Content Warning: Explicit names of sexual practices, which some may find distasteful or triggering.

The discovery

It began innocently enough. I was trying to make some extra money selling my clothes on eBay, the go-to marketplace for anyone who’s ever racked up a credit card debt, is moving overseas, is going overseas, is saving for overseas, or in my case, has developed an unhealthy obsession with Lululemon that frightened both my wallet and myself.

I was surprised then, when scrolling through in-app messages about my activewear items, to see a message from a male asking whether I sold any sports socks. After a few messages back and forth it was understood that yes, he wanted to buy my used, worn socks (unwashed was fine), and no, he didn’t want to tell me why.

I sold three pairs for $40.

His next message after receiving said socks? “Do you have any g-strings I can buy?” I ended the conversation there. Partly out of respect to my partner, but mostly because I didn’t know anything about this man – other than he was a frequent buyer of used socks according to a cursory glance at his purchase history.

socks listing from poppy on ebay
Although details of my listing was removed, eBay sent me the original invoice of my listing

I’m not naïve, I’m aware of the multi-billion-dollar industry funded by those with a soiled panty fetish and driven by those who are expertly able to resist changing their underwear for full weeks at a time. Hell, Orange Is The New Black developed a whole narrative arc around it, where some inmates were the ‘providers’.

And who could forget the used panty vending machines in Japan? They were largely found in the back alleys of Akihabara until police found underage girls with fake IDs were selling their own underwear and school uniforms. Now, the vending machines target tourists with the word ‘used’ in English and a disclaimer of how they aren’t really used in fine print and in Japanese.

But worn, dirt-covered socks? As a tool for sexual pleasure? Now that’s a community I wanted to learn more about.

eBay’s fetish underground

Unfortunately, the buyer who graciously purchased my filthy-soled socks back in May of 2016 no longer uses his original buyer name on eBay. What’s more, as eBay notified me, “the system only keeps a record of a listing for 60 days”, and after that it’s “deleted from the system.”

However, a quick search for “used socks” listings on eBay showed the buying and selling community is alive and well.

socks ebay seller
Worn sock listings on eBay

Beneath the guise of the website which launched in 1995 to innocently and safely allow transactions of collectors’ items like Pez dispensers and signed Nirvana vinyl, is an underbelly of “panty people”, indiscreet sex toy pedlars and, as it turns out, dirty sock fetishists.

One listing noted the condition of the socks as “Well worn, unwashed.”

Another wrote in the description: “Worn to gym, work, and show rehearsals.”

Another listing for stockings wrote: “Well worn, unwashed dancer stockings. Worn for a whole season of shows unwashed. Happy to negotiate amount of wears for price.”

ebay listing worn used socks
An eBay listing from August 2019

eBay’s net revenue is roughly US$10.83 billion a year, and with US$2 billion coming from its adult e-commerce sector (with $140 million coming from Hello Kitty vibrators alone) used socks could be big business for the shopping giant.

However, they’d never reveal just how big the used sock business is.

eBay is not impressed

eBay told The Brag that selling used socks on their platform is strictly prohibited.

“For health and hygiene reasons, we don’t allow the sale of used underwear, including socks, on eBay,” a spokesperson told The Brag. “We do frequent sweeps every week across the platform, and take additional action on accounts who are circumventing the policy.

“Users should ensure items they list follow our guidelines,” the spokesperson added. “Items that are against our policies will be removed and sellers may be subject to a range of other actions, including buying and selling restrictions and permanent account suspension.”

When I was sent the above statement I immediately remembered the instructions I was given from my sock buyer. He had told me that in order to make the sale available to him, I would need to tell him when I would make the listing public and then reach out again with a link when the listing was live.

A weekly sweep from eBay won’t do much to catch sellers whose listings are purchased mere seconds after they go on sale; especially when all ‘auction’ negotiations are handled via private DMs.

Meet used sock buyer ‘UnusualOddity’

In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), a user named ‘UnusualOddity’ titled his thread: ‘I buy guys (sic) used socks on Ebay, AMA!’

“I just like the smell of them,” he wrote.

UnusualOddity, who declined to be interviewed by The Brag, revealed through the AMA that he is in his mid-twenties, heterosexual, but only interested in menswear.

He said the fetish sparked when he was a teenager, and that he doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the condition the socks are in.

“When I was younger and around sweaty/smelly feet and/or socks I found that I really liked it! Weird, I know.

“[I] prefer them to be more used, definitely smelly. Athletic are cool but so are dress socks. Holes are fine too!”

reddit socks
UnusualOddity on Reddit

Let’s talk specifics. What is a sock fetish?

