When I was 22, I walked into a tent at Burning Man and watched a bondage troupe from Seattle perform a suspension routine. I hadn’t gone to the festival looking for kink, and so, absent any context, I found it intriguing, but more than a little bit boring. Did it really take that long to tie somebody up?

Yet, when I passed by the tent the next day, where the troupe was offering "bondage rides" to willing participants, I wanted in. I wanted to know what it was like to be tied up and suspended several feet off the ground, helpless, and half-naked in front of the gathering crowd.

Would it scare me? Embarrass me? Turn me on?

I wanted to try it … and yet I didn’t. Everyone else here seemed older, more confident, more experienced than I was. They would probably laugh at me if I walked in and asked someone to tie me up. I might be ready to do this someday.It could be decades until I reached that point. I might never get over my self-consciousness.

I felt the same about every other sexy, kinky, erotic activity I came across - at Burning Man, on the road, and back home in LA. Naked yoga classes? Might be fun to teach them when I’m in my 30s and feel more comfortable with my body. Nude modeling? Sure, if I ever find a photographer that I trust enough not to share the pictures without my consent.

For years, I kept dabbling in sex-positive communities, always looking over my shoulder to be sure no one was staring, taking pictures, or making fun. I wanted to be able to walk it back, to play it off as something I was only curious about, and not a thing that I was actually into.

My Journey Into Kink

Six years later; I’m 28 now. Yet, that process of educating myself, finding partners, and gaining confidence in my sexuality has happened faster than I ever thought possible. It didn’t come about from initiation ceremonies, expensive coursework, counseling, or anything like that. It came about from practice.

Skinny-dipping multiple times meant taking my clothes off was no longer scary. It became a habit. Listening to sex-positive podcasts that talked about boundaries and consent became second-nature. I learned that if you're respectful and accepting of other people's kinks, they will be respectful and accepting of yours.

It helps that I now live in Portland. As many as 4% of residents identify as kinky and have a profile on Fetlife. That’s 24,000 people in my city alone whose sexual interests fall somewhere outside the mainstream. The more connections I make within the community, the more my calendar is beginning to look like a never-ending trip to Burning Man. I no longer have to work so hard to add kinky adventures to my routine.

Last month, I took part in the World Naked Bike Ride, a mass protest in which 10,000 Portlanders rode in various states of undress throughout the city. After a brief dustup with Christian protesters, the ride culminated in a dance party near the Willamette River. This time, I didn’t care who watched or recorded it. I didn’t care if I looked too straight or too gay. I didn't think about what my friends back in LA would think of it. I was ready to own up to, and be an evangelist for, a life of kink, sex, and nudity.

Living a Sex Positive Lifestyle

For many of the people I live and work with here in Portland, being sex-positive isn’t just a hobby, it’s a calling. One friend helped found LoveTribe, which hosts cuddle parties and events to foster a “heart-conscious, touch-positive world.” Others attended this year’s EcoSex Convergence, which envisions sexuality as a “powerful source of personal, social & ecological transformation.”

We gather in cobb saunas, at clothing-optional beaches, and at kinky salons on a regular basis. The NW has a vibrant tradition of holistic sexuality that spans from body-positive burlesque classes to female-friendly sex toy boutiques. I’ve never had so many opportunities to take off my clothes: at the bustling Ritz sauna at the Oregon Country Fair; the gender-inclusive hot tubs at the Common Ground Wellness Center; or in the warm waters of the Columbia River.

It’s not that I never expected to reach this point; I just never expected for it to happen so soon. Each step towards greater openness and transparency leads to more connections, deeper relationships, and a healthier sense of self. Recently, I posed nude for a series of pictures with a professional photographer — something I’d wanted to do for years, but never tried. I’ve submitted an erotic video to Make Love, Not Porn, and shared some of my most personal stories in a collection called "The Pansexual Labyrinth."

Rather than just dipping my toes into the water, I’m going all in. I may still have some boundaries, but I no longer find myself looking over my shoulder or in a hurry to cover up and put my clothes back on.