Fetish vs. Kink: What’s The Difference?


We may all use the words ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’ to describe certain acts but what do these words actually mean.

Used interchangeably, the terms ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’ are common parlance in the alternative lifestyle community, but did you know that there is subtle difference between the two? They are often used to describe the same thing, yet one refers to a deep-rooted psychological need whilst the other describes something that is idiosyncratic.

In this feature, we take a look at the etymology of these two words, what they specifically refer to and how they are used in the community.

Fetish vs. Kink: Etymology

Whats the Difference between a fetish and a kink

Whats the difference between a fetish and a kink? Image via Wikimedia.


A fetish is the non-technical name for any kind of paraphilia. The word describes a psychological condition in which someone has ‘abnormal’ sexual desires. Paraphilia is also known in some circles as a kind of sexual deviation or sexual perversion.

Derived from the latin word ‘facticius’, meaning artificial and borrowed from the French word le fétiche, fetish has a double meaning that stems from the early 17th century when it was used to describe a powerful, or spiritual, talisman. Since the early 19th century, the word has also been applied to describe an equally strong attraction to anything that causes sexual arousal.

Fetish vs Kink Whats the Difference word fetish

The term fetish has been used since the 19th century. Image via Google.

A fetish is therefore any fixation on an object or act that is sexual and is required in order to gain gratification. The object or act could be sexual in itself such as being spanked or pleasured with an object or it could be something that is not inherently sexual at all such as balloons, smoking or stairs.

In very general terms, a fetish therefore sees a sexual partner replaced by an object or body part. In this way, the person is no longer the root of desire but the object of the fetish is instead.

The term can be further narrowed down when the fixation is focused on a specific body part such as the hands, feet, breasts or butt. This is known as ‘partialism’.

So, whilst you may have a fetish for leather, you may find yourself erotically drawn towards leather chaps, and the way the ass looks in them. This would mean you have a leather fetish with a partialism for butts.

According to experts in the fields of sex, relationships and psychology experts, a fetish usually develops early in a person’s life and stems from an experience that happens during childhood or adolescence.

As we grow into adulthood and develop sexually, these experiences form bonds with our desires and are reinforced. Over time, the patterns of our own behavior form strong connections between the object of our desire and the pleasure we derive from it.


By contrast, kinks can be compared to quirks when applied to sexual interest and refer to any act, preference or fantasy that can be described as being ‘alternative’ or non-‘vanilla’. This could be similar to, or the same as, a fetish but crucially it is not essential for achieving sexual gratification….it’s more of a choice.

So, whilst a fetish can describe a need, a kink describes a want. Put it this way, all fetishes are kinks but not all kinks are fetishes.  So, if you get turned on by those leather chaps and desire to have your partner wear them then this is a kink. But, if you can’t achieve sexual pleasure without them then this is a fetish.

The word ‘kink’ (as we know it) comes from two forms of words; Old English ‘kinken’, meaning to laugh. It has roots with a similar word, ‘canc’ which means derision or scorn. It also comes from the Norse ‘kikna’ meaning a bend.

Fetish vs Kink Whats the Difference

The modern use of the term ‘kink’ has only become popular since the 20th century. Image via Google.

The gradual use of the word ‘kink’ to refer to something that is quirky or peculiar is probably based on a conflation of these two meanings; i.e. something that other people find laughable and that is not ‘straight’ or ‘normal’.

And this is a key distinction between the two terms. Whilst the word fetish refers to a fixation of one particular aspect of something, the word kink only becomes unusual when other people deem it so. In many ways, what is ‘kinky’ is all about what the current sexual fashions are.

Consider this; until reasonably recently, BDSM was not something that was seen in mainstream markets. It was very much considered a deviant activity and anyone who had a proclivity for it was seen as having either a fetish or a kink. Over the last few decades, the status of BDSM has become less and less ‘perverse’ by ‘normal’ standards and, as such, has become far more acceptable. In some ways, light BDSM has been downgraded from being a kink to just a turn-on.

bdsm Whats the Difference between a fetish and a kink

One woman’s kink is another woman’s fetish. Image via Pexels.

Kinks & Fetishes

So, there you have it. Something can be a kink or a fetish or it can be both depending on whose proclivity it is and how essential it is to their sexual activities.

From someone who has an overwhelming desire to be dressed in latex in order to achieve sexual pleasure (a fetish) but who enjoys power play (a kink) to those with strictly ‘vanilla’ tastes in the bedroom who might just enjoy a few toys or accessories (turn on).

In general, the lines between kinks, fetishes and turn-ons can become blurred and there is no straightforward, linear spectrum that places ‘vanilla’ at one end and ‘fetishism’ at the other. There is plenty of cross over between them all and what is just a turn on for one partner may be a full-blown fetish for the other. In the community we know that acceptance and tolerance is key (YKINMKBYKIOK) and, as long as the sexual activity you take part in is safe, sane and consensual (and legal) then we don’t judge.

Featured image via Pixabay.


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