photograph by ovsyan_art
It was only 8 years ago that kink was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. With that context, it becomes a bit easier to see why our culture is still recovering from the silencing shackles of shame. This act of clinical progress affirmed a truth to the masses that our bodies have long known: following the impulses of our arousal is standard human behavior! Whether kink is uncomfortable territory or you’re well-versed in the thrills, welcome to another all-inclusive discussion here on the K’s Love and Sex column.
Kink is about enhancing intimacy.
Humans have been indulging in kinky behavior since the first caveman, well, caved to a freaky impulse and discovered immense satisfaction. I use the word “indulge” specifically because what we’re doing here is taking our single scoop of vanilla ice cream and raising it to deluxe sundae status. Why? Because it’s delicious and because we can. This delectable dessert is now sprinkled with fresh raspberries and dripping with warm chocolate sauce. We crave it. While the mainstream language for kink has historically been pigeonholed to sex, it’s important to understand that kink goes beyond sex to encompass a vast range of connected intimacy and desire. Kink is about enhancing intimacy and in fact, could not exist without it. Through devoting attention to build a safe container, people are given an opportunity to see and be seen – literally and metaphorically. Trust is created. A particularly graphic scene of leather and chains may appear shocking to some, but if we look beyond the textural allure, we should recognize how much vulnerability and trust each individual is embodying to be present and participate in the festivities. Now that sexual orientation and play preferences are more prevalent in public discourse, the gateway to ecstasy is wide open. A spicy breeze has tickled more flushed cheeks than can be counted and intrigue is on the rise. Come one, cum all. While there are still kink-negative definitions in circulation, those dated explanations do not reflect the open-minded reality of many modern-day relationships.
But what is kink, really? Psychology Today describes kink as “both an identity (if recognized and accepted as such) and an orientation, which means one can hide it, not practice it, and renounce it—but it’s not going away.” The word “kink” itself represents a subjectiv3 spectrum that takes on a unique meaning for each individual who resonates with any aspect of its varied connotations, not unlike the words “queer” or “fluid.” You might be down for some things and have a hard limit on others, like my gal pal’s No Poop rule. Yes, exploring kink requires extreme clarity and explicit discussion about what is on the table. Kink can also be risky. For example, you may try something with a partner and find out that it’s really not your cup of tea. Vanessa, the CEO of Desires Laid Bare and a Stanford graduate, writes on their blog, “In the kink world, you learn about yourself. You learn and develop healthy boundaries and communication methods all in the name of keeping you and the people you interact with safe.”
Sex is playtime for adults.
Adults play with sexual fantasy as a way to escape reality and experience pleasurable relief in our daily lives. So how do kinks and fetishes find their way into the mix? Kinks and fetishes form when we create a sexual connection or association. Because the body’s fear responses and arousal responses are similar, our body cannot always tell the difference between the two. These associations are kind of like new neural pathways being created in the brain. For example, one day you have a great orgasm on a camping trip; now, being in a forest makes you super horny. Many of the most common kinks are evident in early documentation, “first showing up in ancient Greek art and the Kama Sutra’s inclusion of spanking” according to Wildflower Sex.
The sexual side of kink includes anything beyond the typical vanilla encounter. Anything from blindfolds to hot wax, booty play to full latex outfits are fair game. One friend of mine shared that playing with vibrators during partnered intercourse has become a regular activity in her life. While this may be standard to some, enjoying vibrators with a partner may seem quite kinky to others. That’s because kink is subjective. Veronica points out that being “kinky is embracing and exploring your sexuality, sensuality, lifestyle, and relationships that go against the grain of what society expects from YOU.” In modern America, more than 5 million people regularly engage in BDSM play thanks to media popularization (heyyy Fifty Shades of Grey). BDSM is a category of kink play that encompasses bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. Despite the misconceptions, studies have shown that people who regularly practice BDSM experience higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships and sexual escapades. In one study of 270 BDSM practitioners, the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality found common personality traits of empathy, honesty-humility, conscientiousness, openness to experience, altruism, and agreeableness. That’s hot.
It’s about respect.
Among the most common sexual fantasies is bondage play. Simply put, people like to be tied up! Why? Because it’s fun! Playing with power dynamics in a safe container can be very empowering, liberating and even therapeutic. It can also be a decorative artistic expression, as is the case in the intricate style of Japanese bondage called Shibari or Kinbaku. Veronica shared an insightful take on how submission in the bedroom offers incredible relief from her high-powered professional role as a CEO and actually increases her confidence as a company leader. She wrote, “What I’ve come to find out is that submission, at least for me, isn’t about giving up control or being weak or anti-feminist. It’s about stepping in your power; it’s about choosing who is worthy of your submission; it’s about respect.” Having an orgasm can be incredibly psychological. Physically surrendering control can actually help us to let go and arrive to that elusive ecstasy. Of course, there are the dominants among us, who embrace control, and the switch players, who seize or relinquish control depending on their partner’s style. In a conversation with Bustle, Dr. Rena McDaniel stated, “As long as you are playing in a safe, sane, and consensual way, who cares why you like getting tied up or bitten or spanked? There’s a reason it’s called ‘playing.’”
Embracing our kinks and fetishes means embracing our freedom to craft unique shapes for each of our relationships. It also means accepting accountability for our health and wellness. As Veronica realized early on in her kink explorations, “I realized quickly that the freedom to explore kink also meant the responsibility I had in growing the fuck up and taking ownership of my life. If I didn’t stand up for myself, I could get taken advantage of. If I didn’t speak up when things felt off, I could sustain damage to myself emotionally and physically. If I let my ego or my pride get in my way, I could hurt the people I was with, even if it all was unintentional. If I didn’t stand up for others when it was needed, those people could also be taken advantage of as well.” As we evolve and grow throughout our lives, so too may our kinks, our fetishes, and our relationships. We have the freedom to choose forms that honor the individuality of each distinct dynamic in our lives. We have the freedom to create containers that enable each connection to function at its best. One fact is for certain: we have the right to play. How freaking yummy is that?
Resources for personal discovery:
Practical Audacity – A gender & sex therapy group practice of queer-identified/aligned, trauma-informed professionals
Free Online BDSM Test: https://bdsmtest.org