A walk on the wild side can set you free

Kink is to hijack someone’s generic way of putting it, all things to all people. If sex is a three-ring circus, kink is the lurid sideshow poster on the wall enticing you to come see something sordid and intriguing that you’ve never seen before. It’s handcuffs on the bedpost, costumes in the drawer, dirty magazines, props, golden showers, threesomes, and being invited to watch your neighbor boink his wife. At least, that’s what the word tends to evoke in a lot of people.

Kink can involve any or no combination of these things — but no two people’s concepts of it will overlap entirely. And, to quote the inimitable Suzy Parker, author of Sex in the South: “My kink is not your kink.”

The freaky things you and your significant other(s) do when you’re feeling adventurous may not be what the statistical majority of people do — and really, who wants to be normal? On the other hand, the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders separates such behaviors as pedophilia, true sexual masochism/sadism, necrophilia, bestiality, and others into a category called paraphilia. Psychologists designate those sex acts that involve an unwilling or nonhuman participant or those that involve “the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner” as deviant, and those who engage in them over a long period of time (usually six months) to be in need of treatment, since they’ve lost the concept of sex as a caring, consensual act to be shared with other adults.

For most, however, these types of “variations” are more likely to put them out of the mood than in it. The boundaries of kink are defined personally, based on one’s own experience and willingness to experiment. The thrill of pulling on to a deserted side road for some Sunday afternoon backseat lovin’ may be all it takes to juice up the conservative, while others will require a double-headed dildo and some fishnet stockings. Our ideas of what’s “acceptable” and what’s not are likely to change over the course of a relationship and, individually, over a lifetime. The five-second kiss I shared with my unforgettable “girl crush” in high school (ducked down behind the theater balcony, no tongue) was, at the time, the most audacious thing I’d ever done. At the ripe old age of twenty, I find that my parameters have shifted, and it takes slightly more to make me feel risqué.

So why are we, as a society, fascinated by kink in all its permutations? Perhaps it is because, deep down, we are a voyeur culture, and we feed off exhibitionism. Madonna released her coffee table book, Sex, and both the public uproar and the sales were overwhelming. We all know what George Michael was doing in a public bathroom, how Sting likes his lovemaking and that Paris Hilton looks like a stoned raccoon in bed. As a nation, our shock quotient has gone up over the years, even though, as individuals, some of us never make it out of the missionary position.

Sex therapists and marriage counselors widely prescribe porn and toys for couples with intimacy problems, sexual dysfunction, or merely a lack of spice in an otherwise stable union. Clearly, there are some benefits to walking the wild side. And yet, so many people are unwilling to take a step beyond the shallow end and try something a little different.

I, for one, wish this wasn’t the case. Part of being truly comfortable with ourselves is embracing the totality of our sexuality, with all its innate quirks, particulars and pink feathers. And I’m going to venture the suggestion that, if we all took a swing on our own personal chandeliers now and then, we might be more accepting of others and — more importantly — ourselves. So challenge yourself to consider your personal definition of kinky — one that doesn’t make your eyebrows skyrocket — and try it out sometime. You may just be pleasantly surprised.