An Introduction to Kinks and Fetishes
If you feel your sex life is in a rut, or you're just naturally curious about trying something new, maybe you’re ready to enter the world of kinks and fetishes.
The phrase “kink” broadly encompasses any nontraditional sexual practice, fantasy or concept, while fetishes describe a specific sexual attraction to nonsexual objects, body parts or situations. Ergo, all fetishes are kinks, in that they’re nontraditional, but not all kinks are fetishes.
Kinks are used to enhance sex but aren’t necessary for arousal or climax. People with fetishes, however, may always need their specific interests to be included in sexual play in order to get sufficiently aroused.
No matter the sexual preferences you enjoy, it’s important to know you’re not alone. People of all backgrounds, ages, sexual orientations, genders and cultures practice kinks. Equally, there’s nothing about how a person looks or acts that decisively identifies them as a kinky person, which means you cannot assume your partner wants to experience the same type of sexual play you do.
If you’re open to kink exploration or you’d like to safely experiment with a fetish, you’ll need to rely on the same open, nonjudgmental communication required for any healthy sexual relationship.
As with all sexuality, kinks and fetishes only work with mutual consent.
What is the origin of kink?
The exact origin and nature of nontraditional desires is still up for debate, but researchers hypothesize that sexual orientation or socially constructed behavior—or a combination of both—attracts people to kinks.
Psychologists believe that human behavior, development and identity are formed from a combination of personality factors. Preferences for certain kinds of sexual behaviors are then associated with specific personality characteristics. For example, increased levels of agreeableness and openness to new experiences might align with an individual’s predisposition to kinky play.
For some people, it is clear from their innate knowledge of self and earliest memories that they want something more than conventional sex. For others, the path to kink is found over time as they become more aware of their desires, explore gender or sexual orientation, and learn more about the kinky lifestyle and their interest in it.
Types of kinks
Human sexual desire manifests in many ways, and that diversity extends to kinks and fetishes, as well. Popular kinks include:
- Intense sensations, such as pain and choking
- Interpersonal power/control exchanges
- Specific nonreproductive body parts or inanimate objects
- Enacting roleplay
- Inducing heightened or altered states of consciousness
- Using implements like whips, canes, paddles, clamps, knives and restraints
- Sensation play/sensory deprivation
A large portion of kink participants fall under the umbrella of BDSM, a combination acronym that stands for: bondage and discipline (B/D), dominance and submission (D/s), and sadism and masochism (S/M).
Bondage and discipline (B/D) means the restricting of movement for functional, psychological or aesthetic reasons. This can involve rope, handcuffs, leather wrist/ankle cuffs, special bondage tape, Saran wrap and straitjackets. At its most basic, discipline refers to a dominant training or punishing a submissive.
Dominance and submission (D/s) refers to various interactions, rituals and agreements designed to emphasize the power of one person over another. This can involve service, special body positions and humiliation play.
Sadism and masochism (S/M) is about achieving sexual arousal from receiving or invoking physical or mental abuse and/or humiliation.
BDSM often includes roleplaying, which emphasizes the practice’s theatrical and creative nature. In this type of play, individuals change their behavior and sometimes wear costumes to assume the role of a different person. Popular relationship dynamics to roleplaying include boss/employee, pirate/captive and homeowner/maid, among many others.
Types of fetishes
A fetish typically refers to an attraction or intense focus on a specific object as a necessary part of a person’s sexuality. Among a highly varied spectrum, fetishes include:
- Body fluids—ejaculate, saliva, urine or breast milk
- Body parts—feet, hair or body features, such as piercings or tattoos
- Clothing—specific fashions or shoes, or the act of crossdressing to break traditional gender roles
- Food—ice cubes, strawberries, whipped cream, as well as the action of feeding others or being fed
Consent is essential
For the inexperienced, learning about kinks and fetishes may feel intimidating, but there are multiple routes of healthy exploration to take. It’s important to note that a critical component of all kink and fetish activities is consent. All participants must freely choose to engage, they must have full details of the activity and there must be no threat of real-life coercion or force.
Most kinky sessions will begin with a discussion where ground rules are set and an agreement is made on the agenda for the play session. The discussion should include the following:
- Establish safe words or safe signals to communicate a need to stop, slow down or speed up
- Negotiate limits and desires beforehand
- Debrief afterward to discuss what was fun and what wasn’t, and how the activity can be improved
These practices acknowledge that consent is an ongoing process, rather than a one-time commitment. Consent exchange ensures all participants are empowered and bound together by mutual trust.
Unfortunately, intimate partner violence can coexist with kink activities or relationships. In a large online survey, 29 percent of respondents reported that their pre-negotiated limits and/or safe word had been violated. In about one-third of these incidents, the breach was accidental, either due to a miscommunication or a lack of knowledge and skills, but two-thirds involved abusive behavior.
Many physicians are kink-informed and able to diagnose sexual abuse when they see it. Troubling behaviors such as repeatedly pushing boundaries without discussion or negotiation, refusing to listen to a partner’s concerns, or restricting access to money, people or safer-sex decisions are common red flags for clinicians.
Kinks & health care
Individuals who engage in kink could be at risk for health complications if activities go awry. Risks include nerve damage, joint strain, numbness, falling, retained rectal and vaginal objects, or injury from a misplaced paddle stroke or knife. Preventing kink injury through general safe practices and harm reduction should be a priority for people who engage in kinky sexual activities.
Beyond the confines of the bedroom (or the dungeon), kink-informed physicians provide a safe place where clients can discuss the unique difficulties they face. Meaningful conversations can include giving advice on playing safely when a medical condition requires modification or limitations, such as avoiding strain upon joints for people with arthritis, or the need for quick-release restraints for asthmatics.
Kinks and fetishes can add a lot of spice to anyone’s sex life. Just remember to do your homework, have discussions with your partner and, most important, respect their boundaries. Have fun, but don’t go too far if your partner isn’t on board.