Jets' Coach Rex Ryan's Foot Fetish Isn't Unhealthy, Sex Experts Say

Fetishes can be used to keep the spark in a longterm relationship.

December 23, 2010, 11:51 AM

Dec. 23, 2010 — -- As bizarre as some may think it is that Jets' coach Rex Ryan and his wife share an apparent foot fetish, sex therapists tell ABC News that the sexual fixation isn't that uncommon and may, in fact, be healthy.

"Foot partialism, or a foot fetish, is actually the most common form of fetish," said Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and the founder of the website "It's only defined as a problem when the person or couple define it as a problem."

"But this seems to be a healthy part of [the Ryan's] sexual relationship," he said. "They're both consensual, they both seem to enjoy it and it doesn't seem to be causing any distress."

At a news conference Wednesday, Ryan addressed the foot fetish report posted by, which showed videos of a woman who closely resembles Rex's wife, Michelle.

"To be honest, and I get it, I know you need to ask and all that stuff, but it's a personal matter and I'm really not going to discuss it, OK?" he told reporters.

Kerner said that too often people assume fetishes are "freaky" or "weird."

"We do think of people with fetishes as someone who can't function sexually in a normal way or an average way but the more you read about it the more you find out that everyone or almost everyone has certain predispositions of proclivities and desires to help them get aroused and get them sexually excited," said Kerner.

"In some cases it's a particular fantasy or a position and a technique and in other cases it's a body part or a costume," said Kerner. "I'm sure Ryan just has a genuine attraction to his wife's feet."

One video shows a woman presenting her feet and toes from an SUV window to an off-screen cameraman who touches them. Other videos show the woman sitting on a couch and rubbing her feet. In other, the woman seductively removes the socks from her feet before touching them.

"Fetishes are more normal than we'd often like to think and everyone has their unique turn-ons and turn-offs and in the case of Rex Ryan it happens to be a partialness for feet," said Kerner.

Fetishes Can Help Spark Longterm Relationship

When asked about his wife during the press conference, Ryan responded, "My wife's beautiful. We've been married for 23 years. She's awesome."

Their long-term marriage, a rarity in the sports world, isn't something to ignore, said Judy Kuriansky, a licensed sex therapist and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Healthy Relationship."

"That statement alone [about his 23 year marriage] is something people should be championing him on as a positive role model," said Kuriansky. "After all, he's in a world where there is sex everywhere and flirtation everywhere and the fact that he is focusing on his wife and finding her beautiful is a dream come true."

Experimenting, said Kuriansky, is key to keeping the spark alive in a relationship. For the Ryans, that experimentation may simply manifest itself as a foot fetish, she said.

"We encourage couples to find many different ways to express their excitement to one another and find each other desirable and explore their bodies and their experiences and if they're doing it together then that's a very positive sign," she said.

While it's not immediately clear how the videos became so public, the fact that the Ryans appear to have posted the videos online demonstrates a sense of "exhibitionism," said Kuriansky, who again chalked it up to a desire to spice things up in the bedroom.

"Some people are a little bit exhibtionist about their sex life," she said. "In this day and age there are a lot of couples who like to have a little danger in their sex life to spice it up, like having sex in public places. There's nothing wrong with being slightly risque."

"But I do think they had a lapse of judgment to be that public about it considering his position and the fact that everyone, in the middle of football season, would be interested in it," added Kuriansky.

When Fetishes Can Be Unhealthy

An estimated 2 to 4 percent of males have a fetish arousal pattern, said Washington, D.C., psychologist Barry McCarthy, who authored the book "Men's Sexual Health."

While it is commonly believed that men alone develop fetishes, more and more women have been seeking treatment in recent years, psychologists told

"Fetishes usually develop in childhood or adolescence and are controlled by this combination of high secrecy, high eroticism and high shame," McCarthy said. "It's a poisonous combination."

"There are some men who are extremely erotically charged to full-length boots on women and would not be charged by anything else. Usually, this is due to an experience in childhood that, for whatever reason, gave a powerful sexual charge to that object that the man then masturbated to exclusively."

While some sexual variance can be healthy in a relationship, fetishes can become a problem when they interfere with the ability to enjoy intimate, interactive sexual activity, McCarthy said.

"A lot of women will say that when they have a partner with a fetish arousal, that he's not really there during sex," McCarthy said. "He's there physically but he's not really there."

But fetishes don't have to be permanent and are often treatable to the degree that the individual is able to go on and have a healthy sex life.

McCarthy, who described fetishes as a sort of "sexual heroin," said that they can be much like an addiction to drugs.

"People give up heroin because they realize it's really hurting their lives," he said. "What a person with a fetish has to understand is the value of intimate sex. While it won't be highly erotically charged, it will fit more into the reality of his life."

ABC News' Ryan Creed contributed to this report.

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