How Sexual Fetishism May Impact Your Relationship

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Intimacy can be a meaningful part of a healthy relationship, reinforcing the bond between partners and potentially improving mental and physical health. When it comes to sex and sexual gratification, an individual may have a wide range of desires and preferences, including sexual fetishes. 

A sexual fetish is a sexual interest, desire, or craving for a unique sexual experience, which may include a particular body part, an inanimate object, or a specific situation. A fetish can increase intimacy and strengthen a bond between partners of the same or opposite sex. However, fetishes and sexual acts may cause complicated feelings and tension in some situations. 

What is a sexual fetish?

Sexual fetishism can be defined as an attraction or sexual response to non-living objects or non-genital body parts. It may be considered a form of variant sexuality or sexual deviance, as it may fall under sexual behavior, desires, or urges considered outside the norm. 

Foot fetishism is a common form of sexual fetishism in which the non-genital body part central to sexual attraction is the foot. Other common fetishes are associated with body piercings, latex, underwear, or other clothes a partner wears. Almost anything, including body size and other physical characteristics, can become a sexual fetish if it causes sexual excitement for sexual partners. In addition, an individual may not have only one fetish. It is not uncommon to have three fetishes, four fetishes, or even more.

Most fetishes often arise from specific personality traits and life experiences, such as cultural factors and sensory input, and may be more common than people think. Business Insider states that 44% of individuals in a specific study indicated an interest in at least trying or exploring a fetish. 

Intimacy can be an important part of a romantic relationship

When practiced in a safe, consensual, and communicative way, fetishes can be a healthy component of an intimate relationship. It may be a natural factor affecting sexual preferences and sexual urges. 

A sexual fetish may help enhance sexual gratification in your love life, allow you to learn more about your partner and yourself, and deepen your connection. Research shows that talking about sexual preferences can increase satisfaction when it comes to intimacy. 

Sexual fetishism may also be a challenging subject for some couples. If either of you isn’t comfortable discussing a sexual fetish or does not wish to partake in it, it could strain your relationship and lead to complicated feelings. Proper communication and consent are often essential to improving intimacy through a fetish.

Talk about your preferences

Generally speaking, human sexuality varies widely, and different partners may have different preferences. You or your partner may have sexual fantasies related to dressing up a certain way or engaging in sexual fetishes that involve a specific body part. Other fetishes might be related to a specific activity or an inanimate object such as leather or rope. Talking about what you like in the bedroom may allow you to explore new sides of your personality, increase intimacy, and discover what your partner enjoys.  

Ask your partner whether they’re comfortable having a conversation about sexual fetishes. If they are, you can discuss your fetishes or other preferences and ask them about theirs. They may have been interested in broaching the subject but hadn’t brought it up out of fear or shame. 

If your partner tells you their fetish, try to avoid judgment and consider whether you’re comfortable with it. When you provide a safe space for communication, you and your partner can have an open and honest conversation about your sexual desires. If you’re on the same page regarding a fetish, it might be time to incorporate it into your sex life.

Incorporating fetishes in the bedroom

If you and your partner are willing to experiment in the bedroom, fetishes could result in a more satisfying sex life. Even if you don’t like what you try, it could still increase intimacy through trust, communication, and openness. However, ensure you both feel 100% comfortable and ready as you incorporate a fetish. 

Be sure to communicate thoroughly so that both parties understand the fetish and are ready for what it entails. Consent is non-negotiable when it comes to all sexual experiences. Neither of you must engage in a fetish or any sexual activity that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, even if you previously agreed to try it. You can also rescind consent during the act and stop the activity if you need to. 

If you and your partner have discussed the fetish and consented to try it, it may help to start slow. Try engaging with the new fetish briefly while being intimate, gradually adding more elements over time. You may want to devise a safe word that you can use if you become uncomfortable during the experience. This safe word may be something that might not otherwise come up during the act, like “orange” or “hairbrush.”

After experimenting with a fetish, ask your partner for feedback about their experience. Encourage them to be honest about their feelings and let them know how it made you feel. If you and your partner enjoy it, this activity could become a regular part of your sex life. 

