Defining Kink – KinkForAll Boston and Beyond

My how time keeps bloody happening.

I suppose I should start with the sorrow – it comes. It goes. Right now, it’s gone. I feel brave and confident, comfortable and happy, secure and well. I will not be overwhelmingly surprised if the sadness comes back again with a vengeance, but it seems to be growing less and less. I am pleased.

But it was there, in and around the more important and worthwhile events of my life. KinkForAll Boston happened – the sadness kept me company right up to the day of the event, and the Little Hater paid a visit , too. But the event happened, and it was impressive. We lost our venue 8 days before the event, found a new one two days before it, and we still had about 70 people show up. For the first time ever, people who hadn’t planned to go walked in and participated – I think holding it in the Boston University Student Union helped that hugely.

There had been alot of discussion of diversity on the list, and that topic – how to make the event welcoming and comfortable to people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, was much discussed. It is my personal goal with KinkForAll unconferences to create a space where everybody can talk about everything involving sex.

This includes the BDSM community, but is not limited to it. This is a very hard concept to grasp, both for those within and those outside of the BDSM community. People within the community only ever expect to be able to talk openly about their sexuality in spaces where nobody outside their sexuality is present – so they gear their talk specifically for and to themselves, without the introduction and explanation that people outside of the community require. And people outside of the BDSM community largely do require that explanation, because outside of closed off spaces where BDSM practitioners talk amongst themselves, nobody talks in clear, educated way about that practice or community, at all.

It’s a difficult thing for all involved.

But each new event, I think, gets better. I can’t wait to see what the next one looks like.

In the meantime, in order to battle a few of the misconceptions I find most difficult, I went to KinkForAll Boston and I did a presentation. There is video:

Defining “Kink” – KinkForAll Boston from maymay on Vimeo.

And below, making this entry incredibly over-long, is the text that I used for the presentation:

Defining Kink: Wikipedia, Language, and Sex for All

Let’s start by taking a look at classical definitions, shall we?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Kink) defines kink thusly:

Main Entry: 1kink

1 : a short tight twist or curl caused by a doubling or winding of something upon itself 2 a : a mental or physical peculiarity : eccentricity, quirk b : whim 3 : a clever unusual way of doing something 4 : a cramp in some part of the body 5 : an imperfection likely to cause difficulties in the operation of something 6 : unconventional sexual taste or behavior

It’s not the OED, but it’s a perfectly acceptable academic reference.

Academic references don’t necessarily Move With The Times – paper dictionaries are almost always out of date.

Not that I don’t love dictionaries, nor do I think that even language not currently in common use is ever really out-of-date (Medieval Studies major, here) but that’s not what I came here to tell you about….

It’s academic suicide, but let’s check WikiPedia – it’s Up-to-Date, edited constantly, crowd-sourced and self-regulating. Just the thing for talking about language that is constantly being defined and changed, and used in different ways by different people.

And academic reputability aside, when want to find out about something we check Wikipedia first, and then start looking through it’s bibliography to figure out where to go next.

Allow me to demonstrate: Raise your hands, everybody. If you’ve used OED in the past 3 weeks, lower your hand. NOW, if you’ve used Wikipedia in the past 3 DAYS, lower your hand.

[A few people lower their hands for the OED. Almost no hands are left in the air after Wikipedia.]

Uh-huh.

Wikipedia says:

Kink (sexual)

In human sexuality, kinkiness or kinky (adjective), is a term used to refer to an intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form. Such expressions may represent a mature degree of social and sexual intelligence, wherein partners and prospective partners mutually communicate sexual understanding, interests, and tastes through outward and characteristic expressions such as gesture, dress, and conducive interaction.

In current usage, the term “kink” has instead come to refer to a range of objective and objectifying sexualistic practices ranging in degree from the playful to the paraphilic. These include spanking, bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism (BDSM) and sexual fetishism.

Kink sexual practices go beyond what are considered conventional sexual practices as a means of heightening the intimacy between sexual partners. Some draw a distinction between “kink” and “fetishism”, defining the former as enhancing partner intimacy, and the latter as replacing it.[1] Because of its relation to “normal” sexual boundaries, which themselves vary by time and place, the definition of what is and is not kink varies widely as well. Practitioners are sometimes considered to be perverts by “outsiders.”

That’s a lot to take in. Let’s break it down:

  1. Kink is “intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form” That’s good! And it indicates “ mature degree of social and sexual intelligence” That’s great! (go us!)But

  2. Unfortunately “In current usage, the term “kink” has instead come to refer to a range of objective and objectifying sexualistic practices ranging in degree from the playful to the paraphilic. These include spanking, bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism (BDSM) and sexual fetishism.” So according to our up-to-date, crowd-sourced, techno-savvy reference here, “Kink” has come to be associated with just one group of people, which is not so good.

