Fetish has been increasingly entering the mainstream over the last few years. Films such as The Notorious Betty Page, Shortbus and Secretary have all brought kink out into the open, and nowadays it’s rare to see a catwalk show or fashion magazine that doesn’t have some kind of fetish influence. Obviously, this is good news for people who’ve previously been ashamed to admit their kinkier side to a lover as it provides a ‘starting point’ for discussion. However, they may well discover that their partner is less accepting than they might have hoped, which can lead to relationship problems.
Conversely, as kink becomes ‘cool’, it can also become a pressure. People who’d enjoy nothing more than some oral sex followed by penetration and a cuddle may feel that they have to experiment with group sex, BDSM or rubber just to show that they are ‘sexually confident’. This is only exacerbated by ‘kinky’ people who have issues with ‘vanillas’, considering them to have a lesser sexuality than fetishists.
While it’s easy to say ‘live and let live’ that’s only possible if you’re in a relationship with someone who shares your own sexual mores. So how can kinkster/vanilla couples find the compromise, and ensure that they both get what they want in the bedroom (or wherever)? Cliterati spoke to the world’s top sexperts to find out.
What is kink?
Before you can even tackle the issue, you need to establish what ‘kink’ and ‘vanilla’ mean to you – which is harder than it may sound as the definition is far from fixed. To Sam Roddick,who created designer sex boutique, Coco de Mer (recently sold to Lovehoney), kink is ‘theatrical sex’, while vanilla is ‘sensual sex’. Marcelle Perks, author of Secrets of Porn Star Sex (£6.99, Infinite Ideas Ltd) has a more concrete definition. “Kinky sex is something involving a fetish, where your lover wants you to perform a specific sexual task: for instance urinating on him to help get him off.”
Ashley Hames, broadcast journalist and author of Sin Cities: Adventures of a Sex Reporter (£7.99, Tonto Books, www.tontobooks.com) says his attitude to kink has changed over the years. “Back in the old days I used to think tying up, filthy talk, spanking, watersports, anything really that went beyond sex – where sex is the physical act of fucking or making love – was ‘kinky.’ Now, with experience, it’s all just part of the same game. I suppose if I was in bed with a girl and she reached for a strap on, brandished a knife, stuck me in handcuffs and then commanded me to take it like a girl, I’d be thinking, ‘hmm, this chick is pretty full-on in the kinky stakes.’ But I’d still be up for it. Obviously.” However, he describes vanilla sex as “perfectly enjoyable.”
Sex writer Al Needham, is more scathing about kink. Describing himself as “vanilla as fuck,” to him, kink is, “The faffy bits that people do either because they want to be marked out as alternative and different, or because they’re bored with conventional shagging, or because they’re going through a mid-life crisis,”
But for fetish scene regular Jenny*, who describes herself as a “bisexual, submissive,” it’s a political label. “For me, being kinky is like being gay. It’s the way I was born and not something I chose, and it’s something that has to be present in sex in one form or another for me to get off. In the same way that a gay man just isn’t going to enjoy having sex with a woman, I just don’t get anything out of vanilla sex.”
Mix And Match?
Given that even finding a definition is so problematic, can a relationship work between people with differing sexualities? Sam Roddick doesn’t see why not. “I think they can complement each other very well. In fact I think they need each other for variety.”
Sex educator and author Jamye Waxman agrees. “Communication and growing together are what make relationships work. If two people have different ideas of what is sexy, but are willing to explore each other’s definitions, and be open to enjoying them, even if it’s just because they get turned on by their partner being turned on, then any relationship can work.” As Al Needham says, “Sex isn’t everything. And in any case, compromises can be reached if it’s that important. If you feel you can’t be with someone without doing something in particular in the bedroom, stop wasting their time and go and find as someone as shallow as you are.”
Marcelle Perks has practical concerns. “With various partners the main problem with coping with some of their tastes was down to time. One partner only wanted to have sex if I was dressed up in latex wearing extreme high heels with a shaven pussy. It took a good hour for pre-preparation and then I would have to be tied up, so all in all it became exhausting fulfilling his fantasy and it made it impossible to have ‘a quick one.’”
