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Working the Kinks Out

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I'm 15 and I have a wonderful boyfriend who I am very much in love with. My boyfriend is the sweetest, gentlest, most caring person I have met in a while and I know he really cares about me and it's totally mutual.

The thing is, he has some crazy fetishes....not exactly crazy, but he really likes doing dominate-and-submissive stuff, where he gets to be the "slave." I usually just brush it off though. Today he sent me this list of things he found online; like 30 ways that I can torture him as he's my slave, a list of "humiliations," punishments, etcetera. I was like, "Hey, great...." because it's not really something I feel like doing. We're only 15, and I just want to have a fairly normal relationship, not all of this kinky stuff. That can wait till we're older. So my question is, how do I tell the guy this?

I know if I even said something like "I'm just not ready for stuff like that" or even that I don't like it, he'd be embarrassed. I don't want to do that to him! But I also do NOT want to feel pressured into doing anything just to make him happy, because I truly want to make him happy but when it comes to stuff I just don't really like that much, well if I let myself be pressured into one thing who knows what it could lead to. So how should I tell him without making him feel like crap?

A lot of false assumptions are often made when people are talking about BDSM. Let's start with a little glossary to be sure we're all on the same page.


A Basic Kinktionary

Kinky: Most people use "kinky" or "kink" to refer to sexual behavior considered "abnormal" in our society. Though many may call them perversions (which is a value judgment, not a definition), most of these desires or behaviors are technically called paraphilias, which simply put, means outside the norm. That does not mean they are abnormal, though: "normal" is a pretty arbitrary term. Not too long ago oral sex was considered abnormal or deviant, as was masturbation, mutual masturbation, anal sex and more. However, many people who consider their sexual practices to be outside the norm choose to use the term "kinky" to describe or identify themselves.

Fetish: A fetish is, by definition, a psychological term which refers to an inanimate object which stimulates sexual desire in a person, such as a shoe, a baby bottle, a pair of underwear or any other object.

It is important not to confuse a fetish with a preference. Fetishes are about objects, not really about behaviours, and they aren't the same as preferences. Many fetishes are deeply rooted in childhood, and do not always fluctuate during life. For instance, a man who develops a strong fondness for shoes in later life because his partner has lovely shoes, may not have a shoe fetish. Likewise, a woman whose husband's arm has been amputated and develops sexual arousal from that amputation, does not necessarily have an amputation fetish.

BDSM: This really needs to be divided into it's parts. Usually, the B stands for bondage, the D for dominance, the S and the M for sadomasochism. Sometimes. the S stands for submission, and goes with the D, as in "D/s". Bondage usually involves sexual play with ropes and/or restraint. Dominance (and its necessary partner, submission) is a term which is part of power play, or sometimes called power exchange, in which partners take roles in which one is dominant, the "top" or in charge, and the other is submissive, the "bottom," or the subservient partner. Often, but not always, terms like "master" and "slave" are used with these roles. Sadomasochism is a derivation of both sadism, the term which describes a desire for giving another physical and/or emotional pain, and masochism, the sensation of enjoying/desiring that pain.

Not all people who have a fetish like bondage, or power play. Not all people who do power play or exchange like bondage, and so forth. Not all people who enjoy sensation play like flogging or nipple clamps also incorporate dominance and submission into that play. Though those things are often lumped together, some participants in those practices don't often use the term "BDSM" because it is so general and assumptive.

Role-Play: Remember playing doctor when you were a kid? Or playing "school," or "kitchen?" Role-play is the same thing, except that in this context, it is done during a sexual situation.

Consent: Consent is the keyword for those who practice kink (and any sort of sex) sanely and safely. What that means is that everyone involved is in informed agreement, has negotiated the activities, and is freely allowing and actively participating in what is happening. Even in dominance and submission scenarios, the bottom should be actively consenting to what is being done: if he or she is not, it is abuse, not consensual sex, just like plain ol' vaginal intercourse without free, active consent is abuse, not consensual sex.

Most people who practice this use safewords (a practice even people who don't could stand to take on), a word or signal that is spoken if the other party is doing something that is not comfortable, enjoyable or acceptable. If a person uses a safeword, the action is supposed to stop. Many people who practice these alternative sexuality facets subscribe to the motto: safe, sane and consensual, meaning that play is safe as far as safer sex and general emotional and physical safety go, sane in that it is within reason, and consensual, in that everyone involved is able to give consent (an adult over the legal age of consent, and intellectually and emotionally capable of making limits and keeping them) and does give consent.


None of the above is abnormal or deviant when practiced consensually, within the limitations and wishes of everyone involved, and, like any sexual activity, in the right time and place.

What makes people want to do this stuff?

According to the Kinsey Institute, it is of the utmost importance to recognize that a person who engages or fantasizes about any of the above "did not choose the behavior, nor can the person voluntarily control the behavior by willpower, and...are thought to become part of an individuals lovemap very early in childhood, or related to hormonal or developmental factors that influence brain development before birth."

