To be kinky or not to be kinky

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I don’t know if I’d call myself kinky. 

Men love to call me kinky. And there’s always this hint of shock in their voices, like they don’t quite believe it. They phrase it as a question: “Oh, you’re kind of kinky, aren’t you?” And they stare at me excitedly, waiting for a response, when really, I don’t know the answer.

Because I wouldn’t call myself vanilla, either. I’ve done my fair share of “never have I ever” questions — sex outside, spanking, choking, etc. — and I’ve enjoyed it. But the problem is that what I think of as kinky versus what you think of as kinky versus what mister wide, excited, mildly intimidated eyes thinks of as kinky are probably three completely different things.

According to porn, I’m not kinky in the slightest. I don’t want to be wrapped in a skintight leather suit, chained to a wall with a gag in my mouth. I don’t need to get my ass eaten while getting throat fucked on the other end in front of a group of people. I don’t even want to watch it.

So when men would call me kinky, I never really knew what to say. But I wanted to know. I wanted to either just put the whole idea to bed or be welcomed into the kink community with open legs. It might have been my human need for categorization getting the best of me, but I wanted a label. Labels come with the potential for community, quick answers, pride, certainty.

I thought experience was a good way to settle my uncertainty. So when I came across the Bumble profile of an extremely attractive man named Clay that read, “I love submissive girls and being dominant. If you like rough sex message me,” I did.

I was so anxious on the night we met up. I knew that what I was doing was kind of dumb, maybe even a bit dangerous, but I also knew that I was going to do it anyway. 

When he picked me up he got out of his car, handed me the keys and told me to drive. I just stood there for a second. It wasn’t that I hadn’t driven in months since moving or that a stranger had just essentially gifted me the means to steal his 2018 Ford SUV; it was that I could feel the “kinky” label being draped over me like a warm, leather blanket.

But I was sorely mistaken. Dominant, sexy Clay and I got about halfway through when he stopped and started unloading all of his emotional baggage in the form of an unsolicited existential conversation with me, a naked stranger.

“Do you ever just feel like, what are we all doing it for, you know?” he asked while in the midst of fingering me.

“Yeah, I mean, totally?”

It was not the sexual awakening that I was hoping for.

But even if it had been, I don’t think I would have actually gotten the clarity I wanted. I don’t know if I could have. In my experience, kink is often considered a separate entity from sex, rather than just a preference during sex. It’s so rarely talked about that when a book came out that actually depicted even the slightest variation of it, 15.2 million copies were sold. That’s 15.2 million people who could have saved $12.99 if they could’ve just asked their partner to slap them sometimes in bed.

It’s this void of representation that leads to the heightened excitement in men’s eyes when they ask if I’m kinky. As if it’s taboo. As if it’s crazy for them to even ask. It’s what drives the ignorance in that question. Kink as a term is too broad for the question to simply come down to kinky or vanilla. I’ve been called kinky for keeping the lights on during sex, and I’ve been called vanilla for not wanting to do anal.

Kink requires a much more in-depth conversation with each new partner. I never just tell a guy I’m kinky because I don’t know what that means to him. Instead, I tell him what I like. What I don’t. And if he wants to follow that with a “Damn, you’re kind of kinky, aren’t you?” I just laugh and say, “Yeah, I guess to you.” 

The amount of range in kink is a prime catalyst for imposter syndrome, especially coupled with my short resume of experience. I think, though, more than anything, my hesitation stems from my internalized kink-shaming. I like to think that if I was to explore and discover that I am, in fact, kinky, I would embrace the community that offers. 

But I’m not sure I would. I think it’s possible that when Clay broke down in front of me, I was a little relieved. It meant I didn’t have to open this door yet, that I didn’t have to feel that pang of shame that society’s perception — or lack thereof — of kink has ingrained in me every time I wanted to have sex.

I really don’t know if I’d call myself kinky. I don’t think I’m ready to yet. 

Helen D’Orazio writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]