Defining Underwear Kinks & Fetishes
There's something undeniably captivating about underwear — the way it hugs curves, the way it feels against the skin, and the way it can make us feel confident and sexy. Underwear is so intimately tied to our bodies and sense of self that it can shape how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.
The difference between lingerie kinks and fetishes
For some people, underwear isn't just an article of clothing — it's an object of desire. The allure of intimate garments can ignite our fantasies and deepen our connection with our partners. Underwear can also serve as a gateway to kink, allowing couples to tap into their wildest fantasies of dominance and submission. Think: crotchless panties, corsets, and other restrictive garments that create heightened arousal and pleasure while stimulating the mind in new and exciting ways.
With its revealing and provocative nature, lingerie has a reputation for being associated with BDSM and other forms of play. Certain fabrics and cuts are designed to cater to specific kinks, fueling the fire of passion and exploration. However, for some, the attraction to underwear goes beyond mere kink and evolves into a full-blown fetish. Underwear fetishism, or the sexual attraction to undergarments and related items, is a complex and multifaceted interest encompassing everything from panty sniffing to latex clothing. This type of fetish can be a source of pleasure and excitement for some, offering an opportunity for sexual exploration and self-discovery.
It's important to note that not all preferences for specific undergarments or lingerie indicate a fetish; they could simply be a kink. According to Carol Queen, PhD, and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, "No specific underwear interest would make it a fetish vs. a kink; it could be either. A fetish would fit into the overarching umbrella of kink interests, but vice versa is not necessarily the case. For many years, psych professionals were trained that a 'fetish' is a sexual interest, often of great specificity (e.g., a body part, an object or category of objects, a sexual interest in something outside the norm like urination), that a person needs to get aroused. That describes some people and their relationship with their erotic fetish — but in other cases, it's a thing that they are especially into but might not need, per se." In other words, there's a distinction between having a kink and a fetish.
Panty fetish vs. underwear fetish
And what’s the difference between a "panty fetish" and "underwear fetish"? While the terms are often used interchangeably, a panty fetish specifically refers to a fetish for women's underwear, whereas an underwear fetish denotes a more general fixation for undergarments, including bras, stockings, garter belts, and other lingerie items. In essence, an underwear fetish may include women's panties (or not), but a panty fetish is exclusively for women's panties.
Exploring common lingerie fetishes, kinks, and more
Now that we've covered some bases let's get into the fun stuff.
Generally, an underwear fetish could mean many, many things like collecting undergarments (e.g., buying them, asking partners for their undergarments, or stealing them from partners or public laundromats), getting aroused by the odor of worn undergarments or the feel of the fabric, using undergarments to masturbate, watching others wear certain styles of undergarments, or watching others take off or put on undergarments.
Here are some examples of how all of the above might manifest into a fetish or kink:
- Camel toe fetish: An attraction or fetish to the outline of an individual's labia majora visible through tight undergarments or clothing. With Lorals’ ultra-thin construction (0.07 millimeters thin, to be exact), you can see everything.
- Cross-dressing or gender bending: The fetish for wearing underwear designed for the opposite gender or creating a more feminine or masculine appearance.
- Crotchless panties fetish: Sexual interest in panties or underwear that expose the genitals and/or buttock area.
- Footed underwear fetishism: An attraction to one-piece, footed underwear, also known as footed pajamas or onesies.
- Latex fetish: An attraction or fixation on the feeling and sight of latex or rubber clothing — from tailored pieces, to cosplay garments, to Lorals ultra-thin undies.
- Pantyhose fetish: Sexual arousal triggered by wearing or watching someone else wear pantyhose or other hosiery items. There are hundreds of ways to enjoy pantyhose play, including masturbating while wearing pantyhose, fantasizing about others wearing pantyhose, wearing pantyhose during sex with a partner, admiring the sight of your partner pleasure themselves through pantyhose, or ripping the crotch out and giving/receiving head.
- Panty stuffing: Stuffing underwear inside a person's orifices (e.g., mouth, vagina, anus) for pleasure.
