©2016 VICE Media LLC

    The VICE Channels

      How to Make Sex and Relationships Work When Only One of You Is Kinky How to Make Sex and Relationships Work When Only One of You Is Kinky
      Illustration by Heather Benjamin

      How to Make Sex and Relationships Work When Only One of You Is Kinky

      January 31, 2016


      Sometimes a couple's interests don't totally match up. One of you likes model trains while the other would rather crochet sweaters for the cat; one partner aspires to trek the length of the Appalachian Trail while the other's idea of an ideal evening involves a large plate of barbecue, a half-ounce of high-quality weed, and a Fast and Furious marathon. This is all fine and relatively easy to sort out within the bounds of a healthy long-term relationship, but when the different interests are of a bedroom nature the negotiations can get complicated. What do you do when one of you prefers missionary and considers even relatively tame moves like the Alleged Kanye to be beyond the pale, and the other can't get off without involving sounding, feeding, or laying "alien eggs" inside their body cavities?

      "Partners will have different sexual interests," says Dr. Zhana Vrangalova , an adjunct professor at New York University and founder of The Casual Sex Project , an initiative that encourages people to anonymously share stories and experiences related to casual sex. "With kink, those desires and needs can be very strong. If you can't get those needs met in your long-term relationships, you won't be very happy. Just like non-sexual needs, sexual can be critical to who you are."

      Take Wendy and Matt, a pair I met through Reddit who've been in a relationship for 11 years. Wendy likes "consensual non-consensual scenes," such as "forced" anal. Matt, ironically, isn't into that stuff. Or at least he wasn't at first. Through a willingness to explore and communicate about Wendy's sexual preferences, the two were able to figure out a way they could both satisfy their carnal itches.

      "I think it's usually a good idea to stay open-minded about something you're not sure about," is what Vrangalova tells to couples who are struggling to match up their desires. "Give it a try and see what works for you or not." If anything, the longer you wait to test out your kinks, fetishes, and various sexual curiosities with your partner, the more difficult it can become to try together.

      "Of course, if your partner is interested in something that you are absolutely disgusted by, or offended by, your response still might be, Not for me, ever," notes the sex therapist. But communication, compared to secrecy or repression, is an obvious factor to the success of any relationship, especially when it comes to sex.

      And even if a couple can't get down with the same kink, there are other ways to make relationships work. For Mallory and Eric, another couple I met through the website FetLife, when one partner wouldn't budge on his resistance to her interest in sadism, the two made their marriage work through polyamory.

      "With kink in particular, where one partner is vanilla and the other one is kinky, a [non-monogamy agreement] can work really well," says Vrangalova. "Some of the issues that people have in opening up their sexual relationship has to do with fears that the partner will leave them for someone else because that someone else is better, or more attractive, or something like that. If the primary partner can feel less threatened if this other person is giving them something that they cannot give, it can be a very healthy and sort of safe way to explore kink in non-monogamy."

      Finding someone whose company you enjoy enough to consider spending a few years—or a lifetime—with is a rare hand to be dealt. To learn how couples make true love work in the face of varying kinks, I spoke to three couples—including Wendy/Matt and Mallory/Eric with divergent sexual sensibilities to learn how they made their relationships work. (Names have been changed to preserve anonymity, and the interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.)


      For more on sex, watch our doc 'The Japanese Love Industry':


      Mallory and Eric
      Age: 31 and 32
      Years Together: 15

      VICE: How'd you two meet?
      Mallory: We started dating in 2000 in high school when I was 15 and he was 16. I had started identifying as polyamorous before we were together. So when we started dating, I said, "We could try this, but I don't want it to be a monogamous relationship." And he, being a 16-year-old, was like, "Oh yeah, sure." We went from there.

      How are your kinks different?
      Eric: Well the question assumes that I have kinks, and that's something that I would dispute. I am about as vanilla they come.

      How do your differences play out, then?
      Eric: The short version is she likes hurting people and I don't like pain.

      Mallory: I say to people that we are hilariously sexually incompatible for two people who are actually quite attracted to each other physically. My coming out as kinky involved going to college and reading message boards about BDSM and being fascinated. Eventually I got involved with a second person. That was my first attempt of having another relationship on top of mine with Eric. I was determined to make [polyamory] work.

      So did you guys ever find a way to incorporate pain with each other, or does Mallory just do that with other partners?
      Eric: I think the last time that we tried to do that... I just broke into uncontrollable laughter, which does put a damper on the mood.

