Alternative sexuality lexicon: 4 of 6, kink, BDSM, and vanilla.

A Lexicon of Alternative Sexualities, Part 4: Kink & Co.

A Lexicon of Alternative Sexualities, Part 4: Kink & Co.

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Nov. 28 2013 9:15 AM

A Lexicon of Alternative Sexualities, Part 4: Kink & Co.


Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Austin Appel/Flickr via Creative Commons.

You can read about the origins of this series in the first entry. Today, things you may have read about in Fifty Shades of Grey.

This is an initialism made up of three overlapping pairs: Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, Sadism and Masochism.


Bondage and Discipline is about the enjoyment of physical restraint, and giving or receiving commands that can be enforced through physical punishment if resisted.

Domination and Submission (often abbreviated Ds or D/s, intentionally lowercasing the submissive side) is about a more emotional surrender and an experience of giving or receiving service.

Sadism and Masochism are about the enjoyment of extreme sensations that in a non-sexual context might be experienced as painful.

All these overlap with each other, and the same resources are generally useful for exploring all of them, but the distinctions hint at the widely varied motivations different people have to get involved in the kink scene. One guy may get an endorphin high from being tied up and flogged, but as soon as he’s done, go back to being his wife’s equal companion (or string her up for her own turn). Another might have persistent, ungrounded feelings of guilt and anxiety, and having somebody he trusts “punish” him eases them better than therapy or pills. Another may have trouble forming a lasting relationship without feeling like he serves and takes care of his partner, and so he’s happiest as the sub in a long-term D/s couple.

This term can mean a lot of things, depending on context, but at root it’s about enjoying, or even requiring, sexual practices that differ from traditional expectations. This could be as tame as a foot fetish (being intensely aroused by looking at and touching a partner’s feet, or having a partner caress and stimulate your feet), or it could be as elaborate as rope suspension, which requires equipment, planning, and safety measures. The kink community helps people meet others who share their erotic fantasies, through web forums, munches (gatherings at restaurants or cafes where people catch up with friends and meet new people but no one expects to actually do anything kinky or sexual), and clubs. It gives people affordable access to equipment and training on how to use it as safely as possible.

As with polyamory, there seem to be some people whose kinks are optional—a fun adventure but not something they need in order to be physically and emotionally satisfied in a relationship—and others who are “obligate kinky.” Some people are unable to even become aroused without some special stimulation (foot contact, spanking, etc.) or find that they’re psychologically blocked from reaching orgasm without the emotional charge of consensual power exchange. Others may be able to enjoy vanilla sex as long as they’re getting their kink satisfied from time to time, but their pleasure, and their attraction to their partner, withers if they ignore their deeper desires for too long.