Kinks, fetishes, and turn-ons: what’s the difference?

Kinks, fetishes, and turn-ons: what’s the difference?

May 22, 2023Team NORMAL

We’re going to take a guess and say that a large majority of us have overheard someone say that they really have a fetish for something.

“Oh, I totally have a fetish for girls in Doc Martens.”

“My fetish is a good lasagna, for sure.”

“Simu Liu is one hundred percent my new fetish.”

But have you ever wondered what exactly a fetish is, and what makes it different to a kink or a turn-on?

Today we’re going to look at some definitions for kinks, fetishes, and turn-ons. We’ll then discuss some of the more common ones, and talk about how you can bring your own kinks, fetishes, and turn-ons to life.


Even though you’ve probably heard people say (or have said yourself) that something relatively innocuous is their fetish, they may not mean it literally. When something is a fetish, it’s something that’s sexually appealing to us. So lasagna? Probably not a fetish. Girls in Doc Martens? Well, okay—maybe…!

But there’s a difference between fetishes, kinks, and turn-ons. Here’s the low down:

Turn-on: put simply, something that turns us on is a turn-on. It might be a particular smell, a phrase or a specific word, the touch or feel of something, or a sight—like our partner wearing their sexiest outfit. We can have endless numbers of turn-ons, and we might discover that our turn-ons evolve and change as we go through life. Turn-ons generally aren’t something we’re strongly attached to: for example, we might consider seeing our partner in a specific outfit to be a turn-on, but we can still feel aroused if we don’t see them in that outfit.

Fetish: a fetish is an object, body part, or act that holds value in a sexual experience. For some it is essential for their sexual response, arousal, or feeling of excitement, but not for everyone. A fetish can also be defined as a sexual response to something that isn’t typically considered sexual. Of course, everyone’s understanding of what is or isn’t ‘typically’ considered sexual can be totally different, so we acknowledge there’s a wide range of what might be considered a fetish. A common example of a fetish, though, is shoes: shoes are a common, everyday object and they’re not ‘normally’ considered to be sexual. Someone who has a shoe fetish, though, likely has a sexual response to them—so in this way, their response can be seen as having a fetish. Interestingly enough, having a fetish for a particular body part (like feet, underarms, or ears) is known as ‘partialism’. A subcategory of fetishes!

Kink: we’ve read a few different definitions for kink. Some people use it as a stand-in term for ‘turn-on’ or ‘fetish’ (“I have a real kink for silky underwear!”) while others use it to define a broad spectrum of sexual play that can include practices like BDSM, roleplay, and dressing up or wearing costumes. We tend to agree with the latter definition, that kink can be used to describe various sexual activities, but we also know that historically, ‘kink’ is anything beyond the straight and narrow (such as a kink in a straight piece of string!). It has also been used to describe anything that isn’t considered ‘normal’...and as you know, we have a pretty broad definition of ‘normal’ here!

We’re going to go out on a limb and say that we see kink as anything that’s beyond the realm of your own, individual normal sexual practice. So if you’re usually someone who likes soft and sensual lovemaking by candlelight, but every now and again you like to play around with some raunchy roleplay…that might be your kink! 

Ultimately, we want you to define your sexual wants and needs in a way that makes you comfortable. You can use the terms fetish, kink, and turn-on as we’ve described above, or you can flip the script and use them in a totally different way. So long as it makes sense to you, we’re happy for you to use whatever terms you like.


Now—let’s get into some common (and maybe less common!) kinks and fetishes.

  • Shoe fetishes. This is a pretty common one! People who have a shoe fetish might like to touch, wear, or see specific shoes during sex or foreplay. A great way to explore a shoe fetish is by wearing (or asking your partner to wear) a specific shoe, and seeing how it makes you feel.

  • Bondage. Bondage is another common one, and it refers to tying someone up (or being tied up). For this, you can use purpose-made leather restraints or handcuffs, or you can use items from around the home like scarves, ties, or ribbons. However you decide to do it, always keep consent in mind—and if your partner feels pain, tingling, or numbness while tied up, you should untie them immediately.

