non-fiction

What are Kinks Anyway?

Something I’ve been musing lately is the idea of ‘having kinks’ vs. ‘being kinky’ – where exactly do we draw the line between what’s vanilla and kinky? Is there a grey area in between?

Kinks can be a learning opportunity, both in terms of what you find enjoyable and in terms of really bringing home the meaning of consent. Admittedly, I was naïve before. I used to assume that ‘kink’ always meant hardcore BDSM – whips and chains, collars and leather, pups and domination. But now, having interacted and been exposed to various ‘kinks’, I realise there’s so much more to it. I’ve never taken a personal interest in BDSM, but the concepts that underpin it are fascinating to me from an outside perspective. Ultimately, it’s about human connection, power, control, and validation. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but after watching the second series of Bonding recently, I believe it’s a solid example of how the kink community operates (within a particular niche), the problems and stigmas they face, and how they go about resolving conflicts. At the same time, the show manages to be humorous and engaging, to the point where nothing seems amiss with the topic.

Thinking about the most common definitions for the word ‘kink’; ‘to cause a sharp twist or curve’, or an ‘oddity’, ‘quirk’, ‘eccentricity’, ‘idiosyncrasy’, ‘peculiarity’, ‘unusual sexual preference’. Are these synonyms actually suggesting that kinks are somehow deviations from the norm, pointing to a sense of otherness within the world of sex? Does this actually mean they are deemed to be perversions?

Googling the word ‘kinky’ brings up the following images first—yep. handcuffs and bondage.

How about Shutterstock? Even more bondage, leather and ‘safe words’.

Interestingly, even with the safe search switched off, Bing has other ideas relating to black hairstyles…

When we think about how, historically, sexual acts could often seem crude and ‘out there’ by today’s standards, it feels like it doesn’t really make sense to dub kinks as eccentric or strange. They’re everywhere, just hidden. And I think that’s where the difference lies. It’s deemed perfectly acceptable to talk about vanilla sex within the confines of a safe, adult space, or as part of sex education, and presented as a standard form of romantic expression across mainstream media. Undoubtedly, the Fifty Shades of Grey series had a huge impact on how many people now view kink, and probably encouraged a few people to experiment, but anything outside of that realm is still very much ‘othered’. The numerous products in the Fifty Shades sex toys and accessories line-ups seem like little more than an excuse to sell a product related to the franchise. It’s become something of a cliché whenever ‘kink’ is mentioned, at least outside of established communities, and to be honest, it’s a complete joke.

I do have kinks, but wouldn’t refer to myself as ‘kinky’ per se. When I actually sit down and look at what I’m into (guy on guy action, gentle hair pulling), it’s all pretty vanilla – at least that’s the way it feels to me. I like using clit stimulators and butt plugs, maybe the occasional nipple clamp; is that kinky, if I’m mostly doing it to myself? I’ve been racking my brain, but I have no idea, especially when we consider that as a result of the pandemic, 2020 saw a significant rise in the number of people purchasing sex toys. Does that mean ‘masturbatory aids’ (god, that term sounds so dry!) have become more mainstream now, and can we talk about using them as a ‘normal’ part of everyday life, without any stigma at all?

I’m not embarrassed to talk about it – in fact I think it can be extremely helpful and liberating to be open about pleasure. Still, it feels like the goalposts for what determines a ‘kink’ are moving all the time – not that there’s a particular goal to meet with it. After all, kink is flexible, personal, and can be a great way to understand what you do, and don’t, like—none of that Fifty Shades shit (unless you’re into that of course, no shame), but it’s not necessarily an accurate reflection of what goes on. It’s glorified and put across as ‘shocking’. But if there’s one thing you should know, it’s this; kinks don’t have to be loud, flashy, or hardcore to be enjoyable. Hell, holding hands is a valid kink.

As with anything, just remember that consent is key. Don’t engage in any activities, sexual or not, without establishing it with your partner(s).

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