Guest Written by Xenia E., a freelance sex and mental health writer. Xenia focuses on sex work, LGBTQIA+ issues, menstrual equity, gender, and trauma. She holds a BA in writing from The New School. You can see more of her work on Twitter at @_xeniae.
Kinky and your partner is just not that into it?
First thing’s first, rest assured that having a kink is quite common. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex Research sampled 1,040 people and found nearly half had an interest in a form of kink. From food play or body painting to a foot fetish, you or a partner might be drawn to an entire spectrum of kinky idiosyncrasies. There are ways to navigate sexual incompatibility and find common ground with a kink difference. There are also always options for when it seems like there’s no compromise in sight. Let’s get started!
1. How to Talk About Kink
a) Setting Boundaries
b) Providing Reference Points
c) Finding Commonalities
2. What to Do When You Can't Find Common Ground
How to Talk About Kink
Talking about sex can feel vulnerable, but if you have a proclivity for kink and want your partner to understand or explore it with you, the best way to address it is through direct communication. Don’t try to drop hints or leave them guessing what you’re interested in.
You’ll want to approach the conversation from a calm and curious place (as either the person expressing the kink or the person listening.) People typically receive information better when it’s conveyed with calmness, and this avoids any potential shutdown.
As the partner who is receiving news around a kink, pay attention to your internal response. Are you interested, aroused, or curious? Does your body feel tight and constricted? Do you have an immediate response that says “no way?” Your body will let you know if your answer is a hard no or there’s some spaciousness to investigate further. Try to pay close attention to what you feel open to exploring, instead of immediately obliging to please your partner, to your detriment.
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If your immediate reaction to hearing about your partner’s kink feels constricted, you might spend some time thinking about why. Some kinks might have bad psychological associations that you might not want to work through, which is okay. If you feel embarrassed or fear that you aren’t pleasing your partner, there are ways to move through these feelings.
As a sexual human being, remember it is always your right to say no. If a partner’s kink is genuinely off the table for you, it’s best to communicate that boundary when you know it so that your partner isn’t waiting with the hope that you’ll someday come around to their sadist side or daddy/dom roleplay.
If the shared kink doesn’t turn you on but also doesn’t bring up any bad feelings, it’s okay to have sex that’s shooting stars for one person but not the other, sometimes. Normalizing (and embracing) sexual differences can enhance a relationship. Make sure that there’s time for your needs, too. Needs don’t need to be met for all partners in the same exact moment because, let’s face it, sometimes that’s impractical.
Providing Reference Points
The world of kink is tectonic; there are so many ways to experiment, and there are also so many definitions of what a kink might mean. For example, telling your partner you want them to be dominant could mean multiple things. Be specific in your definition. For example, if you wish for more slapping during sex, or more verbal commands, or for your partner to take control of how the sex goes, communicate that clearly.
To help them understand, you might provide a reference. This could be a story you read or a movie or porn scene you watched where characters did something you liked. It could even be something your partner has done in the past that turned you on.
Find Commonalities, As A Starting Point
If you decide to move forward investigating your or your partner’s kink, start by using where you already connect as a starting point for further exploration. This could be a sex position that turns you on, an outfit, or something you or your partner says in bed. Find something that you both share in pleasure to start to incorporate the kink.
Next, make sure to go slowly! Offering a small way to experiment with kink before jumping full-on into a CNC (consensual/non-consensual) scene can give your partner time to adjust and decide if they feel comfortable exploring more or if they find they get into it. Through gradual play, you might find where you can compromise. Slapping not your thing, but you’re into scratching? Great. Does suspending your partner with rope cause you fear? Start with restraints on the ground.
What to Do When You Can't Find Common Ground
You might find that, even after your partner has done some research on their own and you’ve experimented together, it’s just not panning out to explore yours or their kink together. It’s crucial to have an honest check-in if this is the case. Without open communication, concerns can fester, and resentments grow.
If you are not interested in participating in the kink, have a conversation about how important it is to your partner. Chances are, if you’re here, it’s pretty essential. If they can’t budge on giving up the kink and you can’t compromise on how to incorporate it, you might get creative about ways they can have the kink without your direct participation.
You might watch porn together that involves the kink or read erotic stories. If you’ve met each other with honest communication around the kink, you might consider opening the relationship to get the need satiated or bringing in a kinky third who might satisfy the need. If you’re in the dark on how to move forward, it’s wise to consult with an expert like a kink-friendly sex therapist.
A woman named Amanda (whose name has been changed for privacy) shares with me that she listed a mismatch in kink as the primary concern in her former relationship.
“My partner was really vanilla, and I wanted to be dominated. But rather than having an open and honest conversation about how I could get the need met, they told me they would be more dominant and were always quick to end the conversation. We never actually got to explore my kink, and I ended up growing resentful because we couldn’t talk about it. Needless to say, that relationship is over!”
Compromise, understanding, common ground, and open communication make for not just kink satisfaction but sexual and relational satisfaction, too. Remember, you have a right to explore sexual pleasure. If your partner is closing the door on your kink completely, it might not be a sustainable relationship in the long run.
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How to Manage Kink Incompatibilities: The Buehler Institute of Sex Therapy
Alternative Approaches to Erotic Incompatibility: Psychology Today
26 Kinks, Fetishes, & Terms You Should Know: Cosmopolitan