Partialism is a sexual interest with a focus on a specific part of the body. This can be any part of the body, such as the hair, breasts, or buttocks. The most common form of partialism is podophilia, in which a person becomes sexually aroused by feet.

Partialism is classified as a type of paraphilia or paraphilic disorder. Paraphilia involves sexual arousal to objects, situations, or targets that are considered atypical or not of the norm. Partialism being considered a paraphilia is somewhat controversial and a much-debated topic among health professionals.

Many types of paraphilia are not considered socially acceptable or are illegal, such as pedophilia and necrophilia. Partialism is a type of paraphilia that is more of an interest or sexual preference than a paraphilic disorder, and usually acceptable between consenting adults.

Partialism is only considered unhealthy if it causes you or another person distress or harm. As long as it is not impairing your functioning at home, work, or in other areas of your life, or harming others, such as children or nonconsenting adults, it’s not considered unhealthy.

The difference between paraphilia and a paraphilic disorder is now more clearly defined in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and most of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.

The new definition clearly states the difference between paraphilia as a sexual interest or preference, such as partialism, and a paraphilic disorder that stems from that behavior. According to the criteria in the DSM-5, paraphilia is not considered a disorder unless it causes you to feel:

  • distress about your sexual interest
  • a sexual desire or behavior that involves the distress, injury, or death of another person
  • a desire for sexual behaviors involving someone who is unwilling or unable to give legal consent

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how partialism works and what causes a person to become excited by a single part of another person’s body. There are many theories, however.

Some experts believe that patterns of erotic arousal associated with paraphilia are developed before puberty. One theory is that it results from anxiety or early emotional trauma that interferes with what is considered “normal” psychosexual development.

Another theory is that early exposure to highly-charged sexual experiences conditions a person to believe that a nonsexual body part or object is sexually exciting.

Some believe that culture may have something to do with partialism. Research shows that culture plays a role in preferences for certain body parts or shapes. Other experts have pointed out that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether a person is really only attracted to a body part or if it’s part of their attraction to one of the physical characteristics of a partner.

The question as to whether partialism is a fetish has been hotly debated for years. Fetishism disorder is included in the DSM-5 chapter on paraphilic disorders. Neither is considered a disorder unless it causes distress or harm to you or someone else.

The only difference between partialism and fetishism is the focus of a person’s interest. Partialism is a sexual arousal involving attraction to a specific part of the body, such as breasts or hands. A fetish is sexual arousal through a nonliving object, such as shoes or underwear.

Partialism can involve any part of a person’s body other than the genitals. The most common types of partialism include:

  • podophilia (feet)
  • hands
  • trichophilia (hair)
  • oculophilia (eyes)
  • pygophilia (buttocks)
  • mazophilia (breast)
  • nasophilia (nose)
  • alvinophilia (navel)
  • alvinolagnia (stomach)
  • ears
  • neck
  • maschalagnia (armpit)

Partialism may not be considered the social norm, but as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone and is enjoyed between consenting adults, it’s not unhealthy. If you’re concerned about your sexual preference or feel that it’s negatively impacting any aspect of your life or someone else’s, speak to a doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional with experience in paraphilic disorders.