Myths and Misconceptions About Kink
Our culture is full of myths, misconceptions, and confusion about kink, BDSM, and fetishes. We’re going to address 10 of them here; 5 in this article and another coming soon. For each of the misconceptions there will be two answers: one from Benny and one from Cheyenne. That way you can get two different perspectives, but it is also worth saying that like any other identity we can’t speak for everyone who identifies as kinky. The kink world is incredibly diverse!
Also, this post may contain too much sexual content for some readers. If that bothers you, don’t read it.
1) Kink is inherently incompatible with feminism/reifies patriarchy.
Benny – One of the most important tenets of feminism is that people have the right to decide for themselves what the structures of their relationships look like, and what kind of sex they want to have, or not have. Patriarchy tells us there are limited roles people can take in relationships, and that the kinds of sex we can have and the situations in which we have it are limited. A feminist perspective can open up those options, saying that women, and indeed people of all genders, have the right to make those decisions without consulting a patriarchal society. We have the right to make sexual decisions for ourselves, and we even have the right to define pleasure for ourselves.
When we see a man beating a woman in a BDSM scene, it can look a lot like abuse. It makes sense to question the act of hitting a woman when we live in a society full of non-consensual violence. Without knowing the context of the scene, no wonder people assume it is not okay! However, if that woman ASKED for that scene, specifically requested it, negotiated with the man hitting her, and set limits around what that scene would include, the situation is quite different from the kind of violence that feminism fights against.
Furthermore, much of kink looks NOTHING like that “man beating a woman” scene above. There will be more on this in future myths, but kink is a wide range of things, and that image is only one in a myriad of issues. Not all kink involves violence or pain, not all kink is male dominated (MUCH isn’t), and not all kink involves power dynamic play at all.
That ability to decide for herself what kind of interactions she wants to have, even if they are violent, even when women choose to submit, is exactly the right feminism fights for.
Cheyenne – I want to start this one off by agreeing that it is false to associate all kink with the patriarchy… However, like anything else I can name, I believe the overwhelming majority of it very much is aligned with the patriarchy. When I see kink activity, genuine or representations, amateur or professional, I do see it saturated in patriarchy, but I see the same in politics, medicine, and every workplace I’ve been a part of.
And kink is my workplace, or one of them. Other writer’s before me have tackled the question of who has REAL power, the dominatrix or the client paying her, but it bears repeating (and will be echoed by many of my sisters), that the person who has the power to dictate the length of a session, the activities engaged in, basically the whole script that’s followed, is someone with very real power. Often, that’s the client, and outside of commercial kink, whether someone is “topping from the bottom” or an unethical dominant is dishonestly manipulating a negotiation, the superficial dynamics of power exchange can obscure who is really “in control”.
But there are ways to engage in kink which have nothing to do with “control” in the patriarchal sense, ways that validate every partner’s sense of self, desire, autonomy, and worth. I want to give examples later, but for now it’s enough to say that it is not kinky sex or BDSM itself which is anti-feminist; it is the larger cultures we operate within, kinky or not, which are patriarchal. I wouldn’t argue that video games are a priori anti-feminist either, even as I never run out of examples of misogynistic behavior or products churned out by gamers and developers.
2) Only men are kinky, women do it just for guys.
Benny – From CSI to 50 Shades of Gray media shows us innumerable kinky men, and women that participate in kink for money, because they feel they must out of love for those men, because they are forced into it in terrible circumstances, or because they are tricked. We are almost never shown women who have kinky desires of their own, so they must not exist, right?
I was worried about this when I first decided to explore the kinky community. I was still perceived as female most of the time back then, and I didn’t want to be the one young woman in a room full of straight men. Boy was I wrong! Most of the kinky events I go to in the straight community have slightly more female identified people than male identified attendees. While the internet forums for most kinks (though not all) are somewhat or completely male dominated, the people who actually come out into the world and participate in the kink community vary enormously in gender identity and presentation. Some kinks are more common in certain groups, but general kinkiness definitely happens in all genders.
The women I meet in the kink community rarely arrived due to pressure from men. Some come alone, some come with other women, many who come with male partners and are far more enthusiastic about it than those men are. Occasionally it is the man in a heterosexual relationship who first finds kink and brings his partner into it, but even in those situations the women often find kinks of their own and thrive among the perverts.