However, though what Kinsey says is true in many cases, it is not true in all of them. We may be better served by recognizing that while we cannot choose our desires (and we really can't), we very much can and DO choose our behaviours, or our actions. So again, someone who wants to engage in D/s, very much chooses to do so, and if their partner is NOT consenting, or they decide they don't want to indulge those desires, that person absolutely has the ability (and the responsibility) to make healthy choices for everyone involved.

In addition, some of these sexual behaviors and preferences are based in simple life experience and daily life, and perhaps none of the above factors. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a woman who is the head of a large company to enjoy "time-off" from that role by playing the submissive elsewhere, which can contribute to relaxation. That, of course, is not to say that one cannot choose one's own actions: no sexual fantasy or desire forces someone to act upon it, nor does having that fantasy or desire excuse actions upon others to which they are not consenting.

So, in the case of your boyfriend, though it may seem he is young to want something so "kinky," it is likely that some part of this has been with him a very long time, and that is completely normal.

Why do people like it?

People enjoy BDSM play and other related alternatives for any number of reasons.

For starters, it tends to be very creative and dramatic, and allows people to express various parts of themselves and fantasies that they cannot in another venue. It might allow some people to explore certain power structures which exist in daily life, in and out of the bedroom, or to explore roles sexually which would otherwise be problematic or less easy to control and negotiate in other aspects of their lives. It is often multi-sensory, in that it provides a multitude of physical sensations on all areas of the body, not just the sexual organs.

BDSM play, all by itself, is also often safer sex play. Because it does not have to involve sexual intercourse, or other sexual practices which involve an exchange of bodily fluids, it is a way to be sexually engaged safely when it comes to STIs. For people who have chosen to be abstinent or celibate, it may offer an avenue for sexual stimulation. As well, some adults find community and personal identity in BDSM groups, and overall, many of these groups tend to be inclusive as far as gender and sexual orientation.

Working out the Kink in Your Relationship

The matter of how to really manage relationships in which kink is a factor is an entirely different matter. A lot of sexologists and psychologists disagree on this topic. Some hold the opinion that this behavior or desire should be delegated to fantasy only, and that a person with these longings should have psychological treatment if it becomes a necessary facet of their sexuality. Others feel that in most people, it is something that with a little work not only can be managed, and can become a beneficial and enjoyable aspect of sexuality. Many feel it is not outside the realm of a normal romantic or sexual relationship.

That is, of course, a far cry simpler when both partners want to participate. If this is truly an avenue your boyfriend wants to go down, he will need to become familiar with how to manage that facet of his sexuality in a relationship, and with talking to his partner, be it you or someone else, to come to agreements on what each of your desires, needs and limits are. If it isn't something that interests you, or if it makes you uncomfortable, you need to be honest with yourself and your partner about that. If you tell him what you have told me, which seems to be that it just isn't your bag right now and it makes you uncomfortable, but that it doesn't make you like or care for him any less, and you don't treat his desire for this as something that is "weird" or "sick," he should be okay. Not every couple is sexually compatible, whether a partner is kinky or not.

Something you and he may have to look at is how much this is indeed a sexual need for him. It is not unusual for couples to realize sexual incompatibility in this area, and if, in fact, it is really what he wants, you may have to discuss what that means to you. Are you comfortable, for instance, with him finding another partner to talk to about this, or even to practice this with, now or in the future? Likewise, does he feel able to set it aside for now and have a relationship with you without indulging this? These kinds of issues are things you both need to talk about. In all honesty, though, do understand that for most people for whom kink is a deep-seated desire, like homosexuality, it cannot just be filed away: it is an intrinsic part of who they are, and if ignored, some vital part of them and their identity is also being ignored.

As with any relationship issue, you both need to sit down and define your wants, needs and limitations. If you aren't interested in this sort of play, by no means should you consent to it, or feel you have to experiment because it is something HE is interested in. If he really is going to follow down this path, consent will be a very big issue for him, so you certainly will not be the last person to have this discussion with him. Again as with any relationship, you will need to look at both of your wants and needs and determine if you're compatible for one another in terms of having those needs met in a way in which no one is doing anything they don't want to do, and each of you is able to express yourselves emotionally, intellectually and sexually in a way that empowers you and allows to you to who you truly are.

All in all, remember this: human sexuality is a vast area of physiological, emotional, psychological and intellectual variety, and it varies as much as we all do as individuals. If we treat anything with thought and care for ourselves and others, handle it responsibly and safely, only do what we and our partners and comfortable with, and do so with honesty and open communication, nearly anything we do can be normal, healthy and empowering. If we do not, even the most "normal" things: such as kissing someone, holding hands, or even a hug can be detrimental or harmful. It isn't a particular act or practice that determines normality, well-being and health, but how we practice it.

written 29 Jan 2000 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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