Can Kink Help You Let Go of Shame and Anxiety in the Bedroom?
- Kink and BDSM may help alleviate anxiety, release shame and boost creativity.
- Go slow. Learn the ropes of kink before you dive in.
- It doesn't have to look like "Fifty Shades of Grey." There are other options, including safer ones that may be easier for beginners.
Common depictions of kink and BDSM, or bondage, discipline and sado-masochism, include latex, whips and flogging devices. These popularized notions of kink and BDSM culture are mainstream thanks to cultural phenomena such as "Fifty Shades of Grey."
But kink has a much broader range of options—and it doesn't have to involve a ball gag. Many women struggling with feelings of shame and anxiety experience challenges letting go in the bedroom. Here's how kink could help.
How can kink help reduce anxiety?
In Norway, roughly 38 percent of people have experimented with a kinky activity during sex, suggested a 2021 study. Kink is more common than we may think, and it could have some unexpected potential health benefits.
Grounding techniques, meditation and spending time in nature can help you gain control of anxiety. There's one avenue, though, that not everyone knows can help reduce anxiety—and it starts in the bedroom.
BDSM sex may help, as kink can potentially generate flow and transient hypofrontality, or the need for the brain to think, suggested a 2022 study.
What are the different types of sexual shame?
Sexual shame is a particular form of shame characterized by feelings of humiliation or disgust around one's own identity and sexuality, according to a 2017 study.
Feelings of shame are made up of three main parts:
- Relationship sexual shame. This has to do with interpersonal relationships and feelings involving others.
- Internalized shame. Feelings of humiliation, disgust or abnormality are sometimes expressed as bodily shame.
- Sexual inferiority. Feeling as if you're not meeting your sexual expectations, often due to societal norms and cultural expectations, can result in shame.
What are the origins of sexual shame?
Where do shameful feelings about sex come from? The answer is complex and varies between people, but there are common sources.
Sexual shame can stem from several places and may be due to the following factors, said Maria "Two-Straps" Hintog, an EDSE sex educator based in Los Angeles:
- Gender norms
- Gender roles
- Gender expectations
- Social settings
- Religion and the church
"A lot of the shame comes from our upbringing and our past experiences because, especially as kids, we're absorbing gender norms and the cultural norms and what you're not supposed to do," Hintog said.
Those childhood experiences shape our future selves. These feelings can lead to anxiety for some people.
"So we're told not to do something, but we don't know why. We just absorb that information. And then, as we grew older, we're like, 'Why is this bad? Nobody told me why it's bad. They just told me it is,'" Hintog said.
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What is the difference in sexual shame between men and women?
Men scored far higher than women on suppressing their sexual desire, suggested a 2023 study. However, there wasn't much difference between the two genders when it came to sexual desire or sexual shame.
There wasn't a dramatic difference in cognitive reappraisal, which has to do with changing how a person thinks about a particular situation in the bedroom. Many of us grow up in homes that discourage talking about sex, power and consent, said Mistress Amanda Wildefyre, a professional dominatrix based in Minneapolis.
"Some of us have been taught that it's wrong to want experiences that don't match up with our gender or that only certain types of people can enjoy sex," Wildefrye said.
How can kink help women express desires and set boundaries?
"Engaging in kink/BDSM is a multi-edged sword—in a good way," Wildefyre said. "These alternative practices ask us to learn to communicate our desires, negotiate expectations and express enthusiastic consent with our partners. BDSM play also encourages us to recognize and reflect on our physical and emotional reactions during and after intimacy." By following a safe and consensual framework, kink and BDSM can offer the built-in reward of satisfaction and affirmation of our unique desires, which may lead to a reduction of shame and anxiety over time, Wildefyre said.
"When you're doing those things in that controlled environment, sometimes that's enough to remind the person that it's okay," Hintog said. "'I'm safe. I don't have any further repercussions from this.'"
How can kink help you feel safe with the right partner?
A controlled environment, boundaries and aftercare can play into creating a safe space. These feelings of safety can help release bouts of anxiety and shame. "Kink/BDSM play offers a template for clear communication about likes and dislikes, compatibility and expectations," Wildfyre said. "Safewords give us an explicit language to indicate when we need a pause or would like the action to stop." Healing can occur during aftercare—the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical caretaking aspects after a sexual experience.
"When you're with a partner you trust, that aftercare builds connection and intimacy," Two-Straps said. "And it tells your brain, 'We did this scary thing in a controlled environment, and now we're safe.'"
How can kink help you relax and transform shame?
At its best, kink/BDSM offers a narrative-changing context for pleasure and approval for the parts of ourselves we have been made to feel ashamed of, Wildfyre said.
As a teenager, Wildfyre was teased relentlessly for being "too tall." When she started playing with female dominance, her height became an asset. An athletic, cis-gendered masculine-expressing male, for example, might feel more comfortable indulging in being submissive, something for which they may have previously been ashamed.
BDSM activities indicated reductions in psychological stress and an increase in a mental state linked to heightened creativity, indicated a 2016 study.
Where can you go to learn more about kink and BDSM?
If you're keen on exploring kink, Hintog suggested relying on reputable sources. Immerse yourself in BDSM 101. Find local meetup groups or sign up for workshops to build community with like-minded people.
See if there are reputable dungeons, or safe areas for BDSM, near you. When exploring kink with a partner, it's important to negotiate boundaries and consent, explained Hintog. Kinky scenes can involve physical, psychological and emotional risk. "Education, making friends and building community are a great way to start," Hintog said. "That way, you're learning as much as you can."
Let your kinky side emerge at a pace you're comfortable with.
"If in a relationship, you can introduce a few new things at a time and explore together, which is very bonding and playful when done with a loving partner," said Charlynn Ruan, Ph.D., a California-based clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology Group. "If single, there are workshops and events where you can go and observe before getting involved."
The bottom line
If you're new to kink and the BDSM world, have realistic expectations, Wildfyre said. Kink and BDSM play may have a unique array of potential benefits, from alleviating shame and anxiety to boosting creativity, but don't rush the learning process.
"Even though you may have had kinky fantasies all your life, it will take some time and a bit of compromise to bring your explorations to the real world," Wildfyre said.