      Mallory: We definitely don't explore it with each other. I mean, I said we were hilariously sexually incompatible, even outside of pain and non-pain things. We've struggled a lot with sex because we're both looking for the other person to be the reactive one, where one of us is very vocal about wanting things or doesn't even need to be the first initiator. When we're both looking to feed off the sexual energy of the other person, it kind of clashes and doesn't really start a [sexual] feedback loop. For a while we had a mutual girlfriend. She started the feedback loop and it worked really well until she moved to a different continent.

      So what is your sex life like currently?
      Eric: I don't remember the government statistic that defines a sexless marriage, but we're close.

      Mallory: We struggled with our different kinks for a long time. We'd try to have sex and read Dan Savage's advice and work on things. When we were having sex with [the other woman], when it was the three of us it went really well. Even though it wasn't kinky, we had the feedback loop. When she moved, there was a certain amount of coming around to the fact that sex just didn't work that well. We've both had [outside] partnered relationships for about three years at this point and sort of slowly stopped having sex with each other.

      I think the question that a lot of people would wonder is, why stay together?
      Mallory: Eric and I have a relationship where sex has never been very important. We're life partners, and if one of us were to start dating someone else I think we'd continue to be life partners. Sex is not the center of the relationship. It's not what binds the relationship; it's not what defines the relationship, even though it is a romantic relationship.

      I think we'll probably continue to try to have our awkward version of sex because it does provide good intimacy from time to time. I feel like if you were to show our story to people that are just starting to struggle with this [same compatibility issue], it would be very easy for them to say that we're not a success story. But it's a relationship we both really like, and it works for us, and we're both happy that we're poly. I adore his girlfriend. I came back from the Netherlands, and she left me some chocolate-chip cookies and some cupcakes with a note that said, "Welcome back, here are American things to welcome you to America!"

      Eric: People tend to think that a relationships equal sex or sometimes the other way around. And I don't think that you need to put yourself into that mold. If you're able to have a relationship that isn't sexual, then awesome for you.

      Wendy and Matt
      Age: 30 and 33
      Years Together: 11

      VICE: How did you two meet?
      Wendy: We met in high school. We were just friends for a number of years, but started dating in our early 20s. We got married in 2007.

      Can you tell me about your sexual preferences?
      Wendy: I like to be verbally degraded, restrained, and made to feel as if I'm being used. I enjoy consensual non-consent scenes. Spitting, face slapping, "forced" anal—stuff like that. I have been this way as long as I can remember.

      Matt: I love getting my wife hot and bothered through her kinks. By proxy I do enjoy being in a dominant position, since she is sexually submissive, but I enjoy it a more in the moment than as a total sexual need.

      What was it like when you first realized you had different kinks? Were you scared about losing the relationship?
      Wendy: I was pretty hesitant to share the breadth of my kinks. I wasn't comfortable putting myself out there all the way. I tried to introduce some of it slowly. I thought he would be really turned on by all of this, but he was indifferent. He would make some mild attempts at kink, but it always fizzled.

      Finally, I just laid all my cards on the table, after numerous years together. I wasn't necessarily scared I would lose the relationship right then and there. Rather, I was scared that he would my [dismiss] my desires as just not something he cared about or could relate to, and that I wouldn't be able to get over the shame, embarrassment, and hurt of that. I couldn't even bring myself to do it face-to-face. I had to write him a letter.

      Matt: There were a lot of conversations, honesty, and tears before we finally started to figure things out. My wife telling me she wanted to be slapped, degraded, and dominated was difficult—and somewhat surprising. Not only was it hard morally, I also didn't have much interest in it. We worked into it slowly, on my behalf, but after some experience things fell into place.

      So I understand Matt did a bit of a 180, going from vanilla to kink.
      Wendy: It is so different now, and honestly it's on a level now that I never really thought it could get to. It was like a switch flipped in him, and he became a different person, sexually. The dude who once said that he thought anal was gross and that he had no interest in role-play or BDSM whatsoever actually surprised me by building a dungeon in our basement while I was out of town.

      We are on Fetlife now, and we have also been opening up our relationship a bit to include some threesomes, which has been really fun. Exploring BDSM together sort of opened the door for the non-monogamy thing, which is something I don't think either one of us thought we would try. But here we are, and it's going pretty fucking great.

