The Happy Trail

Outside the traditional: An intro course on kink and BDSM

Kink, or kinkiness, is a sexual preference that does not get enough accurate representation in mainstream media.

Kink covers a wide variety of sexual behaviors and interests, and is not all whips and chains and gimp suits like some would have you believe.

Understanding kink as atypical sexual behavior requires first that one understand “typical” sexual behavior.

According to The British Medical Journal, “vanilla sex” includes mutual masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, frottage (or grinding) and penetrative sex without any element of BDSM or fetishism.

The term “kink” is a playful term that arose to describe a “bend” (like a kink in a hose) in sexual behavior. Kink can include a wide variety of sexual activities and attitudes, then, ranging from fetishism to BDSM to paraphilia, which is intense sexual arousal derived from highly atypical objects or situations.

Because kink covers such an enormous territory, this article will explore some of the activities and relationship dynamics involved in BDSM.

If you are interested in knowing more about paraphilia and fetishism, there are a wealth of resources on the Internet and in Collins Memorial Library.

Porn is not a good resource for understanding kink, as the vital elements of communication and consensuality are omitted from most free online porn.

The most important thing to know about exploring kink is that it is absolutely crucial to practice what the kink community refers to as “safe, sane (or clear-headed), and consensual” activities. Communication must be explicitly clear, and both parties must be even-headed and sober.

Because of the level of vulnerability involved in practicing kink, it is usually practiced within established and trusting relationships or in community spaces where respect for each others’ boundaries are strictly enforced by monitors that work there.

Despite the fact that BDSM often involves power dynamics in which one party is dominant and has control over another, consent is even more important in these situations.

Express clearly beforehand what you are and are not okay with, and establish safe words like “yellow” and “red” to express that lines are being crossed or that certain activities need to end immediately.

Contrary to what the 50 Shades of Gray franchise suggests, violating someone’s boundaries is not a healthy or acceptable kink relationship. It is abuse.

BDSM is a six-part acronym that covers the most common of “atypical” sexual behaviours: Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission and Sadism and Masochism.

Bondage/Discipline: Bondage is the physical restraint of one or more parts of the body. Wrist restraints are found in many sex shops, but bondage rope, spreader bars and ball gags also restrict the movement and use of the body. Discipline is often an aspect of many dominant/submissive relationships, and can range from physical harm, like spanking and hair-pulling, to degradation or removal of privileges.

Dominance/Submission: dominance and submission is often shortened to d/s and describes a kind of power dynamic in a relationship between two or more people. There are different levels of d/s relationships, and some people even like to switch between the two roles.

D/s relationships can range from tops and bottoms, to dominants and submissives (dom/sub) to masters and slaves. As these relationships become more extreme, subs relinquish more of their own agency and autonomy to their dom. This is not possible without established trust and ground rules.

Sadism/Masochism: Sadomasochistic relationships are defined by the arousal derived from giving or receiving pain. Communicating boundaries in these kinds of relationships is of the utmost importance.

Both sadists and masochists should do research on human anatomy and safe sadism to prevent permanent injury. Both parties are responsible for knowing the warning signs of permanent damage.

For example, if one person likes being choked, it is important to know when to stop to prevent brain damage from oxygen deprivation.

This article is by no means a comprehensive list of the kinds of activities and relationships kinky people can enjoy, nor are the activities described performed by all kinky people.

There is no “normal”—the activities and agreements that people come to in BDSM relationships vary in an infinite number of ways based on the preferences of the people involved.

As you go out and explore your sexuality, remember to do so with respect for your and other people’s boundaries, and if something does not feel right, do not do it. Conversely, if something feels good, own it! You do not need to feel shame about things that bring you pleasure, keeping in mind the feelings of others.

If you are interested in exploring the local kink community, the Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle hosts orientations for new members and play parties several times a month. Visit for more information.