Haifa in the 1960s, second-grader Ami sets off home at the end of another school day. His short and pleasant walk home passes by a movie theater and Ami's favorite thing is checking out the posters promoting the theater's latest arrivals. For the age before the Internet or even color TV, this is very exciting.
On one of these walks home, Ami peruses the posters and is happy to find a new one. "Cleopatra," starring Elizabeth Taylor, queen of the silver screen had finally arrived in Israeli theatres. Her picture graces a giant poster. The little boy finds himself staring at Taylor, at her face, her body... until his gaze rests on her feet. He's totally entranced.
"I couldn’t move. She didn't even have a beautiful foot, but I was seven and I had no standards" he laughs. "I'd walk past the movie theater every day, and every day I found myself in front of this poster."
Did you understand why?
"Even now I don't understand, but that's the way it is. If I'm at the beach or just walking down the street in summer, I look at women's feet. If it's a nice foot, I'll look up to see the person connected to it. If I first see a pretty woman's face, I look down and if her feet are horrible, I'll carry on walking. I'm not interested."
Ami is now 63, but this attraction to feet has stayed with him. Only in his mid-twenties did he learn that his unusual sexual interest had a name - foot fetishism.
"I'd talk about it a lot. At some point, a friend said to me 'you're a fetishist. You have a foot fetish'. I responded 'Fetish? Me? No. I'm totally straight, I'm fine'. In the '80s, the term fetishist was a term of abuse ascribed to perceived perverts and deviants. There was no Internet. No one wrote about fetishism in the newspapers. On a visit to New York, this friend went into a bookshop and bought me a book about foot fetishists. I read it and realized that's what I am."
The world's most common fetish
In psychology and sexology, fetishism refers to sexual arousal through an object or a body part that is not defined as a sex organ.
In extreme cases, if the fetish leads to distress, or disrupts daily life, it becomes a psychological disorder requiring treatment. For the most part, however, fetishism causes no damage and is considered an integral part of general sexual pleasure.
Foot fetishism, also known as podophilia is the intense attraction to feet, usually describing men who are attracted to women's feet. These men are sexually aroused by looking at, touching, and smelling women's feet, and enjoy massaging, kissing, and licking, them. Various fetishist acts form a part of sexual relations in foreplay, during, or following sexual activity.
As fetishism is considered deviance, a cause of shame and embarrassment, these tendencies are concealed by most fetishists, making it difficult for researchers to assess its proclivity. Attempts have been made over the years to compile some kind of data regarding different fetishisms. Studies of online activity suggest that foot fetishism is by far the most widespread.
Researchers at Bologna University in Italy studied hundreds of online discussions in fetishism groups containing thousands of members. The study estimates the popularity of various fetishes is based on the number of groups devoted to each fetish, the number of participants in each group, and the number of messages.
Of the fetishism devoted to body parts, 47% were foot fetishes, while 30% were dedicated to objects directly associated with body parts (clothing or jewelry), 32% of which dealt with objects connected to feet such as socks, shoes, or boots.
In March 2016, the American "Comedy Central" TV channel presented an interesting statistic gleaned from Instagram tags. It turns out that there were 5,437,095 tags for the word "feet". To fully understand this statistic, we must compare it to the 4,123,150 tags for the word "ass" and 2,562,899 tags of the word "boobs" (which is only half the number tags that "feet" received).
'Clean, aesthetic, well-maintained'
So, what makes a woman's foot attractive to certain men? Although the Internet has legitimized foot fetishism in recent decades, the sexualization of feet is by no means new. Foot fetishism holds an esteemed place in the history of mankind. The Karma Sutra mentions sexual activity incorporating feet, while 12th, 16th and 19th century Europe witnessed an increased interest in feet as sexual objects. The reasons for this are unclear, but it has been suggested that it offered a safe alternative at times of widespread sexually transmitted diseases.
