That’s it, I’m kinkshaming
Words by Ethan Penglase
Kink, defined as the “use of unconventional sexual practices, concepts or fantasies”, has recently made its way into public discussion. From ABC’s You Can’t Ask That hosting BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism) partakers to SBS’s coverage of men who get sexual gratification out of pretending to be dogs (“pup play”), people’s sexual quirks are becoming increasingly public and normalised.
The ongoing display and normalisation of sexual kinks is largely the result of the sexual liberation movement that emerged in the 1960s (though it has its roots far earlier than that), which promoted the attitude that all consensual sexual activities between adults are fundamentally healthy and pleasurable. The movement came to receive support from the emerging ideological trend within feminism known as “sex-positive” feminism. Feminists like Susan Blight opposed the efforts of mainstream feminists, such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, to centre pornography as an explanation for women’s oppression and instead posited that sexual freedom was key to women’s empowerment. Kinks have become sacrosanct in many progressive spaces to the point that those who attempt to criticise certain kinks are denounced for “kinkshaming” — an act that is treated as bad as sexism or racism. Some “progressive” groups, such as online publication everyday feminism, go out of their way to sanitise kinks. See, for example their article “Your 3-Step Guide to Practicing Non-Oppressive BDSM”. And yes, that is a real article.
Now, this wouldn’t be so morally egregious if what was accepted as a sexual kink came with reasonable conditions. But that’s increasingly not the case. What emerged as a movement for free love slowly became an excuse for the most problematic of men to carry out disturbing and violent acts upon women, to establish grotesque lifestyles and cult-like communities. But, so long as these repugnant acts are accompanied by an orgasm, the sex-positive activists will defend them to the grave.
One of the more confronting kinks on the rise is age play. Age play is a roleplaying fetish that involves one person taking on the role of an adult and another pretending to be anything from a teenager right down to a baby. The “younger” partner will adopt hobbies typical of children like playing with toys. They will call their partner “daddy” or “mummy”, pretend to not know what sex is and even wear diapers and pacifiers. Of course, the lust for children ends once the couple leave the bedroom.
Equally disturbing is race play, in which couples perform racial stereotypes during sex. Think Asian comfort women, black slaves, etc. But I’m sure the (always) white (often) men who fill the dominating role in these scenarios are upstanding members of society. The racism stays between the sheets.
BDSM is a more mainstream kink that has recently received somewhat of a facelift with the 50 Shades of Grey franchise. It is nonetheless an incredibly physically and psychologically damaging kink and deeply problematic. The role of gender and race within the BDSM community is stark and cannot be ignored. That is, that the majority of BDSM practitioners are white, the dominators are almost always men and the submissives are usually women. BDSM is nothing more than the eroticisation of the power imbalances within society. The most troubling aspect of BDSM is the concept of “safewords”. A safeword is a word agreed upon by those engaging in BDSM that literally means “stop”. The reason “stop” and “wait, that hurts” cannot be used is because the lack of consent and infliction of pain is actually a part of the BDSM act. Non-consent and harm become actively sexualised. But finding non-consent and causing pain arousing is totally an attribute of people who definitely wouldn’t commit rape.
It would be incorrect to claim that the sex-positive movement simply went too far. At the crux of this problem is the theoretical error made by sex-positive activists that the bedroom is a space that exists in a vacuum, divorced from the rest of society. It is absurd to suggest that one can leave an entire world of experiences at the bedroom door, engage in sexual acts devoid of any social context, and then leave the bedroom as the same person that entered it. A man who gets off on imagining the black person he is fucking is his slave probably doesn’t have much better views of black people once he leaves the bedroom. Someone who is aroused by pretending to molest a child probably isn’t too far from being aroused by the thought of molesting an actual child. And the man who doesn’t stop when his partner screams “stop” because that isn’t their safeword might very easily, on another day, just not stop in a different scenario.
Despite the moral dubiousness of these acts, sex-positive activists still hold that any act in which all parties involved have given free consent is innately good. This is lazy thinking and indicative of a rank liberalism that holds too much sway over supposedly progressive politics. When a depressed individual puts a knife to their skin, is it reasonable to say that this is okay because they technically consented? Does it suddenly become “pain play” and not self-harm because of the presence of consent and that they wanted to do it? We all recognise this as ridiculous and acknowledge the psychological problems the harmer is suffering. Why is it then that when someone else causes the individual harm it is deemed “kinky” and “liberating”? A woman posts a picture of her slashed wrists and we say she needs help. But if she posts a picture of the bruises her boyfriend gave her during sex we say she is empowered.
We can debate the virtue or harm of prostitution while still believing that people can consent to sex work. We can talk about the problems of self-harm while acknowledging that the consent doesn’t transmute the harmful act into a good one. And we can do the same with sexual kinks. We can, and should, talk about kinks that normalise pedophilia and rape; kinks that reproduce sexist and racist thinking; and kinks that cause physical and psychological damage.
I’m not suggesting that we have Big Brother-esque monitors in everyone’s bedrooms to make sure they are only having Approved Sex. I simply believe that the presence of consent in any act shouldn’t preclude the possibility of debate around the social utility of that act. The fact that it gives you a boner doesn’t make it exempt from critical discussion. Feminists fought for ages to destroy the idea that what occurred in the household was not of society’s concern, an excuse used by abusive husbands and fathers. Today, the household is the bedroom, and we must burst it asunder to social scrutiny.
People with age regression kinks, rape kinks or any kink that revolves around simulating lack of consent need to take a look at themselves and ask why exactly they find the idea of deeply harming another human being so arousing. And sex-positive activists need to ask themselves why they’re defending male domination and violence when it occurs in the bedroom.