“I cannot Dom for the life of me.” We’re sitting on my couch, wide-eyed and giggling. You are bathed in soft orange light, a glass of wine in hand. We are, yet again, talking about sex, and no detail is spared. “Every time I try, I end up just being like ‘Oh, you want me to Dom?… make me…” We share stories like we shared mood rings in playgrounds, which is to say, what is mine is yours. We laugh harder, exchanging tips and tricks, “I can’t help it! I’m a brat, to my core!”
What’s the difference between a kink and a fetish?
A kink is a ‘quirky’, ‘unusual’ or ‘unconventional’ sexual preference. Kinks are fluid and contemporary since what is or isn’t kinky will vary depending on situational context, broader social context, and the sexual politics of the time. For this reason, kinks and kink play have a queer history.
A fetish (in the erotic sense) is the sexual fixation of an object, activity, or body part. A fetish involves adoration or keen interest. Contrary to negative and unfounded yet popular beliefs, fetishes aren’t inherently a problem. They are only a concern when they begin to cause significant distress, to the point of disturbing a person’s everyday life.
There is some overlap between the two, but experts say the difference between them is that a kink doesn’t need to be met for sexual fulfilment, whereas a fetish must be fulfilled for sexual gratification. E.g. If you have a spank kink you’ll enjoy the practice during sex, but don’t need it to happen. If you have a spanking fetish, you won’t be sexually satisfied without it.
Both are fascinating, and well worth talking about.
Kink play has a queer history
A lot of acts that are very normal and routine within LGBTQIA+ sexual relationships are considered ‘kinky’ when viewed under a straight lens.
“I remember having a conversation with a cis woman who was talking about her recent experience with eating ass (rimming) and how she thought it was very kinky – she was sorta showing off how risqué her sex life was. As a trans masc person who enjoys anal for gender euphoria reasons and who was (and is) dating a trans woman, this was very odd. Anal and eating ass is a very normal part of queer sex, especially for trans people and gay men. This idea that sex acts which are in typical rotation for queer couples and trans folks would be considered kinky reinforces the idea that queer sex is odd, sinful or taboo.” – Malyn
Although the stigmas surrounding queer sex are ever-shifting, queerphobia still runs rampant.
“When I was a young teenager, it was WAY more socially acceptable to be into choking/breath play and spanking than it was for me to be interested in queer sex.” – Malyn
And when your sex life and sexual preferences are labelled “taboo”, it makes sense to seek out other kinks to find community.
“I speak from personal experience as a demisexual who is sex-positive. Vanilla sex can become quite boring or just not interesting in the first place for sex-positive asexuals and demisexuals – because there isn’t an inherent attraction, the intimacy of sex can feel very one-sided. Something that I personally find helpful is incorporating kink. Especially around learning new skills together (like rope/Shibari or bondage), experimenting with power dynamics and role play (DDLG, pet play, free use/exhibition or CNC) and/or playing with different kinds of stimulation to keep things exciting and new for everyone involved (tickling, overstimulation, breath play or spanking/impact play).
While kink isn’t inherently queer, our history and the history of kink overlap in places because of the shared demonisation of these sex acts.” – Malyn
In the lead-up to this article, I interviewed four students and alumni about their kinks and fetishes. I wanted to include personal stories that showed a diverse range of sexual preferences and experiences. The following excerpt is an abbreviated version of those interviews.
What is your kink/ fetish?
“I’ve never considered what ‘my kink/fetish’ is, because exploring the world of kink and fetish is the thing that I’m in to. So, I guess being kinky is my fetish? I’m pretty much willing to try anything new. Things I’ve tried include: bondage and restraints, Shibari, whips, wax, role play, age play, Findomme, exhibitionism, voyeurism, CNC (consensual non-consent), golden showers, humiliation (giving) just to name a few.” – Tess
“I’d say my kink is pretty much girls wearing medieval knights armour, which is mostly fifteenth/sixteenth century plates with chainmail underneath.” – Bryan
“Femdom, orgasm control, little bit of bondage, chastity, and control stuff.” – Darren
“When I was younger, I was very into the idea of BDSM and things like that in the hard core scene. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just gotten… you sort of get to know yourself more, and you just know what you like. And I find often it’s not as outlandish as you think it’s gonna be. I love people’s hands and people’s mouths.” – Baz
When and how did you discover this?
