I don’t remember when the concept of consent as it relates to sex became part of my vocabulary, but it shapes how I approach my personal relationships and affects the way I move through the world. I was shaken when the #MeToo movement exploded, not only by the stories of sexual assault and harassment but also by the stories of women who had felt pressured or coerced into having sex they didn’t want.

I flashed back to my own similarly uncomfortable experiences, when I was single and new to D.C. I remembered times on dates when I had expressed my discomfort by simply pulling away or turning my head when a guy tried to kiss or touch me when I didn’t want to be kissed or touched. I was familiar with the sickening feeling of being distressed by something that was happening, while also feeling unable or hesitant to speak up for myself.

It has been on my mind a lot recently, how I, like so many people, have been socialized not to talk about sex because it’s uncomfortable or awkward or it might kill the mood. I thought about how that hesitancy to speak can muddy the waters of consent, and I wanted to explore that idea with people who talk about sex a lot: the kink community, or kinksters, as they’re known.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of kink is “unconventional sexual taste or behavior” and includes a wide variety of behaviors and preferences. That includes BDSM — a subset of kink — which stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. Being tied up or handcuffed (bondage), spanked (discipline) and role-playing all fall under BDSM.

To make sure each partner is on the same page, kinksters have to talk about sex in a way that vanilla people — those who don’t participate in kinky activities — often don’t. Julie, a kinkster and sociologist in the Washington, D.C., area, believes that the communication kinksters have with one another distinguishes them from “vanillas.”

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How to talk about Sex (and Consent): 4 Lessons from the Kink community by Mallory Yu

June 1st, 2019