Over dinner recently with a very erudite conversationalist, the subject turned towards sexuality. My dinner companion noted that clinicians were now recognising that “kink” was a unique sexuality, just as straight and gay. In other words, “kink”, is the third sexual orientation.
Jillian Keenan writes an excellent piece in Slate on just this topic.
“While some kinksters identify strongly with their kinks and are open about their sexual interests, being into baby bonnets or bondage isn’t about who you love, it’s about how you love.”Kink advocate Dan Savage
I think there is quite a lot of truth in this. Jillian, in her article, takes issue with the mechanics of the commentary. But “how” we love is not necessarily a mechanical phenomenan. It can also be spiritual. An accessory like a baby bonnet or a whip isn’t the nature of love, it is merely a trigger that unleashes the true “how” in how we love. In that sense, I think Mr. Savage is spot on.
The article notes that 35% of people into BDSM are bisexual, v. a stated ~2-3% in the population at large. Such a huge disparity cannot be explained by simple openness to experimentation. Instead, it indicates that it is the BDSM itself which is the source of attraction…in other words, it is a sexual orientation all its own.
Strangely, a good deal of the resistance of this concept appears to come from the LGBTQ community. Given that both BDSM and LGBTQ attract social opprobrium and discrimination (kinky people can lose their jobs from it too), this seems a shame. It reminds me, however, of how many gay people, both male and female, reject trans and non-binary people (because trans and non-binary are gender issues, whereas being gay or bi or kinky appears to be about sexuality).
The essence of sexuality is love. Who we love, how we love, why we love. Certainly, my own experience of D/s explores exactly these themes.
Psychology Today takes this analysis one step further.
Dr. Lehmiller, in the above referenced article suggests that BDSM is more akin to a leisure activity, making a nod to its “seriousness”. Why this justification? Because BDSM is said to induce a sense of freedom, pleasure, relief, self-expression and possess its own intrinsic motivation. It sounds a bit like love.
Thankfully, they go on to reason in more scientific terms and note that sexual orientation can be defined by certain characteristics:
“(a) sexual attraction that is strong and persistent; (b) relative immutability/fluidity of sexual attraction or arousal that is beyond conscious control; (c) early onset, developmentally, in childhood or adolescence; (d) significant psychological consequences to denying, exploring, fulfilling, or repressing sexual attraction and arousal; and (e) lifelong patterns of sexual attraction and arousal”
Why does any of this matter? Well, the idea ok kink being an orientation as opposed to something less profound, goes a long way to explaining its attraction. In particular, it helps to explain why people willingly go to such extremes to experience it…pain, for example, can be quite extreme. To pass through a threshold of pain to reach a plateau of pleasure, makes a lot more sense if BDSM is about how we love.
In my own life, I confess to a certain fascination with the Dominatrix. While in my vanilla life I have always been attracted to classic beauty, and enjoy it both on a platonic and aesthetic level. But a beautiful woman to me is an abstract concept without the emotional connection. And that emotional connection comes for me only when she is strong. When she is strong and Dominant, all the more so. To the point where what a Domme looks like almost ceases to matter. What matters is her personality, her character, her emotional landscape.
The online journal the Eye Opener furthers the discussion with an exploration of the underlying motivations. But in my mind they get into a rut that seems common to me—and while it may not be wrong, it is certainly alien to my experience.
There is a narrative that says that the sub is in control, and that narrative seems to hold both inside and outside of the community. The existence, however, of a safe word is insufficient evidence of control.
“The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”Quote from the article in the Eye Opener
This does not seem correct to me. This seems more like the definition of a fetish scene. There is nothing wrong with that, and many people may enjoy it. Indeed, a good portion of the professional community is in the business of dispensing satisfaction in this way. I do not mean to judge, but I think that there is an important distinction here. This kind of interaction feels like what the Psychology Today author noted as a leisure pursuit. It may be deeply felt, and intensely enjoyed–it may be even a paraphilia, and the only way for that person to enjoy themselves sexually. But it doesn’t seem to have the existential qualifications that one might associate with a sexual orientation.
Am I being overly literal? Maybe my feelings are different. When I look at my own relation to BDSM, my kink feels different. Instead of playing out a specific scene, I hope to lose myself in the other person. You cannot get lost if you are holding the map. You cannot get lost if you told them where you want to go. To me, this is a love language, not a movie.
To me, submission is precisely about negating our own desire in favour of the desires and needs of the other person. It is that letting go, that falling into deep service, which is the pleasure itself, and where meaning comes from.