How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been with my wife for 13 years. Over the last six months, a new desire has started to take place on my end: I believe I may have a foot fetish.
It started small. I would just give her a foot massage as a way to help her relax at the end of the day. Recently, though, I have found myself becoming aroused when giving her a foot massage. It’s now to the point where I would like to kiss her feet or even lick her toes. I haven’t done it, but it crosses my mind. This has never happened with any other partner. I’m not into foot-fetish porn.
We aren’t the most adventurous couple. I’m more of the “try anything once” kind of person, whereas she is more vanilla. I respect her boundaries, so I don’t push anything onto her. So should I tell her or just keep it to myself? I don’t want to scare her, and to be honest, feeling this way about feet is very brand new and strange to me.
Stoya: “Fetish,” even as it waters down colloquially, has a certain weight to it.
Rich: It tends to mean something that is necessary for arousal or climax.
Stoya: And if our writer’s wife goes googling, she will find medicalized discussions and definitions first, including words like “abnormal,” where I’m not so sure that arousal while touching our partner in ways that make them feel good is abnormal. And considering going further into a newly interesting sexual specific seems pretty well adjusted.
Rich: Yes. This may be better described as a kink. Or just curiosity! It’s still early.
Stoya: Curiosity is one of the greatest parts of sexuality! Our writer can gently acknowledge his arousal the next time it occurs, in the same way he might during kissing. And based on their wife’s response, he might follow up with questions gauging her level of interest or openness.
Rich: Yeah, it doesn’t have to be this scary thing. Mention it and see what happens. What do you think about taking advantage of the typically lowered disgust response during sex and announcing it then? Not that this is anything to be disgusted by, but it might make it less daunting for the uninitiated.
Stoya: I do think there has to be a conversation outside of sex with anything complex. Like, it’s fine to bring up mid-coitus, but if she seems squeamish at all, it’s best to revisit later.
Rich: Right. There’s a lot of fun to be had in spontaneity, but any sign of trepidation or discomfort needs to be honored. Retreat when faced with those. And either way, follow up. I don’t remember either of us ever mentioning the following information in the column, but in Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself, I read a fascinating bit of information: the sensory perception for our feet is located in our brains next to that for genitalia, per Penfield’s brain map, which led neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran to wonder “whether some people’s erotic preoccupation with feet, or foot fetishes, might be due in part to the proximity of feet and genitals on the brain map.”
Rich: The commonness of eroticizing feet makes a whole lot of sense in that context.
Stoya: On the other end, feet are an intimate part of our bodies. We wear special undergarments on them to protect them from our outerwear. We cover them in most places outside of our homes.
Rich: Touching them can elicit a reflexive, specific response.
Stoya: So, mention it turns you on, see if she’s interested, revisit outside of physical interaction if something seems complicated or she’s hesitant, and frame it as what it is—something that newly turns you on, which you are curious about.
Rich: Definitely tread lightly here. (Pun not intended, but I’m keeping it in!) I’m generally down to experiment, but I’ve been with guys who like playing with feet and I don’t particularly like mine played with, so it’s a little much for me to endure. Not so much that I need to not do it, but there’s an infinite number of things I’d rather do.
Stoya: I’m noticing how you’re not the biggest fan of receiving, and your quote and follow-up were inhabiting the receiver’s, er, shoes.
Rich: Great kicker!
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