And it’s just as tough for Jenny*. “For someone whose sexual identity is kinky, I think it’s a lot harder to have a successful relationship with a vanilla partner. I was with a vanilla man for six years and his lack of interest in kink was one of the main reasons we split up. We were only able to stay together as long as we did because we met when we were 18 and at that age I wasn’t really in touch with my sexual needs. But as I got older and started to understand myself better I felt increasingly frustrated, unfulfilled and bored. We actually experimented quite a lot with bondage, but that was as far as he’d go and it wasn’t enough for me. I started going fetish clubbing and tried to get him to come with me, but he refused. Although he was tolerant of my kink, he just didn’t want to be part of it any more than he already was. Eventually, I realised that I needed to be in a relationship that had kink at its heart, and finished with him. That was five years ago and since then all my relationships have been with Doms, and I have never regretted the decision. Everything just clicks into place when I’m with a kinky partner. When I’m with a vanilla partner I don’t feel as though I’m even really there, weird though that may sound.”
Mistress Grace agrees that a degree of kink is required. “I couldn’t date someone who wasn’t happy with pushing boundaries. I could modify my kinks and the amount of time I spend in fetish clubs but it’s a big part of who I am and they would have to be comfortable with that. Vanilla partners rarely object to more intense and passionate fucking but there is always room for straight fucking. It’s about getting the mix right.”
A Compromising Situation
So if you’re going to make a kink-imbalanced relationship work, you need to be prepared to put some work in. But how far is it acceptable to ask a partner to go?
Emily Dubberley says,“I don’t think anyone should ever do anything they don’t want to do, full stop. But there’s a difference between really not wanting to do something because it upsets or even scares you, and just not fancying something. That’s where compromise comes into it.”
So how do you introduce kink to a partner? Dr Pam Spurr, author of Fabulous Foreplay – The Sex Doctor’s Guide To Teasing And Pleasing Your Lover (Robson Books, £7.99) says, “A kinky partner should never rush into introducing their particular kink to their partner – in other words they shouldn’t jump out of the cupboard wearing their favourite gimp mask. Always begin with some fantasy-chat where you introduce your particular kink into a fantasy scenario and sound out how your partner feels about it. You might discover they share your same kink. If your kink involves different paraphernalia like fetish gear, always start by showing your partner the lighter side. For example you can get out your smooth, silk lash rather than your cat-o-nine tails.”
Jamye Waxman agrees you should go slowly. ‘Don’t just say, “Hey, I love wearing diapers and getting spanked.’ Talk about a dream you had where maybe you were wearing a diaper, and gauge your partner’s reaction. Or show them some pictures of sex acts that turn you on, and explain to them why you like them without asking for the act right away. Build them up to it, and if you can explain it, and if they can understand it and then see how much it excites you, they may be into trying it too.”
Ashley Hames’s recommendation for introducing a partner to kink is unconventional. “I would opt for dishonesty every time here. If you discover your partner is really tame and you feel the need to get things off the beaten track, then I would probably ease into it with a few stories about what your ‘friends’ said they had got up to. Then, when you’re in the sack, maybe suggest trying it ‘for a laugh.’ It’s tricky though. You need to tread carefully because it can be intimidating if you suddenly find out your partner is vastly more experienced than you are – when it comes to sex most men have egos the size of landfills. Similarly though, most of us can be converted to the ways of the kink.”
You Want What?
Conversely, if a partner raises the issue of kink with you, it’s important to react in the right way. Carly Milne thinks the worst way to react when confronted with a partner’s kink is with, “Anger, disgust, condemnation. What if your partner is confessing is something that’s important to them on an intimate level? Even if it’s not your personal deal, have some respect for that fact that it’s theirs. And if it’s something you truly can’t deal with, excuse yourself gracefully. There’s no need to make someone feel like a lesser human being for having different interests.”
Dr Pam Spurr says, “The worst way to react is by saying something insulting like, ‘you can’t possibly enjoy doing something that disgusting!’ That’s bound to make your partner close up like a clam or even feel disgusted with themselves, and that’s not a starting-point for developing greater intimacy. However, feel free to react with shock and disgust at anything illegal like paedophilia or sex with animals. You should be shocked – and they should know it – and you should urge them to get help.”
Illegal acts aside, Ashley Hames doesn’t think there’s a bad way to react if a partner admits to being kinky. “People react how they do and that’s that. A lot of kink is misinterpreted as perversion but you have to allow for that misunderstanding. Tolerance is obviously the preferred reaction. Basically you’re quids in if your vanilla partner shows a willingness to experiment and maybe step out of his/her own comfort zone to indulge your fantasies.”
