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the hidden language

The Hidden Language of Kinksters

Kevin Allison, host of the Risk! podcast and member of comedy troupe The State, explains the meaning and origin behind the slang terms of the kink sex community.

In The Hidden Language, Nat Towsen interviews an insider of a particular subculture in order to examine the terms and phrases created by that subculture to serve its own needsThis is language innate to an insider and incomprehensible, if not invisible, to an outsider.

Kevin Allison alternates between candid description (“In scat, the person being pooped on is the bottom.”) and mirthful laughter. Kevin is a kinkster, gay, and a member of the comedy group The State, but more importantly hosts the oft-downloaded podcast Risk! True Tales Boldly Told.


Two years ago, he took the advice of his own podcast sign-off  (“Take a risk!”) and accepted an invitation to “kink camp,"hoping to escape his comfort zone of blasé gay sex orgies. Two years later, he is an instructor at that same camp, teaching a class called “Everything You Can Do To An Ass, Other Than Fuck It.”

Kevin spoke to me about the world of kink. This is by no means a complete list of kink terminology, but rather a brief selection of key terms and terms of interest.

Kevin Allison. Photo by Gene Silvers


Quotation marks denote the words of Mr. Kevin Allison. Brackets denote paraphrasing by the author. All other text is directly quoted from Mr. Kevin Allison.

BDSM: [a portmanteau acronym for] Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism

Kink: An easier way to say BDSM. Any fetish that has an erotic charge to it would be called kinky.

Thinking of sex as a limitless adventure. There is not a finite number of ways to do it. Sex is a constant process of discovery.

I met a guy in Amsterdam who said that everything is kink. Everything can be thought of [that way]. Pain can be perceived as pleasurable if you’re going about it differently.

Vanilla: adj. Not kinky. Sexual activity that is generally accepted as normal.

Bottom: n. In any activity, someone who is being done to rather than the doer.

[note: the kink culture definition is far more abstract than the usage we find in gay culture, wherein “bottom” usually signifies the recipient of anal sex.]


e.g.  In scat, the person being pooped on is the bottom.

Top: n. Antonym to [‘bottom’]. In kink play, a person who is doing something to a bottom.

Dom/sub: n. A person who is dominant/a person who is submissive.

Versus Top/Bottom:

There’s more psychological weight on the idea of being a dom or a sub, [whereas] a top or a bottom is someone who is basically just doing or being done to. A dom or sub has a higher-status or lower-status psychological role that they are playing.

Switch: n. A person who can be dominant and can be submissive, but does not identify as always a dom or always a sub

Top from the Bottom: v. [to direct or control the experience from the position of the bottom. Not generally permitted in dom/sub relationships.]

e. g. How about if you whipped me with that?

Houseboy sub: n. The agreement was that he would pay a very low rent and in exchange he would keep the house clean, and also just be my sexual plaything whenever I wanted.

Daddy Dom or Sensual Dom: n. [A dom who is] a little bit more sweet and nurturing, like a tough-love coach at times.”

Brat: n. A sub who is [deliberately] uncooperative. Someone who is topping from the bottom. Could be literally age play, someone pretending to be young.

24/7: [Dom/sub relationship in which the dominant partner controls nearly every aspect of submissive partner’s life, according to terms negotiated in advance.]

e.g. Can I tell you who you’re gonna vote for for president?


Negotiation: n. Before the scene ever starts (a lot of people like to do it a couple days before) people talk as human beings, outside of roles: limits, preferences, that kind of stuff. It can be kind of a seductive, fun, fantasy-filled conversation.

People draw up contracts, mostly for 24/7, not usually initial encounters

Protocol: n. [The procedure or rules of a D/s relationship.]Although there are plenty of stereotypical manners that people employ, it's usually a person-to-person agreed-upon thing.

e.g. Don't call me Sir, call me Master.

Soft Limit: n. [An activity that one party would rather avoid, established in negotiation.]

e.g I'd really rather not go there unless you want to in a huge way and you go into it slowly.

Hard Limit: n. [An activity banned by one party during negotiation.]

e.g. If you start take a shit on me, I'll safe-word immediately and end the scene.

