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How Kink Made These People’s Sex Lives Healthier

From relieving stress to consent education, getting kinky has a lot of benefits.

by Laura Bell
10 October 2018, 4:24am

Image courtesy Hump! Festival

I had the pleasure of attending Vancouver's annual Hump! Festival a couple of weeks ago, an alternative porn film festival that describes itself as a “celebration of creative sexual expression” and the brainchild of Savage Love columnist Dan Savage. But Hump! Festival is so much more than just sitting down to watch strangers fist each other with PVC gloves. It’s a platform and event designed to normalize the kinky stuff and create an environment where discussions around safe and consensual kink play is encouraged. The curated program spans different body types, shapes, ages, colors, sexualities, genders, kinks, and fetishes which are all linked by their shared spirit of sex positivity.

Sex positivity is the understanding that all consensual sexual activities are healthy, pleasurable and should be encouraged, whether that’s the kinky stuff or not. What I realized after watching strangers fuck each other with aubergines (we’re talking actual aubergines not the emoji innuendo kind) is just how much a relationship with kink does correlate with one's own sex positivity. Kink play is literally born from consent; it's necessitated by conversations of ‘this is OK’ and ‘we’re both into this’ which, in turn, allows total uninhibited sexual expression. This is refreshing to see, especially in the current political climate where we’re regularly witnessing women’s sexual liberation, safety and consent as less of a priority than the desires of men. However, for many women, exploring kink is a way to challenge that, with kink becoming a way to fully take agency over their own bodies and pleasure.

So I wanted to chat to women and gender non conforming folk who have kink as part of their daily lives and see how their relationship with the kinky stuff impacts their attitudes towards sex, sex positivity and consent; whether that be by bolstering body confidence, finding empowerment or merely as a way to de-stress. Does having an anal fisting kink make you more sex positive than the rest of us? I sought out some kinksters to find out.

Dolly, 33, New York

VICE: Hey Dolly, so what is your relationship with kink?
Dolly: It’s a long standing one.

I’m intrigued, will you tell me some of your kinks?
As I'm sure a lot of people who explore kink will tell you, it’s never just one thing. It’s like opening a Pandora's box of all these bizzarities that you realize turn you on. I'm big into textures; so latex, leather, PVC and stuff. Right now I’m obsessed with silk; silk sheets, silk negligee, silk straps.

Kinky! So how do you find your kinks help to enforce a healthy attitude towards sex?
I naturally think anything you have assurance about helps foster a healthier attitude. I’ve learned and honed my kinks and I think that automatically makes my relationship with them and sex in general healthier; I understand what turns me on and know what prioritizing my pleasure looks like, and I think that is the healthiest approach to sex you can have.

So your kinks help you put your pleasure first?
Well yes and no. I think for women we're often told our pleasure doesn’t matter, and that we can enjoy sex but ultimately it’s over when the guy cums, but for me playing with a kink that both me and my partner both mutually love is a way to make sure the sex act becomes much more balanced and the equal weight on both our pleasure makes me so much more confident and sexy.

Where do you think kink has the most positive effect?
I think body confidence. I like the way I look in the negligee. I like the feeling of the silk on my skin. I like the way my partner looks at me. All of it is cohesive in bringing together a healthy and comfortable approach to my body. So many women struggle with their own body image because we live in a society that is constantly making us feel bad about how we look. Every day it's like—‘what does society tell us we should look like today?’, ’what does society tell us we should wear?’, ’who is claiming purchase over our bodies today?’ As women we live day to day trying to find a way to own our bodies that doesn’t rely on someone else's validation. Owning my pleasure through kink is really helping me embrace my body. Rather than being detached to the jiggly wiggly parts of my body, I feel attached to it because it’s my body in its entirety that gives me pleasure.