Educating yourself is also important. If you’re a beginner looking for kink resources, try Informed Consent and London Fetish Scene even if you’re not in London as it’s packed with useful info and discussion. There’s a book called SM 101 by Jay Wiseman (£17.99, Greenery Press) that’s quite good. But to be honest, you’re much better off learning by doing than reading books on it.” Mistress Absolute agrees. “Getting to a fetish club or a munch means you can talk to people face to face which is better than reading just one person’s view in a book.” However, she has also produced the Beginner’s Guide to BDSM DVD for couples who are looking for inspiration.
And what if you want to persuade a kinky partner to hang up the whips for a night but fear they’ll find it boring? Sam Roddick says, “No type of sex is boring. However, repetitive sex of the same act over and over is dull. We need to take off the judgement of what is good sex and what is bad sex. Vanilla sex is often very connecting and sensual. To call someone vanilla is considered an insult, which is a shitty way to look and deal with sex. Basically it makes people feel bad about the way they connect to pleasure. I’m all for taking off the titles and definitions. You can be kinky in vanilla sex as well as be vanilla in kinky sex – who fucking cares? The ultimate thing is that two people are loving each other, having a laugh and pleasuring the hell out of each other’s bodies.”
Emily Dubberley offers another approach. “You could try offering a straight swap – have vanilla tonight and kinky tomorrow. If you’re with a male sub it’s easy, of course, because the whole point is that he does what his mistress wants, and if you want vanilla sex you can damn well have it. It’s more difficult with other kinks, though. You could try suggesting your partner looks into your eyes as you fuck and imagines he’s putting you both in the kinky situation he wants. That way he’s still focusing on you and the here and now.”
You may even find your partner loves the idea. As Jamye Waxman says, “Just because someone’s kinky doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy straight sex too. Kinky people like all types of sex. Just be really into it while you do it, and your partner should find it exciting. Promise them that next time it will be kinkier and be willing to negotiate so that both of you are getting your needs met.”
When it comes down to it, a little flexibility will help both of you keep your sex life fresh. Jamye Waxman says, “Sexual experimentation is a way to continue to evolve. Sexual expression is such an integral part of our core being, and being able to grow and expand sexually makes you more well-rounded. By being open to experimenting, even on occasion, you can learn a lot about yourself.”
Sam Roddick says it should go both ways. “I think it is perfectly acceptable to cater to your lover’s desires even if it doesn’t float your boat if (only and if) your desires are being met too. What a great way to show that you love and accept someone – especially if you are in a monogamous relationship. It becomes doubly important to being more sexually open because otherwise you end up in a sexual prison.”
However, you shouldn’t feel pressured into having sex you’re not happy with. As Mistress Absolute says, “It is not a crime to not be into kinky sex.” And Emily Dubberley agrees. “Sex is about enjoying yourself and getting close to your partner, not ticking boxes. If you want to try something, try it, but for God’s sake don’t do anything because you think there’s some new 21st Century rule that says everyone has to have a threesome or try anal. There’s also nothing worse than ‘sexual adventurer’ types who bore everyone out of their minds with the stories of the latest sexperiments but, you suspect, wouldn’t recognise intimacy if it bit them on their lubed-up asses.”
Addicted to Kink?
So is it possible to become over-reliant on their kink to the detriment of ‘straight’ sex? Sam Roddick says, “Anybody who uses their sexuality in a way that disassociates them from the person they are making love to is ultimate injuring themselves and their lover.” Carly Milne agrees, “It becomes a shield, a new way to hide. Straight sex can be incredibly intimate. Kink often gives people the opportunity to be intimate without really being intimate.”
Dr Pam Spurr says, “Unfortunately someone with a specific kink can become over-reliant on it. They only get off when doing their particular thing. Not only does that become boring for a partner but for the person themselves it can be frustrating when they don’t have access to their kink during sex. It can also lead to break ups and the person feeling bad about themselves because their sex-life becomes so limited around their kink.”
But it doesn’t have to be the case. As Mistress Absolute explains, “Some people can get dependent but then that’s like saying some people become over reliant on alcohol to socialise. It depends on your personality.”
However, Jenny* is offended at the idea that people can become addicted. “To me, that’s like asking: Do you think gay men can become over-reliant on having sex with men? It suggests it’s a choice, which for many people it isn’t – it’s just the way they are. It also suggests there’s something superior about vanilla sex, which there isn’t.”
So would it just be easier if kinksters stuck with kinksters and vanillas with vanillas? James Longmore says, “Whilst it is always great to be with someone who has the same interests as you, the fusion of different ideas and desires can be just as fulfilling.” As Ashley Hames points out, “Like usually ends up with like, but then again, as they say, opposites also attract. Both can work or fail. Do whatever floats your boat.”
*Names have been changed where indicated