Realizing the fetish varies from person to person. For Ido, 42, it's part of dominance and submission within BSDM (Bondage, Submission, Sadism and Masochism). "Generally, in BSDM, feet are regarded as degrading," he explains. "The submissive partner is supposed to idolize the dominant partner's feet and adore and venerate them.
"In this setting, I enjoy anything involving coercion. A woman once put her feet on my face as she smoked a cigarette. It was amazing, but anything goes – from masturbating to licking, smelling, and sucking toes for example. Even when it's not in a dominatrix session and I'm having regular sex, I play with women's feet just for fun – a bit of massaging, caressing, maybe a bit of kissing."
What turns you on about feet?
"I don't know what it is exactly. It's everything. A clean, well-kept foot just does it for me, large or small, any color. It just has to be beautiful. At the end of the day, every foot is attached to a woman with her own appearance and personality. Seeing feet out in public space really turns me on. The best thing is when I see lovely feet and they're attached to a woman to whom I'm attracted beyond her feet!"
Any preferences for nail varnish?
How about a foot, freshly cleaned after a shower?
"It's not that important. It's good if it's after a shower, but things happen that you don't plan. I wouldn't send her to shower if we're already there…"
If you were to meet a woman who also had a foot fetish, would you let her treat your feet like you treat women's feet?
"That would be a bit weird for me. I like giving, not receiving so much. There was a woman who did that. She didn't ask. She just went for it. I felt some kind of system error. It didn't feel right."
Ido says that he's had a foot fetish for as long as he can remember. "I'm pretty sure you're born with it. I've always had it. I remember in first grade, instead of looking at the girls' faces or eyes, I'd look at their sandals. That's what interested me. I thought it was a phase that would pass, but it hasn't. I'm now 42 and I still look at the exact same thing. Nothing's changed. I'm sometimes driving and I notice in the car next to me a girl with her feet up on the dashboard and I just lose it. It's definitely an accident waiting to happen as I completely drop all concentration. Girls on mopeds in flip-flops also drive me crazy. For me, it's more intense than suddenly seeing a naked girl in the middle of the street."
How do women respond?
"A lot of women simply run away. Even before meeting up, some women have written to me: 'Listen, it's just not for me'. Some women have told me that there's something wrong with me, that it's repulsive. Some laugh and say it's cute and they'll deal with it. Others are into BDSM and are cool with it. I had a date with a woman in a restaurant. She showed up in sandals, and then in the middle of the restaurant she says to me: 'Go on, smell them'. I said 'No way, we're in a restaurant'. She insisted, saying 'smell them, are you chicken?' I held my ground. When we got to her place, I smelt and licked and kissed her feet. She was really into it."
If a girl's not into it, is it a deal breaker?
"It'll get me down, but ending a relationship because of it is a bit extreme. It's a relationship with a whole person after all. I can't expect a partner to like all my kinks, but she should at least be open to it. It's part of foreplay, part of the magic of snuggling up in front of the TV. Some women have told me not to touch or even look at their feet. They say it's nasty and stuff like that. It's a bummer. I've also initiated it and they found they liked it and said they wanted more. That's really cool. I felt I'd shown them the light."
What do you look at on a date?
"First, I lower my head to look at her feet, then her chest, after that her face."
And if she shows up in boots?
'First feet, then face'
Foot fetishism isn't about BDSM for everyone. For Asaf, 54, his foot fetish in bed usually takes the form of a foot-job, rubbing the male organ against the woman's feet. "It drives me insane. I love it. And it's nothing to do with BDSM. I don't like violent sex or humiliation. I just love feet."
Asaf's attraction to feet also started at a tender age. "I've been mad about feet since I was a young boy. I remember the first time I saw my fifth grade teacher in sandals. She had beautiful, well-groomed feet with nail varnish. I was really hot for her anyway. It really turned me on. Now, when I look at a woman, the first thing I check out is her feet. After that, I look at her face. Women wearing sandals in public drives me nuts. I can't look away. I've even converted some of my friends. I always tell them to first look at a woman's feet. If they see lovely feet, they'll know what she's about."
