In “Sex Talk with CHALK,” Emerson Karsh — CHALK’s sex columnist — answers your questions about sex, sexuality and the culture of sex. This week, Karsh gives an introduction to the world of kink.
What is Kink?
When I educate, I define kink as any non-normative, consensual, sexual, sensual and intimate behavior. I define kink as not inherently sexual, since many kink behaviors can be done without sexual activity, and people who are asexual can enjoy kink for the many benefits it brings that’s not just sexual gratification. For example, bondage can occur without any sexual activity, and the one who is bound can still gain all the amazing feelings it has to offer.
Non-normative means it falls outside what a given culture or society deems normal, so kink can differ from person to person and country to country. Like many things, sex and kink are relative; therefore anything you want to define as kink, can be kink.
Kink is separated from normative sex as it functions differently — there are certain practices and guidelines that should be followed when engaging in kink. The three most important guidelines are consent, communication, and negotiation.
So let's break these three down.
But before we begin: there are a few words I will be using that should be defined. One is scene, which is the period of time where the partners will be engaging in the kink activity. The partners are often referred to as play partners, and I will also say play when referencing the specific kink behaviors.
What does consent look like in kink?
Sexual or non-sexual, consent is vital. Consent is always ongoing, mutual and enthusiastic. But in kink there are added guidelines for consent to ensure everything is done in the highest, most consensual manner to be pleasurable and enjoyed by everyone.
There are a few acronyms surrounding consent that are used before entering a scene. These acronyms are also needed as preliminary knowledge, and give more of an understanding on how kink functions.
The original acronym is S.S.C., or Safe, Sane and Consensual. This acronym lets the participants reflect on if the kink behavior they are about to engage in is safe, if the participants are in the correct headspace (i.e., are there any substance involved and how this impacts the scene) has consent been given and is there understanding that it can be taken away at any point.
Many people within the kink community are moving away from S.S.C. and using the term R.A.C.K. I would go into the politics of this, but hey, we are still in the beginners guide!
R.A.C.K. stands for risk-aware, consensual kink. The most important aspect of this acronym, besides the consensual, is the risk-aware. This lets everyone in the scene, as well as beginners in kink, understand that every activity has its risks and that by consenting, one is aware of the risks at play and how to navigate them. By using R.A.C.K., the play partners discuss and understand the potential, real risks and how to avoid them.
It also allows for emphasis on safe practices so the kink activity can be enjoyed in the safest, most pleasurable manner.
For example on how R.A.C.K. functions, spanking falls under the umbrella of impact play in kink and there are safe and unsafe places to hit on the body due to our anatomy. Before spanking occurs, one should be aware of the risk that could happen if one spanks the tailbone instead of the gluteal muscles.
Last but not least, consent in kink is ongoing and can be revoked at any time. There should be systems in play during a scene that allows for consent to function easily. There are also systems that should allow participants to stop the scene immediately. This leads us to communication in kink.
How is communication different from consent?
Communication is vital in kink as it allows for a better understanding of how the partner is feeling throughout play, as well as when the scene needs to stop.
Kink also dictates language differently, so communication is needed to understand what is kink talk and what is not.
In some scenes, saying the words “no” or “stop” can be a part of play, so it is essential to create a word that is outside this realm that both partners can say to immediately stop everything.
This is where safe words come into play. Safe words are pre-determined words partners have picked that, if said, means everything must stop immediately. Saying the safe word could be used to stop the specific behavior, halt the scene in general or for any other reasons communicated between partners.
Safe words can also be anything! It can be a famous actor, a type of food, an animal, a quick saying or a television show. From my experience, people tend to choose food, but anything is acceptable. Partners can also have the same or different safe words.
But what if one can’t speak because of a ball-gag? Safe-motions are when the partner can shake their head, tap on their partner's body in a certain manner or move a visible part of their body to signal to stop. If the person is bound and gagged, try holding something that makes noise.
Communication in kink also utilizes the stoplight system where green means “keep going,” yellow means “slow down” or “I may want to stop soon,” and red means “stop now!” During play, partners can either say the color, say "stoplight" or they can ask, “What’s your color?”
Lastly, checking-in is vital. In kink scenes, participants can dissociate or enter something called subspace. A simple form of communicating, "Are you present and okay?” is essential. This can look like simple dialogue or squeezing their partner's hand three times to ask. Three squeezes back means “I’m present," or however you and your partner(s) best see fit.
Negotiation sounds like a business meeting, what is it?
One of the only things "50 Shades of Grey'' got almost right was their portrayal of negotiation, but it still wasn't perfect.
Negotiation is when partners discuss beforehand which kinks they really want to explore, which they are open to exploring and which they are absolutely not willing to try. Think Anastasia crossing things out in the contract. This was her showing what she will not try or setting her hard-limits.
Negotiation is used to also establish safe-words and what consent systems will be used. Negotiation, simply put, is used to clarify expectations, figure out systems and procedures for play, and sort out which activities will be on the menu. It is a needed and essential part of play.
And last but the most important, what is aftercare?
Shocker: aftercare is another vital part of kink! Aftercare is the time after play or a scene where partners recover and take care of each other. Aftercare is focused both on emotional and physical needs. Scenes can be both physically and psychologically taxing, so aftercare is a time for relaxing and getting ‘back to reality’.
Aftercare involves communicating the positives and negatives of the scenes, addressing any wounds or marks that could have occurred and engaging in comforting activities.
This all sounds great, but where do I begin?
Getting into kink is a process! It doesn’t happen overnight. Take the steps needed for your journey to discover what you enjoy and what you want to engage in. Reflect on if some of your fantasies have kink behaviors within them or what turns you on. Reflect on past experiences, sexual or non-sexual, and what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy within them.
Some beginner activities you can try that are low-risk and work as an easy introduction to kink are: dirty talk with the usage of honorifics like daddy, sir, mistress, etc. to establish power dynamics; role-play; wearing a blindfold; or using ice for some low-risk high pleasurable temperature play.
And as always, remember: education before exploration!
Have more questions about kink, sex, or sexuality? Ask here.