Some couples may find that they don’t enjoy a particular sexual fetish. Respect each other’s boundaries. If either of you is uncomfortable with a fetish, you can look for a different way to get creative in the bedroom and enhance your sexual relationship. 

When fetishes become a concern

People experience sexual desire at different levels, so sexual intimacy may not be as crucial in some relationships. In other cases, a partner may feel a lack of fulfillment if they’re unable to engage with a fetish. In addition, there may be times when sexual preferences could present issues in a relationship. 

Sexual compatibility problems

If one partner isn’t interested in a particular fetish or feels outside of their comfort zone, this may be a sign of sexual compatibility issues that can prevent intimacy. In addition, avoiding conversations about sexual preferences and boundaries may contribute to misunderstandings and hinder the development of a fulfilling, intimate connection.

Potential infidelity

A fetish may also affect an individual’s actions, creating conflict in a relationship. If engaging with a fetish causes a partner to cheat or otherwise behave in ways that impact the relationship negatively, it may cause conflict. 

Non-consensual fetishes

Another area of concern is around fetishes that are outside of the norm and involve non-willing participants, including bestiality and pedophilia, both of which constitute sexual abuse, and are not healthy sexual behaviors.

If you feel a fetish is necessary for your happiness in a relationship, you may benefit from speaking to a sex therapist or relationship counselor. However, do not pressure your partner if they’re not interested. There may be other ways to get support. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

Intimacy can be an important part of a romantic relationship

Fetishistic disorder

When fetishistic fantasies become an essential requirement for sexual arousal and lead to distress or dysfunction, they are considered a disorder. Unlike simple preferences or fetishes that many people might have, such as a foot fetish, this disorder causes significant distress or impairment in daily life. 

The development of these intense fixations can sometimes be traced back to early sexual experiences or may develop before adolescence. Cultural factors may also play a role in the formation of fetishes, as what is considered a fetish in one culture may not be viewed the same way in another. 

The distinction between a benign fetish and a fetishistic disorder lies in the level of distress or impairment experienced by the individual. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides a clinical description of fetishistic disorder, emphasizing its impact on a person’s ability to function. A sexual fetish becomes classified as a disorder when it leads to persistent and repetitive use of fetishes that affect daily functioning or cause significant distress to the individual.

While most individuals with a sexual fetish can incorporate their interests into their sexual life without issues, those with fetishistic disorder may find their sex drive and ability to be intimate severely affected. 

Enhancing intimacy through therapy

While working with a therapist won’t give you supernatural powers, for some couples, therapy can improve communication and understanding regarding sex, fetishes, or other related concerns. Meeting with an unbiased professional may help you better understand each other’s desires and preferences. For many couples, fetish desire is embarrassing, and they may feel shame associated with it. In Freudian psychology, these are repressed memories, thoughts that have been pushed down so far that they are forgotten. With a licensed therapist, you can work through any issues holding you back while learning how to communicate better with your partner. 

Does online therapy work for relationship challenges?

If you’re unsure whether you have the time for therapy, you might consider online counseling. Online counseling offers sessions through video chat, phone calls, or online messaging. You will also have the option of reaching out to your therapist outside of sessions. If a relationship concern arises or you want to clarify a point from a session, you can message your therapist, and they will get back to you when they can.

Studies show that online therapy helps address relationship concerns and mental disorders, such as those related to intimacy or communication. In a study on the efficacy of online couples therapy, researchers concluded that treatment could enhance relationship satisfaction, communication, and commitment between partners. Researchers also noted that online therapy could improve individual mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. 

A licensed therapist can provide support if you’d like to work through mental health concerns related to intimacy, fetishes, or relationship conflict. An online platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples can be beneficial for getting started.  


Intimacy is often an integral part of a relationship, and sexual fetishes can be an exciting way of fostering that closeness. If you or your partner have a fetish that you’re interested in exploring, being open and honest with each other may allow you to explore it safely. 

As you work to enhance intimacy, if you’d like support with relationships, sexuality, or other mental health-related concerns, know that help is available. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist to get started.

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