Demystifying Kinks

Naughty, sexy, provocative, erotic, seductive, kinky. We’re constantly inundated with techniques we SHOULD do and what we SHOULD like in the bedroom; whether with partner(s) or not. And if you don’t currently think of yourself as adventurous in the bedroom, then guess what? You may be filed away as “vanilla” or “basic”, forever deemed by partners and peers alike as a lackluster sexual partner. I want to help you dismantle our understanding of shoulds, and instead focus on putting our flashlights and hard hats on to explore the corners of sexual experience we may have never considered before. But, before we dive into research on kinkiness, we have to make something crystal clear: “vanilla” sex that’s consensual, satisfying, enjoyable, connection-building, intimate, and whatever else you’d like it to be is incredible sex. On the other hand, “kinky” sex that’s consensual, erotic, adventurous, thrilling, dominating, submissive, and any other descriptor is also perfectly great sex. If you notice, both of these incomplete descriptions of vanilla and kinky sex are first defined by being consensual, which is one of the baseline principles of maintaining your sexual health. Additionally, sexual health involves ensuring sex is non-exploitative, honest, involves shared values between yourself and your partner(s), protects from STIs, HIV, and unwanted pregnancy, and lastly, has the ultimate goal of pleasure. This article is for those who want to understand kink development, explore their own kinks, and/or are just curious what kinks are out there, waiting to be discovered.

So…what’s exactly considered kinky?

In one definition from Psychology Today, kink is considered to be “a broad term that refers to a wide variety of consensual, non-traditional sexual, sensual, and intimate behaviors including but not limited to sadomasochism, domination & submission, erotic roleplaying, fetishism, and erotic forms of discipline.”. Similar to the rectangle-square relationship we’ve been hearing since the 3rd grade, a fetish is considered a kink, but a kink isn’t always considered a fetish. Fetishes are more specific, relating to sexual arousal directly related to non-human objects. For example, someone could be considered kinky if they wear a leather corset to a sexual encounter. But, this would only be considered a fetish if they or their partner specifically required leather involvement during sex to achieve arousal/climax.

How do we discover kinks?

The process of discovering kinks is different for everyone. These can come about from purposefully exploring kinks with a long-term partner, unexpectedly during a one night stand with someone you’ll never see again, by yourself while reading a smutty novel, and anything in between. Lucky for us, psychological researchers like Samuel Hughes have developed finite theories of kink identity development we can learn from, maybe even applying them to our own sexual experiences. These 5 stages of development are summarized below:

  1. Early Encounters: This stage focuses on fixations, attractions, or fascinations from early childhood that may find their way into our sexual identities as adults, whether it’s known consciously or not. It’s specifically noted here that we are drawn to these dynamics in childhood before we experience internal or external sexual arousal. A useful example of this could be loving comic books and their drawings of sculpted superheroes with beautiful physiques.
  2. Exploration with self: Here we find ourselves in adolescence, specifically from the time one first begins to experience sexual arousal to about the age of 15. This stage includes but is not limited to sexual fantasy, seeking out of erotic media, masturbation, and exploring physical bodily sensation.
  3. Evaluation: The evaluation stage and identity development process at large are very much intertwined. People in this stage focus on what kinky interests they’ve realized within themselves mean in the grander scheme of their lives and who they are. Many emotions are encompassed here, including excitement, shame, worry about the perception of others, curiosity, etc. This stage also often involves a drive to label oneself within their kink identity in order to provide themselves with greater understanding to soothe possible feelings of isolation or fundamental difference from peers.
  4. Finding others: This may come as a shock…the finding others stage is about just that- finding others who either share your specific kinks or also have kinky identities! This typically occurs after the age of 11, where one can seek this kinship over the internet, magazines, peers, and more. Further exploration of kinky clubs and BDSM groups is also included in this stage, but for obvious reasons likely won’t come to fruition until you’re at least 18 years old.
  5. Exploration with others: The final stage of kink identity development involves the ongoing process of engaging in kink play, whether by yourself, with your partner, or with multiple partners. Many people who consider themselves have this identity solidified once they have actually played out their kinks and fantasies with others in real life, although this is not by any means a requirement.
Alright, I get it. But what do I do now?

While it can certainly help us to understand what kinks are and how they can develop within us, it doesn’t necessarily get us to understand what kinks you might have in this moment. So…what now? Well, there are a variety of strategies to help you start. I’d recommend starting off about as easy as it gets– with just a simple “Yes, No, Maybe” list. You can look up a list of sexual experiences and kinks or just pull from your own experience and fantasies. It could look something like this:

Yes: Spanking/Impact Play, Lube

No: Blindfolds, Foot Play

Maybe: Vibrating Sex Toys, Anal Stimulation

And you can just continue on from there. If you’re interested in incorporating you and your partner(s) kinks, you can fill out lists individually and then compare notes as to what you have in common. Make time to explore, ask for consent, openly ask questions, and implement safe words (or safe motions if the kink play limits one of the parties ability to express themselves vocally). On top of this exercise, feel free to take a look at the vast array of online BDSM tests, kink research, kink conferences, and published books from kink/BDSM positive authors. There’s a variety of resources out there waiting to be read, watched, and listened to, all you have to do is give yourself the freedom to engage in your curiosity.

Moving towards kinky discovery

I cannot emphasize it enough: Being kinky is not in any way a requirement to being sexual. But, if you’re curious, there are plenty of resources to be found that can absolutely help guide you along your kinky journey. Lean into fantasies, fixations, and curiosities. Walk through any taught feelings of shame that may come up and let them go. Furthermore, a part of experimenting with sexuality is being wrong sometimes, and that is okay. A fantasy you thought you would absolutely love may turn out to feel wonky in practice. You know your body and your boundaries better than anyone else. This journey of discovery is bound to bring new information of all kinds, involving both pleasure and discomfort. Take things one step at a time, and more importantly, have fun!

(King, 2023)

(Aaron, 2018)