Scope of foot fetishism
In clinical terms, a fetish is a stimulus that is a requirement for sexual arousal to occur (also called an "exclusive paraphilia"). Therefore, a person who can derive sexual arousal from the human foot along with other more conventional stimuli (i.e. kissing, petting, etc) would not necessarily meet the clinical definition of having a fetish. This article focuses on arousal by feet in general (i.e., the popular use definition of fetish), and not on the clinical definition of foot fetishism.
For a foot fetishist, points of attraction include the shape and size of the foot and toes, the texture of the skin, cleanliness (or lack thereof), state of dress (i.e., barefoot or clad in socks or nylons) and odor. Foot lovers may enjoy sniffing, touching, kissing, licking, and/or lovemaking with the objects of their affections.
Like other paraphilias, foot fetishism encompasses a wide range of predilections; one foot fetishist may be aroused by scenarios that another fetishist finds unerotic or even repulsive. Websites exist that cater to a number of specialized scenarios, including: feet pushing down on gas or brake pedals, feet crushing objects like balloons or toy cars, women walking barefoot on uncomfortable surfaces such as hot pavement, feet being pushed into mud or food, foot torture (i.e. having the soles of their feet tortured or punished by whippings, hot wax, or burnt with cigarettes), and feet being bound and tickled.
Retifism , a sexual attraction to people who are wearing shoes, boot or other footwear.
Aretifism, a sexual attraction to people who are without footwear, is a synonym to podophilia, although the connotation is slightly different (attraction to the unclad foot vs. attraction to the foot itself).
Prevalence of foot fetishism
Fetishist behavior is unlikely to be reported; its prevalence is unknown. However, it is one of the most common fetishes in males.
An informal study was conducted in 2001 to determine the prevalence of certain fetishes. More than 72,000 Adult-oriented Yahoo! Clubs (now Yahoo! Groups) were identified, of which 741 were found to be foot-related. By assuming that the people who used Yahoo! Clubs represented a balanced cross-section of the world's sexual preferences, it was estimated that 1.14% of people had foot fetishes.
Proposed explanations for foot fetishiss
Neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran proposed that foot fetishism is caused by the feet and the genitals occupying adjacent areas of the somatosensory cortex, possibly entailing some neural crosstalk between the two.
Researchers have hypothesized that foot fetishism increases during epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. In one study, the frequency of foot-fetish depictions in the mass-circulation pornographic literature was measured over a 30-yr. interval. An exponential increase was noted during the period of the current AIDS epidemic. Increased interest in feet as sexual objects has also been observed during the syphilis epidemics of the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe.
Another theory believes foot fetishism starts from infant. If a mother doesn't pick up and hold a child very often, the child's main physical contact with her will be with her feet; thus, he is more likely to develop a foot fetish.