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Culture and Fetishes: What’s the Connection?

Published: JULY 20, 2023 | Updated: JANUARY 5, 2024
A survey finds a significant divergence in fetish preference between people living in the U.S. and the E.U. What's even more interesting is some of the reasons why this happens.

Fetishism, or an attraction to objects to achieve sexual gratification, is nothing new. It was first reported in the 19th century. It can apply to parts of the body, objects, situations, or activities. Like trends, interest in particular fetishes wax and wane, with new ones emerging every so often. But if you've ever wondered about fetishes - and if you've done much thinking about them at all you probably have - you might have noticed that culture definitely has an impact on kink. How big of an impact? Clips4Sale recently surveyed more than 8,000 adult consumers, and one of the most relevant data points was the degree to which European and American fetishes diverged.


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Geography and Kink: What's the Connection?

"What surprised us the most was the degree to which geographic region influenced kink," says Avery Martin at Clips4Sale. "In some ways, it was where we saw the greatest amount of variation, more than age or sexuality." In retrospect, Martin says it makes a lot of sense. "Our sexuality is influenced by our culture. Our fantasies come from what we see and what's praised - or what's taboo. And obviously, that changes from country to country and region to region and over time. It's part of what makes our sex and pleasure so interesting and fun!"

Our sexuality is influenced by our culture. Our fantasies come from what we see and what's praised - or what's taboo. And obviously, that changes from country to country and region to region and over time.

To understand this better, it helps to understand where fetishes come from in the first play. According to Gigi Engle (she/they), a London-based ACS, certified sex educator and lead intimacy expert at 3Fun, there are two main causes for fetishes - in theory. The first thing to consider is conditioning. Engle says this is when you see something non-sexual or not typically sexual in your childhood and have a sexual response to it, thus becoming conditioned to associate that thing with sexual arousal. According to Engle, this is very, very common.


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Read: 7 Kinky Sex Acts You Might Be Into (and How to Try Them)

Other fetishes come out of later development, often in adulthood. "These fetishes develop over time as we discover ourselves sexually and begin to expand our sexual horizons," says Engle. She notes that fetishes can come out of childhood, but they certainly aren't limited to childhood. "You can develop a fetish at any time because you discover you're sexually aroused by a certain object or act that isn't strictly labeled sexual."

Surveys suggest that many people (somewhere between 30-50%) have a fetish, and there's nothing wrong with having one. "We're so wrapped up in shaming people for their sexual appetites, it's no wonder people are apprehensive about flying their freak flags," says Engle. "Fetishes, while normal, are a desire for things that are usually not associated with sex." She says people get nervous when things deviate from the social script.


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Read: The Kinkiest States in the U.S. and Their Favorite Sex Toys

Top Fetishes in the U.S and E.U.

According to the Clips4Sale survey, the top five fetishes in the E.U. are spanking, facesitting, tickling, cosplay and ass worship. In the U.S., people are most drawn to rubber/latex, leather, smoking, wax play and caning.

Interest in Fetishes, U.S. vs EUSource: Clips4Sale


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Also, nearly 50% of men in the E.U. expressed interest in submission, almost 40% more than men from the U.S. or Canada. European women are more than happy to oblige, with 43% preferring a dominant role. Meanwhile, American men were most likely to identify as a "switch," meaning someone who enjoys both dominant and submissive roles, depending on their feelings.

As for women, women in the E.U. expressed the most interest in dominance, with roughly 45% saying they preferred it.

Preference for dominance vs submission in the U.S. and EUSource: Clips4Sale


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Engle suspects that men in the E.U. may be more open to being submissive because the gender roles aren't as strict. "We're not so evangelical around cis-heteronormativity, and generally, people in Europe have more open attitudes about sex," she says. "I think a lot of men want to be submissive in the U.S. too, but they're afraid of the social implications around what it means for their 'masculinity.'"

As for fetish preferences, she's most excited to see tickling gaining popularity. (Engle recently wrote a feature for Mashable on the topic.) Another fetish Engle says she see a lot is wedgie fetish. She explains explains this is where the person gets turned on by giving or receiving (usually receiving) wedgies. "They may like it for the playfulness, the act of being humiliated, the stimulation of the bum when they get a wedgie - or all of the above!" she says.

Read: The Joy of Finding Your Fetish


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Domina Ruby Enraylls is a Seattle-based professional dominatrix and a lifestyle kinkster with a background in psychology. (Check out her appearance on Cut, where she guessed strangers' kinks.) She thinks when it comes to kinks and fetishes across the board - for both dominant and submissive men - it's all about ass. "That means anal sex, strap-on, ass worship, and the like," says Enraylls. She thinks that the culture in the U.S. has made the butt a very popular topic - and people with nice ones are sex symbols. "There is also a little spicy element of humiliation or forbidden fruit mixed into anal sex acts," she says. "Let's be honest; Americans love forbidden fruit."

Read: A First-Timer's Guide to Anal Sex

As for emerging trends in the U.S., Enraylls sees an ebb and flow, with a new fetish or trend emerging every few years. For example, she says, findom became the newest hot thing several years ago. "Then, due to the visibility given to the online communities, hypnosis took off," she says. She's also noticed a large uptick in popularity in ABDL (adult baby/diaper lover).

Both experts agree that exploring fetishes can be a great way to explore sex. Engle suggests that couples download a 'yes, no, maybe' list (there are plenty online) and go through it together to identify where there might be common ground. "Sex is a great way to keep a relationship healthy and strong, and nothing does a better job of that than having open communication and being adventurous together!" says Enraylls.

TL;DR

Engle says fetishes are becoming socially acceptable as more people are able to open up about them. "It's a chance to really play in a world that doesn't value play for the sake of play." She adds that all kinks and fetishes are normal as long as you're engaging in them safely and consensually. "If you're interested in something sexually that you think is problematic, have the self-assurance to interrogate those desires and unpick the WHY," she says. "But, in all honesty, it's probably completely fine, and as long as everyone is super down to clown, understands the boundaries, and is having a great time - have at it!"

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Ryn Pfeuffer

Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She got her start in the mid-90s at the Philadelphia Weekly, managing a 10-page section of the newspaper and more than 500 lonely hearts.Her professional stock skyrocketed when she started writing a saucy (and pre-Carrie-Bradshaw-era) dating advice column called “Ask Me Anything.” She appeared regularly on local radio stations and late-night TV as an expert on everything from grooming...

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