Bengaluru: Some like them with jewellery, others like them bare. Some like them clean, others want them dirty and take pleasure in licking the dirt off. The preferences vary but those with a foot fetish have one thing in common — the sight of feet pushes their buttons like no other part of the body.
Social media is helping create a safe space for foot fetishists in India to indulge their desires, even if it costs a pretty penny. There’s been a proliferation of online services where women with well-groomed feet post pictures or conduct live-streaming sessions on social media to cater to those who get turned on by them.
The ensuing interaction may stay online, but often moves into the real world, with each session costing anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 1 lakh.
The nascent business has also evolved its own vocabulary — “mistresses” or “goddesses” are the women whose feet form the centre of the fetish ecosystem, “handlers” are those who serve as intermediaries between these women and their customers, and “slaves” are the customers. Those who indulge in the fetish call it “foot worship”.
There is an element of BDSM or Bondage Domination Sadism Masochism involved, but participants say they don’t engage in activities that would qualify as prostitution.
“This (foot fetish) is very common in European countries. Though it is legal abroad, India has no law that stops such services. The women do not provide anything more than BDSM or feet fetish and the largest (share of) clients comprises businessmen and techies,” said a Bengaluru-based handler.
Participants of the industry say the trend has particularly taken off in Bengaluru, with Delhi and Mumbai close behind.
“Until 2015, it was quite low profile. Of late, we have many happy feet,” the handler added.
Why do people have a foot fetish?
Foot fetish, also called podophilia, is a sexual interest in feet. Those with a fetish for feet find pleasure in touching, feeling or photographing them.
According to a 2007 study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, feet and objects associated with feet are the most common subjects of fetishes.
Noted neurologist Sigmund Freud, who is credited as the father of psychoanalysis, theorised that fetishes are a substitute for penis, stemming from something he described as the “castration complex”, but this is one of many theories, including one that suggests it is rooted in childhood experiences.
Some people may construe it as deviant behaviour, but psychologists say it is not.
“Erotic fetishism involves sexual gratification linked to an inordinate degree to a particular object, activity or part of the body. Now, a lot of what is considered acceptable keeps changing with social mores and, clearly, behaviours like masturbation, foot fetishism or cross-dressing — even the practice of golden showers, popularised during the last US presidential campaign — are not as forbidden as they were a generation ago,” said Dr Vivek Benegal, professor of psychiatry, Centre for Addiction Medicine, NIMHANS.
“I wonder whether the recent interest in the media on the apparently profitable business of foot fetishism actually relates to the thought of commercialising this not uncommon erotic fascination… similar to the social affrontedness usually reserved for commercial sex work,” he added.
Women avail of service too
A Bengaluru-based handler who goes by the pseudonym Charlie said he had known he had a fetish since he was 15.
“I did not understand the emotion then. It was only when I travelled to the US that I realised I was not the only one. There was an entire industry running on foot fetish,” he told ThePrint. “I began to explore how it works and now I coordinate for several clients and mistresses in India.”
It’s not just men, but women avail of the service too. “I find toes and soles of women very erotic. I have even paid for the pedicure of one of the mistresses so that it suits my taste,” said a Bengaluru-based woman who is a start up-entrepreneur.
“Nothing is better than a beautiful pair of feet, with attractive nail polish and a beautiful pair of high heels,” she added.
A 40-year-old IT employee said he connected with women on dating apps, but soon realised it was the pictures of their feet that he was most attracted to.
“I read up articles over the internet and then realised I had what was called a foot fetish and what I felt was called foot worship. I am now a regular client and pay a handsome amount to satiate my fetish,” he added.
Charlie said “foot fetish or BDSM is often confused with other sexual services”, but added that these “sessions are driven solely through humiliation treatment and can be enjoyed only by fetish-driven individuals who understand the concept”.
When asked about the size of the foot fetish industry in India, Charlie claimed it is still in the nascent stage but added that “the trend has certainly caught on”.
According to people in the industry, 80 per cent of the men who have this fetish like well-tended nails and feet with anklets. Others like feet that are dirty so they can “lick the dirt off them”. Others still like women in high heels and seek a massage from them — a process called “trampling”.
Some like feet that have been inside boots for a long time. They ask their mistresses to wear their shoes for a long time and then smell the sweat off the feet, a handler said. Some derive pleasure by just staring at the feet, others by touching or sucking on toes and heels.
Payment through e-wallets, gift cards
Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook form the anchors of the foot fetish industry in India. It is here that customers find “mistresses”. Once they have established a connection through direct messaging, clients explain their fetishes and what they expect from the session.
“If the demand is high, they will be charged accordingly. However, there are rules and guidelines that must be followed. The mistresses brief the client about them before they start the one-on-one or online session,” said Charlie.
In the case of a one-on-one session, the client pays for the travel, hotel and other related bills. Payments are accepted through e-wallets as well as online shopping gift cards. However, it is mandatory to pay the advance upfront. “Our work is very professional. If there is a cancellation of a session, we provide full refund,” said a foot mistress.
There is also an age bar — only customers aged above 20 are accepted, and the mistresses can only be aged between 20 and 30 years.
Before the pandemic, mistresses would travel all across the country after accepting bulk appointments, said Charlie. During the Covid-19 lockdown, online sessions gained a lot of popularity and many of the mistresses conducted up to five sessions a day.
With the lockdown travel restrictions eased, many mistresses have started travelling again, but say many clients are unable to pay as much as before.
“The fear of Covid has also brought down the number of bookings. That is why the online sessions are more popular,” said a woman who has been a “feet goddess” for close to five years.
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