- Plastic panty fetish: An attraction to plastic or PVC underwear for how it looks or feels. (There may be an overlap between this fetish and diaper fetishism/autonepiophilia. This fetish can also be explored during humiliation play, age play, or power dynamic scenarios.)
- Sheer panty fetish: An attraction to undergarments made from translucent or semi-transparent fabrics such as mesh, lace, sheer nylon, or rubber (like Lorals’ sheer undies). The see-through nature of the fabric can be alluring and tantalizing as it allows just a glimpse of the wearer’s skin or more intimate areas.
- Used panty fetish: Buying or obtaining worn underwear online (sometimes from cam or porn models) or from an intimate partner isn't uncommon. In fact, there's a pretty big market for it online (see Sofia Gray), and at one time, some areas of Japan even had vending machines that sold used panties. The panties obtained can be made of various materials, each providing different amounts of secretions to the fetishist (for example, natural rubber latex is non-porous so all secretions remain in place, whereas cotton is porous and secretions can seep in). People who purchase used panties often enjoy the scent and may request the seller to do specific things with the underwear before shipping them (e.g., panties worn at the gym, worn during their menstrual cycle, or panties that haven't been washed for weeks, etc.).
- Panty sniffing: Speaking of panty sniffing, this is a fetish in and of itself. It involves getting aroused by the scent of worn panties and often goes hand-in-hand with a panty fetish, but it could also stand alone as a subcategory.
- Wet underwear fetishism: A fetish for wet or damp underwear, which can include arousal from the feel or scent of the fabric.
There are literally thousands of fetishes, and they can differ greatly from person to person. The important thing to remember when engaging in fetishism is consent and safety for all parties involved.
Myths and misconceptions
Several myths and misconceptions surround fetishism, including the idea that all fetishes are abnormal, perverted, or unhealthy. This couldn't be further from the truth.
"Underwear fetishism, like any other kink or fetish, is a natural part of human sexuality," says sexologist and inclusivity educator, Lilithfoxx. "As long as it's practiced consensually and respectfully, it's a valid expression of one's desires no different than someone having a preference over a certain body type, porn genre, etc."
Other common misconceptions include:
- Only men have underwear fetishes: Fetishism is for anyone and everyone; this includes panty and underwear fetishes.
- People with underwear fetishes are also into cross-dressing: Cross-dressing is its own subcategory, and not all people with underwear fetishes are into cross-dressing. "Some people might assume that if you're into underwear, you're also into cross-dressing or trying to identify as a different gender. But that's not always true," says Aliyah Moore, PhD, and certified sex therapist and resident sex expert at sex toy company SexualAlpha. "People can like underwear just because they find it sexy."
- It's always sexual: While many fetishes are sexual in nature, not all underwear fetishes are exclusively sexual. For some, an undergarment's texture, smell, or aesthetics can be appealing without leading to sexual arousal.
- Fetishism equates to deviant or abnormal behavior: Although some individuals might see fetishism as weird or out of the ordinary, it doesn't mean it's wrong or abnormal. "Despite how the media may portray it, it's not always cis-het men with problematic views about women who enjoy and experience underwear fetishism," says Lilithfoxx. "Positions of power in this kink/fetish can also vary and are not limited to who the person is that has the fetish or kink."
- Underwear fetishism is always about used or dirty underwear. As mentioned above, underwear fetishism can encompass a wide range of interests, and it's not always about used or dirty underwear. "I think many people think of panty fetishists as guys who steal panties from the laundromat or similar — and people like that exist, but it's not how most panty lovers roll!" says Queen. "Unless someone has a fetish for non-consent, all fetishes can be engaged in consensually.
Safety and consent: How to talk to your partner
If you or your partner are interested in exploring underwear kinks or fetishism (regardless of the subcategory), it's important to have that initial conversation about boundaries, safety, and consent.
Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started:
- Find a safe and non-sexual space to have the conversation. When it comes time to sit down and talk, do it somewhere that’s low-pressure and non-sexual. “I recommend approaching the discussion in a safe space — preferably not in the bedroom,” says Kelly Ashlen, sex educator and founder of Sexsi Toys. “Talk to them about your fantasies, and discuss how you'd like to engage in them. I would encourage trying to come up with ways that you can both be involved so that it fosters a better connection together.”
