Kink, vanilla, fetish, BDSM – a lot of terms get thrown around when talking about sex. And while we often have a vague understanding of what they mean, there's often not much differentiation in popular culture and media. So here's a quick guide to getting started with kink.
What Exactly Is Kink?
A kink is any non-traditional sexual and intimate desire, practice, or fantasy. More specifically it's anything that deviates from the traditional romantic, intercourse-focused sexual experience between two people (aka vanilla sex). Realistically though, it can mean different things to different people.
“Kink is subjective,” says professional dominatrix Mistress Mia Darque. “Anything can be a kink or a fetish. To me personally, kink is something that you indulge in; it’s something that’s ‘outside of the norm’ and doesn’t fall inside of the parameters of ‘normative’ in any sense of the word,” Darque continues. “My kink is pegging but for someone else, it might be something like looning—gaining sexual arousal from playing with or popping balloons.”
Kink vs. Fetish
Before we get into the specifics, there’s one more thing you should know: having a kink is not the same thing as having a fetish. Unlike kink, fetishism is all-encompassing. So, instead of gaining additional pleasure from a specific object, body part, etc., people with a fetish are unable to gain any sexual satisfaction unless that thing or action is present or completed.
“Within the community, a kink is distinct from a fetish in that it would not be a need so much as a want,” says Sir Ezra, the Director of Education at Sanctuary LAX Studios and author of Mindfucking Mindfully, A Guide to Mental Manipulation for BDSM and Sadomasochism. “For example, if I need someone to be yanking on my nipples in order to cum or have a satisfying sexual experience, then it’s a fetish. On the other hand, if I would like someone to be yanking on my nipples, but I am going to have a good time without it, that’s more of a kink.”
Curious as to whether you have a kink or a fetish? Sex therapist Aliyah Moore, Ph.D., recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I aroused by a specific object or action?
- Do I need it in the room/near me to be aroused?
- Can I enjoy solo sex without it?
If you answered “yes” to question #2 and “no” to question #3, then you have a fetish. However, if you answered “no” to question #2 and “yes” to question #3, then you have a kink.
How to Explore Kink
Learning about kink may be intimidating for some, but for others, it can be sexy. What’s more, kink isn’t an exclusive club that you have to pledge to get in. Kink is for anyone who’s interested in stepping outside of their comfort zone and discovering delicious new sensations. There are a lot of kinks out there, but these are a great place to start:
- Erotic talk. Erotic talk or “dirty talk” may feel awkward or embarrassing at first, but if you embrace your desires you may end up surprising yourself and your partner! “If you’re looking to kink up your sex life without building your own red room [aka a dungeon], a simple way to start is by talking dirty,” says Simon Benn, a manager at Gentlemen4Hire.“This can help to set the scene for sexual exploration by encouraging you to expand on your usual activities. Set the scene by talking about what you’re going to do—get creative—initiate sex, give directions, and make some sexual demands of your partner.”
- Edging. Edging or orgasm control is when you stimulate yourself to the point of climax but stop just before orgasm. Edging can be used as a way to extend sexual enjoyment or increase the intensity of an orgasm. Bonus: You can do this with or without a partner.
- Spanking. Like the idea of being bent over someone's knee and taught a lesson? “It doesn't have to be full-on open-hand leave-a-red-handprint kind of spanking,” says professional dominatrix MsMadyson DeLaRough of MsMadyson.com. “Even just little taps could do. Think of doing anything else other than what you normally do, and give it a try.”
- Impact play. Impact play is another take on sexual spanking—you can use your hands, feet, whips, paddles, you name it. If you're looking to explore the milder side of impact play, Lorals' stretchy latex and satisfying snap against the skin is a great place to start, whether you have a latex kink or enjoy a little sting with your pleasure.
- Roleplay. Have you ever fantasized about dressing up as a student/professor, corporate executive/secretary, or doctor/nurse? Well, here’s your chance. “Pretend you forgot to turn in your homework and take it from there,” DeLaRough adds. Whether it's just to dress up and feel like a different person or to fully take on the role, feel free to talk through it and explore with your partner.
Rough Sex. "Rough" can mean many different things to each and every person, so start this off with a conversation with your partner (check out the Yes/No/Maybe list further down). It could mean stronger thrusts, a more-demanding pace, or embracing your animalistic side, like ripping Lorals off after a passionate play session. There are endless possibilities. What you decide to do is ultimately up to you, your partner, and your wildest fantasies combined.
- Anal play. Sure, as a beginner you should start slow but that doesn’t mean anal is off the table. If you’re interested in anal play, but you’re uncomfortable going all the way, start small with rimming or toys. Pro tip: You can use Lorals to ease yourself in. They’re stretchy, thin, and with a little lube, super slippery.
Tips for Beginners
- Communication comes first. Communication is key in any relationship. Before you decide to bust out the cuffs, take a minute to sit down and chat with your partner first. “The most important part of exploring kink is, paradoxically, not about your body at all—it’s about communication,” says Leah Carey, a sex and intimacy coach and the host of Good Girls Talk About Sex. “You can’t have a safe or fully consensual kink experience without an explicit conversation with your partner (or potential partner),” Carey continues. “Discuss your needs, desires, and limits, but don’t try to have any important conversations about it in the bedroom. Save these conversations for brunch or a walk in the park when you’re both able to focus and communicate clearly.”
- Make a Yes/No/Maybe list. Encourage your partner to make a Yes/No/Maybe list. (A Yes/No/Maybe list asks what you’d be willing to explore in the bedroom.) “A Yes/No/Maybe list is an excellent tool the kink community has popularized that lets you and a partner (or potential partner) compare your interests and desires,” Carey adds.
- Do some research. Once you’ve figured out what gets you and your partner going, make time to do some research. Take a class, buy some books, join a social network or online community, go to a convention, or attend a munch. “Munches are a great place to start making friends,” says Ezra. “A munch is a gathering of kinky people that get together at a restaurant or cafe to just meet each other and keep in touch. If you are nervous about going to your first munch, bring a friend, or contact the organizer to learn more about what to expect.”
- Create a safeword. Before you jump in the sack, hay, or whatever, it’s important to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page. Creating a safeword is one way to keep your kink play safe and fun. “Kinky sex typically requires more planning and carefulness than vanilla sex because of the physical and emotional risks involved,” says Kate Sloan, sex educator and author of 101 Kinky Things Even You Can Do. “Definitely establish a safeword—for beginners, I’d especially recommend the stoplight safeword system, wherein green means ‘that feels great, keep going,’ yellow means ‘I need you to pause, slow down, and/or check-in with me,’ and red means ‘stop immediately.’”
- Just be yourself! Kink is about embracing your inner desire. Forget what the “cool kids” are doing and just do you. “When it comes to dealing with groups or kinky social circles, don't get wrapped up in identity,” says Jay Moyes, adult community expert. “You're allowed to be just kinky and exploring. It's not necessary to commit to being a bottom, a submissive, or a dominant.”
All sex can be an exploration, so start where you feel comfortable and enjoy a little bit of adventure!
Written by Tabitha Britt, a freelance writer and editor. She's also the founding-editor-in-chief of DO YOU ENDO, the first (and only) no-BS digital magazine for individuals with endometriosis by individuals with endometriosis in the US. You can find her byline in a variety of publications including Insider, Medical News Today, and Kinkly.
Reviewed and Edited by Sarah Brown, a sex and intimacy educator with 10 years of experience designing and marketing intimate wellness and pleasure products.