What does a foot have to be?
"Proportional, with long toes. Slim, not broad. The nails don't have to be varnished, but they need to be well-manicured, clean and delicate. If they do have varnish, I like red, but any dark color is OK."
Is it a deal breaker? Would you go out with a great girl who's feet weren't the way you like them?
"There is a girl whom I have the best sex with, and she has horrible feet. She always asks me how I can be into her. The sex with her is amazing, so I let it go. Usually, it's a deal breaker though. I first look at a girl's feet. If I don't like them, I don't even start hitting on her. If I want to go to bed with a girl, I have to check to see that she has nice feet. Otherwise, it'll just turn me off. I'm a fanatic on this front. The foot, of course, must be attached to a pretty face, but first feet, then face."
How do women respond?
"Sometimes they're not into it. Sometimes they don't know they're into it. Once I sucked a woman's feet and it almost gave her an orgasm. Until then, she had no idea that she'd like it. I've had women who've begged for it."
What do men's feet do for you?
"Ew. That's revolting!"
I'm a crazy person in the summer
How does a foot fetish come about? Is it congenital, from birth or does an intense attraction to feet result from some life event? Researchers offer various explanations and most agree that it's acquired at an early age. All those interviewed for this article believe that they were simply born that way.
"I don't know where it comes from and I don't care," says Ami. "What difference does it make? I've read a million different theories. If now, they'll tell me it comes from something or another, how would that help me? It's already here."
Ami says that his fetish has no place in the bedroom. He doesn't like BDSM and doesn't incorporate sexual acts with feet into his sex life. So how is this attraction realized? By looking at feet.
"If there's a girl sitting in a café in sandals. It's just great to watch. But if she's wearing moccasins and she rocks her foot, that's outrageous teasing. It drives me mad. There was a girl in my office, who used to play with her shoe all day and I couldn't take it. I eventually hit on her and got her into bed. I needed her to take off that shoe. In summer, when women are all walking around in flip-flops, I’m officially a crazy person. All day I'm on the lookout for a woman with beautiful feet. I'll do U-turns to double-check."
And what happens in winter?
"For years, I tried to find some kind of clue as to what's going on in a girl's shoe. I found the solution: I started looking at the girl's beautiful hands. It doesn't work every time, but I'd say 60-70% of the time, if she's got nice hands, her feet will be the same."
That sounds like crap to me
"I promise you! I've got almost 60 years of experience of this."
How can your fetish only go as far as looking? It's a sexual fetish
"Yes, it is sexually arousing, but it doesn't belong in bed. The main thing is looking. Touching feet is also tricky because not every beautiful foot is pleasant to touch."
And if it is?
"I'll marry her."
Although he jokes about it, it's not so far from the truth. "When I started going out with the woman who's now my wife, I was hesitant at first. I remember her coming to my house. We were sitting in the living room. She was wearing a moccasin and was playing with her feet a little, so that each time her foot would peek out and go back into her shoe. It was driving me mad. I told myself she'd take off her shoes soon, her feet would be horrible and that would be it."
But that's not what happened, is it?
"No. She kicked off her shoe and I was in total shock: her foot was soft and delicate. I stayed."
What constitutes a beautiful foot?
"I can't explain it. I see general esthetics. The toes must be perfect and the toenails have to be symmetrical. I hate it when the big toe protrudes or when one toe is on top of the other, or when they're crooked. You know what? I don't even want to define it. It's like seeing a beautiful painting and starting studying and dissecting it. Why? Because I like the whole painting."
What about nail varnish?
"I like nail varnish, but it's misleading. I need to see what the nail looks like without the varnish. If I find out that the nail varnish is hiding rough or nasty toenails, I feel I've been tricked. It's like slapping on really thick make up."
Has the fetish increased over the years?
"No, but the technology's improved. There was a time that beyond a few pictures of feet in magazines, I had nothing to look at. Even when the Internet first took off, it was a year before I found anything interesting. I was going out of my mind waiting for pictures to download. Now it's all laid out for me," he says, referring to millions of images of feet on social media and Google, but not just there.
