“I said certified freak, seven days a week!” What makes us so freaky in the bedroom?

A scientific look at why we have fetishes

As a pubescent boy of 13, seeing Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for the first time was quite the formative experience. With Samuel L. Jackson playing a god-loving, gun-slinging gangster, and John Travolta portraying a cocaine enthusiast dance extraordinaire, the sheer glitz and glamour of it all illuminated the screen and plastered images over your brain, impeding on your ability to forget. So, was this the reason I was so enamoured by Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece? Sadly, no. 

Looking back at the movie now with 20 years to my name, I can fully appreciate the wittiness and subtlety of the dialogue, or the light is so perfectly played with in order to create the recognisable dark and intriguing tone of the film. Yet, 7 years ago, my newly-pubescent brain could only focus on one thing. Feet.

Don’t get me wrong now, I don’t have a foot fetish. I’d also rather not publish my tastes for all to read. My mum reads these articles after all! Yet, Tarantino’s enamour of feet made me wonder: why do people develop such strange sexual tastes? Well, if you’ve ever wondered the same thing, it’s time to tell you the answers! What is the science behind fetishes? What is the psychology to explain the strange bedroom fantasies that Tarantino and billions of others have?

As it stands, the science of fetishes is quite an understudied topic. But despite this, two main theories have been propagated and seem to help explain why everyone has their own delicious tastes when its comes to sex. 

The first theory is the Signals Crossing Theory. This explains fetishes in the context of neuroscience, and how the brain is mapped. Because of how the senses are mapped in the brain, the set of nerves that correspond to a certain part of the body is mapped or localised adjacent to another set. For example, the part of the brain that corresponds to stimulation of the hands may be mapped adjacently to the part of the brain that corresponds to stimulation of the arms. This is significant because the brain area that is triggered when the genitals are stimulated, is directly adjacent to the area corresponding to the feet. This Signal Crossing Theory states that some people may see an overlap in these regions, so feet may cause arousal in a person, similar to how genitals would. This may go a long way to explaining why our friend Quentin Tarantino seems so obsessed with feet in his award-winning films.

The second theory is the Early Childhood Imprinting theory. This theory explains fetishes in the context of psychology, and it states that fetishes are caused by the brain reflecting on early childhood experiences. Imprinting in psychology refers to a type of phase-sensitive learning that animals and humans undergo in the early stage of their life. Imprinting is extremely important in evolution. It is through imprinting that animals learn to mimic their mothers and adapt to their environments in a safe and well-tested way. Although often associated with primates recognising a mother’s face, or ducks following their mother’s footsteps, imprinting also seems to occur in fetishes. This can happen through conditioning, when humans imprint on a certain object and pair it with a sexual stimulus. For example, studies have shown that men can be conditioned to have erections from inanimate objects, such as items of clothing. This would help explain fetishes that revolve around specific, non-sexual objects. Imprinting can also occur as a result of trauma, with fetishes developing as a result of early childhood emotional experiences with specific objects, people, or actions. These experiences can often result in unresolved emotions, and later in life result in the development of fetishes.

While these two theories go a long way to explain why Tarantino might have a slight cinematic obsession with feet, nothing is known for certain. In order to really get the bottom of things, more research needs to be done. Until then, have fun discovering your fetishes, take a BDSM test or two, always talk to your partner about what makes you feel good and centre your sex life around listening and understanding. Oh and remember to keep safe while you’re doing it all!