Finally, this position totally erases kinky lesbians, and other kinky play between women! They exist, and many of the most creative scenes I’ve seen have included no men at all.
Cheyenne – Even if this were true… what would it mean exactly? What other beliefs that we’ve dismissed as myths must suddenly be taken more seriously again? Women aren’t into sex, they just do it for … security, children, attention, whatever?
Benny’s already addressed a piece of the erasure embedded in this statement, which obliterates kinky lesbians. What I also take issue with is how it’s purely disingenuous. Whoever is saying it knows it isn’t true, much like the people who say “there are no women on the internet”, so what they’re really demonstrating is their inability to conceive of women’s autonomy or desire as something that emerges independent of men, EVEN if those women are not straight. The same person who believes lesbians can be “turned” is also just as likely to think that when a woman turns them down, they must be “a dyke”. For them, male is always the origin, the baseline, the reference point from which all else grows or is a deviation.
I did not discover kink until after embracing my womanhood, but that doesn’t signify. What does is that, of the partners and activities I and those I grew close to embraced, women were the ones who led us towards more pleasurable, more affirming intimacy than we’d known before exploring a side of ourselves hidden by shame. I said before that much of kink, in my opinion, is at least as anti-feminist as anything else I’ve known, and I stand by that. But positive experiences in kink also gave me a great deal more consciousness and determination to combat misogynist oppression.
3) Kinky sex really only happens in porn.
Benny – Kinky sex happens everywhere. Yes, it happens in porn, but it also happens in bedrooms, in hotel rooms, in private dungeons, in clubs, in hotel ballrooms, and on the kitchen floor. People are tying each other up and smearing each other’s faces with cream pies all over the place, and often with no camera in sight. They wear vinyl corsets and shiny boots even when no director catches a video of it.
I have occasionally heard people say “Kinky stuff just takes too much WORK. No one does that much work without getting paid.” I disagree. Lots of people do things they love that still require enormous energy. For a rope fetishist learning elaborate bondage, practicing for years, and spending time and energy on that interest is a lot like any other enthusiastic hobby. A kink can be a lot like an amature astronomer who spends enormous time learning to find objects in the sky, and money on telescopes, except without parkas and knit hats (unless that’s your fetish).
Cheyenne – It would actually take a good deal of convincing to make me believe that sex, kinky or otherwise, actually happens in most porn at all. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but I want us to consider what we mean by terms like sex and kink before we even try putting them together.
Most porn out there, I believe, is mere capitalist artifact, recording a commercial exchange that involves varying degrees of abuse, and takes on a new, more frightening life once released for purchase or download. Of course there is sex in most of it, by most widely understood definitions of sex, and carries all the associated risks.
But it almost never captures or conveys any of the rewards of sex, between partners actually engaging in an act of intimacy. Just as it more often than not conceals from us the business negotiation before filming, porn depends as much on what we don’t see as what it makes explicit. The business of porn is notoriously good at exploiting vulnerability, but just as bad at presenting the vulnerability of partner’s opening up to one another about what they desire.
Nothing happens in the overwhelming majority of porn that anyone truly wants to replicate as an act of private pleasure. That doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it better, off camera, in far more diverse and enjoyable ways.
4) There’s no skill to kinky sex, and nothing to learn about it.
Benny – Every week, around the world, educational events of various sizes are held that teach classes about various kinky subjects. Some are small groups in someone’s basement, learning the exacting skills involved in safely piercing someone’s skin with hundreds of hypodermic needles. Others include hundreds of people, or even thousands, taking over a hotel and learning a huge range of different ways to tie a person in rope. Events vary in size and scope, but education is a common intention of these gatherings.
Some kinks don’t require a lot of knowledge to do well, but others take years of training to master. Most people’s first attempt at bondage doesn’t look like the work of an experienced rigger. It’s a terrible idea to pick up a whip and use it on someone without a lot of training and practice. Bloodplay requires education about infection-prevention, and other safety considerations.
In many ways, the more information people gain about their kinks, the more satisfying they find them. Feeling unprepared and uncertain about what you’re doing often doesn’t feel very sexy, but going in with confidence and knowledge does.
Cheyenne – And next you’ll tell me there’s no work to being a prostitute, that we just “lie there and get paid”.
You try cracking an eight foot bullwhip properly the first time. Now try it while aiming at something you want to strike. Make the target the size of a quarter, and if you do it too hard, you’ll cause a serious injury, but too light and it won’t even be noticed.
