Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation where someone tried to kiss or touch you and you didn’t want it?
Have you ever kissed or touched someone else without asking for their consent?
Most of us have been taught not to talk about sex. There’s a fear that too much talking about it will make us uneasy and kill our sexual spontaneity. However, I’ve noticed one group of people who are breaking this taboo by talking about sex – and consent – a lot: the kink community.
I am a member of a group of San Diego therapists who meet regularly to discuss Gender, Sexuality, and Relationship Diversity (“GSRD”). The therapists in this group, founded by my friend, the late John McConnell, PhD, educate ourselves to be as knowledgeable as possible about serving the kink/fetish community. This community enjoys a wide variety of sexual practices, including BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism). Activities like being tied up or handcuffed (bondage), spanked (discipline) and certain types of sexual role-playing fall under umbrella of BDSM.
To make sure that all of their sexual partners are on the same page, “kinksters” (people in the kink/fetish community) have learned to talk about sex in a way that “vanilla” people – those who don’t participate in kinky activities – seldom do. My kinkster clients, colleagues and friends have taught me much about thoughtfully navigating sex and consent. This community that has made an art out of talking openly about sex.
A core principle of kink is negotiating with a prospective partner before anything happens. It’s a collaboration toward a common goal: each person’s sexual pleasure. This includes discussing what’s about to happen before it happens, mutually determining clear boundaries and making sure that everyone involved is on the same page. It’s opt-in consent (“If you say yes, it’s good”), as opposed to what the vanilla world works with – which is opt-out consent (“Unless you say no, I guess it’s okay”). Consent is ongoing; if something goes wrong and someone wants to stop, everything stops.
Kinksters are masters at skillfully talking about sex. They talk about what they want before having sex. They talk about sex during sex, and they talk about sex after it’s over (i.e., “I liked this but I didn’t like that” or “Can we try this next time?”)
How many of us are that conscientious? If we were, wouldn’t our sex lives get better and better? More and more fine-tuned? More relaxed and pleasurable? Wouldn’t it be great for your sex life to talk frankly with your partner(s) about what each of you wants and how you want to feel and experience, both physically and emotionally?
You might be thinking, “Ugh, this sounds like a lot of work”, but asking for what you want can be a very sexy type of foreplay, like who’s going to do what to whom (for example: who’s being spanked and who’s doing the spanking). Talking about fantasies is another way to get more of what you want from sex and to figure out what your partner(s) might want to do in bed.
Many of us have been told that we don’t have the right to honestly and respectfully ask for what we want sexually: we may even be too ashamed to ask when we’re sober. This lack of open and honest sexual communication has a negative effect on our sex lives. Talking openly about sex is about feeling empowered to ask for what you want – without shame, guilt or embarrassment – so you can have the sex that you want to have with the people you want to have it with.
In our sexual encounters, many of us avoid talking about what we want and what we don’t: as a result, our sex lives are often boring and far from what we secretly hope for/fantasize about.
Let’s talk more about sex: having better negotiation skills lead to more pleasurable and satisfying sex. We can all learn from the kink community and get more of what we want in ways that feel good to everyone involved.
We can all learn a lot from the kink/fetish community: I know I have.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.