The Hows, Whens and Whys of Kinkshaming

So, before we look at what kink-shaming is, let’s first define our terms. What is kink? Most people have some vague understanding of kink as a fetish, right? A fetish is when you can’t get off sexually unless you’re being spanked by a sexy nurse or being dirty-talked to in High Valyrian or something. Well. A fetish is, according to the delightfully clinical definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression.”

Kink, however, is said to differ from fetishism mainly in that it’s often explained as something that increases partner intimacy, whereas fetishes may be seen as “replacing” intimacy. There’s still debates on what the real difference between them is, but according to Sexpression, kinks are generally considered less socially acceptable. So really, a kink is any sexual practice that is considered a bit avant-garde or “out there”, if not downright condemned. Of course, when it comes to what is considered “socially acceptable” in terms of sex, it really depends on who you’re talking to.  Kinks are also highly tied to their context in place and time – in some places, oral sex is still considered highly kinky, whereas most people reading this magazine are unlikely to think of it as a particularly shady sexual practice, regardless of how appealing they personally find it. Thanks to the mainstreaming of BDSM – Bondage, Discipline and Sadomasochism – due to publications such as 50 Shades of Grey and the inevitable deluge of copycat paperback porn, a growing number of people are more and more accepting of the idea that a bit of spanking or tying your partner up isn’t too bizarre or threatening to social morality. What is considered “kinky” very much tends to go with the times. But still, it seems that there is still a rather intractable quality to the way a lot of people think about kink.

Despite generally being more open about sex than we used to be, it seems a lot of people still find it easy to make fun of or be disgusted by kink. Some “kinks” (although all kinks must obviously take place between consenting adults in a safe space) are just more shocking or weird than others.  In particular, it’s difficult for me as a feminist to be completely silent on the subject of rape play, or as a person of colour, ignore the implications of a white dom who only gets off on dominating subs who happen to be black. Sexuality, like all human activities, happens in a highly social context and not a vacuum. But there is no doubt that there’s also some vitriol thrown at people who just happen to like certain practices that don’t have sociological implications of oppression in non-sexual situations.

For example, pup-play. A form of BDSM where the submissive partner is told to act like a dog, this kink is part of a whole roster of animal activity-related kinks including pony-play, where partners act like – you guessed it – horses. There’s kinks involving being wrapped up in a tight material from head to toe, known as mummification, rope play, which may involve an individual being suspended from the ceiling, and far more than this article has space to list. Some are so highly specific one might wonder how someone gets off sexually from it, and some, whilst described as kinks, are enjoyed by individuals who may find enjoyment from them in a non-sexual way – such as a feeling of being taken care of, or feeling generally liberated. This is one of the most interesting things about kink itself; the blurring of the line between a practice that is objectively sexual and one that is enjoyable in another way. Perhaps this is one of the reasons kink can be so reviled, even by adults who would otherwise not consider themselves prudes. It’s confusing, and makes you think about how sexuality itself is constructed, which might lead to uncomfortable conclusions about the extent to which things we take for granted aren’t that set in stone.

So how should be we feel about the types of practises that one might have an intuitive negative reaction towards, such as people dressing up as Nazi officers? That, unfortunately, is a whole other article. But what I’m trying to say here, is that the majority of kinks are generally harmless, and so long as they occur between consenting adults, they don’t have effects that extend beyond the walls of the bedroom (or dungeon!) It might seem bizarre to you, but if someone gets pleasure – sexual or otherwise – from dressing up as an animal, or creating a particular, consensual dynamic between them and their partner, then what is the problem?

[Morgaine Das Varma –@smorgsbored]


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