Coming Out of the Shadows: Kink 101

A Sex Ed(itorial) Column

  • Graphic Deanna Hewitt

If you’ve ever had a bit of an erotic thrill while watching a vampire movie, you may understand some of the appeal of a lifestyle recently popularized by the popular novel 50 Shades of Grey.

While kinksters don’t normally push the boundaries of fantasy to the level of acting like bloodthirsty vampires, they do like to play in the proverbial “shadows.” It comes with a rush of adrenaline comparable to climbing a mountain or performing in a show.

Kink is about exploring your fantasies in a safe and healthy manner, through a variety of methods. It is every participant’s responsibility to decide consciously which acts or fantasies they would like to experience—as well as what is off limits—whether these involve pain or pleasure, and to discuss them beforehand with a trusted partner.

Kink is not about having someone else push your boundaries against your consent, and it does not require sexual intercourse by default. In the end, it is “just” playing, but like any good game, there are important guidelines and some basic terms to know:

Kink
Refers to erotic interests that deviate from the “norm.” Kink commonly describes sexual arousal through BDSM play—bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sadomasochism. These interests often lead to sexual behaviours ranging from simply spanking a lover and calling them naughty names to being aroused by pain, role play, clowns, or even the popping of balloons. Whatever you like, there is usually a fetish out there to describe it, and others who like it too.

Fetish
A term to describe a particular behaviour that someone finds sexually arousing. Foot fetish is perhaps the most commonly recognized example (those who are turned on by looking at or touching feet), but there are all kinds of fetishes. Fetish can also be a term that describes the lifestyle (ex. “fetish lifestyle.”) Fetishes are not normally sought out intentionally; many people find that they are turned on by their specific fetish without necessarily knowing why.

Play
To engage in kinky behaviour.

Scene
Usually refers to the context or setting of a play, as in theatre. For example, “he did a scene with the dominatrix.” Can also be the overall BDSM scene (for example, in the city of Montreal).

Safe Word
A previously agreed upon word used to put a stop to the play, if needed, for any reason, at any moment and without question. Clear communication with a caring, trustworthy, and respectful person before engaging in play is paramount to engaging in healthy kink and greatly minimizes the likelihood of needing to use the safe word.

Aftercare
Post-play expressions of comfort, reassurance, and check-ins that nurture the connection between players outside of the fantasy. Aftercare specifics should also be discussed before engaging in play, and tends to be unique to each individual (apart from the basics, like proper hydration). It is usually directed at the submissive person in the hours and days that follow a scene. For some, it is a non-negotiable requirement of play while for others it is not necessary, which is why it’s important to discuss beforehand.

Dom (m), Domme (f) and sub
One of the most common role plays, short for Dominant and submissive, when one lover takes the lead during play and the other follows. These are not gender exclusive terms.

Hard & Soft Limits
Refer to specific acts or behaviours that are either completely off limits (hard), or currently off limits until further discussion (soft). A partner who doesn’t respect limits is demonstrating abusive behaviour and should be avoided. Limits, too, should be clarified before engaging in play.

Vanilla
The kinkster name for having non-kinky sex, or the “point zero” of the norm from which kink deviates. A sex act itself can be vanilla, or one’s partner might be vanilla (not into kink).

Now, if all of that seems like a weird way to turn your sex life into a complicated game, consider the relatively recent beginnings of open cultural dialogue about kink. 50 Shades of Grey is highly questionable in its portrayal of approaches to BDSM practice, but it did help open the door to further discussion about the sexual “deviations” many have held secret out of fear and shame.

While they were “hiding out in the shadows,” kinksters developed these terms for speaking about their sexual differences—not to mention detailed and effective ways to help enact their desires in a safe, healthy, and mutually beneficial way.

Common stereotypes & misconceptions are that kinky people are the way they are because of past abuse, or that kink is somehow “bad” and they should be guilty or ashamed. While some who engage in this lifestyle have histories of abuse, not all do.

So why do it? There is something thrilling about enacting a secret fantasy with a trusted lover. There’s a release of stress, a liberation from self-judgment and guilt or the judgments of others, a feeling of being able to be seen fully as oneself, or of “leaving your ego at the door,” and a rush of endorphins that can result in temporary euphoria.

If you relate to the ideas discussed here, you may want to read more on the topic. Read a lot.
Learn what it means to engage in this lifestyle—what are its risks and essential points? Know that this type of play is often about more than simply sex; it is about a premeditated, mutually enjoyable power exchange dynamic with effects that vary from person to person. It must be approached with respect, responsibility, and open communication.

Last but not least, consider a clear, honest, up-front conversation with your trusted partner(s) about your own sexual preferences, kinky or not. You might learn a lot.

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