The internet has given us an unadulterated view into the world of fetishes. We all know that they exist and most of us know a little bit about the popular fetishes. Having a fetish these days is nothing scandalous, there have even been scientific studies done on people with fetishes. Although the internet has brought us into the fetish community these kinks have existed throughout history. The foot fetish has become the most well known kink these days, but it has always been popular.
The foot fetish has a long and storied history. Even ancient civilizations were fawning over beautiful feet. As the Romans were building their empire some of their citizens became obsessed with feet. It got to the point where the foot of a woman became a Roman symbol for chastity. As that sexual symbolism was attached to feet, the Roman foot fetish became empowered. A prominent figure of the Roman senate, Lucius Vitellus, fell madly in love with women's feet(1). He carried the shoe of his mistress, which he would kiss and fondle throughout the day. Rome's infatuation with feet was also chronicled by the poet Ovid. In Ars Amandi he wrote that because the foot had become a fetish Roman women began to wear smaller shoes in order to keep their feet from growing(1). Rome was not the only civilization that became entranced with feet. The mighty foot fetish also made its way into medieval Europe.
Just as Christianity had firmly planted its roots within Europe, in the ninth century, Europeans became fascinated with feet and their decorations. During the ninth century, European Christians were beginning to prize craftsmanship more and more. As craftsmanship took prominence shoes began to take on religious value and clergymen showed off their rank via footwear. The clergy's love for God was supposed to be expressed through their shoes. That being the case, sexual metaphors began to be applied to footwear(1). In Europe's high middle ages, the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, phallic shoes with long toes came into fashion. Young men decided to stuff the toes of these shoes with wool and moss in order to keep them erect, further adding to the phallic appearance. It was not long before those same men were painting their shoes flesh colored in order to make their feet sexual. During the high middle ages people would also attach bells to their toes in order to broadcast that they wanted sex with no strings attached. During the same time it became a rude gesture to wiggle your toes at a woman on the street. Doing so suggested that you wanted to have sex with them(1). Feet and shoes would continue to be tied to sexuality.
Feet and footwear kept being attached to sex throughout European history. In sixteenth century Italy tall platform shoes, called the Chopine, came into fashion for women. It wasn't long before these shoes were associated with sexual depravity and were the favorite of prostitutes. Eventually the Chopine evolved into a type of high heeled shoe. However, they were still associated with sex workers(1). Feet were worshiped as sexual objects well into England's Victorian era; the nineteenth century. The Victorian fashion was for women to hide everything below their waists with long skirts and boots. Of course, hiding their feet and legs only increased the sexual fascination surrounding them. The increase in interest was a fascinating phenomenon. It got to the point where the mere glimpse of a lady's ankle would cause a full erection. Before long the ankles and feet had transformed into a symbol for the vagina, reaching a pinnacle of sexual frenzy. In the 1850's underground porn prominently featuring feet and shoes began to circulate throughout England(1). Since the Victorian era sexuality had been further heaped onto feet and footwear. The foot fetish continued to march toward mainstream thought. Close enough, in fact, that researchers have investigated the causes for it.
The field of psychology has long been obsessed with the concept of fetishes. As the foot fetish is the most common fetish it has been paid special attention. There are many different theories of psychological development that address fetishes, such as cue theory. Cue theory posits that if someone is exposed to feet cues during the period of sexual desire formation then they will be more sensitive to feet related stimuli(2). Exposure to these cues will cause imprinting to happen as the sexual desire is forming. Additional stimuli, such as smell or feel, only increase the likelihood of having feet imprint into your mind(2). While cue theory offers an explanation for having a foot fetish there is evidence that an attraction to feet might just be innate. In every culture men consistently rate women with small feet as more attractive and women view men with average sized feet as more attractive. Evolution also offers an explanation for our sexual perception of feet. When women are pregnant their feet will expand between half and a full shoe size. Therefore, an attraction to small feet might be because they signal the possibility of impregnating a women(2). Another possible source of the foot fetish could be a neurological one.
In 1999 a neurological explanation was found for the foot fetish. The director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Vilanayar Ramachandran, at the University of California was studying Phantom Limb Syndrome. During this research it was discovered that the area of the brain that governs the genitals is directly next to the area that governs the feet(3). It is entirely possible that there's a degree of cross-wiring between those areas, leading to a similar arousal towards feet that you would feel towards sex organs. This was seen in the Phantom Limb patients. As the body image map was rewired there was cross over between the areas of the brain that concern the feet and sex organs. Some of the patients wound up feeling sexual pleasure in their missing feet, a few even felt orgasms(3). All of these explanations offer involuntary sources for the foot fetish. It is possible for people to be conditioned into having a foot fetish.
It would seem that most researchers have studied the involuntary sources of the foot fetish. However, fetishes can be conditioned into individuals. It has been proven in a clinical setting. In the 1960's a psychological experiment took place where groups of men were taught to find boots erotic. These groups of men were shown two images simultaneously, one image was pornographic and the other was a picture of plain old boots. The groups were shown these images repeatedly. Eventually the pornographic picture was dropped from the study and the men were just being shown a picture of boots. However, these individuals had formed an association between sex and boots over the course of the experiment. Therefore, the groups of men now found the picture of boots arousing. This study proves that sexual impulses can be conditioned into a fully formed adult(4). That being the case if feet were pushed into your face often enough, during sex, you would eventually find feet very sexy. With the variety of evidence that has been uncovered about the foot fetish, as well as its storied history, it seems most likely that there are many sources of this fetish. Different practitioners very well may have different causes for their fetish. It appears to be innately human to have kink in your life.
On the surface sexuality looks like a simple thing; a basic human drive. However, if you chip away at the surface you will come to see that this drive is very intricate and complex. Modern humans have woven their sexuality into the fabric of their identity. This basic drive has become incredibly important to us. One facet that complicates sexuality is the kinks that make it so enjoyable. The most well known and common kink being the foot fetish. The internet has allowed us to casually observe the foot fetish at the peak of its popularity. However, this fetish has an incredibly long history and could be birthed from many sources. Perhaps one of the reasons that the foot fetish is so common is that it could stem from multiple origins. A foot fetish could be imprinted from childhood(2). It could have a neurological basis(3) or this fetish could be conditioned into a person(4). Regardless of the cause the foot fetish has become a major part of human sexuality.
“Why do People Have Foot Fetishes?,” accessed on November 5, 2016, http://www.livescience.com/33525-foot-fetishes-toe-suck-fairy.html
“Your Brain on: A Fetish,” accessed on November 5, 2016, http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-fetish