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Possible Triggers Ahead (mentions of rape play, domestic abuse, and graphic language)
All sources are anonymous to protect the identities of those interviewed.
Not since the 1960s has there been such a time of sexual openness and progression. Much of Millennial culture is embedded with empowering those with less-than-traditional views on sexual orientation, identities, and preferences. Pop culture hits such as Broad City and Deadpool present sex-positive pansexual nymphs, much to the delight of 20-somethings looking for validation, as, despite growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, many young people still attended abstinence-only sex education or come from backgrounds that put an emphasis on sex being shameful when outside of wedlock.
This paradigm shift over the last decade has imbued a portion of those who would have been too embarrassed or ashamed otherwise with a sense of solidarity with like-minded individuals. More and more young adults are engaging in discussions that openly describe specific kinks or fetishes.
As I have noticed the trend over the last few years, it has made me curious from a sociological standpoint as to how these fetishes develop, and what (if any) ramifications they pose on the relationships of those that engage in them. Recently, I was fortunate enough to conduct several interviews with self-admitted fetishists about how they discovered, and live with, their kinks. One friend was kind enough to get me in contact with a professional dominatrix, which I imagine will remain one of the most interesting and illuminating conversations of my life.
It has long been documented that most fetishes stem from an event or feelings, possibly traumatic, that occurred in childhood or adolescence. Much of what I had heard would go to support that theory. One interviewee (BDSM, fire play, ice play, rape play/fantasy), stated that they felt as they did not experience as much sexual activity during high school, and would often fantasize about being "taken" and that they were "doing something wrong, and I wanted someone to take over." They stated they also would find themselves "being jealous of porn stars. Not that I wanted to be them, but like, the attention they were getting; and their ability to fulfill fantasies."
Another that I spoke to stated that their sexual proclivities stemmed from the environment in which they were raised. Possible Trigger Warning: "It started at an early age, my parents were sexually-open hippies. They were nudists and openly engaged in sexual activities. Many times I would notice that sex was a currency." They went on to state that, "there was always a lot of pornographic materials around to see growing up." They would also go on to state that one of their specific fetishes, which was dominating women, stemmed from physical abuse they suffered. "It's strange, my step dad was the one who abused me, but I was always angry at my mother for letting it happen. Because of that, I am way more into dominating women than men." I asked them if they felt that their fetish was a way to process through the trauma, and they agreed: "It's a way for me to regain control, I think."
Everyone I interviewed had their own unique version of how they discovered their fetish. One, in particular, stands out though, as it is a tale of kismet or a nearly missed opportunity.
"It was during college. I saw my friend and former roommate walking across campus, which I thought was weird because they had graduated the previous semester." They went on to describe questioning their friend why they were there, and after some pressing, had discovered that their former roommate was on their way to an impact class (a class/performance that showcases the different types of spanking, hitting, and whipping) at a local fetish club. They inquired if they could join, and their friend somewhat reluctantly agreed. Once they arrived at the club they described that, "It was a small set up, where it was sectioned off for the different types of performances. Each one could have anywhere between 3 to 20 people watching a performer or groups of performers. Almost as soon as I got there, my friend went to the back and sent me a text requesting that I don't follow, as they were getting involved with one of the performances." They then attended an impact class, and quickly discovered that this was something that piqued their interest: "I already knew that I like rough sex, and spanking, or even punching my ass. It was not long after seeing it that I started to join in. That's when I met Porkchop." Porkchop is somewhat of a local celebrity in the Baltimore fetish community. It was with partnering with him that they discovered entire new subsets of their fetishes. They began to regularly perform with this pillar of the community, as it were, for several months. "It also brought out the exhibitionist side of me. I liked the attention, being nude in front of an audience."
Going into this article, this was the part that I wanted to learn the most about. It is a fairly common statement to say, "Everyone has their kink," but what happens when kinks don't line up? In my personal life, I have been fortunate that the relationships that I have had were mostly open and honest when it came to sex, and I've never been in a position where a sexual need damaged the relationship. I do well enough to damage relationships in every other way.
Unsurprisingly, I learned that it really depended on the relationship. Some stated that their fetish or even their dedication to their fetish caused rifts in their relationship. Much like the person from the story two paragraphs above, "I was seeing someone at the time, and I made it a point to be upfront and honest about what occurred when we performed. My [romantic partner] was not happy about it. I tried to explain that no sex occurred when we performed, and even though I was naked and it was sexual in nature, that I did not have any feelings for Porkchop. That it wasn't emotional for me. It came to a point that we could not move past it and decided to break up."
Another, a professional dominatrix, stated, "I never keep it from [romantic partners]. My previous [partner] and I dated for about two years. They maintained for a long time that they didn't have a problem with it. But after a while, they began hinting that they didn't believe that I don't have sex with my clients." This interviewee also had another experience that I did not expect to hear about, the one between them and their son. "My son (a teenager) found out from looking at my phone. I was letting him use it because he needed to check his email for school. I usually keep a schedule with my clients that they are not to text me during certain hours, as I also have a day job, but one ex-client (a woman) would regularly break that rule. My son noticed the text and began conversing with her. The conversation after that was pretty awkward."
Not all those that I spoke with had experiences like that. One in particular stated, "It definitely affects my relationships, as I don't think I could have a long-term relationship with someone that doesn't meet my kinks. But, I can't say that it has negatively impacted any relationship I've had. I've never been dumped or had to dump someone because of my fetish or theirs. I'm pretty open about what I want and need going in." They did mention though that after they had started engaging in their fetish subculture that they would sometimes feel judged by those outside of it. "Because I felt like I was being judged, I started distancing myself from those that didn't agree with it, which led to going to being more active in the fetish community," they added. They went on to mention that they are currently in a loving relationship with a romantic partner that meets their fetish needs.
Effects on Mental Health
One thing I noticed was how consistently those I interviewed remarked on the effect their kinks had on their mental health. What I found somewhat surprising was how overall positive it was. A few different people described what is known in the culture as a "subspace," a nearly "meditative state" as one put it. With regularity, they described that when they engaged in their kinks, especially those that preferred to be dominated, regaled on being more in-tuned with their bodies, partners, and surroundings. Afterward, several mentioned an increased feeling of self-worth.
Other described it as a catharsis of sorts, as a means to process past traumas and "regain control" as one person put it.
When I first set out to writing this article, I wasn't really sure how it would go. I was apprehensive at first, as I was worried that I would only hear from, let's say, unseemly individuals that would try to pass off amoral, or illegal, perversions as kinks. Just like with anyone else, their tastes and backgrounds varied from person to person, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each of them, which was only possible because of their openness and candor. I respect each of their dedications to better understand themselves, as sexuality is a vast and often under-appreciated portion of our lives. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre,
I must be without remorse or regrets as I am without excuse; for from the instant of my upsurge into being, I carry the weight of the world by myself alone without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility for an instant.
—Being and Nothingness