The latest episode of BANG! explores how we express and relate to kink in our sexual lives.

Kinky is the new normal

In the latest episode of her RNZ podcast BANG! Melody Thomas speaks with kinky Kiwis about what they’re into, how they negotiate consent, and what vanilla relationships could learn from their communities.

Kink is described as activities and fantasies falling outside of the “normal” boundaries of sex and intimacy. But what is normal? Light choking seems pretty kinky, but according to a whole lot of reports from women who have sex with men, the practice is increasingly common. Anal sex, too.

Leaving aside incidences where consent isn’t explicitly obtained (which is never OK) or where someone is coerced into going along with something they don’t want to (also never OK), at what point does a kinky behaviour become vanilla*?

Illustration: Pinky Fang.

Poet Hadassah Grace has just released her first collection titled How To Take Off Your Clothes, based in part on her experiences working in the sex industry. As well as a couple of years stripping, she worked as a “prodomme’ or professional dominatrix. But while Hadassah has dominated people both for living and for fun, and enjoyed it, at heart she’s “really a sub”.

“My running joke is I want a feminist in the streets and a physical manifestation of the patriarchy in the sheets,” she laughs.

Hadassah’s fantasies largely fall under the “dominance and submission” part of the BDSM acronym (the others are bondage and discipline – the B&D – and sadism and masochism – the S&M).

And she’s not alone. At the time of writing this article I was contacted by Madeleine Holden, writing for MEL Magazine in Los Angeles, to comment on a piece about men who were being asked to take on a dominant role in sex. A male friend recently confided in me how common it was to be asked by women he was having casual sex with to be choked or spanked.

In fact research suggests that fantasies of being dominated are incredibly common among both women and men.

The ways individuals interpret those fantasies depends largely on how they were socialised. For cis, straight men who were taught to be confident and not to show vulnerability, there can be a lot of shame around fantasies of submission.

Some gay and bi men already report feeling like their sexuality makes them “less of a man” to others – fantasies of being dominated or humiliated can exacerbate that.

Jack**, who I spoke to for this episode about his kink of “cuckolding” – or getting off on his boyfriend having sex with other guys – said he feels “like people would think less of me if I were to be open about it.”

Women like Hadassah who understand the ways gender can play into abusive power dynamics, but who also have fantasies about being dominated, can end up feeling like “bad feminists”.

Hadassah Grace, poet and author, is one of the interviewees in Bang!

“It makes me sad because I feel like it completely misses the most important part of any conversation around sex – kinky or otherwise – which is consent. If you’re an adult who knows what they’re getting into and you’re consenting to a situation where you’re perhaps being called things that you would never allow yourself to be called out on the street or treated in ways that would be absolutely unacceptable in an everyday situation – the key factor there is consent,” she says.

Despite consent being a big part of feminist discourse currently, in Hadassah’s experience, “it doesn’t translate to sexual situations that are considered sort of outside of the norm… [It’s like] even if you are consenting you should somehow still feel bad about being into what you’re into.”

What happens sexually between two enthusiastically consenting adults is up to them. But conversations around what gets a person off and what they should be “allowed” to do are often viewed through the lens of individual experience – where the choices a woman makes are inherently feminist simply because she’s making them herself.

Choices are not made in a vacuum. A woman may choose to wear makeup or shave her legs and those things might give her joy, but there’s no denying those choices are easier to make – and carry less of a risk of social backlash – than going make-up free and ditching the razor.

If the things that get us off come from or contribute to a wider culture where women and gender minorities are oppressed, do we have a responsibility to interrogate those desires?

Tia**, a 23-year old non-binary sadomasochist interviewed for this episode of BANG!, who goes by they/them and she/her pronouns, says yes.

“I think anyone who wants to do BDSM safely has to explore where that comes from within them. Some BDSM does come from trauma and that’s ok as long as you’re aware of it and you know what you’re doing about it,” she says.

For the record, trauma is not a pre-requisite for kink, and a lot of people who are into kink and BDSM have no history of abuse.

Hadassah agrees that self-criticality is important. But she’s also hesitant to add to the pressure and guilt that so many women already feel around sex.

“I think the idea of being able to just enjoy something without any of the pressure to have to make decisions around it is very appealing,” she says.

“We live in a society that’s very tiring for women… It means this constant navigating of… dangerous or potentially dangerous situations or situations that feel like a question mark. You’re kind of always on edge a little bit… And I wonder sometimes if people don’t fetishise the things that they’re most afraid of, or that they’re most guilty about… Probably that’s it for me.”

While consent is huge in the kink world and is managed in a bunch of different ways (including negotiations that can take minutes or hours, checking in throughout, the use of safe words and after care) the community isn’t immune from misogyny or abuse. No community is.

But the moment someone is making others feel unsafe they are booted out.

“It’s when we push the predators out and then they’re out there with people who aren’t actively in the community who… are at risk because this person’s going to pick them off the fringes,” says Tia.

Similar sentiments were voiced by Hadassah, Dee and others I spoke to for this episode. They had advice to offer for those starting out in kink, as well as “vanillla” people who are dating Sandor having casual sex, based on their experiences.

Tia: “If you’re saying to somebody I want to meet in a public place and they’re saying ‘no’ – that’s a concern. If you’re saying I want to do this but not that, and they’re saying ‘why not that?’ and they push it – that’s a red flag… Tendencies towards anger, do they ever talk positively about their exes or are their exes all the problem?”

Hadassah: “Really spend some time with yourself figuring out what you want and how to want it without shame. And know absolutely without a doubt that no matter how weird the thing that you’re into is, there are at the very least thousands of other people who are into it as well. The world is big, people are very weird.”

Dee: “Do your research, go to workshops… make sure you know how to recognise what consent is and what it’s not. There’s the potential for harm just as there’s the potential for harm if you’re parachuting or skiing or playing rugby, you don’t do that without some practice or training.”

* “Vanilla” is slang for sex or people who have sex that isn’t kinky

** Not their real names

You can listen to all the episodes of BANG! at RNZ right here


The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.

Sign up now


Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.