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Between the Sheets: A guide to kinky communication: part 1

What do you think of when you hear the terms “Kinky” or “BDSM?” Do they conjure images of dominatrixes with whips? People tied up in dungeons? Maybe our brains go to pop culture and Rihanna or “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Let’s pause and consider something else for a moment. Let’s ask ourselves, “When was the last time I had a full conversation with my partner about my preferences in bed?” Did this conversation happen before foreplay or sex, or did I just try to give them cues as it was happening and hope they would catch my drift?  

As a follow-up question, besides talking about sex beforehand, when was the last time my partner and I talked about how we felt about the sex we had?

What if our partners asked us how we were feeling during sex and if we wished there was anything different about it? Or if we wanted anything more from them? What if they asked us these questions not just while we were laying next to each other post-boink, but they also followed up two weeks afterward?

It’s not wrong to associate kink and BDSM with pain or dungeons, but there are a whole lot of other aspects to these terms that we don’t often consider or hear about. For starters, the fact is that kink is a community, not just a term. And beyond that, kink is a community with an extensive and healthy system of communication. 

All of these rhetoricals describe aspects of kinky communication that don’t get as much press as the whips and chains. 

Kink/BDSM is a loaded topic that can’t fit into just one article, so I’m breaking it into two! The first (this one) will focus on key terms and how kink works, and the second will break down how kinky communication can—and should—be applied to all types of sex. 

To understand kink we need a better definition than “rough sex.” Here is one I like from “The Ultimate Guide to Kink, BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge” by Tristan Taormino: 

“Kink is an intimate experience, an exchange of power between people that can be physical, erotic, sexual, psychological, spiritual, or, most often, some combination. I use the word kink as an all-encompassing term to describe the people, practices and communities that move beyond traditional ideas about sex to explore the edges of eroticsim. Kink is meant to include BDSM, sadomasochism, kinky sex, dominance and submission, role play, sex games, fantasy, fetish and other alternative erotic expressions.” (this great book and many others can be found in Sex Out Loud’s library in room 3143.) 

By this definition, kink is not so much a term for a specific type of sex, but rather a term for power exchanges that often, but not always, happen during or in addition to sex.

As promised, here are some key kinky terms: 

BDSM: This term includes a few different subcategories which are Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission and Sadism/Masochism.   

Vanilla: The opposite of kink/BDSM. For example, “Melissa and Craig enjoy having vanilla sex every Tuesday night at 9.” 

Play: The practice of BDSM, as in “playing with bondage” or “my play partner is so great at spanking!” 

Scene: When two or more people come together to do BDSM. Scenes can happen anywhere, but oftentimes in the kink/BDSM community they happen at a “play space” or dungeon.  

Tops, Bottoms and Switches: Tops are the “doers” in the scene. They initiate activities and actions. Bottoms are the “receivers” who follow the tops’ lead and have things done to them. Switches are people who enjoy playing both roles. 

People can switch during scenes, every other scene, or depending on their play partner(s). As mentioned in the definition of BDSM, other common terms for “top” and “bottom” are “dominant” and “submissive.” 

Safe words: A lot of kinky activities are pleasurable because they involve pushing limits, whether those limits are one’s own or the limits of a playmate. Any time kinky play is happening, it is extremely important to develop a safe word or safe system.

Safe words should be words that don’t naturally come up during play. For example, it can be part of play for one partner to say “stop,” so that should not be a safe word. 

One system that many people find works well is a stoplight system. In this system, “green” means “keep going,” “yellow” means “what you’re doing is okay, but don’t go any further” and “red” means “stop everything right now.” 

Tools/toys: Tools and toys are items or body parts used during kinky play. These items can range anywhere from one’s own hands to a dildo, flogger or gag. Some toys can even be regular household items that have been converted into toys, i.e. a scarf used to tie a partner up.

Limits/negotiation: Negotiating limits is a huge part of what makes kink such a great model for sexual interaction. This is when people who are going to play together take time beforehand to lay out what will be happening during the scene, what roles each person will take, what tools will or will not be used, what safety measures will be involved, how long the scene will last, among other things. 

In addition to deciding these things, players establish their hard and soft limits. One great way for kinksters to decide what they want to do is to make a “Yes, No, Maybe” list. This is when players find or make a list of all the activities they definitely want to do, maybe want to do if the situation is right and that they definitely do not want to do. 

After a list is made, a nice addition can be to go back through the “yeses” and “maybes” and mark activities with either a “N” or “W” for “I need this to enjoy the scene” and “I want this if possible.” This way everyone’s needs are well established beforehand and there is no reason anyone should have a bad scene. 

Aftercare: This term describes the communication that happens following a scene, from the moments directly after to any time in the future following a scene. 

Immediately after a scene aftercare might sound like “Do you need to sit down?” or “Would you like a glass of water?” Aftercare can also take place hours or even days after a scene. In that scenario it might sound like “Hey, I know you experienced some intense feelings during the scene, how are you feeling now?” 

Often times bottoms experience something after an intense scene called “bottom drop” which refers to feeling low or even depressed after the intense euphoria of a scene. This is what makes aftercare so important. It is crucial for bottoms to know they are being cared for by their tops so as to remain positive about how the scene goes. 

There is so much to say about kink and so little space to say it, but ultimately it can be boiled down to a few takeaways. First, kink/BDSM does not equal rough sex, but rather a complex system for exchanging power erotically. Next, kinky activities need to be properly prepared for with both extensive communication and the right physical preparation. Lastly, aftercare is an essential component to kink in order to keep it healthy and pleasurable for all participants. 

For vanilla folks thinking, “but how can I make this about me?” Be sure to catch part two where I explain how kinky communication is for everyone, yay!  

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