  3. However: “Some draw a distinction between “kink” and “fetishism”, defining the former as enhancing partner intimacy, and the latter as replacing it.” So we have one good indication of what “Kink” might not be. But that’s not terribly clear, so let us make a brief digression to take a look at what “Fetish” and “Fetishism” are. Heading back to our hide-bound Merriam-Webster dictionary, we find

    Main Entry: fe·tish

Variant(s): also fe·tich \ˈfe-tish also ˈfē-\

1 a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion : prepossession c : an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression 2 : a rite or cult of fetish worshipers 3 : fixation

and

Main Entry: fe·tish·ism

1 : belief in magical fetishes 2 : extravagant irrational devotion 3 : the pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to a fetish

We’ll have to accept this definition, because Wikipedia gives us an example of of self-regulation in action:

This article may contain original research or unverified claims. Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (March 2009)“,

This article contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (March 2009)

So, leaving WikiPedia alone for now, and go with the academically accepted sources. These definitions include the word “Psychological,” “Pathological,” and “Necessary,” all of which I think we can generally agree are not integral to our definition of the word “Kink.” As the “Kink (Sexual)” article in Wikipedia says, Kink should “enhance emotional intimacy” Which is, of course, a good thing, and something that a pathological fetish does not do. So, why is it that:

  1. Practitioners are sometimes considered to be perverts by “outsiders.” What’s an outsider? According to the first definition in the Wikipedia article, anybody who takes the time to think and talk about sex in an intelligent way either has some Kinks or is Kinky. How can there be insiders and outsiders in that? That presupposes that being Kinky puts you in some sort of closed community, which goes back to the idea that Kink can be associated only with people interested in BDSM and similar activities. But even so, why is that community necessarily closed? Because of fear – of the law, of social judgement, of the pain that can come from owning up to one’s interests. All completely legitimate, but reducing Kink to that and that alone takes away the “Playful” nature. The idea that “practitioner are … considered perverts by “outsiders” either conflates Kink with BDSM and nothing else, or conflates it with Fetishism, both of which we see cannot be our definition of Kink. If we hold Kink to it’s definition as “a term used to refer to an intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts” how can it become a pejorative that turns people into “perverts”?

  2. Maybe perverts are people who’s “sexual practices go beyond what are considered conventional sexual practices as a means of heightening the intimacy between sexual partners.” What’s conventional sex? Wikipedia tells us it’s the same as “Vanilla Sex” and “Among heterosexual couples in the Western world, vanilla sex often refers to the missionary position.” but the “Vanilla Sex” page (to which the search “Conventional Sex” redirects) also says “The British Medical Journal defines vanilla sex between homosexual couples as “Sex that does not extend beyond affection, mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex.” That’s a much wider definition! AND

  3. Looking back at the “Kink (Sexual)” page, we see “Because of its relation to “normal” sexual boundaries, which themselves vary by time and place, the definition of what is and is not kink varies widely as well.” Now isn’t that telling? It turns out that we can’t give a consistent definition for “Normal,” “Conventional,” “Vanilla” sex, because it’s changing all the time – any definition we put down will become as quickly outdated as the dictionary we put it down in.

So we’ve pulled apart the Wikipedia definition, and the Merriam-Webster definition.

We know a little bit about what Kink isn’t – Kink isn’t Fetishism. It’s not pathological, and it doesn’t act as a replacement for emotional connection and intimacy.

We know as well about what Kink shouldn’t be exclusionary, prejudicing. Kink is not BDSM and BDSM alone. In fact, there’s no reason that Kink should necessarily be opposed to conventional sex – think of it as Sex 201. A little bit more in-depth, perhaps. Requiring intelligence and thought, explicitly open and honest communication, and with any luck, provides lots of fun. One can do Kink just by talking, one can have a Kink just by knowing enough to know what it is that really gets your motor going.

Listen to WikiPedia, since you’re looking at it anyway: Kink is “Intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form.” And if not everybody can, under that definition, currently be called Kinky, then that’s the reason why the people who can be called Kinky need to get out there, get talking, and change the world – So that Kink can be For All.

Upcoming posts:

  • Kink On Tap – Changing Sexuality Podcasts One Sunday Evening at a Time
  • Crowed-Sourcing Sorrow Management – Notes on Friendship
  • My Mother and Other Miracles (Or: Wandering Out of the Closet)
  • Almost certainly I will talk more about May. No big surprise, there, really…
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  2. [...] Sun. This post was originally given as a presentation at Kink For All Boston. There is  a video available on original post. This post explores the term ‘kink’ , there are no trigger or squick notices attached [...]

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