Olfactophilia is the correct name for the fetish of used socks. Psychology Today defines Olfactophilia as: “a paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from smells and odours.”

Pamela Supple, who has a Masters of Health Science and has spent the last 25 years as a Sex, Relationship and Wellbeing Therapist, said “all fetishes are wide and varied and differ greatly for each individual.”

When asked what buyers of used socks are specifically doing with them after the purchase, Supple said: “[They would be] smelling them, putting them on, getting sexually aroused by them, fantasising. Some would get aroused by images of used socks and imagine different smells and odours.”

tom cruise in Risky Business
Risky Business

Pamela Supple said that while foot and sock fetishes are separate, they can intertwine.

“Specific odours are produced by foot sweat which is odourless, but combined with certain bacteria – which are part of our human flora – are one of the most wide spread forms of erotic olfactory arousal for some,” said Supple.

“[…] It is a real erotic stimulant of the olfactory senses. In other words the smell/odour is the ‘turn on’ and sometimes can be accompanied by erotic images,” she added. “Podophilia is the correct name for a sexual fetish specifically for feet. It is considered the most common form of fetishes for otherwise non-sexual objects or body parts.

“It is more commonly seen among men,” Supple noted. “These can be very separate fetishes for some but some combine both [foot and sock fetishes]. It’s completely up to the individual and their own preferences.”

In fact, Supple pointed to a 1994 study printed in the Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology, which noted only 45% of people with a specific foot fetish get aroused by smelly used socks. “Not all foot fetishists have a fetish for used socks,” she said.

Meet used sock seller, ‘TeamYMD’

Perhaps one of the most viral Reddit threads on the sale of socks as fetish items is from Redditer ‘TeamYMD’. Posted over seven years ago with the title ‘IAmA guy who made thousands of dollars selling used socks on eBay AMA‘, this seller received almost 2,000 comments on his call-out for questions.

IAmA guy who made thousands of dollars selling used socks on eBay AMA
TeamYMD’s 89% upvoted Reddit thread

He said he would predominantly have to wear the socks for a week for his clients.

“I’m really a clean freak so that bothered me. I would use a mix of parm cheese and water sometimes to make them stinky if they wanted them that way,” he wrote.

A self-professed “totally straight college kid looking to make extra $$$”, the seller said he had to build up his reputation in order to gain repeat customers.

Later in the AMA, he said his success had little to do with luck: “I think it’s having the balls to try something totally creepy and realise you’re making money off of other people’s fantasies, and it really has nothing to do with me. I separated myself totally from it.”

The seller mentioned eBay’s crackdown on the market meant he had to be “discreet” with his selling arrangements.

“You had to be real slick,” he said.

“They took down auctions where pics were above the knee,” he said, indicating eBay’s policy around nudity. Granted, the aforementioned ‘Adult eBay’ allows nude images and sexually oriented (but clean) items to be sold. However general eBay’s larger user base offers more potential for a higher profit.

When answering questions from other Reddit users, the seller explained his strategy to get around eBay’s policies: “They took down auctions that were too descriptive (can’t put actions like “played a rough Lacrosse game in these sweaty socks..etc.”) You have to put “cleaned per eBay standards” in all auctions,” he wrote.

“Basically, they knew it was a fetish thing and didn’t mind hosting the auctions in the xxx section,” he wrote. “But you never got the exposure that you did on the normal eBay site so everyone fought to keep it in the open.”

So just how lucrative was TeamYMD’s foray into the resale market for used socks? He revealed the most he’d sold a worn pair of socks for US$125 (AUD$184).

When offering advice to those wanting in on the revenue stream he said: “Just look around at the completed listings. See what’s going now and for what. [You] need to build up a rep so it will take a while. Start at $.99. Focus on dress socks.”

Conversely to the sock realm, the business of used underwear online has become an accessible economic triage for panty fetishists. Websites like ebanned.net, Craigslist in the US, Used Panty Portal, and CulotteHog are all legitimate and safe resources. Use sock fetishists and sellers seem to have slimmer pickings; hence the gravitation toward eBay and Facebook Marketplace, and the ensuing careful navigation of prohibitive policies.

One thing is clear though, to find success in the currently un-cornered market of used sock selling, you need to follow the advice of seasoned entrepreneurs like TeamYMD: “Keep the dream alive! You can do anything you put you mind to… Keep one foot forward.”

Illustration by artist and animator Erin Sutherland. See more of Sutherland’s work at @ezose.png on Instagram.