  • Sex toys. Okay, we’re a bit biased here, but this is one we think a lot of people might enjoy! Someone who has a kink or fetish for sex toys might enjoy using them solo or with a partner. They might incorporate them into sex often, or just every once in a while. Interested in exploring this one a bit more? Well, we have a guide to it right here.

  • Voyeurism. If the thought of watching someone else get off makes you feel hot under the collar, you might be into voyeurism. Voyeurism involves watching a consenting party in an intimate moment, whether it’s in the shower, masturbating, or having sex. To explore this, you might consider asking your partner to masturbate for you while you watch—or swapping roles and masturbating for them.

  • Roleplay. Have you ever fantasised about seeing a sexy nurse? What about having an encounter with a raunchy professor after class? Or even being a naughty flight attendant? With roleplay, the sky's the limit—you’re bound only by your own creativity and imagination. ‘Roleplay’ is a pretty broad term, because we know that within it, encounters with specific people can be considered kinks of their own. But if you’ve ever been keen to try roleplay, you could start by discussing your fantasy with a partner and seeing how they feel. If they’re into the whole ‘sexy nurse and patient’ dynamic, you could discuss further how you might want to act the fantasy out.

  • Water sports or golden showers. Okay, when we say ‘water sports’, we don’t mean parasailing. Water sports and golden showers are names often used to describe being urinated on, or urinating on someone, for sexual pleasure. This is a pretty common fetish, and you might be surprised to learn that although urine isn’t sterile, as once thought, it is actually very sanitary! So if you like the sound of golden showers but are worried about the bacteria that might be present in pee, don’t be. If you’re keen to try water sports, always discuss it with your partner first and try it somewhere where there will be minimal clean-up needed afterwards, like in the shower or bath. 

  • Food play. Food play can come in all shapes and sizes: some people get turned on watching their partner eat a big meal, others are aroused by the thought of a food fight, and some people just enjoy nibbling some whipped cream off their partner’s body. However you like it, food play can be fun and sexy! Just make sure not to put anything edible in or around your genitals—in case of bacteria—and keep in mind that you’ll need to clean up whatever it is you use. So if you’re eyeing off that chocolate sponge cake, you might want to put down a tarp or take it into the shower rather than playing on your brand new white linen sheets.

  • These are but a few of the kinks, fetishes, and turn-ons out there. There are so many different ways to explore and enjoy your sexuality that we couldn’t possibly list every one here, but we encourage you to go out and explore whatever it is that you find erotic and sexy.

    Here are our golden rules for exploring your kink or fetish, whatever it might be.

    1. Consent is key! We are all about consent here. You should always make sure your partner is fully informed and consenting before every sexual experience. Discuss your boundaries with your partner and make sure you’re both on the same page with regards to what you’re comfortable doing.
    2. Be open about what you like. We always recommend talking about what turns you on—if you don’t, you might be missing a golden opportunity to explore it! Talk to your partner about what you’re interested in—we wrote a whole article on how to do exactly that—and make sure to leave space for their questions and feedback, if they have it.
    3. Keep an open mind. No matter if you’re thinking about your own fantasies or someone else’s, it can be nice to keep an open mind and be willing to explore. Even if, for example, your partner suggests something to you that doesn’t appeal, opt for curiosity over judgement and intend to be kind in your response. “I don’t think I’m up for that, but I’m totally cool with you watching some porn that features it—or we could read some erotica about it together?”
    4. Don’t be afraid to say no. We’re all about open-mindedness, but if something makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to say no. Even if you’re the one who suggested it, even if you’re halfway through living it out—it doesn’t matter. You have a right to say no to anything, at any time, for any reason.
    5. Talk about it! Whether it’s before, during, or after sex, we always recommend keeping an open dialogue with your partner and talking about how you feel. Afterwards, take the time to debrief with them: what did you enjoy, what would you prefer not to try again, and what would you like to do differently next time?

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