The word “kink” seems to mean something different depending on who you ask. Maybe it’s fuzzy handcuffs. Or rope. Or various bodily fluids. Or the word “daddy.” Or sex on a park bench, in a car or on a surface that isn’t the bed of you or your partner (or partners, we’re not judging here). Or a foot fetish or a dominatrix or candle wax. You get where I’m going with this.
Google defines the word “kinky” as “involving or given to unusual sexual behavior.” The provided synonyms, however, are a little more judgmental: perverse, deviant, degenerate and depraved, just to name a few.
Brenna Harvey is a sociology and women, gender and sexualities studies instructor at UConn. Her definition of a “kink” is not nearly as simple as the one provided by a quick Internet search.
“I would define a kink as any sexual interest, desire or activity that falls outside the typical boundaries of two-partnered, intimate sexual touching, foreplay and intercourse,” Harvey said.
So what exactly are those “typical boundaries?” ReKink.com provides a wealth of information on kinks: things you can buy to explore or further your kink, forums and guides on different sexual practices and what they mean. Get ready for another list.
There’s age play, which involves role-playing an age difference; caning, the practice of striking someone with a cane made of wood, plastic or any other flexible material; masochism, enjoying pain; sadism, enjoying inflicting pain; and wax play, which involves dripping hot wax onto someone. There’s way too many to provide an extensive list here. The site also defines the word “vanilla” as “non-kink oriented sex [that] sometimes takes on a dismissive tone, and has come (in some places [sic]) to mean just ‘boring sex.’ Also, a delicious ice cream flavor.” At least they have a sense of humor.
Jordan and Heidi are two UConn students who consider themselves as having kinks. (Note: Jordan and Heidi aren’t their actual names). Jordan is a straight male who enjoys rough sex, including choking, hitting “and struggling in general,” as he defines it. He enjoys both inflicting and receiving and likes a back-and-forth dynamic during sex. “I don’t like to know who is going to come out on top,” he said. “It’s even more fun when it’s a real struggle.”
Heidi, a straight female, has preferences in a similar vein, but she only enjoys receiving pain, including choking, slapping and bondage. She also expressed interest in knife play, the use, threat or sensation of knives, but she’s never personally tried it. “You don’t have to cut people either, sometimes it’s just a blade being there,” she said. “That would definitely be something up my alley.”
Jordan said he knew he had a specific sexual interest from a young age. “When I was a kid, I’d watch TV shows and … anything combat-based between the sexes always really got me going,” he said. “Even when I was younger, even though I didn’t know what it was, I definitely knew I liked it.”
Heidi said she started experimenting with her kink after she became sexually active, around her senior year of high school. “I was at a good place in a relationship. I was in a good place confidence-wise,” she said. “So I was like, ‘Hey I kinda like these things.’”
Going back to the judge-y synonyms given by Google, why do some people look at kinks as perverted or messed up or just plain wrong? If all practices are consensual, safe and have set boundaries, what’s the problem?
Harvey said social standards of “normal sex” often define what types of sex are acceptable and equate a person’s worth to the sex acts they perform.
“There’s always a standard of what kind of sex ‘good people’ have. The dominant standard is typically heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive intercourse.” Harvey said.
“Everywhere we go, we constantly encounter the message that that’s the right type of sex and that’s the good type of sex and if… you have other kinds of sex, you’re a bad person.”
Not only have attitudes of the “right kind of sex” been adopted culturally and socially. They’re also upheld by powerful institutions like medicine and religion. Just as homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), “the big book of who counts as mentally ill,” as Harvey puts it, so were sadism and masochism until the mid-1990s and 2000s. The current version of the DSM, published in 2013, only considers sadism and masochism psychological issues if they cause psychological grief to the person experiencing them.
Both Heidi and Jordan have found plenty of partners receptive to their kinks, but acknowledge the challenges that come with enjoying pain and rough sex. Heidi admits it can pose some difficulties when you’re single and dating. “You can’t just be like ‘Hi, would you like to slap me across the face?’” she said, laughing. “It gets so weird talking to people about that because you don’t know how to go about it.”
Jordan agrees there’s some stigma that comes with having an outside-of-the-box sexual interest. “Especially as a guy, it’s a weird thing because I’m like fighting girls,” he said. “It’s a specifically weird thing that’s kind of aggressive. It’s not like ‘I like when someone nibbles on my ear.’ It’s a little out there.”
Jordan said the silence surrounding kinks can reinforce the idea that they’re “weird” or “wrong.” “You don’t usually hear from friends, or even in the media, who’s into what or what specific weird kinks [people] have,” he said. “Most of the time a lot of it’s kept hush-hush and ‘Don’t talk about it’ … It keeps the lack of disclosure going.”
Harvey said the feelings of isolation that arise from keeping kinks a secret can breed shame and can have “profound negative consequences.”
Harvey, Jordan and Heidi’s recommendation to people who are unsure if they have a specific kink? Research. “There are online forums and communities that can help people understand what they’re feeling and why they might be interested in [something],” Heidi said. FetLife has been compared to Facebook, but for kinks. It’s a way to meet others online who share interests, and not necessarily for the purpose of sex. Sometimes it helps to simply be able to ask questions and talk about kinks in a supportive environment.
Harvey also recommended simply talking about it. “I think gradually opening up conversations in your close, intimate relationships, whether that’s with sexual partners or good friends or family members or siblings that you’re close to, I think there’s a lot of value in just acknowledging, if you are a sexually active being, that you want to have conversations about it and share and process,” she said.
Heidi said embracing her kink is empowering. “Normal is boring,” Jordan said. Both say there’s a specific rush they associate with pain and struggle, which is why it’s so fun. For those that are shocked or can’t understand why extreme kinks are pleasurable, Harvey said it’s worthwhile to compare kinks to other hobbies or interests.
“Why do people skydive? Isn’t that dangerous and can’t you die? It’s because it’s thrilling and exciting in a very specific way. Why do people like to get really good at tying knots and... types of rope bondage? Well, why do people like to get really good at the guitar? Because it feels really good to have mastery over something.”
Schae Beaudoin is the life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.