“She’s a very kinky girl, the kind you don't bring home to mother” starts the famous Rick James song, Super Freak. There seems to be an infatuation with designating certain people, particularly women, as freaky or boring, kinky or vanilla.

Freaky or kinky people are for fun, but not for a lifelong commitment society says. Or we hear, “She’s a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets” imagining that the ideal partner exists as a dichotomous entity, able to please and perform roles that are otherwise innately separate.

Read: What Good Kinky and Vanilla Relationships Have in Common

This pressure sits disproportionately on women, but all people suffer from the concept of labeling and categorizing who is kinky and who is not.

In my work and my personal life I like to ask this question in conversation:

"Are you kinky and if so how do you define that?"

Is Vanilla Boring?

I have noticed that many people feel like they should identify as at least somewhat kinky or kink-friendly in order to be seen as sexually accomplished or potentially good in bed. Few feel comfortable saying that the identity as vanilla for fear that they will be label a prude or boring in the bedroom.

When asked to define being kinky, definitions can range from enjoying oral sex to using complex kink identities, such as being a Dom who likes electro play and is seeking a 24/7 contracted sub.

This then feeds into the idea of a hierarchy of kink that can make people feel like they have to meet a certain bar or standard in order to be “genuinely kinky” and not vanilla. This can then put pressure on individuals and partners to always be upping the ante or “keeping things fresh” when they were happy as they were.

Read: Reclaiming Vanilla Sex: Why it's Hot

Is Kinky Gross?

Identifying as kinky often comes from a place of realizing that one’s sexual desires and preferences are seen as odd, abnormal, or concerning. This experience often happens during interactions with peers or sexual partners who mock or comment about how someone’s desires are gross or off-putting.

I have worked with many men who love anal play, but hear other men and women laughing at how any guy who enjoys penetration must be gay or using the concept of pegging as a punchline.

This observed feedback makes them decide never to share this desire with their partners and often to live two sexual lives: one they keep a secret and one they discuss openly yet dishonestly.

Desires that are consensual and between adults are all within a range of “normal” though some may be more or less common.

Read: The 6 Little Known Health Benefits of Kinky Sex

The reality is that even as sexologists we can’t authentically quantify what is common or uncommon for two reasons. Firstly, people who fear being seen as deviant often won’t let themselves explore what they truly would enjoy, and secondly, even if they do they will often refuse to admit or discuss this.

So, when we say we are kinky or vanilla who gets to draw the line?

The Experts Weigh In

As Lawrence Siegel, a sexologist and educator says,

“Kink is really in the eyes (and mind) of those engaging in the behavior. If a couple has never engaged in any sexual behavior other than man-on-top penile-vaginal intercourse, a different position might be considered kinky because, for them, it is new and different. For someone else, being tied and beaten while being forced to watch re-runs of 'I Love Lucy' might be kinky. Therefore, what is determined to be nontraditional or atypical sexual behavior is entirely defined within the context of the individuals' experience.”

There are also many people who identify with both vanilla and kinky depending on the situation. Sex therapist Dr. Israel Helfand of Marriage Quest explains:

“Who defines kink is each individual person. Sometimes defining it as kink helps the turn on. I have come to think of role plays, dress up and the like as Mocha. Those who live a BDSM lifestyle are going to define it differently than those who do a little dirty talk and spanking during their sex time. Both are correct in their thinking of what is kink and what is not, from my way of practice. Hence mocha offers another way of looking at it. Not as linear.”

Kink Is All in the Eye of the Beholder

Time and culture also change and evolve in what is seen as common in sexuality and what is seen as different. Someone born before the 1960s will remember when oral sex, even with your spouse, was part of sodomy laws and illegal.

Millennials and Gen Zs continue to normalize queer sexuality and consensual power play.

Read: Power Play: The Difference Between Tops, Bottoms and Switches

Early Christian Missionaries had one idea of what sex could and should look like and saw any other positioning in heterosexual copulation as problematic thus giving us the label of the colonizer-approved Missionary Position.

Does this mean that humanity has changed in what it desires? I think not. I see this more as a growth in our understanding of what sexual expression can include in a healthy and natural way.

In the End...

Ultimately, like any label, kinky as an identity is up to each person to connect with or not. We should not place a kinky or “freaky” identity above any other nor shame or stigmatize those who do identify as such.

In the end, each culture, generation, and person will see what mainstream sexuality is and what diverts from that differently. Kinky or not we are all sexual beings worthy of safety, love, and affirmation.



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