I love that! And does that focus on your kink make sex healthier for you?
Yes I think the the initial chats of "this is what I like" and "I like it when you do this" means that you bypass any issues of "murky consent" because you're spelling it out to your partner. Kink opens up that dialogue because it’s like a verbal contract, it’s an actual vocal "yes I want this" that I think all sex, whether kinky or not, would benefit from.

How important is your kink in relation to sex positivity?
Very. It’s a pretty symbiotic relationship in that if I wasn’t sex positive I wouldn’t explore kink in the way that I do, but if I wasn't into exploring kink I don’t think I would have such a firm hand on my own understanding of sex positivity. I think because it prioritizes my pleasure, and my comfort and my confidence, playing with kink is so important for me.

Jen, 29, Manchester UK

VICE: Hey Jen, so what are some of your kinks?
Jen: I would mainly identify as being a sub/bottom/masochist, and being a brat. There are a number of kinks that I am definitely interested in but have yet to explore and I am looking forward to trying!

Fun! So do you find being kinky helps to enforce a healthy attitude towards sex?
For sure! For me sex is not just about the end goal, but also about self-expression, and a place to go to centre myself especially during stressful times. My kinks are an outlet for the daily high-stress and responsibilities I deal with. They allow me to have all responsibility taken away from me, as literally someone else has full control. This gives me a mental and emotional ‘break,’ allowing me to let go completely. I find that the kick I get from being a sub particularly regenerative and energy-boosting too which is a bonus!

Great! Does kink have a similarly positively impact your relationships?
Definitely. When you find a partner who really enjoys sharing your kinks, you feel very secure in playing out these fantasies and scenarios. Once you find someone who is totally and completely on your level I definitely think you can be more explorative with it which is always fun. Sometimes it can be a little daunting, if trying new things, but this only serves to really strengthen the bond between partners.

Is there a higher level of consent and trust required when you introduce a partner to your kink?
Absolutely. You get to know your kink partner a lot quicker than with someone who isn't interested in kink as you’re exploring each other’s limits and the demands on the communication between you and your partner are higher.

In this way do you find your kinks make you feel safer in sexual settings?
I do, as my trust with my partner is the deepest it could be. The importance of safe words and visual indicators to how someone is dealing with a scenario is vital, and although I have never had a ‘contract’ with a partner, I am always 100 percent certain we have discussed and know each other’s boundaries beforehand.

How important is your kink then in relation to sex and relationship positivity?
Personally sex without kink becomes sort of a thing you just do out of habit and can become very routine and uninspiring, which ultimately can have a negative affect on the relationship and sex positivity in general.

Tom, 25, Birmingham UK

VICE: Hey Tom, so what is your relationship with kink?
Tom: Kink has played a huge part in helping my dysphoria. I came out as gay at 16 and as trans at 24. I experience intense ‘top dysphoria’ which means I bind a lot, and don’t enjoy my chest being touched or acknowledged when in a sexual situation. This means my sex life has adapted to that, and kink has been a huge part of that.

What are some of your kinks?
I love bondage. I adore having my partner tied up and being able to stand back and really appreciate their body. I’m very into chains and handcuffs, and I’m learning to explore rope play as well and really enjoy it. I think that’s partly the relief that it puts me in a very safe situation where my body can’t be touched but also puts me in control of the situation and lets me appreciate the woman in front of me and know that she can’t get away from the pleasure I want to make her feel.

How can your dysphoria affect your sex positivity?
Because of my dysphoria I can have moments where I don’t feel enough, I feel there’s parts of me that shouldn’t be there and parts missing, and that destroys my body confidence, so the last thing I want to do is share it with someone.

How has playing with kink counteracted that?
Being able to create a ‘play’ atmosphere helps. We will put on dim lighting or candles, some music, grab the blindfold and suddenly I don’t have anything to be self-conscious about. I find blindfolding a huge relief in the bedroom. I have boxers that have a harness built in (which I highly recommend!) and rather than feeling awful about having to use them, I let my partner pick which dick she wants me to use, and that creates a great sense of sexual tension and enjoyment, whilst taking away the worry for me. We can then start the play, and we literally do play; teasing games, power exchange, and toys all come into it.

