulates and arouses.

However, if the fetish becomes a necessary element for sexual arousal, it can be considered a disorder. Therefore, fetishism is a problem when it doesn’t allow a person to have a normal sexual relationship.

In this sense, the fetish shouldn’t limit sexual life but complete it.

What causes sexual fetishes?

A couple in bed, about to have sex.
Sexual fetishes can be a part of normal sexual practice without any problems, increasing sexual excitement in a couple.

Throughout history, many theories have tried to explain the causes of fetishism. However, today, there’s no definitive one. Among all of them, we can mainly highlight one: classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning in sexual fetishes

This theory seems to better explain the dynamics and causes of this paraphilia. Classical conditioning explains fetishism as a reaction to conditioning that existed during childhood.

Thus, an experience during childhood would make the fetishist develop an association between desire and sexual arousal and a certain object. Thus, this association reaches adulthood.

Indeed, we learn to recognize sexual characteristics during childhood. For this reason, a conceptualization of some object, linking it with the sexual, could be the cause of the fetish.

However, for others, fetishism has less to do with conditioning during childhood but rather during puberty, especially when masturbation practices start.

When is fetichism considered a disorder?

A woman wearing heels to have sex.
When sexual arousal depends solely on the fetish, it can begin to be considered a fetishistic disorder.

As we mentioned above, most people with fetishes don’t meet the criteria for a sexual disorder. Indeed, for fetishism to be considered a problem and a disorder that requires due attention, the following conditions must be met:

  • Fantasies or impulses cause the person discomfort.
  • Functional impairment.
  • The fetish becomes compulsive and compulsory.
  • Fetishism negatively affects a person’s relationships.
  • It becomes an obsessive thought.
  • The above conditions must be present for at least six months.

The types of sexual fetishes that exist

As we mentioned above, since fetishism is usually caused by classical conditioning, where a sexual stimulus has been associated with a certain object or situation, there are many different fetishes.

In fact, any object could have an erotic character and be associated with sexual desire and arousal under the right circumstances, becoming a fetish. In short, a fetish can be practically anything.

However, some fetishes are indeed more common than others. Among them, we can highlight:

  • Podophilia (feet)
  • Urolagnia (urine)
  • Retifism (shoes)
  • Otophilia (ears)
  • Misophilia (underwear)


A couple kissing.
Some fetishes can help a couple in their sexual stimulation. Consulting a specialist is always a good option if you have any questions or concerns.

In short, we must re-emphasize the difference between having a fetish that turns you on and having a fetishistic disorder. For that purpose, let’s set an example: underwear.

The fact that a certain type or color of underwear in your partner arouses you is normal and can really promote sex if your partner wants to participate. In this sense, the fetish is another sexual stimulus – something very desirable in relationships.

However, if this fetish becomes an obsessive idea, to the point that sexual intercourse isn’t possible if it doesn’t exist, or if it becomes something so compulsive to the point that the individual even steals underwear, this is obviously a problem or a disorder that the individual must get help for and treat.

In any case, if you have an innocent fetish that can give a special touch to your relationship, don’t hesitate to mention it to your partner. Remember that sexual satisfaction is really important.

On the other hand, if you consider that the fetish is becoming a problem, it’s time to see a specialist, as they’ll be able to help you analyze and understand the origin of its cause and guide you to have a satisfactory sex life again.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.