- Approach the topic in an open-minded and non-judgmental way. If getting the conversation going is awkward or you can't get the words out, Sarah Melancon, PhD, certified sexologist and Sexuality and Relationships Expert for SexToyCollective.com, recommends testing the waters with casual comments about your partner's underwear and seeing how they react. "Initiate a broader conversation about your and your partner’s sexual preferences," advises Melancon. "Always emphasize what you enjoy about your sexual relationship, and approach the topic by enhancing what you like rather than complaining about what you’re not getting. Ask your partner what they enjoy most about your sexual relationship and whether there’s anything else they’d like to explore together and share your feelings in return."
- Don't make assumptions about what your partner is comfortable or interested in. Communication is key when exploring any kink or fetish. Ask your partner about specifics, and be clear about what you're comfortable with. Creating a safe word to use during playtime might be a good idea, so you can immediately stop if you or your partner becomes uncomfortable. "It's important to discuss boundaries around your fetish," says Moore. "Your partner may be comfortable with certain aspects of your fetish but not others. Be open to compromising and finding a way that works for both of you."
- Reassure your partner. Sometimes, revealing you have a fetish brings feelings of insecurity. This is especially true if the fetish involves a particular type of clothing or physical attribute that the partner may feel they don't possess. To ensure this doesn’t happen (or to ease the pain if it does), emphasize that the fetish is simply a way for you to explore your own desires. “Make it clear that your fetish does not detract from your attraction to them and that their feelings and boundaries are important to you,” says Melissa Cook, PhD, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and sexual health and wellness writer.
- Be patient. Remember to be patient and understanding — dropping a bombshell like having an underwear fetish may shock your partner (especially if the two of you have only experienced “vanilla” sex). Give your partner time to come to terms with this new information and be prepared for a range of reactions. Your partner may not be comfortable exploring your fetish right away, or ever, and that’s OK too!
Ultimately, the key is approaching the conversation with empathy, understanding, and a willingness to listen and compromise. By making it clear that your partner’s feelings and boundaries are important to you, you can create a safe and supportive environment for exploring your shared interests.
Additional resources and support
Here are some resources and support options to help you navigate and explore underwear fetishism in a safe and consensual way:
- FetLife. FetLife is a social networking site for the BDSM and fetish community. Users can join groups, connect with other members, and attend events.
- Kink Academy. This is an online resource for kink and BDSM education. It offers a variety of courses on different topics, including underwear fetishes.
- The Stockroom. The Stockroom is an online store for BDSM and fetish gear. It also features a blog with articles on different aspects of the kink community.
- Alt.com. Alt is an adult dating site for people interested in alternative lifestyles (AKA kink, fetishism, BDSM).
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). The NCSF is a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of consenting adults in the BDSM and kink communities. They provide resources and support for individuals facing discrimination or legal issues related to their lifestyle.
- The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health: This non-profit organization (now called SHIP) provides education and support for individuals and couples exploring their sexuality. They offer workshops and events on various topics, including kink and BDSM.
From panty stuffing to pantyhose fetishism to latex clothing, the world of underwear fetishes and kinks is vast and varied. While some people may find these interests unusual or taboo, it's important to recognize that everyone has their own unique preferences and desires.
As long as all parties involved give consent and prioritize safety, there's no harm in exploring different aspects of sexuality. By shedding light on this often-misunderstood topic, we can foster greater understanding and acceptance of the diversity of human sexual expression.
Written by Tabitha Britt, a freelance writer and editor. She's also the founding-editor-in-chief of DO YOU ENDO, the first (and only) no-BS digital magazine for individuals with endometriosis by individuals with endometriosis in the US. You can find her byline in a variety of publications including Insider, Medical News Today, and Kinkly.
Reviewed & Edited by Melanie Cristol, the founder and CEO of Lorals. Melanie studied Sociology at Columbia University and received her Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School. Prior to creating and patenting Lorals, Melanie was a healthcare and consumer products attorney, and she was part of the legal team that secured gay marriage rights for the western United States. Melanie also fought for LGBTQ rights in California and Ohio as a field organizer with the National LGBTQ Task Force.