When we achieve a greater understanding of non-normative sexual practices, we normalize identities that are otherwise marginalized, and who knows – might even learn a thing or two instead, both in and out of sex
However, the process of navigating a past trauma proves difficult even within the kink communities, according to licensed sex therapist Samantha Manewitz. In an Alt Sex NYC Conference presentation, she lays out how kinksters with trauma can internalize shame, be unwilling to give up power to their sexual partners or be able to explain their own responses in BDSM play. Some scenes can also trigger trauma or feelings of isolation. It is important to empower the survivor in such situations – build their coping skills through negotiation before an act, exposing them to the act during play, and integrating their thoughts with their feelings after BDSM through aftercare, Manewitz writes.
Kink can also help build an inclusive environment for queer folks. Hughes compares the identity development for kink to the way in which kids can realize their queer identities. The emotional stages are similar, including dealing with stigma and making positive associations with those realizations. BDSM as a sexual orientation is a popular hypothesis, explained as attraction toward specific activities or toward a role (dominant, submissive, switch) – be it the individual’s or their partners’, according to Daniel Copulsky, founder of sexedplus and researcher of social psychology. Everyone has a sexual orientation in regard to gender because that’s how we’ve defined sexual orientation, Copulsky writes in a presentation for the Alt Sex NYC Conference. Everyone has a sexual orientation in regard to power, too, if we define it as a submissive, dominant, switch, or vanilla.
In terms of sexual consent, consent may be withdrawn at any point, regardless of what has been previously negotiated orally or in writing, licensed psychotherapist Laura Jacobs writes for Alt Sex NYC about a core kink principle
Kink can also help marginalized communities feel more comfortable in their own skin. For a group whose bodies and existence are unabashedly questioned, fetishized, or who are made to feel unwelcome in societal institutions, consent in a sexual scenario holds utmost importance.
Consent is the explicit indication, by written or oral statement, by one person that he/she [or they] is willing to have something done to him/her [or them] by one or more other persons, or to perform some sort of act at the request or order of one or more other persons.
Trans or gender non-conforming folks can greatly benefit from this structure, as they may not have been accorded the opportunity or the language to communicate their sexual needs. Through using safe words, they can feel protected and respected; and through tight-knit local BDSM communities, they can encounter people who will respect them and their boundaries. Ultimately, for a large number of people in the trans and gender-nonconforming community, heteronormative or not, reveling in these nontraditional forms of sexuality and relationships is part of our ongoing examination of the human experience, Jacobs writes.
It is a shame, then, that some forms of kink, and within it BDSM, are regarded as detached, cruel and violent. In reality, kink can be a vehicle for people to embrace their vulnerability, maintain intimate bonds with various people, and learn to communicate and negotiate varied sexual preferences in a non-judgmental way. Kink is not weird, or something to sensationalize.
A majority of the stigma against age-play arises from the conflation of pedophilia with child sexual abuse. The former is a sexual preference, while the latter is an illegal practice that harms minors who cannot consent. In age-play, the consenting, adult sexual partners act an age different from their own, for various reasons: those who act younger may want to be cared for, or disciplined or simply play an age that they feel most familiar with. For those who gravitate toward older ages, their instincts might arise from wanting to act as caregivers or protectors of their partner, fulfilling their partners’ desire to be disciplined, and myriad other reasons, according to ABCs of Kink.
For others, engaging in kinky behavior may help in dealing with past trauma. While the trauma itself doesn’t serve as a catalyst for developing a kink (which is a popular misconception), it can be alleviated through play. For example, a sexual assault survivor might initially feel afraid, weak, and powerless during their actual sexual assault, Hughes writes in Psychology Today. However, simulating that assault via consensual roleplaying with a trusted partner can help them feel powerful (because they consensually negotiated and agreed to it, and can use a safeword to stop the scene), strong (because they feel they can get through whatever physical pain or intensity comes their way), and brave, for facing what can often be dark times in their past head-on. A major part of it is aftercare, the word for the time and space kinksters use for emotional and mental health, often with their partners, after having engaged in BDSM. It involves cuddling, talking, rehydrating, and recentering’ oneself, which can help those who are using kink to overcome hardships process their experience in a healthy and safe environment, Hughes adds.