It was a friendly game of Truth or Dare. Then 14-year-old James Crowley chose truth.
“Do you have any strange sexual desires?”
Crowley was nervous. He looked around the room. He trusted his friends, so he answered honestly. He told them he was into feet.
“People thought it was a little funny, but the friends I had at 14 were mature. They were like, ‘OK, cool. You do you,’” he says.
Crowley’s fascination has a name: It’s a fetish. Sexologist Gloria Brame says a fetish is “getting turned on by something that’s not directly genital.” Breasts and butts don’t count—Brame says their normalcy in society separates them.
Fetishes themselves may not be that unusual, though. “We now have scientific studies of human sexuality that suggest fetishes are natural and pretty common,” Brame says.
But when Crowley discovered his fascination with feet at age 12, he had no idea it was normal. A scene from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” with actress Elizabeth Banks taking a bath captivated him—he was fixated on Banks’ foot propped on the tub. Crowley was self-conscious about his discovery. He hid his interest in feet during locker room talk because he worried what his middle school classmates would say. But then he stumbled upon foot fetish videos on the Internet and found others with similar desires. Now a senior at State University of New York in New Paltz, Crowley is open about his fetish.
“I look at feet like guys look at breasts and butts,” Crowley says. “I like interacting with them sexually, whether that involves licking or smelling.”
While Crowley enjoys playing with others’ feet, he isn’t looking for reciprocation. He explains that he usually experiences arousal when he sees them, including increased heart rate, visual fixation, and fantasizing.
His sexual interest hasn’t received negative reactions—harmless jokes or people informing him they dislike having their feet touched, at most. His first relationship was with a friend who found out about his fetish during Truth or Dare and was willing to let him indulge. Since then, Crowley typically doesn’t tell casual hookups.
“I’ve had someone I was casually hooking up with come over to watch TV, and I’d massage her feet,” Crowley says. “She didn’t know I had a foot fetish. I guess in a way I was still acting on it, but I wasn’t actively telling her or doing anything inherently sexual about it.”
Brame explains that fetishes range depending on the person. Some require interaction to be sexually aroused, while others don’t. For Crowley, a relationship without foot interaction wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker.
“I think I could work it out because I’m still into more traditional things,” Crowley says. “It’d definitely be a damper, but I guess that’s where it comes down to how strong the feelings and the relationship are.”