Santa is supposed to be a purely innocent, childlike fantasy about cookies, toys, and fat-shaming jolly bearded men. But for some grown-ups, sitting on the lap of a man who knows if you’ve been good or “naughty” this year is just straight up sexual. It’s a bit of a mixed gift bag. “Santa is the one who knows if you’ve been bad or good and he has the power to punish you for it,” Maggie Hoop, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in sex, told Fatherly.
“Santa is kind of the ultimate arbiter of naughtiness.”
It’s not just Lauren Graham’s character from the movie Bad Santa, or Billy Bob Thorton’s sexual charm—the fetishization of St. Nick goes far beyond Hollywood. Last year, Santa was the most popular holiday porn search term, with a 447 percent increase in queries, according to not-so-rigorous (and not remotely safe-for-work) PornHub data. Another survey of 1,000 women in the UK found that about one-third of women find the notion of Santa to be “sexy”. Professional mall Santas have shared tales of being essentially assaulted on the job by women who can’t get enough tinsel. Clearly, this fat arbiter of naughtiness just does it for some people.
The festive fetish makes some sense, scientifically speaking. There’s evidence that women are attracted to men with facial hair and a few extra pounds, and some research suggests that the color red facilitates sexual attraction. Other studies have argued that Santa is a cultural icon and fantasy character, which made it sort of inevitable that St. Nick would go the way of Rule 34. Not that Santa is asking for it or anything, but when you add celebrity status, confusing power dynamics, and the word “naughty” together, some people are going to get excited.
“We are seeing a rise in silver foxes’ and dad bods being attractive,” Hoops adds. “Throw in power equally mixed with kindness and I can see where the attraction may grow.”
While fetishes can be formed for a variety of reasons and this particular one has yet to be studied directly, it’s possible that the fantasy could form due to children associating Santa’s lap with a happy place, Hoop speculates. But more likely, this is just a seasonal manifestation of the relatively common dominant-submissive fantasy—a safe choice for adults, as long as they keep it consensual and clearly separate Mall Santa from Dom Santa in their own minds.
“A key stigmatizing factor of fetishes is thinking you’re the only one,” Hoop says. “When you can google ‘Santa sex’ and get hundreds of thousands of hits, it seems a little more acceptable.”