A Billion Wicked Thoughts

The world's largest experiment on human desire.

Sexualpedia 7: Why Am I So Turned On By Feet?

Using a new sexual marketplace to understand how a foot fetish forms.

For anyone seeking to understand how male sexual desires are formed, men's interest in feet might be the most educational example.

Feet are one of the four body parts that straight and gay men in every country search for online. (The others are chests, buttocks, and penises). There is very strong evidence that the male brain comes wired with a biological predisposition to attending to feet. But of all the male anatomical cues, the foot cue expresses itself with the greatest diversity of variations, suggesting that there might be something more to this anatomical cue than mere visuals. This diversity is quite salient on an extraordinary website known as Extra Lunch Money (ELM).

 

ExtraLunchMoney.com is a safe and well-run marketplace for custom-made adult content, where customers specify the precise erotic material they are looking for and sellers (known as "models") create the material according to the buyer's specifications for reasonable prices. If you've always wanted a sixty-second video of an Asian woman applying purple lipstick while whispering your name or a blond smoking a menthol cigarette while wearing a Red Sox baseball cap and nothing else, ELM is the place where your wishes can be granted. For a sex researcher, the site is fascinating since it provides unparalleled insight into the comprehensive and precise details of a person's sexual interest.

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The website is the brainchild of Ben Tao, a congenial, brainy, and mellow young man who looks more like the Millennial founder of a Silicon Valley startup than the webmaster of an adult products website, and this impression accurately reflects his approach to running the site: he is much more interested in running a safe, secure, reliable, and customer-friendly site than he is in the (always legal) adult content that changes hands on his site. The result might be a harbinger for the future, when anyone can obtain a perfectly personalized piece of erotica that fulfills your exact fantasy, no matter how baroque or strange.

  

The foot is a classical example of a male sexual cue that gives rise to a kaleidoscopic variety of cued interests: pantyhose, stockings, heels, ankles, calves, sandals, high heels, socks, toes, boots, boot licking, foot bandages. Also, specific actions by the feet are popular, such as trampling, tripping, plunging into mud or dirt, rubbing on penises, stepping on small animals, stepping on balloons, stepping on a man's face or head. Many male celebrities have come out (sometimes unintentionally) about their erotic interest in feet, including Jets coach Rex Ryan, actor Jack Black, rapper Ludacris, and film director Quentin Tarantino. Many gay sites celebrated the interest in male feet, including Asian Boy Feet, Jock Foot Fantasy, Barefoot Frat, and GaySocks.com.

How does a man's specific interest in silky pantyhose or five-inch heels get formed? Following cue theory, during a man's critical period of sexual desire formation, his innate foot cue makes him more likely to pay attention to feet and makes him more receptive to foot-related stimuli. If through chance or culture he is then exposed to a strong foot-related experience—a woman sticking her foot in a thirteen-year-old's face or watching your first girlfriend slowly unroll her black stockings—then the foot-related details of the experience are more likely to get imprinted. Also increasing the odds of imprinting upon a foot-related stimuli are the strong odors associated with feet; odors and tactile sensations enhance the likelihood of imprinting upon a sexual experience.

There are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that the male foot cue is innate. The anthropologist Daniel Fessler found that men from a broad variety of societies (includingIran,Brazil,Tanzania, andPapua New Guinea) consistently rate small female feet as more attractive than large feet. In contrast, women rated an average male foot size as most attractive. On erotic foot-focused websites, small feet are represented almost exclusively. Several cultures, such as the Chinese and Persians, historically practiced foot binding in an effort to make the feet physically smaller. Many American women habitually wear shoes that are too small for their feet. If an interest in feet was purely cultural, we might expect to see at least one society or Web site celebrating large female feet.

“In the Cinderella folk tales the prince is never canvassing his kingdom in search of a girl whose feet will fill out a gravy boat of a shoe,” observes renowned anthropologist Don Symons, author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Women’s feet typically grow during pregnancy, sometimes a half or even a full shoe size, and pregnant women should be less attractive from an evolutionary perspective since further reproduction is not possible during pregnancy. Researchers Thornhill and Gangestad suggest in The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality that estrogen limits the growth of foot bones. Thus, small foot size might be an indirect indicator of a woman’s health and long-term childbearing prospects.

Another challenge for cultural theories of the male sexual interest in feet: why feet and not hands? Hands are more visible in all cultures, and the general shape and detail of the hand is quite similar to the foot. Women’s hands are often decorated with bright, manicured fingernails, drawing attention to them. In online porn, women’s hands are frequently portrayed as actively participating in sexual acts: there are far more handjobs than footjobs. So hands are highly visible, attractively adorned, and presented as sexual instruments. Yet in our search data there were 93,885 sexual searches for feet and only 5,831 sexual searches for hands. There are 276 different foot sites in our Alexa Adult List of the most popular erotic websites, but we could only find one site that could be construed as hand-focused:GloveMansion.

However, there is one peculiar facet to the male interest in feet that remains unexplained. More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud was one of the first scientists to suggest that there was a link between a sexual interest in feet and submissiveness. Though many of his other hypotheses about human sexuality have been disproven, the proposed link between anatomical cue and psychological cue appears to be supported by modern data. Unlike other male anatomical interests (breasts, butts, penises, vaginas, stomachs, necks) there is a very strong correlation between an interest in foot erotica and female domination/male submissive erotica. In our AOL and Russian language Yandex search data sets, searches for feet are highly correlated with searches for submission, trampling, boot licking. femdom, and strapons. Also, webmasters who run foot sites typically feature cross-marketing and links to female domination sites.

On ELM, which features a small sample size but extremely detailed data, most men who seek out foot-related material do seek out purely visual representations, but a sizable minority request male humiliation or female domination psychological themes as part of the foot material.

At present, the nature of the foot-submissiveness connection remains a mystery, and the online data doesn't provide an explanation, just proof of the connection. Is there something about a strong submissive cued interest that makes the foot cue more prominent? Is there something about a strong foot cued interest that makes the submissive cue more prominent? Is there some kind of cross-wiring in the male sexual brain so that these two cues are more likely to be  tangled together? Perhaps future neuroscience efforts will reveal the truth. But one thing seems clear: both interests seem to form very early in men in vastly different cultures (and eras!) suggesting there is indeed some kind of neural connection between the two. 

Ogi Ogas, Ph.D., studies computational neuroscience. He is co-author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts.

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