Sex is a pretty stigmatised thing. It’s even more stigmatised when it isn’t vanilla sex between two cishet people. Which is why sex education, for those of you lucky enough to have had it, never ever covers anything kinky. Ever.
Kink is something that can already be very very complicated, and that lack of education just makes it needlessly messy and shadow-y. In an effort to demystify it just a little, let’s talk about some things you should probably know before you have your own kinky adventures.
At its best, kinky sex can be mind blowingly incredible. “Kink” is an umbrella term that can mean a lot of things depending on what you and your partner(s) want. It could be powerplay, the dealing and/or receiving of pain, binding and restricting someone, focusing on fetishes, anything really. It can look nothing like ‘regular’ sex. One of my favourite sexual experiences was when one of my partners lit a bunch of candles and then drew all over my body with a knife. And then when she was done we just looked at it for a while and then cuddled and napped. It can also look a lot like ‘regular’ sex. A lot of the sex I have is, except with more obvious fighting for power and more painful play. I LOVE kink. However, that doesn’t change the fact that having it can be very difficult.
Something that I’ve struggled with a lot is telling potential partners I’m kinky. Ideally, everyone would just be entirely okay with bringing it up with each other and discussing it and that would be great. Maybe, you CAN do that. That’s great! I, however, cannot. I wish I could, but my generalised anxiety coupled with the stigma around having (kinky) sex makes it essentially impossible for me. Probably a large part of why I like okCupid so much is that the conversation is already initiated. When I’ve met someone through The Real World I like bringing up kink in a context that doesn’t directly involve the sex we might have to see how they respond. For example, a kinky event I went to recently, or how upset the representation of kink in mainstream media makes me. Literally 50 Shades gave me MONTHS of material. Usually, if the interest is mutual, the conversation happily eases into discussing kinks from there.
And then, boom. The hard bits are done. We can go straight into having sex, right? Wrong. Something that is so often glossed over is that sex is never 100% safe. Never. Even if you’re having vanilla sex using all of the protection, there is always a (small) risk of disease, or pregnancy, or undesirable pain. With kink, usually the risk of undesired pain goes up. One time, when I was still a kink noob, my partner and I discovered mid-sex that I was really into being shoved/pushed/kinda thrown around, and then proceeded to do a lot of that. And it was super great. Until, of course, I woke up the next morning with my back in so much pain, and moving being hard, and so confused. Apparently, we had gotten shoving/pushing/kinda throwing around very wrong. And as super great as the sex was, it was probably not worth the pain. Which is why, while it is impossible to achieve complete safety, it is very important to be risk-aware. My pain, for example, would have been greatly reduced if my partner and I had researched appropriate technique and things to definitely not do. It was so easily avoidable. And this is true SO MANY times. Other times, it isn’t, and there are no ways of avoiding the negative consequences of the play you want to engage in. You need to know what these consequences are before you have sex so you can consent to it in a meaningful, informed manner.
Information is often hard to get. There are already very few resources available that can tell you things you can definitely trust about kink safety. Worse, people generally tend to not know them. The internet can be very useful, but also unreliable. Looking for credible sources is important, and can often be hard and time consuming, but I know y’all know how to do it (what did you think all of those writing courses were preparing you for?). Consensus is usually a good thing to look for, as is the post history of the individual you’re reading, and any credentials they might have. If you are on campus, Nina Harris, the violence prevention educator/advocate, is a very good person to talk to. She’s open, friendly, and knowledgeable about kink things. However, she doesn’t have medical credentials and cannot give advice relating to most edge play — things that if done wrong, could seriously hurt you. The Health and Wellness Services Director and a sexuality educator, Alice Holland, however, can and is available by appointment also. If you are not on campus, or would rather not talk to them, people who work at explicitly kink-positive/consent-positive sex shops are also often good resources. A couple of places in Philly I’ve found particularly helpful are The Velvet Lily and Sexploratorium. They’re really nice. They don’t care when you giggle at their dildo names, I promise. They also don’t mind when you get scared and anxious and hide behind your friend when they show you strap-ons like you asked. Or when you strap them around your head and pretend to be a unicorn. Although maybe don’t do that last one — it does get some strange looks. Sexploratorium also hosts classes, called Passion 101, which often center around kinky topics, and can be pretty useful (though they do tend to cost a fair bit of money).
As endless as this conversation can be, kink doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, and even when it does, we interact with it differently and face different problems. The things that I talk about here are pretty universal, but nothing more specific will be. So while we’ll probably talk more about things, kink is essentially a giant choose-your-own-adventure book. Go forth and have risk-aware fun!