Squick: v. [to bother on a pre-conscious level. Connotes an immediate reaction devoid of moral or value judgment.]

e.g. I’d prefer that you not talk about scat play at lunch because it squicks me out. No judgment!

Play: n. [Sex, or sex involving some form of role-playing.] Basically an easier way of saying ‘let’s have sex’ [is] ‘do you want to play?’ People will tag that on the end of different branches of kink, like puppy play. People do like to feel like it’s adult play, playtime

The more playful it is, the more there’s a feel of  “Ahh, this is new.”


Power Play: n. A synonym for “dominance and submission.”

Sapio Play: n. A mindfuck. That part of play where nothing has actually even started happening. A person is just in their brain freaking out.

e.g. [an electro device being waved close to, without touching, the skin of a bound person]

extreme e.g. [a simulated castration, negotiated without explicit mention of its simulated nature, complete with beef brains and caro syrup]

Hypno Play: n. [kink play in which a dom hypnotizes a sub in order to make them believe there are bonded.] I don’t know how much I believe in that or not.

Animal Play: n.[kink play in which one partner, usually the sub, pretends to be an animal]

Puppy Play: n.  Where the submissive takes the role of literally being like a canine.  The dom treats them the way that a dog trainer would. The weird part is that they also molest them.

It’s almost a way of infantilizing. The way I’ve usually seen it is that a younger person will want to run around with a muzzle on, barking, with a buttplug in that’s got a tail.

Pony Play: n. Anything having to do with horses. People who are really into pony play…you don’t hear about sex happening.  Those people are buying expensive horse gear, like saddles. And they’ll have a kind of horse that they are. “I am a wild Mustang.” Some are into dressage, being paraded around on show. That’s the play for them: It’s just to show off how much they can act like a horse.


I spoke to someone and she said, yes, she has had sex stuff happen in the context of grooming the horse.

Age Play: n. Acting like one person is an adult and one person is a child. [Somewhat taboo, even in the kink community, due to connotation of pedophilic desires.]

Electro: n. Kink play that involves electrically-charged [objects]: stun guns, cattle prods, Violet Wands

Ella Fitzgerald: [A euphemism for scat play, used to get around content restrictions of certain online communities.] People have to say “I’m a fan of Ella Fitzgerald.”

[Kinkster social networking site] Fetlife bans any mention of the word scat. It turns out that is only because of their credit card company, [who] says “we don’t want to have anything to do with that fetish.” [Fetlife is] apologetic about it. [They] don’t mean to ostracize.

After-care: n. It’s considered the dom’s responsibility to bring a sub back down to earth at the end, make sure that person is calmed down, caressed, checked in with, [feeling] okay.

Bottom Drop: n. Subs sometimes fall into a brief depression after an intense scene. They made themselves vulnerable and needy. Now they're on their own.

Sub Space: n. Subs sometimes go into an almost ‘out of body’ or hypnagogic state if they get into the role successfully enough.

e.g. You can't tell someone who is into puppy play, “Oh, bark like a dog!” in random conversation. They'll likely answer, “Well, I have to be in sub space.”


Compersion: n. When someone is pleased to see their lover getting sexual pleasure from someone else. The opposite of jealousy.

Munch: n. A purely social gathering of kinksters, no sex involved.


In the week since interviewing Kevin, I’ve found myself using the word squick with some frequency. It’s filled my need for a word that explains, without judgment, that while I support completely honest communication, there are certain topics that I have a hard time stomaching. Sapio might be a less useful vocabulary word, but the concept is applicable to myriad scenarios. A comedian who tells long, story-like jokes might consider the lead-up to the punchline—exposition which can nonetheless draw laughs via anticipation—to be a form of sapio. Topping from the bottom is also applicable outside the world of kink: a student who corrects their tutor’s methods; a restaurant patron with too many requests for the chef. For that matter, Top and Bottom are fun words to apply in an entirely non-sexual context: my physical therapist is a top; the reader of this article is a bottom.  Soft Limit andHard Limit are can also be applied non-sexual topics: mixing sweet and savory foods is a soft limit for me. And while I doubt I’ll have much practical use for the euphemism, I will always quietly chuckle when I hear someone say that they are “a fan of Ella Fitzgerald.”


For more kink vocabulary, has a fairly thorough (though less personal) glossary of kink terminology.

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