I was lucky when it came to discovering kink. There was almost no separation between my first kiss and my awareness of the kink community. By the time I heard Master and Servant by Depeche Mode in 1986 (I was 12), I had an inherent knowledge of what they were talking about and it seemed normal and right to me.
Not everyone is that lucky. Most people I meet discover kink long after they discover sexuality. There is often a period of guilt or disgust about their own desires. Many people feel isolated or like they are perverted and wrong. If people are lucky enough to find the kink community, there is a period of newbie frenzy followed by a period of feeling like you are the greatest expert ever about kink with your year of experience.
Now that I speak and write openly about kink I get asked a lot about what I wish I knew when I found kink. I can’t really answer that from a personal perspective because of my discovery and history. However, I know what I would tell people discovering kink later in their sexual development.
There are thousands of ways to do kink.
The song from American Dad is true: Everybody has a kink. Kink comes in a huge range of flavors. The generic vision of kink generally includes bondage and impact play. It is much more diverse than that. Some people only engage in the psychological structure of a D/s relationship. Some people like bondage or impact. Some people enjoy humiliation. Some people enjoy knife, fire or electric play. Some people are high protocol some are not. Some people love foot worship.
There is no one “right” way to do kink. This is a world where negotiation and exploration mark the journey. People change over time. People discover what they like and what they hate. People change roles, partners and play.
If you are interested in kink, you should be open to trying new things. You also should spend some time discovering what is okay and not okay with you. You have a right to your boundaries. Nobody gets to make you do something that is not okay with you. Likewise, you have a right to ask to try different things and find out about your likes and dislikes. If someone tells you there is only one way to do kink or that you must conform to their version, it should be a red flag for you.
Everyone has an opinion, but there are some core values to keep in mind.
Anyone involved in kink for any period of time will be happy to tell you their opinion about what is right and wrong about kink. Regardless of who you talk too, there are a few things that underlie most kinkster’s values.
Respect is key. Kink and BDSM rest on respecting people. Even if you are a slave and into humiliation play, respect still lies at the heart of the relationship. Your partner should respect you. You should respect your partner. If the respect is not there, you are headed down a dangerous relationship road.
Boundaries are important and should be respected. It is important to have boundaries. Saying you are into “everything” and that you have no boundaries opens you up to abuse and in reality, no one is okay with every permutation of kink. If your partner does not respect your boundaries, it is an abusive relationship. Likewise, if you fail to respect your partner’s boundaries you are being abusive.
There is a difference between hurt and harm. A lot of kinky people like some form of pain. There is a difference between hurt and harm. Kinky people into pain will enjoy getting hurt in some form. Some people like impact, some like needles, some like anal stretching, some like knives. The pain in these situations is agreed upon and inflicted in ways that people like. Harm means you are hurt in a bad way. If you do not want marks and your partner insist on marking you during a scene, that is harm. If you hate fisting and your partner fists you, that is harm. If you enjoy impact but your partner is unskilled and delivers a kidney punch, that is harm.
D/s and BDSM is not abuse. However, kinky people can be abusive partners. BDSM and kink is marked by negotiation, boundaries and respect. Yes, there may be hitting, or humiliation, or control, but that is agreed upon and desired. Abuse can have control, humiliation and hitting, but it is not desired, it is done without respect, there are no boundaries. People new to kink can have a hard time distinguishing these guidelines.
If you have a question if you are in bdsm or abuse, ask yourself, do you feel good after engaging with your partner in a specific type of scene? Was it something you desired? Did your partner keep your needs and limits in mind? If you answer no, its abuse.
There are warning signs about abusive and bad relationships in D/s and BDSM.
Your partner insists on isolating you. Some partners will tell you not to seek out friendships with other kinksters and prevent you from engaging with support and social groups of kinksters. They insist their version of kink is the only right way. This should send you running.
Your partner does not respect boundaries. If you have been clear about your boundaries (e.g., don’t mark me, I am never okay with encasement) and your partner ignores these boundaries, you are in an abusive relationship. If your partner ignores your safe word, this is never ok.
Someone wants to meet you as a play partner but not in public. If someone insists on a first meet at a private location, don’t go. You don’t control the location and it makes you super vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with insisting you meet for a cup of coffee before agreeing to play.
People in the kink community warn you about someone. This community is big on reputation and vetting. If someone in the community regularly violates community standards, such as violating safe words or being abusive, other kinky folks can tell you about them. Ask around about partners. It is acceptable to ask people what they think of someone. You get critical information about the potential partner.
No, you don’t know everything.
