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Foot fetishism, foot partialism, foot worship, or podophilia is a pronounced sexual interest in feet. It is the most common form of sexual fetishism for otherwise non-sexual objects or body parts.
Foot fetishism has been defined as a pronounced sexual interest in the feet or footwear. Sigmund Freud considered foot binding as a form of fetishism. For a foot fetishist, points of attraction include the shape and size of the foot and toes (e.g., long toes, short toes, painted toes, high arches, soles etc.), jewelry (toe rings, ankle bracelets, etc.), treatments (such as pedicures or massaging), state of dress (barefoot, flip flops, etc.), odor, and sensory interaction (e.g., smelling the foot, licking, kissing, tickling, etc.).
In order to estimate the relative frequency of fetishes, researchers at the University of Bologna examined 381 internet discussions of fetish groups, in which at least 5,000 people had been participating. Researchers estimated the prevalences of different fetishes based on the following elements:
It was concluded that the most common fetishes were for body parts or for objects usually associated with body parts (33% and 30% respectively). Among those people preferring body parts, feet and toes were preferred by the greatest number, with 47% of those sampled preferring them. Among those people (mostly males) preferring objects related to body parts, footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) was most preferred (64%).
In August 2006, AOL released a database of the search terms submitted by their subscribers. In ranking only those phrases that included the word "fetish", it was found that the most common search was for feet.[dead link]
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The two divisions of foot fetishism are sexual and non-sexual. Sexual foot fetishism is when one achieves sexual arousal, even to the point of climax, when seeing or touching a foot. This can even be in spite of the look or cleanliness of the foot. The non-sexual form of foot fetishism does not cause sexual arousal, but rather the pleasure is purely due to aesthetics. It has been compared to what one feels when they view an attractive part of a body such as a mouth, a pair of eyes, a nose, or any non-sexual part of the body. They appreciate the overall beauty of a particular foot. This type of fetishist tends to rate the foot from a point of attractiveness without sex being the main motivator.
Some researchers have hypothesized that foot fetishism increases as a response to epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. In one study, conducted by Dr. A James Giannini at Ohio State University an increased interest in feet as sexual objects was observed during the great gonorrhea epidemic of twelfth century Europe, and the syphilis epidemics of the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe. In the same study, the frequency of foot-fetish depictions in pornographic literature was measured over a 30 year interval. An exponential increase was noted during the period of the current AIDS epidemic. In these cases, sexual foot play was viewed as a safe-sex alternative. However, the researchers noted that these epidemics overlapped periods of relative female emancipation. Sexual focus on female feet was also hypothesized to have been a reflection of a more dominant posture of the woman in sexual-social relations. (The first surviving mention of foot fetish is by Bertold of Regensburg in 1220.)
Neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran proposed that foot fetishism is caused by the feet and the genitals occupying adjacent areas of the somatosensory cortex, possibly entailing some neural crosstalk between the two.