Ami spends a lot of time on wikiFeet, an internet database of pictures of feet of famous women. Founded in 2008, and still managed by Israeli businessman Eli Ozer, wikiFeet is considered the largest non-pornographic fetish website, featuring over two million pictures of feet of over fifty thousand famous women, presenting thousands of pictures of some celebrities' feet.
After typing in a celebrity's name into a search bar, pictures of her - either barefoot or with part of her foot showing - come up on screen.
Users can grade celebrities' feet on a star system, classifying the feet from five-star "beautiful feet" to one star "ugly feet." Each page also is open to talkbacks.
The website gets about 5.4 million visitors per month from all over the world.
"If I watch a movie with a beautiful actress, I'll go to wikiFeet to see her feet," says Ami. The site has pictures of all the actresses in the world. know their feet better than their faces. You just type in the name of an actress and you get scores of pictures of her feet. I don't know who put all the pictures there. Whoever it is, I’m grateful!"
If you discover that an actress has amazing feet?
"Then she really turns me on. I start fantasizing about her."
And if her feet aren't so nice?
"For me, that's it. It's over."
Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is widely credited for bringing this fetishism to the big screen. A self-proclaimed foot-fetisher, Tarantino devotes screen time to feet in lots of his films - with close-ups that are hard to miss. "I thought Pulp Fiction was an amazing film anyway, but Tarantino's inclusion of his own fetish into the movie just blew me away. At the time, I didn't really know who Tarantino was. It was the first Tarantino movie I saw. He instantly became my hero."
'You're a messed-up pervert. You're sick in the head'
Ami and Asaf are open about their fetishes. "My friends and family know about it. My children know too. I don't think they truly understand. They're not into it themselves. It's not for them. They generally just laugh it off," Ami says.
"I don't put a sign up on my forehead, but if it comes up in conversation, I'm open about it. I normally don't talk about it to women because their first question is always, 'so, what do you think of my foot?' and if it's not good, what am I supposed to say? It's better she doesn't know that I've looked at her feet and that I have this fetish. There's no need to create an uncomfortable situation."
How did your children find out?
"They were snooping around my phone. One of them asked me 'Dad, what's with you and feet?' They made fun of me a bit, but it's all good."
Have you had negative reactions?
"I haven't faced any major hostility, but people don't always understand. 'Feet? How can that be important?' I just answer, 'nipple, how can that be important?' It's the same thing."
Unlike Asaf and Ami, Ido keeps his fetish a secret. "Everything about my sex life is super-intimate and embarrassing, but the fetish is even more embarrassing as it's regarded as deviance and it's not easy walking around with sexual deviance," he says.
"It's a bit like coming out of the closet every time. People are judgmental. As a rule, fetishism in Israel is taboo. Although there are more and more websites and places, generally it's not something I'm free to talk about. A friend once told me about someone who had a foot fetish, finishing off his story with 'What a screw-up, what is this s**t?' After someone says something like that, how can I then tell them that I also like feet? It automatically brands you a pervert, weird, defective, that something's not right with you.
"I used to get offended. I don't react at all anymore. For example, I don't understand how people can have anal sex. Really, I don't get how anyone can give or take it up the backside, I think it's repulsive, but I don't go around telling women they're messed up if that's what they want," he adds.
"I find it hardest when women judge me. It's OK if a woman says: 'Listen, it's not my thing'. But not when a woman says stuff like 'wow, that's messed up,' 'that's sick,' 'how could you?' 'it's just not normal,' 'you're a pervert'. If she's not into it, she doesn't have to be part of it, why make me a leper? It's just a fetish that doesn't hurt anyone."
Does having this fetish sometimes get you down?
"Yes, because it's an important part of my sex like. I find 'vanilla' sex really boring. It sends me to sleep. I would far prefer to be able to have regular sex and enjoy it."