NOTES -- Sexual Glossary

These writtings are the product of 10 years plus of artwork and research by Kit Hagen starting in 2000.  This work and its supporting research is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike -- CC BY-SA


The term describes a form of paraphilia, where arousal is concentrated on the foot, stockings or shoe. The term first appeared in a paper written by Rossi (1990a). While self-incorporation of feet in foreplay or lovemaking is innocuous, only when it becomes the point of psychological dependence can paraphilia be diagnosed. The feet, shoes and hose require some specific attraction, which may include special colors, shapes or smells. People with sock fixation will have no attraction to feet or shoes. Similarly, shoe fetishists will have no attraction to feet and vice versa. Podophiles may seek pleasure and pain by several means. Those aroused by their feet may use frottage (ie, non-consensual touching) to seek a thrill. This may involve just fondling the foot or shoe, but in some cases, deceitful means may be employed. A common form is to accidentally step on another’s foot in a crowd. The podophile usually apologies immediately and no more attention is paid to the incident. There have been rare incidents of men assaulting strangers and fondling their victim’s feet before running off. Podophiles may use the big toe as a phallus and let their nails grow long and filed to a point. Painting the nails is common, with dark burgandy a popular color among podophiles. During the 1970s, it was common for many eating and drinking establishments in North America to allow their customers to play ‘footsie footsie’ under the table (Love 1995). Referred to as “toe jobs,” this type of foreplay has been around since the Middle Ages (Rossie, 1997). Most podophiles take anacreontoic pleasure from being touched (aphephillia) and massaged (tripsolagnophilia). Feet are either massaged with the fingers or can be caressed by the mouth to stimulate a partner in sex play. This is done by sucking or running the tongue in and out through all the toes. Aliphineurs may do this to each other, simultaneously. In SM, a dominant parter (referred to as ‘Top’) often demands their sevant (‘bottom’) to soak their feet and give them a pedicure. A dominant partner may also massage a slave’s back or genital area while wearing spiked heels. Rubbing ointments or lather is used to alleviate friction and produces a sensation that is drastically different from normal skin to skin contact. The combination of scent with massage can add to the attractiveness. Stimulating the olfactory center under erotic stimulul of touch can evoke an emotional response, free a person to some degree, and allow natural chemistry to occur. For many centuries in China, Japan and Spain, for a woman to allow a man to kiss and fondle her feet was an invitation to intimacy. Podophiles like watching feet and are frequent visitors to the beach (Rossi, 1990a). Many podophiles, it appears, are envious of podiatrists and, according to Steele (1996), some podiatrists are themselves podophiles. For some foot lovers, the mere mention of feet in reading or conversation is enough to cause arousal. Stekel (1964) citetd a case of someone who was sexually excited by reading the scriptures. The passage in question was where Mary Magdalene wet the feet of Christ with her tears and kissed his feet.

Foot Fetishism

Most authorities acknowledge the most frequent form of erotic symbolism of all sexual fetishes relates to the foot and shoe (Ellis & Arabanel, 1961; von Krafft-Ebing, 1965; and Rossi, 1990a). This appears to involve the female foot (or shoe), which becomes the exclusive object of sexual feeling and desire. Clothing designed to protect that fragile extremity which robustly support the human body have inspired more obsession than any other apparel, save underclothes. Fetishism according to Greenace (1953) describes the obligatory use of some non-genital object as part of the sexual act without which gratification cannot be obtained. The object may be some other body part or some article of clothing or, less frequently, some more impersonal object. Foot fetishism is therefore a pronounced sexual interest in the lower limb or anything that covers portions of them (Brame, Brame & Jacobs 1996). The allure normally attributed to erogenous zones is literally translocated downward and the fetishist response to the foot is the same as a conventional person’s arousal at seeing genitals. This displacement phenomenon is similar to reverence stemming, ie, the sight of a flag registers the feeling of patriotism.

Fetishistic objects can be divided into media and form, with the majority being a combination of the two. A media fetish is one wherein the substance, rather the form, is the important aspect. Leather is a good example of a media fetish with less emphasis on form, eg, shoe, glove or coat. A form fetish is where the shape of the object is more important than the material from which it is made. Foot fetishism is such an example. Media fetish may be sub-classified into hard and soft (Gebhard, 1969). Objects of hard fetish are usually tight, constricting garments or shoes. These are often associated with sado-masochism. No one is sure why there appears to be a gender difference, with males being far more likely to exhibit fetishistic behavior. The original hypothesis postulated by Freud was that the fetish had become a substitute for the male genitals and hence protest against castration fear. His theories of sexualization were ostensibly phallo-centric, which would seem to be collaborated by the rarity of fetishism among females. Stekel (reported in Kunjukrishnan, Pawlak and Varan, 1988) also considered foot fetishism as a “male disease” which was very rarely reported in women (Kinsey et al, 1953; Fenichel, 1945, cited in Kunjukrishnan, Pawlak and Varan, 1988). Although Havlock Ellis did concede slight degrees of female fetishism did exist, Curren (1954) discovered only a small number of cases relating to female fetishists. Gosselin and Wilson (1980) associated the predominance of fetishism in men with two physiological attributes. An increased awareness of visual stimuli within males compared to females, and the male’s amplified biofeedback, ie, the erection.

