KinkTok is Filling the Void Left Behind By NSFW Tumblr

TikTok is fostering a vibrant, sex-positive community of people into kink under the hashtag #KinkTok.
27 August 2020, 8:00am
TikTok KinkTok BDSM Kink Sub Dom Community
Screenshots via TikTok

TikTok can be a pretty horny place. While the app might have gained popularity for viral dance challenges, you're now just as likely to stumble across the “good girl challenge”, where creators – usually male, deep-voiced – respond to comments asking them to make a video saying “good girl” while staring seductively into the camera. These TikToks get millions of views. But outside of that, there's also a growing community of kinksters sharing soundbites online about what being into kink really entails.

The KinkTok hashtag currently has more than 390 million views. “Adult nudity and sexual activity” are banned under TikTok’s guidelines, making it more of a PG space than NSFW Tumblr was before 2018, when the latter platform introduced content restrictions. But users still have the freedom to talk about choking, spanking, rope-tying and sub-dom play in educational, stigma-free and often comedic ways. It's also not as overtly sexual as, say, PornHub, which could otherwise be where the kink-curious might go looking for information.

Like many KinkTokers, 25-year-old Marcus discovered TikTok’s kink community via his targeted For You page. “I mostly just fell into it to be honest,” he says. He started sharing a few cartoonish, kink-based joke vids and has since amassed a large following. “All people need to see is others doing kink in an accessible, non-judgemental way and see that you don’t have to be a hardcore, 24/7 kinkster to be into kinky sex,” he explains.

Despite attitudes towards non-normative sex becoming more open and accepting, there's still a lot of stigma surrounding kink practices. With that in mind, TikTok can be a great way to present kinks in an approachable and lighthearted way that people can relate to.

Reducing stigma and shame is 27-year-old KinkToker Pixie-Pie’s main goal. “I consider myself a very sex-positive person and want to attempt to minimise and prevent stigma in these areas and discussions,” she says. “Having [kinks] demonised and kept ‘secret’ is what keeps people feeling shamed, hinders safety and only enables dangerous and manipulative individuals and practices.”

In her early years of self-discovery, before the adult content ban, Pixie-Pie used Tumblr to find information about kink. “As I’m sure is common for a lot of people in the kink community, Tumblr was a mostly safe space to learn and explore the world of sex, kink and BDSM,” she says. “It’s probably the platform that really helped introduce me to BDSM and understand what I enjoyed and how I identified. From there I was able to go and do my own research and cross-reference information.” TikTok is similar to Tumblr in its ability to connect people, but its content format can be more limiting. Inhibitive character counts and video lengths mean that in depth information has to be sought elsewhere.

While there’s a lot of useful advice on KinkTok, it shouldn’t be used on its own as a complete educational resource. Sex educator Nate decided to start making KinkToks after seeing an instructional shibari rope video on the app that failed to mention safety measures. Since then, he’s had 19-year-olds, people in their 70s and everyone in between asking questions, sharing videos and divulging intimate details of their life with him.

“I decided that, given my prior experience teaching at my university, it was important to share more information, specifically safety information, about kink,” he explains. “The way TikTok can match people with common interests is why we have flourished so much. We’ve normalised kink more than anything and with all of the safety we’ve talked about, we’ve helped people avoid or potentially leave abusive situations.”

No matter the platform, the kink community will always have to deal with its share of fake doms and abusers. But KinkTokers are a powerful force to be reckoned with, calling out abusive behaviour where they see it and holding abusers accountable in their videos. Creators with large followings can seem trustworthy, which makes it easier for them to manipulate young, impressionable followers who may not be as experienced when it comes to kink. KinkTokers do their best to educate around red flag behaviours and questions to ask a potential dom before engaging in any kind of relationship.

KinkTok is also helping to accurately reflect what a kinky relationship really “looks” like. Thanks to films and books like Fifty Shades of Grey, in the mainstream imagination, BDSM is between a man and a woman, both white and able-bodied, with the man as the dominant and the woman as the submissive. But this is far from being the case for every BDSM relationship. KinkTok shows that anyone and everyone can explore kinky sex. You’ll find creators with all body types, races and sexualities enjoying, educating and living their best kinky lives.

Scorpio got into KinkTok after a popular creator contacted him saying she was happy to see another kinkster of colour on the platform. “I made one risqué video about rougher sex rather than kink and it did rather well,” he says, “So I decided to see if it would happen again and made another video about kink and it went from there. I’m one of few Black male doms on the platform and it’s something that gets brought up in my comments. I’m glad to see that my community feels more comfortable being open about their interest in the lifestyle.”

Outside of the KinkTok community, there are conflicting views about whether this kind of content should exist on an app that is largely by and for teenagers. The number of minors on TikTok and the inability to add an age block or sufficient content warning to videos is a problem that many KinkTokers face. “I’m an advocate for education without participation when it comes to minors in kink,” Scorpio explains. “But if I see them on my page, I block them for my safety. However, I believe they should be educated on the subject if interested so they don’t end up hurting themselves in the future.”

After all, at its core, KinkTok is about self-discovery and fun at the same time as reducing stigma and curtailing abuse. And until we see healthier depictions of kink in mainstream pop culture, online communities like KinkTok will continue to thrive in it’s place, enlightening us one dirty joke at a time.

@sophlwilson