Feet and Fantasy

Chicago Sun-Times
Features; Pg. 40
January 9, 2003 Thursday

Feet and Fantasy
by Paige Wiser

There are some shoes that are not–shall we say–made for walking. We’re not just speaking of Jimmy Choo’s spring line. We’re talking about 8-inch heels, red patent leather pumps, even the occasional penny loafer.

And there are some people–men, mostly–who don’t just admire shoes. What they feel borders on worship. “Fetishes are common,” says clinical sexologist Gloria Brame. “A sexual fetish is getting aroused by something you wouldn’t expect to be aroused by–something inexplicable. A foot fetish is the most common, without a doubt.”

Closely related to that is the shoe fetish, but that could mean just about anything. “There are fetishes for almost every kind of shoe that exists,” says Brame. “There are people who are fetishists for open-toe sandals, for men’s shoes, for every possible kind of boot, sandal. There are people who love not just sneakers, but specifically Keds. You name it, there is somebody somewhere out there who looks on it with love in their heart and lust in their groin.”

Why?

“Feet have always had an erotic connotation,” says Suzanne Baldaia, a fashion historian and professor from Rhode Island. “Folklore offers us many examples of the shoe being a symbol of female genitalia. In many cultures, a bride’s shoe was offered to the bridegroom as a symbol of property, and as an exchange of something a little bit deeper.”

“I think feet are definitely an erogenous zone,” says Gina Pia Cooper, editor-in-chief of FashionFinds.com. “Men love the spike heel, the patent leather, the glimpse of toes–and don’t forget toe cleavage.”

In Asia, husbands would display the teensy shoes of their wives on elaborate platters–the smaller the shoe, the more highly prized the woman. The process was helped along with binding, in which the foot of a 3-year-old girl would be wrapped in 10 yards of white muslin to stop growth. Of course, the desired result was also symbolic of a husband’s dominance over his wife, who could barely walk without pain.

In other civilizations, shoes were hidden for years underneath various skirts and petticoats–a glimpse of them was forbidden, and shocking.

In the Middle Ages, men wore a shoe called the poulaine, which featured a long toe tip–as long as 14 inches–to make it erect. They made for vigorous games of footsie at dinner parties, and sometimes an orgasm or two before dessert. In the 15th century, leather shoes called cracowes, made with horsehair, were banned by the church and the king of France as sexually suggestive. “Fetishism for shoes has been around for a long time,” Baldaia says. “In the late 19th century, there were shoes made in Austria and Germany and Switzerland. They had a 6-, 7-inch heel. Completely unwearable, but looked great laying down.”

“Most hot-blooded people find women’s shoes sexy,” says Ava Cadell, a clinical sexologist in Los Angeles. Yeah, but–why?

The short answer: We’re not sure. “We really don’t know what causes any kind of fetish or any kind of kinky sex impulse,” says Brame. “Our best guess is that we’re wired that way to some degree, and then what happens is largely dependent on our personality and our environments.”

There are plenty of theories. Dr. V.S. Ramachandran believed it was a neurobiological connection, as he wrote in his book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Apparently the part of the brain that responds to foot stimulus is right next to the part of the brain that corresponds to the genitals. Crossed electrochemical signals could be responsible for toes curled in pleasure.

Part of what makes a fetish a fetish is its mystery. And it’s difficult to pin down any patterns, since the variety is so infinite. There’s also the matter of degree.

At one end of the spectrum are people who can’t get aroused without the fetish object. This can negatively affect relationships, work, even health. That’s the point at which you would do well to seek some therapy.

Conversely, a fetish can be as harmless as simple appreciation. “There are plenty of mainstream people who really like looking at girls’ feet,” says Brame. “Ask 10 of your male friends how they feel when a woman does a little shoe dangle. Everybody finds that attractive. Some men simply love the beauty of a foot. If a wife or girlfriend has a beautiful foot, he’ll kiss it and rub it.”