I consider myself a rather “vanilla-kinky” person. I’m down for the occasional play party, I identify openly as a switch, I enjoy bondage during sex with (very, very) trusted partners, and I have a thing for spanking. That being said, I wouldn’t call kink a crucial component of my life, or a trait I look for when seeking romantic partners.

OK, storytime.

I was on Instagram and I noticed that this cute boy kept liking and commenting on all of my pics. As a newly single gal, I decided to follow him back. We had some witty banter in my DMs and then, seemingly out of nowhere, things got very weird.

He started telling me how he wanted to tie me up and do all of these bondage scenarios with me. He even used the dreaded term “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Puke). This was tremendously off-putting. I’m not interested in being aggressively pursued by an obvious kink neophyte/creeper, let alone some rando I dared to chat with via Instagram DM.

I was astonished how quickly the conversation escalated. Just because I’m a sex journalist and educator who writes about kink regularly, I must be down to get chained to a wall by every man who asks? I am required to be open to bondage without so much as an exchange of last names? Talk about your weird-ass toxic masculinity, not to mention a lack of boundaries.

This got me thinking about my more heavily kinky friends, the ones who are active members of kink communities. I’ve heard countless stories about how trying to find a meaningful relationship while also maintaining a “kinky” identity is exceedingly difficult.

As if dating weren’t hard enough, right? So, I went to a few kink experts to figure out exactly what it takes to date while kinky.

How you approach dating depends on “how kinky you are”

If you’re on the “vanilla” side - meaning you’re looking to explore some bondage, spanking or other light kink during sex - you may be surprised by how open people have become to this sort of play. Kate Kleinfeld, MPH, a renowned sex educator and founder of Tea and Empathy, tells Kinkly that light kink it has practically become mainstream.

In fact, research has shown that since the explosive (though problematic) "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon, nearly 50% of Americans report having tried some form of bondage or kink during sexual play. Research from Canada, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, found similar data, reporting that being tied up was ranked as a sexual fantasy for 41% of women and 49% of men surveyed.

“It's always worth bearing in mind that everyone's definition of kinky is variable. I've dated people who initial(ly) said they weren't into kink, then halfway through fucking they're whispering absolute filth in my ear and asking me to tie them up and choke them,” Louisa Knight, a BDSM and kink professional tells Kinkly.

What matters is how critical kink is to you on a personal level. “It can often be easier to date people who also self-identify as kinky, so that you're more likely to have some shared sexual interests (or at least a familiarity with the scene),” Knight says.

Kleinfeld explains that the role kink plays in your overall dating life depends on just how kinky you are. Meaning? If you have a very specific fetish and/or are an active part of the BDSM lifestyle you may want to explore avenues that cater to those specific needs. “I'd recommend finding partners on Fetlife or through kink events like munches,” she suggests. To learn more about Fetlife, check out their website and do some exploring. It’s an online community built just for kinksters. If kink plays a central role in choosing a partner for you, it might just be the place to start. But be warned, Knight says you might run into some serious creeps on these kink sites. Then again, have you ever been on Tinder? Maybe that's just a part of dating life, kinky or not. *sigh*

You might run into some serious creeps on kink sites. Then again, have you ever been on Tinder? Maybe that's just a part of dating life, kinky or not.

Communication is your bread and butter

If you want to find a partner who is open to kink or want to explore kink with a current partner, your interpersonal communication skills are going to take the lead. You cannot pull off kink in dating, either casual or serious, without talking about it. “Navigating kinky sex requires top-notch sexual communication. Invest in learning how to negotiate your needs, wants and boundaries,” Kleinfeld adds.

If kink plays a central role your sex life, it’s best to figure out exactly what someone is into so you get a better idea of your compatibility. “The best solution around that is giving people the space to express themselves in whatever way feels good, opening up good channels of communication around sex, and not getting too attached to a set label if it doesn't feel right for both of you. I've always found sharing sex menus with someone new I'm dating to be a fun exercise in this regard too,” Knight tells us.

If you’re looking for a relationship with kinky aspects, you can’t just expect the other person to know that. Sometimes, people are just looking for a kinky sex partner - and that’s all. The same thing happens in every other dating scenario. If you want both, say so. Many kinksters are looking for love too.

“In dating, I do really notice that kinky people are far more inclined to really think about their sexuality in a way that people whose desires are presented as 'normal' aren't required to. I often find that if someone's done that analysis in one area of their life, they're more likely to have extended it to others, such as really thinking about their emotional needs around sex and intimacy, or considering their relationship to monogamy,” Knight says.

If you’re after something long-term, the only way you’re going to get it is by expressing those desires. Why waste your time on anyone who isn’t down for that? Sure, easier said than done. But, it’s a good place to start.