Your foot fetish, explained!

For a while now I have been reading books on neuroscience. Though I am prone to brief obsessions with subjects of curiosity, my interest in the workings of the nervous system, and in particular the brain, has lasted longer than most. How do we think? A fundamental question to both philosophers and drunks alike, with neither reaching a particularly satisfactory outcome (then being able to remember it). You will be glad to know I haven’t come up with an answer. In fact, I haven’t even tried.

But we (by which I mean my academic superiors) have been able to make educated guesses, and to deduce some of our own inner workings, based on study and reasoning. Scientists have been making progress on this since the days of Da Vinci, and the then-outlawed practice of dissection. Recently, the subject has become considerably more accessible, with notable experts writing works on interesting areas within neuroscience, aimed not just at colleagues but the public at large. These are of interest from a scientific perspective. but also from the point of view of the anonymous patients, who are oft described at considerable depth by their physicians, as they adapt to the challenges of living with the side effects of accidents, fluke conditions, or neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neuroscience is for geeks, Doctors, and that

Balderdash. Neuroscience is defined as the study of the nervous system, including the brain, and logically, study of the (human) mind. Since we all have a brain, are we not all equipped to study it? Perhaps, since most of us haven’t had the privilege of attending medical school, with its associated cost and trials, we are unequipped for diagnosis and accurate evaluation. This, however, does not prevent us from making theories, suggesting ideas, and understanding much of what has already been written.

In fact several of the cases outlined in this post and in the titles mentioned, have formed episodes of the popular television series, House M.D. As a longtime fan of the series, I was particularly excited when a case study I recognised came up recently, especially since the writers embellished little for the public.

The man who mistook his wife for a hat

The bizarre title of an Oliver Sacks publication, this is just one of many neurological texts I have had the pleasure of reading recently. Although they tend to focus on the more extreme, weird cases, these non-fiction accounts of doctors’ experiences treating conditions, are nonetheless helpful to us in our everyday lives. With a better understanding of how the mind works, we can respond more fairly to the mood changes of a colleague, the mental difficulties faced by an amputee, or the outbursts of a Tourette’s sufferer, to name but a few.

This understanding may also apply to you too. Though the science has yet to be proven, I have found explanations for why we are able to come up with solutions to complex problems during dreams, or whilst performing mundane tasks. There are explanations for why we are more capable of recognising snakes than fast-moving vehicles, and why we prefer the sound of some words to others.

An anatomical explanation of the foot fetish?

Along the way of course, you may find out some interesting, if unverifiable, information. For example, when reading V. S. Ramachandran’s “Phantoms in the Brain” last year, I came across a ‘homunculus’ (little man) diagram which appeared to explain why some people experience foot fetishes. Apparently a prominent scientist, Wilder Penfield, discovered how sensation from certain parts of the body mapped to areas of the brain in the 1940s and 1950s. Using electrodes (placed on anesthetized humans rather than unwilling monkeys, somewhat against the trend), Penfield was able to locate a strip of brain real estate along which sensory perception was focused. Whilst most of these mappings were in logical order (hands next to thumbs, lips next to face), sensations from the genitalia were mapped right next to the feet, leading to the deduction that in some humans the two might be confused, leading to the titular foot fetish.

These, and many more interesting topics, are explored in laymans’ terms in Ramachandran’s Phantoms of the Brain, Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and An Anthropologist On Mars, amongst other exceptional titles.

  • http://bgames.cz.cc BGames

    Interesting stuff I look fowarding to reading more of your future posts.

  • Ncboston20

    I’m not sold on sensory neurons “being confused” as being the tell-all reasoning for foot fetishism. It is seen that the genitalia portion of the somatosensory portion of the parietal lobe is placed adjacent to the sensory portion of one’s feet, but could you explain to me then why you wouldn’t find a sexual attraction to your own feet? Why is it that mostly men report the fetish while women do not? You’re also dealing with sensory neurons, isn’t human sexuality much more complex? We look at the MPOA when inquiring into the male libido, which isn’t directly adjacent. Are there other parts of the brain involved? Also, is there any supporting research for Dr. Ramachandran’s hypothesis? 

  • Ncboston20

    and forgive the portion, portion, portion, please. A quick reply that should’ve been proof-read. 

  • http://www.danielgwood.com Daniel G Wood

    I don’t suggest (nor believe) that the reason for foot fetish is that simple. It’s been a while since I read the book in question, but I’ll have a go. My answers here come with a huge disclaimer: I am not medically trained, nor do I work in the field. I also don’t read many papers, much of my knowledge comes from published books.

    - Why wouldn’t you find a sexual attraction to your own feet? Perhaps some do. I don’t have any personal experience to draw on. I’d be interested to know the answer there, since a “no” would poke a serious hole in Ramachandran’s theory.

    - Why is it mostly men that report the fetish? This could be because men are biologically more inclined to develop it, but my preferred explanation is that its a combination of social factors, in brief: the role of women in most cultures is more to be objectified than to objectify (however wrong that might be); most people who “admit” to having a foot fetish do so in a semi-anonymous setting, such as the Internet, and for unrelated reasons forums like these often have a male bias; many societies look down less on men who have or enjoy non-mainstream sexual traits than they do on women, so perhaps men are more willing to “report” the fetish as they feel less likely to be ostracised. I’ll have a look around to see if any studies have been done on the gender numbers here.

    - Isn’t human sexuality much more complex? Definitely. I think Ramachandran intends his theory more as one possible source for sexual stimulation, on top of which there are numerous other factors.

    - We look at the MPOA when inquiring into the male libido, which isn’t directly adjacent. Are there other parts of the brain involved? As far as I understand it, it’s very difficult to be 100% certain about what any area of the brain does or doesn’t do. In the case of foot fetishism, I don’t think anyone has studied it sufficiently (see disclaimer though!).

    - Is there any supporting research for Dr. Ramachandran’s hypothesis? I’ll check the notes in the book when I have a moment, though my recollection is that he based his ideas on Penfield’s research, which wasn’t specifically targeting foot fetishes.

  • Itotallylovebarefeet

    Hi there. I’m a male with a very strong foot fetish, and I don’t have a sexual attraction to my own feet, only women’s. I think most foot fetishists that I’ve met in online forums would say the same too. Anyway, it’s an interesting article which I think definitely shows some partial link/explanation of the foot fetish.

  • PremChand

    It’s not a convincing hypothesis. At least not RE: foot fetishes. As one myself, I can tell you I neither find my own feet sexy (yuk! LOL) or get stimulated around my feet sexually (meaning someone tickling me there would be a little weird and definitely not arousing). I primarily find women’s feet (i.e. other’s feet) incredibly attractive, and enjoy activity with them. This stimulates me in the groin region, not near my feet in anyway. I just don’t see it as a plausible explanation, and no doubt V.S was influenced in his study by his not being familiar with the “territory” (in other words, probably not a foot fetishist himself).