      What advice would you give to another couple that is very much in love but has different sexual tastes?
      Wendy: Don't wait too long to lay your kink cards on the table. It won't get easier to talk about over time, you'll just end up feeling like it's more and more weird to be suddenly bringing this up, and in the meantime, you'll each be getting more sexually frustrated. Be willing to try things for your partner—you might be really surprised by what you end up loving. We both were. Just be willing to communicate, that's the most important thing.

      Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson
      Authors of Partners in Passion
      Age: 56 and 51
      Years Together: 17 Years

      VICE: When I started doing this story, I thought of your book, Partners in Passion, which is about to make love last and keep sex satisfying, and got curious about your advice.
      Patricia: I think there are some powerful teaching grounds around our story.

      Your differences came out during an event you attended, correct?
      Maybe ten years ago, we went to an event called Dark Odyssey, which is a weekend-long, pansexual erotic workshop. At the time, it was heavily attended by people in the BDSM community. We went as an experiment to expand our sexual horizons, to grow as individuals. We were petrified. The first night they had a mixer with a stage with a wheel on it that they called the Wheel of Destiny. It had various words and various types of BDSM activities written on it, and when it was your turn to spin, you'd be able to sample each activity for about two minutes. I got up, spun the wheel, and just stared at the options. There was one word I was staring at that my brain couldn't comprehend at first. The wheel, of course, went click...click...click...and landed on that word— punching.

      She [the sex educator] started aiming blows with the back of her hand to my shoulders and chest, but it was more like a deep repercussive feeling in my body. She suddenly came across my chest with a big blow with her entire forearm. At that moment, I was jettisoned into another realm that I did not have words to describe. And it was a complete aha moment.

      Mark Michaels: I went to the wheel and I landed on caning. There were all these experienced kinksters around there like, "Oh you're in trouble." I took my pants off and I bent over the horse [a BDSM prop] and the woman doing the demo wasn't hitting me very hard, but it wasn't unpainful. It was definitely not a turn-on for me. But what I did experience is insight into what kink is all about [because] I really went into an altered state of consciousness, a trance, within 30 seconds of getting started. It gave me a lot of insight into why people might do these things. Before I intellectually understood them, but I didn't have the knowledge in my body for the physical aspect.

      So would you say when it comes to BDSM kinks you were the more vanilla one of the two?
      Mark: I would say I am the more vanilla one, certainly when it comes to BDSM. So we came back from this event and all of a sudden Patricia liked impact play. I grew up with 70s-era feminism, and this whole idea of hitting a woman was just, like, not OK. And she wanted me to hit her, which was a very, very hard obstacle to overcome.

      Patricia: The thing is that this related to our background in tantra. Tantra is a practice; it's an exploration. And, as such, you're always opening up to new things. So it's not like you come [pre-packaged with set kinks], at least that's been our experience.

      What is tantra?
      Mark: Our nutshell definition of tantra is that tantra is an ancient Indian tradition that recognizes sexual energy for personal and spiritual empowerment. Tantra is also a tradition that treats practice as experimentation. Going to [Dark Odyssey] was an example of that experimental attitude—pushing the boundaries and doing something outside of our comfort zone.

      How did you you work to satisfy Patricia's kink?
      Mark: The way that I overcame it took two forms. One was instruction from people who really know [BDSM] and really know how to do it well. So I had spanking lessons and I took a flogging workshop and got a little bit of experience with a flogger. I still had to get past this mental piece, and what I was able to do to accomplish that was to tap into the fact that it's pleasurable for her. And so even though I don't feel like I'm particularly kinky, by tapping into her excitement, I, in turn, became excited.

      So what advice would you have for a couple where one is vanilla and one is kinky?
      Mark: Finding a middle ground on the level of kink in your sex life is a great solution for people. It's not the only one by any means, but it can really work out well. If the communication is there, and they value maintaining the relationship or opening the relationship, then this can be just as valid and satisfying as finding middle ground. The important thing we advocate for people, whatever their relationship structure is, is to be collaborative with their sexual lives.

      Follow Sophie on Twitter

      Topics: kink, bdsm, sex, sex lives, relationships, nsfw, polyamory, threesomes, sadism, masochism, leather, fetish, fetishes, fetlife, couples, partners, lgbt, lgbtq, dating, marriage, relationship advice, dr. zhana vrangalova, the casual sex project, heather benjamin

      Comments

      Top Stories

      Are you over 18?

      The stuff you're trying to look at is considered "naughty" by busybodies, legal types, and (probably) your mom, so we'd like to make sure you're of legal age before we let you see it.