Is Kink ‘In’?
I thought about this as
I led a “Kink 101” workshop for a group of students over the weekend. As I was
talking to the group, I made my usual statements about how kinky play is often
misunderstood by the general public as harmful or “sick,” and I wondered
whether this statement even seemed relevant to my youthful audience. In the
sexuality education field, one often walks a fine line between dispelling myths
and inadvertently reinforcing them by introducing them to people who would
never have heard of them otherwise, and I felt like this might have been one of
those occasions. Was I facing a gaggle of 20-year-olds who were all thinking,
“Hold on—there are people who still think that tying someone up and spanking
them is bad?”
On the other hand, when
asked to give a general explanation of why they would describe something as
“kinky,” two members of the group answered that kink was something that was
“outside the mainstream” or “outside the norm” of sexual activity. So, if kink
is “in,” does that mean that there’s greater awareness of it, but not
necessarily more people engaging in kinky play?
A greater public
awareness of any type of sexual identity or activity can potentially have one
of two effects. First, it can allow people who are currently practicing those
activities or claiming those identities to be more open about it. Second, it
can create opportunities for those who were totally unaware of these activities
or identities to try them out.
I don’t think we’ll ever
be able to truly know whether increased numbers of people are becoming
interested in kink or whether the numbers are staying relatively the same while
the stigma of being kinky decreases or disappears. However, there’s certainly a
lot of public awareness being generated. Milwaukee’s
Young Kink Scene (MYKS) formed a group and began holding well-attended meetings
at the Tool Shed over the past couple of months. FetLife, a social networking
site that is often described as “Facebook for kinksters,” was founded in 2008
and currently has about 300,000 members. In my experience, the items that we
most frequently get calls about or special-order for customers at the store are
definitely kink-related, and our current art exhibit, which features kink and
fetish photography, has garnered a lot of positive reactions.
Some people who identify
as kinksters or BDSM practitioners may be annoyed at the concept of kink being
“in,” as if it were a fad rather than a serious practice or a way of life. I
see a lot of potential for good, though, as people who might previously have
been afraid to seek out a kinky community now find their voices without fear or
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Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.