If during this time in quarantine, you’ve done some sexual exploring about what gets you going—great. Maybe you’ve dedicated some self-care sessions to self-pleasure, had some mind-blowing staycation sex, or taken the BDSM test to explore your NSFW interests. And just maybe, all the sexploration has you wanting to learn how to introduce kink into your relationship as well. If what’s stopping you is a sense of feeling overwhelmed or even embarrassed, stop right there: Sex educators agree that kink is a perfectly healthy and safe form of sexual expression and pleasure, and talking about it with a partner is the first step for removing any level of stigma that may surround it so everyone involved can get to the important part of enjoying it.
Of course, the first step is understanding what kink is. Kink can be construed as a wide variety of consensual sex acts that aren’t vanilla, penetrative, heteronormative sexual intercourse. “Kink is anything that falls outside the bounds of culturally defined expectations, which, because of often wildly puritanical societies, could basically be anything that’s not penile-vaginal intercourse,” sexual-health consultant Francisco Ramirez previously told Well+Good. For some examples, it can include a blindfold, getting tied up, spanking, temperature play, choking, and more. Kink also encompasses BDSM—which stands for “bondage,” “dominance” or “discipline,” “sadism” or “submission,” and “masochism”—which usually involves power play with clear dominant and submissive roles, and sometimes might not even directly involve sex play at all.
Below, Caitlin V, MPH, clinical sexologist with sexual-wellness brand Royal, shares four golden rules for how to introduce kink into a relationship.
4 tips for how to introduce kink into a relationship, according to a sexologist.
1. If you’re afraid to bring it up, say so from the outset
Many of us have to unlearn shame around sexuality, and everyone’s barometer for what constitutes “kink” is different. Before bringing up anything to a partner, know that your interests and preferences are valid. V also recommends coming from a place of vulnerability. “Getting it out that you’re feeling vulnerable usually invites your partner into holding a compassionate space for you,” says V.
“Getting it out that you’re feeling vulnerable usually invites your partner into holding a compassionate space for you.” —Caitlin V, MPH, clinical sexologist
She suggests saying something along the lines of, “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about, but it’s hard for me because I’m afraid that maybe you’ll think I’m weird. Do you have some time to talk?” or “Hey, do you have the bandwidth to talk about something? I’ve been hesitant to bring it up because I’m scared, but it’s really important to me.”
2. Be specific about what you’re interested in
Since, as previously mentioned, everyone’s barometer for what constitutes kink is different. That’s why clarity about what you want to you want to introduce into your relationship is so important.
“Once the subject is broached, start small. Give examples, and be willing to explain why you’re interested in something,” says V. “When you use the words ‘kink’ and ‘BDSM,’ many people imagine dungeons and ball gags, which make up a small and very extreme percentage of kinky play.”
3. Use mental imagery as a way of approaching the idea
V suggests prompting specific sex plays with images and speaking in hypotheticals to get the conversation going. An example? “Wouldn’t it be fun for us to play with a little spanking?” The idea of you doing that during sex is so hot! Is that something you’d be open to exploring?” And the conversation can (hopefully) flow from there.
“It helps to have done your research and to come to the conversation with specific examples of what you want and why, as well as what the benefits are to your partner,” V says. “If you can clearly articulate a desire and are able to focus on the potential benefits for both of you and your relationship, you are more likely to be met with enthusiasm.”
4. Be prepared for friction, but don’t get hung up on it
According to V, many great partners will hear out your desires, ask any necessary clarifying questions, and want to make them come true so long as they feel safe doing so. However, not everyone will start with a positive reaction. Be prepared for this, and be willing to forgive your partner if their immediate response comes from a place of shame or judgment.
“Remember that there’s a lot of shame around this subject, and their response will be informed primarily by their culture and their upbringing—not by their best selves—unless they’ve already done some personal work on this,” says V. “If they don’t change their tune, and they continue to judge you for your kinky desires, it might be time to show them the door and find a new partner who can give you an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to exploring.”