Beyond the “technical” skills though, how many people are serious about frank discussions of sexuality and sexual desire with their partners? How many people can talk about what they want without it turning into a struggle? Often, the best many people manage is a kind of tit for tat exchange. “Ok, fine, you’ll get a blow job, because it’s your birthday, but you go down on me for Valentine’s”. How many relationships begin with already skewed balances of power that one partner continually exploits, often without even knowing they’re doing it?
There are not only many skills to learn in kink, but kink can also teach a very, very important skill to the most “vanilla” of partners out there: honest, direct communication. Once you grow beyond being able to sort of mumble, “I kinda wanna do something… with you”, and can freely explain the specific things that make your toes curl, it becomes easier to also assert yourself. When you know exactly what you’re saying yes to, and doing it enthusiastically, you find that your very important “NO” muscle gets stronger as well.
5) Kink is only for people who can’t have “real sex.”
Benny – There is no evidence that kinky interests are caused by sexual disfunction of any kind. In fact, many kinky people also have satisfying non-kinky sex lives as well. Some of the skills people learn in the kink community translate well to non-kinky sex. When a person is accustomed to negotiating about sex beforehand, used to asking their partners what their limits and turn-ons are, and respectful of limits and boundaries, this benefits both kinky and non-kinky sex.
Some kinksters do need to have their fetish be a part of their sexual experiences, and that is really only a problem for them if it’s a problem in their sexual relationships, or prevents them from finding partners. That kind of fetish is fairly rare, even though it gets a lot of attention in the psychological literature, and only people for whom it is a problem ever get considered. For many their kink becomes a regular part of their sex, and never presents a problem at all.
What the heck is “real sex” anyway? As far as I am concerned, good sex is the kind of sex you actively want to have. For some people that includes one or more kinks.
Cheyenne – The kind of fetish Benny refers to, which must be present for someone in order to experience pleasure from sex at all, is classified under paraphelias. I have… obviously plenty of reason to be skeptical of the authority of psychologists when it comes to matters of identity or desire, but the point stands; it’s not a problem unless fulfilling your fetish means doing harm.
Honestly, this is a myth I have trouble understanding. In the era and region I occupy, Texas in 2013, comparatively few people would consider something like oral sex “kinky”. But if we hopped a few hundred miles another direction, or a decade or two backwards, it certainly would.
Along different lines, I’ve heard people say that anal sex isn’t “real sex”, most disturbingly among certain subcultures of young men and women for whom virginity is exceptionally prized and policed. That belief does not tell us anything whatsoever about sex itself, but it does tell us what narrow definition they’re working from, so that it can be dismantled.
“Real sex” means two cis-gendered people, a man with a penis, a woman with a vagina, engaging in classic intercourse with the former penetrating the latter. There is absolutely no alternative definition for this squirrelly “real sex” term, considering the way its used in these myths.
And we know that’s not true the same way that we know we exist, as queers, as trans folk, as every stripe of the rainbow. Human sexuality and its variations cannot be so simply divided by any parochial, and frankly cowardly, notion of “real” or “unreal”. If we reject the cissexist, patriarchal, and ableist definition of sex, then we also must dispense with this myth dividing kinky sex from “real sex”.
5 more myths coming soon folks!
Featured image is the Leather Pride Flag.
Thank you for this article! I wholeheartedly agree with the points you both made, especially concerning how kink fits in with feminism. It can be difficult to reconcile the two, and I think it’s important when you explore play that involves giving or assuming power to examine your reasons for doing so. Not only does doing so allow you and your partner(s) (or not, if you’re flexible and imaginative enough) to make authentic, informed decisions about your play, but often the “why”s are just as important as the “what”s in figuring out what Rodgers your Hammerstein.
I hope I’m not jumping the gun here, but I find that many people don’t realize that there’s a continuum between “real”, penile-vaginal missionary position sex and scenes involving full suspension and cattle prods. Plenty of people are at least a little kinky, but either don’t realize it because it doesn’t occur to them that their proclivities qualify as kink, or because of the misconception that it’s a bad thing to be kinky, or that once you start having “weird” sex you’ll have to keep upping the ante to get off. I think that as the social stigma of non-cismale sexuality fades and as the concepts of enthusiastic consent and constant communication spread, we’ll also see more public acceptance of kink.