Getting a leg up: A brief look at pantyhose fetishism
“As far as I can remember I have been easily aroused by women wearing pantyhose. At the age of about 14 or 15 [years] I started wearing pantyhose and masturbating with them. At the time I was ashamed to tell my girlfriend at the time about it. I continued this up until about 19 or 20, when I finally had a girlfriend who I told about my fetish. I thought that by sharing this with my significant other at the time that it would help but it did not. I would just want it more and more. Now I am in a long-term relationship with a woman that I love. I have told her about my fetish and how I masturbate with her pantyhose and she said that she did not have a problem with it. She wears pantyhose for me rather frequently because she knows that I really like them…My obsession has really intensified to the point that I am doing more to achieve a stronger orgasm…I really feel like my fetish is out of control. In general my fetish for pantyhose has lead me to do immoral things that I would not do unless pantyhose are involved” (Letter sent to Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker)
For the benefit of my non-UK readers, here in the UK, ‘pantyhose fetishism’ is more commonly known as ‘tights fetishism’ (and is very similar to ‘stocking fetishism’, the commonality being the fact they are both clothing items worn on the legs that are often made of nylon and that have a silky veneer). The few online articles concerning pantyhose fetishism make similar claims although empirical evidence for such claims are generally lacking. For instance, the articles claim that pantyhose fetishism is (i) commonplace and (ii) usually first begins in childhood and/or early adolescence (after seeing pantyhose being worn by a significant person in the fetishist’s life such as their mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, family friend, neighbour and/or teacher).
One of the best studies published in a 2007 issue of the International Journal of Impotence Research by Dr G. Scorolli and his colleagues on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data did not report the specific existence of pantyhose fetishism at all, although around 12% had fetishes concerning something associated with the body such as legs (which could have included pantyhouse). However, if you type ‘pantyhose fetishism’ into Google lots of dedicated pornographic photography and video sites can be found on the first few pages.
According to Wikipedia men may have a preference for pantyhose because unlike stocking, pantyhose has direct contact with female genitalia. An article on the Kinkly website claims individuals with a pantyhose fetish most commonly become sexually aroused by wearing pantyhose, watching other people wear (or undress wearing) pantyhose, or both. The Wikipedia article is a little more detailed and claims that the fetish manifests in one or more of the following ways (and which I have repeated verbatim):
- “Tearing or cutting holes in pantyhose to modify the garment or gain access to the wearer’s body.
- Wearing of pantyhose by either or both partners during sexual activity.
- A male wearing pantyhose alone or in front of others who may praise or humiliate him.
- Using pantyhose as bondage restraints.
- Interacting with pantyhose in any other way or form during sexual activity.
- Simply observing/admiring and experiencing heightened arousal/interest of females or males who are wearing pantyhose.
- Viewing material from store catalogues to pornography of models and actors wearing pantyhose.
- A man or woman in pantyhose encasement”.
As far as I am aware, only one paper solely devoted to pantyhose fetishism has ever been published in the psychological literature. This was a 1997 paper written from a psychodynamic perspective by Dr. L.M. Lothstein in the journal Gender and Psychoanalysis. In her paper, Lothstein describes this “unique fetish” using clinical vignettes of gender dysphoric men (i.e., transgendered males). The paper claims the pantyhose served a number of different functions (such as the repairing of psychic structure, and an expression and defence against underlying aggression). More specifically, Lothstein refers to pantyhose as a functional ‘magic skin’ or ‘second skin’ in repairing a defective ego and acting as a transitional object to allay annihilation and separation anxiety.
The Wikipedia and Kinkly articles claim that there are many sub-types of pantyhose fetish and that such fetishes often co-occur with other fetishes and sexual paraphilias such as shoe fetishes, transvestism, sadomasochism, and schoolgirl fetishes. For instance, the Wikipedia article notes that pantyhose fetishism can include:
- A focus on certain areas of the body while wearing pantyhose, [such as] feet, a variation of the very common foot fetishism.
- Wearing pantyhose with other specific garments, e.g. shoes, boots, or skirts, uniforms that usually include pantyhose (girl at work, secretary, flight stewardess, policewoman, Hooters waitress, girl next door etc.)
- Certain styles e.g. sheer-to-waist, opaque, patterned or specific deniers, certain brands or shades.
- Simply admiring women who wear pantyhose (a mild form of voyeurism).
- Finding the wearing of them to be a primarily sensual comforting experience, rather than sexual.
- The act of purchasing pantyhose, especially when aided by a female assistant, can also generate a degree of arousal”.
One of the problems with the Wikipedia article as that it is included in the entry on underwear fetishism and the section concerning pantyhose fetishes specifically notes that the section “does not cite any references or sources”. It then goes on to claim:
“The pantyhose covered foot can be extremely arousing to men who often find satisfaction in just looking at or more in that of rubbing, sucking/licking, and massage of the penis with the nylon clad feet. Others find arousal in sniffing the sour and pungent smell of soles made by excessive sweat when in pantyhose. Foot-jobs can be very intense and stimulating and covering a woman in pantyhose in semen is a common fantasy with some men. Pantyhose fetish can also be linked to that of the women dressing as the schoolgirl where stockings, knee high socks and pantyhose can be worn with a short skirt”.