Is there a higher level of consent and trust required when you introduce a partner to your kink?
Absolutely. I think if you’re going to explore any kink there needs to be trust and a lot of communication. It’s common practice to establish safe words, and that doesn’t have to be a mood killer of a conversation. It’s as easy as saying “so I use the traffic light system, does that suit you? Cool, grab the flogger.”

So how important is your kink in your own sex positivity?
Hugely, I would say that exploring kink actually went hand in hand with exploring my gender. It really encouraged me to connect with my body and figure out why I wasn't beforehand.

Robin, 38, London, UK

VICE: Hi Robin, so what are some of your kinks?
Robin: Ooooh.. Lots of things!

Give me a few?
I like power play. I like pain play, especially being bitten hard enough to leave bruises. I also like to be objectified—being incredibly passive, like a doll. I like to restrain people with ropes. I’m also a bit of an exhibitionist and like to be watched having sex. I also really love threesomes, foursomes or moresomes! I have a speculum to open my vagina with—it’s what a nurse or health practitioner would use to examine the cervix with. I love the feeling of fullness in my vagina, so being able to use the speculum to apply internal pressure is just lovely. I’m also pretty orally fixated, so I like having fingers in my mouth, or other things too.

Wow, quite the list! so how do you find these kinks help to enforce a healthy attitude towards sex?
I think that understanding what I enjoy, being frank and open about what I want and like, enables me to be able to be able to give clear ‘yes’s’ and ‘no’s’ to lovers. It’s much easier to describe how to touch my clit or my labia to someone who I have also built up the trust with to say how much pain I want them to inflict on my thighs!

Is there a higher level of consent and trust required when you introduce a partner to your kink?
Absolutely. Often our kinks might be seen as taboo to vanilla folk (or indeed other kinksters who don’t share our preferences), so I need to be able to trust someone to respect my desires, not try to shame me, or make me feel ‘weird.’ Consent needs to be discussed in great detail to ensure safe play and that pain levels and boundaries are respected too.

How do you make sure your kink play stays positive?
Taking care of one another and giving the utmost respect to one another is paramount, even if you’ve been consensually humiliating them for the last hour while you are dominating them, the after care, the ensuring that they’re OK afterwards is, for me, what differentiates between healthy and unhealthy play.

So your kink is a huge part of your sex positivity?
Yes! Being open and shame-free about my kinks can be joyous!

Tracie, 25, Berlin

VICE: Hey Tracie, so can you tell me about some of your kinks?
Tracie:I like verbal degradation, being slapped carelessly round the face, hair pulling, spitting, nipple spanking. I get really turned on by the thought of being punished for being a little brat.

When is it something you discovered?
I've always been into reading fiction about rough sex or rape, and have always been submissive in bed. At Torture Garden, a sex party in London, I discovered I loved dressing up, being spanked, watching others have sex. And through my new dom/sub relationship, I've realised I'm a huge masochist. I love taking pictures of my bruises after a beating and naming them.

Despite being consensually violent do you find your kinks help to enforce a healthy attitude towards sex?
Yes, I do. Communication is open and honest. I feel confident and liberated in my body, knowing that it gives someone so much pleasure.

Is there a higher level of consent required when you introduce a partner to your kink?
Definitely. Sometimes boundaries get pushed too far, even when you communicate and know one another well. Having a strong bond is really important in these situations. Safe words are obviously crucial, but it's important to pay attention to non-verbal signals too.

How important has kink been in taking agency over your own enjoyment of sex?
Extremely important. I really get off on the idea about how I shouldn’t enjoy it, but I do. I find degradation and pain incredibly satisfying—both physically and the mental headspace it puts me in afterwards. Like I’m blissed out. I feel accomplished too, if I’ve pushed through a difficult scene. And the feeling of being such an active participant in my own pleasure—trying new things and experimenting—is what turns me on most.

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