When most people think of kink, they think of Fifty Shades of Grey, fuzzy handcuffs, or, if they’re academically trained, Michel Foucault. The kink may be associated with BDSM in their minds (Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism). Kink is difficult to characterize as anything other than sexual deviance – yet much of what kink is about is not about the traditional notion of sex. 

Sexual deviance differs from the usual – heterosexual missionary position – lights out, fast, penetrative sex in bed Sexual deviance, on the other hand, does not even completely explain what kink is. Kink does not have to include sex. It can be, but for many others, it is not.

For example, there are edge/knife players who enjoy pain – or shibari (beautiful rope work) or nyotaimori practitioners who enjoy submission and control but nothing sexual. Kink, according to some, is about pain and control through a shared experience.

In the kink world, there are many distinct levels of permission. Kink is about affirmative permission for Safe, Sane, and Consensual actors throughout the scene, with nothing that may be considered unsafe or insane. For Risk Aware Consensual Kink players, Safe, Sane, and Consensual do not apply – but RACK does, because many of the activities we perform are not considered safe or sane by most people.

For instance, some of the electric-play or erotic asphyxiation (breath play) may not by any conventional sense fall under safe, nor sane. However, in most cases, participants thoroughly discuss or even write out formal agreements prior to engaging in a scene. Participants set up safe words, explicitly describe what they want and expect from a scene, how to end a scene, and often care for after a scene ends.

So, just what is a “scene” in the kink community? A scene is defined as follows by Kinkly, an open-contribution BDSM website: “A BSDM scene is a pre-planned area where BDSM actions take to occur.” Participation in BDSM-related activities is also included. In general, the scenario is well discussed and has an agreed-upon beginning, middle, and finish. A BDSM scenario might take place at a club or another type of play venue. Sexual action may or may not be present in a typical scene.”

This is distinct from a scene seen in subculture studies, which typically refers to the subculture itself. Partners in the kink community sit down and determine what they want in a scene and plan it out as partners, even if one (or more) partner(s) is generally more submissive. For some, this may appear to take the fun out of sex – no spontaneous scenes are taking place – but for those in the kink community, it is about consent first and foremost, as well as the idea that you can consent to something in the future and that there is always a safe word or a way to get out of a scene.

Kink has many themes throughout it, as it overlaps many different subcultures and communities. It spans ages, race, and gender identity. It reflects similar gender identities as a mainstream community – while there is behavior that fights the norm of the patriarchy with a female dominatrix and the diversity of what is found to be “attractive”, it reflects the community around it.  To explore this, I did several interviews with people involved in the kink community across Iowa, Seattle, New York, and south Florida. 

For instance, in Iowa the community is more white than in Detroit where there is a huge black, gay, kinky community – some of my interviewees have been active in both of these communities!  It reflects similar problems still – there is the stereotype of male dominator-female submissive, transwomen being asked to dominate and penetrate others, fat women, Asian women, and black women being fetishized.

Kink overlaps heavily with the polyamorous community, the goth community, the pagan community, the atheist community, and so many more. However, the largest way one can see this community or get involved is by joining FetLife – the Facebook for the kinkster. It allows folks to upload their own videos and photos, have a relationship status, and post their own writings on kink as well. There are groups based on fetishes and locations, as well as groups based on age groups – for instance, TNG (The Next Generation) groups, which are for kinky folks under the age of 30.

Kink has shown up in pop culture recently through the Fifty Shades of Grey trend and then also in the last few years in politics and in crime. It has even been written about within The New York Times.  

Fifty Shades of Grey starts with a young soon-to-be college graduate Anastasia Steele without much of a personality, who gets pulled into a kinky relationship with an older incredibly wealthy, and powerful man, Christian Grey who introduces her to kink as it is the only way that he can have sex due to his abusive past with his mother. 

Fifty Shades of Grey has split the kink community in many ways because of the book’s abusive relationship and bad depiction of kink throughout the novels, as well as the stereotype of middle-aged lonely married white women reading the book and climaxing over the 50+ usages of “my inner goddess.”

Kink has lately emerged in pop culture as a result of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, as well as in politics and crime in recent years.

It has even been covered in The New York Times. Fifty Shades of Grey begins with Anastasia Steele, a young soon-to-be college graduate with little personality, who is drawn into a kinky relationship with an older incredibly wealthy, and powerful man, Christian Grey, who introduces her to kink because it is the only way he can have sex due to his abusive past with his mother. Fifty Shades of Grey has splintered the kink community in several ways due to the book’s violent relationship and negative portrayal of kink throughout the novels, as well as the stereotype of middle-aged lonely married white women reading the book and climaxing over the 50+ usages of “my inner goddess.”

But it is important to remember that due to the current narrative around the kink community, embarrassment comes as second nature whenever we try to speak about it or create a conversation about it.

And that is okay. Societal conditioning has rendered us helpless and it is time we begin being “selfish”.