When you hear the word kink, what images does it conjure in your mind? Perhaps corsets, skin-tight leather outfits or whips and chains, à la Rihanna’s “S&M” smash hit. Maybe even a submissive woman under the sway of a dominant man. It’s easy to think we understand kink and grasp its various contexts and intricacies given the plethora of depictions in popular culture — perhaps most famously with Fifty Shades of Grey. But spoiler alert: that well-worn copy of the first book or all those repeat viewings of the film trilogy have actually given you the wrong impressions of kink, especially with regards to the BDSM community (who, for the record, finds the films (and books) problematic in their superficial understanding of kinky sex).
Kink, as a term, doesn’t have a technical (or medical) definition, but it generally refers to any sexual practice that falls outside widely understood sex “norms” or practices. But what do you really know about kink — and what myths or damaging stigmas do you still attach to it?
In the final episode of our Sex Sessions series starring sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty, we’re focusing on kink and self-expression. Bitty broke it all down in her lesson plan by delving into external expressions of kink (attire, commands, specific actions) and internal expressions (think: the art of embodying a character or the emotional arrangements of power dynamics). She also touches on the integral practices of consent, including safe words, after-care, transparency and regular check-ins. Bitty also reminds us that, contrary to what we see in mainstream media, kink can be partnered or solo — and it can be played out IRL or simply in our imaginations.
For many of us, any notions we have involving kink comes from popular entertainment. While the increased exposure in recent years is certainly a perk for those in the kink community, the often damaging and inaccurate portrayals tend to do more harm than good. It should come as no surprise then that common misconceptions about kink have continued to persist. In the end, it’s all about sex positivity: the idea that all consensual sexual activities should be encouraged and embraced, including the kinky stuff — even if it’s not your jam.
So, how can we nix those outdated assumptions about kink ASAP? We separate fact from fiction with these five common myths.
Myth #1: Subs have no control
The reality: Domination is not about a lack of respect. Negotiations should all take place in advance, and a good Dom/Domme will always be tuned into their Sub’s feelings and needs. Remember: kink is all about consent, in which case the Sub has just as much control as their Dom/Domme. Although there are definitely power dynamics in play, they are agreed upon ahead of time and, contrary to popular belief, the Dom/Domme isn’t always the one in charge. The Sub is the one who holds the safe word and, whenever it’s used, the action must immediately stop. Instead of taking the word Submissive literally, consider that it involves two (or more!) consenting adults who have checked in with each other and will also partake in after-care.
Myth #2: Kink always requires props
The reality: Surprise! You don’t necessarily need to grab your wallet if you’re looking to explore in the bedroom. Although many people (incorrectly) associate kink with a variety of props, you don’t actually need a Red Room to thoroughly enjoy the experience. While there are those who embrace bondage or rigging, some prefer breath play (choking) or impact play (hitting) that don’t necessarily require props. As Bitty pointed out, there are those who simply like to explore using their imagination. It also doesn’t always involve sex. In fact, many enjoy their kink via foreplay, sexy phone conversations, sexting or using specific language or names.
Myth #3: Kink is always linked to trauma and abuse
The reality: As Bitty points out in this episode, kink can be a powerful tool for processing complex emotions, including trauma. While past experiences, especially traumatic ones, aren’t a catalyst for developing a kink (despite what you might have read), it can certainly reduce some of those difficult memories for some people. For example, simulating an assault via consensual role playing with a trusted partner can help a person feel powerful, strong and in control of the situation. In an instance like this, after-care will play an especially important role. Despite all this, however, there is no credible evidence that kink is derived from abuse or other past traumas, according to a study published in the Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia.
Myth #4: BDSM relationship are inherently unhealthy
The reality: For starters, any relationship can be unhealthy and for a plethora of reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with a person’s predilections in the boudoir. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, BDSM practitioners have actually scored better on a variety of psychological and personality tests compared to their more “vanilla” counterparts. Of the 902 people surveyed who practiced BDSM and the 434 who prefered non-kinky sex, the BDSM-friendly participants were found to be more secure in their relationships, less neurotic and more aware of rejection. One of the lead authors of the study posited that it might have to do, in part, with all the “hard psychological work” that went into accepting and embracing sexual needs that ventured outside societal “norms.”
You may also like: 21 sex myths everyone thinks are true.
Myth #5: Kinky people don’t have “normal” sex or relationships
The reality: What’s “normal” anyway? Marrying your high-school sweetheart? Never having more than one sexual partner? Getting married? There are plenty in the kink community who only have one partner. Others might have multiple. Some might even prefer solo sessions. At the end of the day, as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult practicing safe sex, what are we talking about here? Lots of people who enjoy kink also appreciate “vanilla” relationships or non-kinky sex on occasion. Just like those “normal” couples might enjoy something a little kinkier to spice things up in the bedroom from time-to-time.
More homework: reading (and listening) assignments to continue understanding kink
- Zine: Kink And Trauma: BDSM as Self-Care for Survivors — Chanelle Gallant & Masti Khor
- Podcast: Kink! — Alix Fox on Audible
- Educator: Using Kink for More Than Kicks – Samantha Bitty on SliceTv
You may also like: Here’s how not to ghost someone.