Sexual kinks are increasingly more accepted in the mainstream culture, however there is still a lot of negative messaging about kinky behavior, including how kink and mental health coincide.
What are Sexual Kinks?
Sexual kinks encompass a broad array of sexual acts or interests that are generally not considered mainstream sexual activities. Mainstream sexual activities may include, but are not limited to penis-vaginal intercourse or oral sex as these are common sexual practices that much of the population engages in. Sexual behaviors not considered mainstream, such as foot fetishism, golden showers, role play, wax play, age play, impact play, cock and ball torture, sadism and masochism, dominance and submission, or someone enjoying watching their partner having sex with someone else would fall under the umbrella of kink.
Some sexual kinks and sexual play are more widely accepted than others, such as anal sex or playing with sex toys, which are some more common kinks. So, it is important to remember that sexual kinks can be subjective and exist on a spectrum, as what is considered mainstream to one, may not be considered mainstream to another.
For example, someone may find that one person being the dominant partner in the bedroom is typical, while others would consider that to be outside of the norm. Another example is being turned on by the idea of your partner being sexual pleased by another person. To one person, that concept may be exhilarating, but might feel uncomfortable for another.
We could also look at kinks on a spectrum. Kink that involves having a dominant partner who takes the lead during sexual activities and having a dominate partner who desires a completely submissive partner would be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Additionally, kinks don’t have to be acted out to be considered a kink; kink(s) can also exist through fantasy. This could look like fantasizing in your mind about the kink to achieve sexual arousal or looking at erotic material that derives sexual pleasure by portraying the kink.
Regardless of the kink someone is sexually attracted to, the extent to which it is engaged in is an important aspect of exploring kink so that all parties involved are on the same page and set safe boundaries (i.e., using a safe word) to safely and pleasurably explore.
How Exploring Sexual Kinks Can Improve Mental Health
Unfortunately, many people associate engagement in sexual kink behavior with having a negative impact on one’s mental health or stemming from something inherently wrong with the individual, such as a history of trauma, an unhealthy way to cope with stress, or the presence of a sexual perversion. As a result, there’s a notion that mental health interventions are necessary to address kink and there is a history of viewing kink as disordered atypical behaviors.
While, in some instances there may be concern for mental health intervention such as engaging in behaviors that harm others or that cause the individual distress, often the push for seeking a mental health professional comes from a place of the negative stigma that has been placed on kinky behavior. However, exploring kinks can actually improve one’s mental health in various ways.
Increases experiences of pleasure
Research has shown that sexual pleasure is essential to physical, mental, and sexual health and that the presence of sexual pleasure can improve overall well-being. By exploring sexual kinks, you can improve mental health as you allow yourself to experience new avenues of sexual pleasure. By not exploring sexual kinks that may interest you, you miss the chance to incorporate sexual activities that you find pleasurable and risk having a sex life that is not prioritizing your pleasure.
Decreases feelings of shame
Sexual shame comes from the direct or indirect negative messages people internalize about sex that cause feelings of being inherently wrong. Viewing the presence of sexual kinks as something that needs to be fixed perpetuates stigma and increases shame, directly having a negative impact on mental health. The feelings of shame that come from the misconceptions about sexual kinks can lead to feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. Also, researchers have identified the following to be reasons people involved in kink experience stress: social stigma, concealment, isolation, and self pathologizing.
When kink behavior is suppressed, we are essentially telling ourselves that there is something wrong with this part of me and that creates an internal conflict. Alternatively, when we view kink as a journey of growth and exploration, we create resiliency against the social stigmas and feel positively rather than negatively about that part of us. Thus, by exploring sexual kinks you give yourself space to decrease these negative feelings as you embrace kink rather than shame it.
5 Tips for Exploring Kinks Without Shame
Shift your view about kinks
As mentioned above, because sexual kinks often have a negative connotation of being inherently wrong due to their lack of mainstream acceptance interest in or participation in a kink can feel shameful. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with you because of your sexual interest. Instead of viewing sexual kinks as something to be ashamed of, view it as a healthy part of your sexuality to explore.
Be curious and educate yourself
If you have interest in a certain kink but you’re unfamiliar about what it entails, knowledge is power. Doing some research gives you the opportunity to explore what the kink entails, what you may or may not like about it, and sometimes you realize that the social construct around the kink may be vastly different than what the kink really is. This will give you the power to make an informed decision.
Create a safe space
Having a safe space means that you feel emotionally, psychologically, and physically safe to explore kink. The absence of safety can lead to avoidance and hiding, which directly contribute to feelings of shame. To determine if you have safety ask yourself the following questions:
Do you feel safe with yourself?
Do you feel comfortable exploring this kink, without feeling like you’re doing something wrong?
If not, this would be a good time to work on shifting your view and educating yourself, then give yourself permission to explore.
Do you feel safe with your partner?
If you initiate a conversation with your partner about your sexual kinks, how will they respond?
If you are met with negative reactions when exploring your kinks, it will only reinforce the negative stigma attached to kinks. But don’t personalize this; the other person maybe isn’t there yet, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong and it’s great that you’re open to exploring what brings you pleasure.
Talking about sex and kink can decrease the internalized shame around it! While sex is a personal matter and you may not be ready to shout it from the roof tops, just talking about it with your partner removes the cover up behaviors that perpetuate feelings of shame.
Now that you have the knowledge about what the kink entails you can have an informed conversation with your partner. Sometimes people are quick to shut down a conversation about kinks due to lack of knowledge. If you are interested in a kink, you can provide your partner with information so they can make an informed decision on if the kink is something they want to explore or not rather than making a decision based off what they perceive the kink to be.
Be open to compromise
Everyone has their own palate for pleasure. Sometimes you may find that you are interested in sexual kinks that your partner is not and that is okay. Have a conversation in which you explore how this kink may be incorporated in a way that works for everyone involved. While this may not always be possible, it’s worth exploring the spectrum to see if there’s any overlap in desires.
When you explore your sexual kinks in a safe way, you do more good than harm, which oftentimes is the opposite of what cultural norms have taught us. If you find yourself struggling with allowing yourself to explore sexual kinks remind yourself of the benefits on your mental health.