Most fetishists recall a strong interest during childhood, with the interest becoming sexually arousing at puberty (McConaghy, 1993). Freud (1905/1962a) considered the selection of the fetish to be determined by those traumatic experiences which occured during childhood. Epstein (1969, 1975) believed the association between the object and the desired person was encountered at a crucial state of development. Binet (1897) described a conditioning model as an explanation for fetishism and postulated a vulnerable person, if paired with fortuitous circumstances, could develop a fetishistic pattern. Rachman (1966) published a study where subjects were conditioned to give sexual response to a photograph of a pair of boots but the responses were easily extinguished. The Conditioning Theory has its critics. Gebhard (1969) argued pubertal or adolescent males were more vulnerable to associating sex with symbols which were encountered before experiencing the actuality of socio-sexual gratification. This may infer the importance of social learning to fetishistic behavior. Greenacre (1979) concurred and thought fetishism arose as a disturbance of body image in early life. She expressed this as the child feeling overwhelmed, resorting to fantasy or denial in order to deal with there panic — ie, Freud’s castration complex. Munroe and Gauvain (2001) thought fetishism was an unusual byproduct of the normal adaptive process. They were, at least in part, related to a personalized experience of early sexual arousal (Money, 1985). More males than females appear to be fetishists and he behavior is associated with the body, clothing or body byproducts. The phenomenon appears wholly sexual and generally manifests itself in puberty or adolescence but can be induced in adult life by some trauma or powerful experience. Money (1980/1984) based his theoretical model called lovemaps. (????) He believed these brain schemata were not complete at birth and required input from the social environment. Perper (1985) thought there was an existence of pre-figured gestalts of the ideal partner.

The aetiology of fetishism and retifism is complex and not clearly understood. The problem is further complicated by limitations of inferring aetiology from published single-case reports. In truth, no one yet has been able to describe an appropriate theory to explain the cause of fetishism. The descriptions of psychopathology and proposed etiologies are further limited by the relative rarity of clinical fetishism.

Shoe Retifism

“To kiss, dearest Saki, thy shoe’s pretty tips, is better than kissing another girl’s lips.” — The Rhubaiyat of Omar Kayyam

According to Kunjukrishnan, Pawlak & Varan (1988), the term retifist was coined by Ivan Bloch and named after Retif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), a French educator known for his sexual perversion. Shoe fetishists or retifists are similar in principal to foot fetishists, but their stimulus, ie, the shoe, becomes the total focus for arousal (John (Anonymous), Chambers & Janzen, 1976). Frugel (1930) described the allure of clothes, both as a sexual arousal as well as a symbol of the genitalia. To the retifist, the shoe became a secondary sexual characteristic (Rossi, 1990a/b). Some shoe fetishists need only the shoe and not the person to be satisfied. Others will incorporate a shoe within their normal coital habits and to the true shoe fetishist, complete satisfaction is impossible unless a shoe is involved. Making love to a shoe is quite a complex procedure. According to Rossi, the retifist may work up to an erotic pitch by kissing, licking, gently biting and caressing the item of attraction. Retifists will collect shoes. Shoes are often sought after and frequently collected by the fetishist who uses them to obtain sexual arousal. Masturbation commonly accompanies real or imagined contact with the fetish (McGuire, Carlisle and Young, 1965). Few foot fetishists experience difficulty in engaging their partner to indulge their fantasy, but retifists may seek the specialist service of sex workers. In the sex industry, retifists are referred to as “bootmen” and, prior to the popularity of the boot in the 1960s, boots were worn by prostitutes affiliated with sadomasochism (Gebhard, 1969). Collecting vast numbers of shoes may be a symptom of an obsessive compulsion, but unless the person uses the shoes for sexual gratification, then they are neither a retifist or a fetishist. Due to the lack of epidemiological information, exact proportions of gender breakdown is unknown. Although rare, female fetishism has been reported (Krafft-Ebing, 1886; Zavitzianos, 1971). Authors like Greenacre (1979) argue the frequency of occurance in women is not as low as was previously thought. According to Rossi (1990b), guesstimates of between 1/10 to 1/4 of 1 percent of the male population are thought to be fetishists or retifists. Taking age and health into consideration, this would translate into 1/4 to 3/4 of 1 percent of the adult male population between the ages of 17 and 60.