Just about everyone I know who discovers kink goes through a period where they think they are an expert. Usually after about a year of playing, people start to profess expert levels of kink. They are prolific with their opinions and happy to advise “newbies.” The reality is, kink is an ongoing journey. Nobody is expert about everything. People can only speak from their experience. The longer you are in kink and the more you read and talk and study, the more you know. However, most really experienced kinksters will admit they still have things they need to learn and work on. The self-professed all-knowing expert kinkster is probably pretty new.
This is a long journey of discovery.
Kink, like all parts of sexuality, continually evolves for people. What you like at 25 is different than at 35 and at 45. What you know at 25 is different then at 35 or 45. People grow and change. Kink is part of that growth. Accept that things will continue to change and evolve for you.
There is a community to tap into.
Like the lgbt community, or the single-dad’s community, or any other group that comes together to do social events and support one another, the kink and bdsm world has a community. We do coffees and dinners in local restaurants wearing vanilla-wear. There is no sex or play. This makes these groups easier to approach then other gatherings of kinky folks.
You can find these groups listing meetings on Fetlife, Facebook, Meetup, and in local alternative papers. Groups can be specific (kinky gamers, polyamorous groups, people who like rope) or more general. It is worth finding out what is going on in your town and connecting with people. Don’t expect to get a date or a partner out of your first coffee. These meetings are more for people to socialize in safe spaces and chat with others who have the same interest.
Larger communities may have sub and Dom support groups, classes, and public spaces for play. Fetlife has a pretty decent listing of these groups.
Read, listen, talk, research…
I think the thing I love most about some kinksters is their willingness to be thoughtful about relationships, sex, and play. We have millions of books, blogs, podcast, Youtube videos, meetings, and classes. It is useful to find a route to learn more about bdsm and kink, beyond porn and erotic writing. There are lots of lists of good books and podcasts on the web. I list some on this site, Fetlife has some, you can Google “kink podcast” or “best kink books” and the like and get a lot of suggestions. Many public libraries carry at least a few of these books to begin your journey. ITunes also carries many podcasts.
Experimentation is key. Don’t lock yourself into a role early on.
Many people feel a need to claim a title and role in the community immediately. The truth is it takes time to figure out what will work for you. There is no moral high ground gained by saying you are a sub or Dom or switch when you have not played much. There is no benefit to saying you are not into various acts if you haven’t at least explored them in images and read about them (you do not have to try them to know they are not for you). Claiming a role early locks you into a position you may not ultimately be comfortable with. There is no shame to say you are curious or evolving or exploring roles.
Second, I know the new generation plays fast and loose with honorifics. There are those of us who are old school. Master has a specific meaning. As does Dom(me), Top, Bottom, Sub, and Slave. However, because the new generation plays fast and loose, these terms are not universal. Ask someone what they mean when they say they occupy a role in the community. And if you are approaching someone who is old guard and you have been into kink for a year or two, don’t be surprised if they give you the brush off if you all yourself a Master or slave. These are very specific to old guard and there is no way a newbie (yes, two years is a newbie) can truly claim these titles.
Mentorship and support is important.
Neither submission nor dominance is easy. It takes time and practice and training to fully come into these roles. If you are new, take on a mentor of some type. This can be a formal mentorship, or it can be a close but non-sexual friendship with someone in the role you want to be in to talk through various issues.
I do not recommend taking on a mentor from a different role. It is totally great to be a sub and have a close Dom friend to talk through stuff with, but they cannot truly address being a sub. Find someone who is the type of Dom or sub or slave or whatever you want to be and have coffee, chat, learn from them.
The cockiest thing I have ever heard someone say is that, after six months of trying to be a Dom, was that they don’t need a mentor because they would learn everything the person had to offer in under four weeks and it would be useless. I don’t’ care how smart you are, how fast you learn, every relationship is different and things arise all the time you need to talk through with a more experienced person. Suck it up and be humble. You are not that brilliant. Find a mentor.
It’s okay to say no or to dislike things.
You are not going to like everything in the kink world. You may be open to trying lots and lots of stuff, but at some point there will be something that grosses you out or upsets you. It is okay to tell someone that you are not interested in trying something. It is okay to start to try something and hate it immediately.
Be honest. If you have not tried something, tell your partner. You may think something is super hot in porn and fantasize about it every night, but the reality may freak you out when you start to do something. It is better to tell someone, “I want to try this but I don’t know what my reaction will be.” It is safer and it prepares your partner for the scene.
Additionally, accept that things will change over time and you will change with various partners. Most of my life water sports were totally off limits, especially being on the receiving end. Then, I met a D-type who really enjoyed water sports. Over time our dynamic evolved and I tried it with him. I actually like it with him. With most people it is still a limit, but with him, I get into it. You change, partners change, and your likes and desires change. Be open to that.