Power, Pleasure, and Play: full-colour living through kink
Anonymous gatherings in dark clubs and corners of the internet, latex-clad creatures, medieval-looking torture devices, manipulation, exploitation, bruises, bodily fluids, and tears.
The world of kink can look like a very bizarre and mysterious place from the outside. And it’s often portrayed that way.
After all, even “normal sex” - whatever that is - remains a lingering taboo for many. Things that are OUTSIDE of the tightly-defined range of what’s acceptable, well, that's all best kept in the dungeon, right?!...
In this piece, I share a little on why kink plays an important role in the work I'm doing, AND how ethical and conscious approach to kink can be a route to healing and empowerment.
So, first of all, what do I even mean by “kink”?
Kink is often described using the initialism "BDSM" which covers bondage (physical restraint), discipline (psychological restraint), dominance and submission (explicit power dynamics), and sadism and masochism (taking pleasure in giving or receiving pain), and it may expand to include things like erotic roleplaying (such as age play, pet play, and the enactment of any number of fantasies) and fetishism (pleasure from a particular object, item of clothing, or part of the body, for example).
Aspects of kink could also be considered as art forms, crafts, frameworks, subcultures, or relationship styles.
A dictionary definition is usually something along the lines of “consensual, non-traditional sexual, sensual, and intimate behaviours”
It’s got consent in there - great. It acknowledges that it’s not only explicitly sexual but sometimes sensual or intimate. The part that stands out the most to me though is “non-traditional” because it points to there being “ways that we do things around here”.
Like many of us, I was raised in a society that told me that intimacy = sex, and sex = a penis in a vagina, and that should only really happen when I am in a long-term, committed (and probably monogamous) relationship trying to procreate. What we consider to be “traditional” sexual, sensual, and intimate behaviours are linked to this. However, it’s a bit like saying that food = marmite on toast. Some people might enjoy it but it’s also going to leave a LOT of people unfulfilled!
What's striking for me is how much overlap I see between kink and other fields I’ve explored - from Sexological Bodywork to queer intimacy, and neotantra and beyond - not in the identity necessarily but in the mindset. Essentially, these all encourage us to set aside the rules, conventions, or expectations of what we SHOULD enjoy so that we can follow our authentic curiosity and desire. They invite us to move away from a linear, goal-oriented, and genital-focused view of pleasure. Hurray!
So for me, I see a “kinky person” as anyone who is actively exploring beyond those norms. They may or may not be part of the kink “scene” or go to kinky clubs. They may or may not have a fetish or wear leather. Thankfully, there are no entry requirements as far as I’m concerned to start your journey into kinkiness other than a curious mind! AND, just to set the record straight, it’s NOT about being uninhibited or being cool with anything and everything that a partner may suggest.
When I imagine a world in which we are all a little kinkier, it’s a more accepting world that allows for and relishes the expansiveness and variety of our sexual expression, a world in which we don’t automatically assume based on the bits between our legs what we might want to do to get off, and a world that places as much value on exploration as we do on orgasm (although orgasms can, of course, be delightful!).
Kink can have many different purposes - it can be platonic, erotic, pleasurable, loving, ritualistic, healing…
Kink can touch upon every quadrant of the Wheel of Consent - giving us real felt experiences of being in serve, take, allow, and accept that we may not otherwise get to experience so clearly.
Kink can also be a playground for adults in which we can experiment, be silly, be creative, access our imagination, and play different roles, characters, even creatures. Having spent most of my adulthood as a corporate workaholic I had a chronic case of seriousness. Life was very much about maintaining an appearance of having my sh!t together, producing "measurable results", and being able to firefight almost without expressing emotion. I thought my playful side was long lost to childhood until I reluctantly reengaged with it through kink, and guess what - I like to think I became a better person for it. Playfulness helped me in a way to overcome perfectionism and the fear of failing.
Another important benefit of kink is that it invites us to explore, dissect, and completely flip on their head the POWER dynamics that already exist in every social interaction. Often this is where I see ripe opportunities for people to explore the shadows of their psyche. What might it be like for someone disempowered in their life to have an experience of being in charge, of deciding exactly what happens and when? Or for someone used to having all of the control (and responsibility) for the lives of those around them to experience complete surrender?
Above all, I see kink as a powerful antidote to shame. The shame that we have inherited from the society we were raised in, that told us that we are wrong or broken to have our own desires - unless, of course, they fit neatly into the traditional definition and/or relate to external success. The shame that tells us that we are not worthy of love unless we are compliant, perfect, just like everyone else. The shame that keeps us small, unfulfilled, and, at times, afraid of ourselves. The shame that causes us to deny (and then sometimes become almost possessed by) parts of ourselves. To reintegrate these is to grow and become our most authentic selves.
So yes, I understand that kink may seem scary or off-putting from the outside. Maybe we need to see different portrayals of ethical kink around us. Or maybe kink needs a rebrand. “Kindness in not knowing” might be a starting point.
I’ll leave you with the words of Dr Betty Martin (the person who created the Wheel of Consent):
Healing is gaining access to all parts of myself
(This piece is based on a talk I gave at Sex Lectures, the recording of which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZrmbbYabhY)