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WTF is Kink?

If you’re curious but uncertain about the lingo, here’s what you need to know.

Photo: Caio Mantovani via Pexels

The world of kink has its own vocabulary, which can be confusing for the uninitiated. So, if you want to know your kinky from your BDSM, help is at hand…

What Does “Kinky” Mean?

In the 1950s, many considered oral sex kinky, but few today would agree. What’s kinky to one person is vanilla to another—it’s subjective. Different social groups disagree on where vanilla ends and kink begins, and tastes change over time. 

Allowing for these differences:

  • “Kinky” describes sexual desires or acts that fall outside accepted norms.
  •  A “kink” is a desire for something kinky.
  •  “Vanilla” describes sexual acts or desires which conform to accepted norms.  

It’s easy to assume that the “kink community” is one homogenous group. But there are many kink communities, both overlapping and disparate. Language and norms vary hugely between them, and many who enjoy kink don’t participate in kink communities. Kinky folk may or may not:

  • Attend dungeons, sex clubs, or kink parties
  • Practice kink or BDSM regularly
  • Be monogamous
  • Call themselves kinky

Kink-shaming, also known as the judgment of someone’s kink, is rightly frowned upon; not yucking someone else’s yum is a good policy. “Squick” can be helpful here—it refers to a squirmy, negative response to a kink without any judgment about the kink in question.

BDSM Sex vs. Kink

“BDSM” encompasses three practices, which can and do overlap, hence the portmanteau acronym:

  • BD is Bondage and Discipline—restraints and punishment.
  • DS is Dominance and Submission—exchanging power.
  • SM is Sado-Masochism—inflicting or receiving pain.

BDSM is seen by most as kinky, but not all kinks are BDSM. A person can be into BDSM and have one or more non-BDSM kinks, which they might enjoy separately or together.

What About Fetishes?

Just like kink, “fetish” is used differently, depending on the person speaking. It can mean:

  • Sexual desire for an object or specific body part
  • A requirement for a specific activity or object to achieve sexual gratification

The distinction made by this second definition is useful because if someone only wants sex that involves a particular activity or object, that can work well if their partner(s) are down with it, too. 

But it can cause relationship difficulties if they’re not, and if the person wants to be able to enjoy other kinds of sex but isn’t able to, it can result in distress. Kink-positive sex therapy can be helpful for individuals, couples, and polycules where this is an issue.

Consent is at the heart of kink: if it isn’t consensual, it’s not kink; it’s abuse. Consent isn’t a one-and-done thing, it requires regular checking-in and renegotiation. When practicing BDSM, it’s essential to choose a safeword, which, when used, initiates an immediate stop. 

A safeword can be used alongside graded responses to check-ins:

  • Traffic light system: Red for limit reached, Yellow for limit close, Green for all good
  • 1-10 scale

Safety protocols don’t sound sexy, but they’re essential to the practice of BDSM. It’s important to be aware of any risks involved and to choose a level of risk that everyone participating is comfortable with. 

There are several risk management frameworks often used by BDSM folk, which include:

  • SSC – Safe, Sane, and Consensual
  • RACK – Risk Aware Consensual Kink
  • PRICK – Personal Responsibility Informed Consensual Kink
  • CCCC – Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution

The Language of Kink and BDSM

Just as “kink” means different things to different people, the words used to describe different kinky practices can vary a lot. This can be confusing for those new to kink and BDSM—but it’s liberating, too. You can choose the terms you feel comfortable with.

It’s important to clarify precisely what everyone means because different people use different language to describe the same things, and others use the same words to describe different things!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be prepared to answer them, too. If you’re new to kink, this can come as a bit of a shock. Many people aren’t used to communicating clearly about sex, and it can feel uncomfortable to begin with. But with practice, anyone can learn how to articulate their desires.

There are as many ways of being kinky as there are people who are kinky, and probably nearly as many ways of talking about kink. So go forth, talk kinkily, and have fun while you’re doing it!

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