Due to media stereotyping, unhelpful labelling with words like ‘paraphilia’ and ‘perversion’, and the assumption of mental illness or pathology – if you identify as kinky (or feel you may be) you sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with you.
You may have felt unable to share your feelings with anyone else. And you may also have avoided going to therapy, even for something entirely unrelated to your identity or lifestyle, because you fear either being treated as ‘sick’, or having to spend many hours justifying yourself.
For a start, kinky does not equal bad or weird
For some people, being drawn to BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, Sadism and Masochism) dates from their oldest waking thought or memory. Others discover it later in life. We live in a time when what you might call identity essentialism (‘If you weren’t born this way it’s fake’) is being questioned. Identities and orientations can evolve over time:
- For example, from a young age you might have found yourself wishing to be restrained, or were aroused by certain scenes on television or in books, or took a specific dominant or submissive role during play with others. You may have put these thoughts and feelings away for years.
- Or perhaps, as you grew up, you never felt right doing what everyone else seemed to be doing sexually, but weren’t sure how to articulate it, and just carried on doing things that didn’t really do much for you. Or stepped away from intimacy altogether.
- Or later in life you felt exciting changes coming on and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, you tumbled into a whole new world that you never wanted to come back from.
Secondly, it’s far more common than you think
And, even more importantly, studies (see the links at the end of the article) suggest that the kink identity correlates with a number of positive attributes.
A spectrum rather than a binary
I find it preferable to open up the definition rather than narrow it. Do you find greater release in giving or receiving extreme sensation? Do you experience something deeper when you give yourself over to another person, or take power over them? Do these experiences make you feel more fully you?
There are an almost infinite number of ways to express your kink
You do not have to join a particular community, or love leather or rubber, or spend your evenings in underground play spaces. For some it may be about handcuffs and a blindfold, for others total enclosure, for others extreme sensation. For others it could have nothing to do with physical sensations and everything to do with psychology. It could be about taking control, or giving up control, with no pain or restraint at all.
For one person, it may be spending thousands on rubber clothing and dungeon furniture. For another, a simple phrase sent in a text message and a 24/7 household setup that others would have to guess at. It might involve going out to events, like clubs or munches, with others who share the same interests. For some people, no act, however apparently extreme, counts as kinky unless there is an exchange of power.
It could be mild and playful, or it could be extreme and unusual, or combinations of all the above.
Does it have to be ‘all about sex’?
For some kink is inextricably linked with genital sex. Other people very clearly separate the two, and others are fluid in their approach. So however you feel, however you see yourself, there is no ‘one true way’.
Our society has a very poor record on acceptance of sexual diversity and many remain closeted just to feel safe
Perhaps you feel shame when reflecting on your fantasies or activities, and have never told anyone about them. You may also be struggling because:
- What you like may have a more extreme taboo edge or safety element to it.
- You may fear that you might hurt someone non-consensually.
- You are happy for it to remain in fantasy, but want to be sure you are okay.
- You have been paying for kink services and are wondering if this is okay.
- You fear you are doing it too much, or thinking about it too much, and need reassurance that you are sane and not an ‘addict’.
If any of this troubles you, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist
Psychotherapy can help you look at the emotions underlying your current situation, and help you with any difficult feelings you may be experiencing.
It’s worth choosing carefully, however. There has been a tendency in traditional therapeutic schools of thought that any activity that is not 100% heterosexual, monogamous or vanilla (ie non-kinky) must stem from a pathology, or possible early-years damage. I have gone further into the problems with this viewpoint in a piece for Lancet Psychiatry: BDSM, Psychotherapy’s Grey Area.
I never discount the idea that this could for some people be the case, that a response to a past difficulty has evolved into a kink or fetish. And people do sometimes eroticise past experiences. But past experience may have meaning here or it may not. Be very wary if someone wishes to turn detective and start ‘uprooting’ your kink or trying to convert you.
You are not sick – you may just need to be heard. Rest assured you are not alone.
Where to find a kink friendly therapist
- Pink Therapy
- NCSF Kink Aware Professionals (US site with a number of UK practitioners)
- London Sex and Relationships Therapy (Seven therapists; disclosure: myself included)
Further reading and research
On the subject of orientation and identity, there is an interesting discussion around this post by Clarisse Thorn: BDSM As A Sexual Orientation, and Complications of the Orientation Model
These two studies may also be of interest: