The Science of Kink

It’s not a pathological aberration, but part of the healthy spectrum of sexuality

Lux Alptraum
Elemental
Published in
6 min readAug 15, 2019

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Credit: VikaValter/Getty Images

InIn recent years, kink has become increasingly mainstream: whether it’s Rihanna professing a love of S&M or the Fifty Shades films bringing in hundreds of millions at the box office, it’s clear that there’s an increased appetite for sex that strays from the straight and narrow path.

Broadly defined as sexual interests that exist outside the norm, the boundaries of kink can shift depending on where, and when, you are in the world. For some, anal sex could be considered kinky, while others would dismiss that attitude as the height of prudishness. At present, kink is generally accepted to include BDSM (an acronym for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, and masochism) and fetish, where a particular object (such as feet or latex) is considering essential to a person’s sexual pleasure.

Even as many of us have become more comfortable talking kink, we’re still operating under a lot of misconceptions about what kink looks like, and what kind of role it plays in the lives of practitioners (see Fifty Shades, the success of). Kink is often assumed to be an all or nothing situation, where people can’t enjoy any sexual contact unless it involves their preferred “perversion,” and the specter of the “creepy fetishist” driven to unspeakable acts by their desires looms large in the public imagination.

Fortunately, our increasing comfort with the topic of kink has been accompanied by an increased interest in how it functions in people’s lives. “The research on kink started in the 1970s, and only in the last maybe 10 years has it begun really exploding in the literature,” says psychotherapist and researcher Ryan Witherspoon, who is co-authoring a book on clinical work with kinky people. “Now that kink is less stigmatized, it’s being taken up by more serious research teams.”

As those research teams have conducted their work, their findings have started to paint a picture that’s wildly different from what many of us have been led to believe.

FFor starters, having an interest in kink is far more common than many realize. “We now have some pretty good data on how many people engage in kink in the U.S. and Canada and some other Western…

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Lux Alptraum
Elemental

OneZero columnist, Peabody-nominated producer, and the author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — And the Truths They Reveal. http://luxalptraum.com