The same article also lists a number of reasons why females wear pantyhose and then claims that these reasons as to why women wear pantyhose provides possible reasons for the allure of pantyhose fetishism:
- “They remove the appearance of blemishes, making the legs ‘perfect’.
- The reflectiveness of the material, coupled with the way they appear less transparent at the edges, often gives legs more contrast and definition, as though lit by dramatic lighting. This accentuates the curves of the legs, making them less ‘flat’, and can also make legs appear slimmer (with dark pantyhose).
- They often have a silky texture which is pleasing to both the wearer and her partner.
- They enhance the pleasure (and anticipation) associated with the removal of a woman’s clothes. Not only serving as an additional item to be removed; they allow the exciting moment of exposure to be drawn out much longer than other clothing items, as the pantyhose are slowly pulled down the legs. In addition to this, they do not actually hide what they cover.
- The slipperiness and smoothness of sheer pantyhose and stockings also makes women’s low cut court shoes slip off more easily. This vulnerability is often sexually attractive, and can often result in the women engaging in shoe dangling or shoe play which is also appealing to shoe and foot fetishists”.
Although I mentioned above I only knew of one academic paper on pantyhose fetishism, there are a few academic writings that have mentioned it in passing. For instance, in a 1979 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, Dr. W.L. Marshall reported the treatment of two male paedophiles with satiation therapy, one of who was also a pantyhose fetishist (but no detail was given on this aspect of their sexual behaviour except he was also a shoe fetishist). A paper by Dr. L.F. Lowenstein in a 2002 issue of Sexuality and Disability claimed that pantyhose fetishism was “very common” but the only evidence given for this was a reference to Lothstein’s paper (which contained no information on the prevalence of the fetish). Finally, in a 2008 book chapter on themes of sadomasochism self-expression by Dr. Charles Moser and Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz, they used the example of pantyhose to define and explain what fetishes are:
“A fetish is characterized by sexual arousal to an inanimate object…Individuals who enjoy SM accessories often describe their interests as fetishes. They find wearing or touching the preferred articles highly arousing. The articles themselves are rarely arousing, but if they are worn by a partner, it heightens the partner’s attractiveness and heightens the eroticism of the sex. For example, pantyhose can be a fetish object, but brand new pairs, never worn, rarely become a focus of erotic interest. The same pantyhose worn by the participant or a partner can elicit a strong erotic response. Similarly an article of clothing that reminds the person of a partner or a specific erotic interlude can become a fetish object”.
Again, this simply confirms that pantyhose fetishes exist (or theoretically exist) but there is no information on incidence, prevalence, or their psychosocial impact. I did come across one online account written by someone who confesses to being a pantyhose fetishist on the Act Sensuous blog site, and which I found a lot more enlightening that anything academic that I have read on the topic:
“I had tried several times before, but during my research to find scientific facts…I wanted to learn where pantyhose rank on a list of the most prevalent fetishes, but I couldn’t find credible material that could be documented. I did find one thing I expected – that the foot fetish is still No. 1, apparently, the most common. Suffice it to say that pantyhose are high up there somewhere. And, thankfully, pantyhose and foot fetishes seem to go hand-in-hand, or make that foot-in-hand…Obviously, there’s more to a pantyhose fetish than [what is on Wikipedia]…To me, pantyhose always have been about three things: the way they look, the way they feel to the touch, and the very concept of them in the first place. Maybe it’s just that they are designed to enhance the beauty of everything they cover. To me, there’s a profound dichotomy about pantyhose, which I find very exciting. Pantyhose possess enormous power, yet, by design, they are extremely delicate and feminine, causing an irresistible vulnerability for the wearer. This is never more evident than in the way the nylon fabric moves to the touch on a woman’s legs and feet. It’s almost as if she has a second, delicate, delicious skin. It’s as if the pantyhose are a living, breathing intimate part of the wearer. You can physically manipulate that lifeforce, and you have to be careful not to hurt it. Once on, any item of clothing a person wears, sort of disappears. You stop feeling it on your body. And even though you can touch the pantyhose on yourself, it isn’t the same as feeling them on someone else. Want your lover to feel what you feel when you caress her legs in pantyhose? All it takes is to move that delicate nylon fabric over her skin. The sensation is incredible for both parties”.
Maybe we will never know how common pantyhose fetish is but there appears to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that it exists, is male-dominated, and that there is some crossover with other more (empirically) established fetishes (such as foot fetishes).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
The Act Sensuous Blog (2010). What drives our pantyhose fetish? April 11. Located at: https://actsensuous.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/what-drives-our-fetish-for-pantyhose/
Kinkly (2015). Pantyhose fetish. Located at: http://www.kinkly.com/definition/6774/pantyhose-fetish
Lothstein, L.M. (1997). Pantyhose fetishism and self cohesion: A Paraphilic Solution? Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1), 103-121.
Lowenstein, L.F. (2002). Fetishes and their associated behaviour. Sexuality and Disability, 20, 135-147.
Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P.J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langbridge, & Meg Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on SM (pp.35-54). Hampshire, UK: MacMillan.
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
Wikipedia (2015). Underwear fetishism. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwear_fetishism#Panties