“I remember I was talking to a friend of mine in my late teen years, and she asked me if I’d done the BDSM test. I hadn’t, so I went home, googled it and found the website (bdsmtest.org). It helped me put a label on some of the things I’d felt urges toward. My friend also told me to look a website called Fetlife (which I signed up for). I would say these two sites really helped navigate the world of kink.” – Tess
“It started probably around primary school.” – Bryan
“Around 18, as I was finishing high school.” – Darren
“I think it really was just thinking about it as a teenager. I had a wonderful group of friends in high school who were very accepting. I felt less constrained to just be like, ‘oh I like, Dean Winchester, that’s my type’. I remember I was looking at Youtubers that were a ‘thing’ at the time, And I was like, I think they’re attractive, but why?” – Baz
Do you think anything might have triggered this kink/ fetish? Eg. Media you’ve watched or book you’ve read.
“Apart from exploring kink lists on Fetlife and stalking what other people were into? Well, one kink in particular; I had been sleeping with someone a few years younger than me (we’d met through Tinder), and during sex (I can’t remember how he brought it up, but) he said something about having a mummy fetish. I was still in my 20’s but good God, it made me feel old… and a little turned on when I saw how turned on he was. There was this vulnerability he had when he mentioned it, and that turned me on too.” – Tess
“A book from my childhood.” – Bryan
“You ever seen Atlantis the Lost Empire? You know the girl in that? I just have a memory of her just being really cool and hot. And I feel like she was a strong character. Something in my head was like, that’s pretty cool.” – Darren
“I sort of view sex as another means of connecting with people. And I think, because I was a very lonely, disconnected, and isolated child, I latched on to things that were about connection. I learned early on that it matters what you say, what you speak. And that’s all held within the mouth. So, I view the mouth as a very symbolic thing, and also a very human thing. And when people touch me and use their hands, and I can feel that it’s in a genuine way, that feels more honest to me than other physical interactions.”–Baz
How does your kink/fetish present itself in your life? (In what ways does it affect you or influence your decisions.)
“I can be really impulsive with my sex drive, and it can be really consuming at times and affect my ability to go about my day and think straight. There is a kink archetype called Primal (Hunter) – it’s quite instinct based and predatory at times. For me, it’s about the thrill of the chase and going after what I want, like a game. Sex is a primal need, not a romantic notion. In this way, that primal drive has led me to make some questionable choices when I should probably have considered my safety better, and not met up with strangers for sex or had Tinder dates over late at night without having vetted them first.” – Tess
“I’d say I keep it limited to my (armor appreciation) Instagram account. I might drop it in conversation with girls.” – Bryan
“Dating wise, I have always preferred stronger, (more) outgoing women than me.” – Darren
“I moisturize my hands all the time. I don’t get manicures, but I am aware of what my hands look like. I think I emphasize my mouth because I have a very small mouth compared to my face, and I think it’s one of my notable features. I always think, if you have something that’s different from someone else, that is what sets you apart.” – Baz
How does this kink/ fetish impact your sex life? E.g. Does it play an active, physical role in foreplay, role-play, or is it imagined through dirty talk?
“Active! My partner and I have great communication when it comes to this. We have taken kink tests together. We made an under-bed restraint rig system to use, which is great! I didn’t like the rig systems you can buy online, because they’re easy to get out of, so we designed one that can’t be gotten out of.”– Tess
“Dirty talking (it doesn’t have to be medieval dirty talk) and fantasies, and a tiny bit of roleplaying.” – Bryan
“Obviously, bondage is on my list, so I have some related paraphernalia in my house. Definitely lots of Dirty Talk, because there’s lots of things that are a really hot idea in the moment, but you don’t necessarily actually wanna follow up on.” – Darren
“I find I like masks. There was a recent trend where a character from Call of Duty has his face half covered, where it’s just his mouth, and I was like I’m going to try that. And you know the standard flirting thing, where they’ll just touch you very casually? I’m very observant of that, and I’m very aware when that’s happening. Especially if a person, can’t, like, grab me, right? Or someone who’s a bad kisser as well. I’m like, it’s not your fault, but it’s ruining it for me.” – Baz
Are partners receptive to it?
“With new partners, I usually start with a kink test quiz and ask them what their hard and soft limits are. A hard limit is something that’s a firm no, a soft limit is something that you may not want to do, but could be open to in the right circumstances. For example, a hard limit of mine is scat and knife play, but a soft limit is electro-play. I like to find out what people are into. A kink of mine is making a fantasy of my sexual partners become a reality (with me). I find partners to be receptive to this. Being open and up front with desires means both of us can get off!” – Tess
“My Ex (two exes ago) was in love with it, she grew into it.” – Bryan
“I’ve only really had one partner. She was fairly receptive to it. I don’t have experience with it being less receptive, I guess.” – Darren
“I find, because I’m more into very casual things than long term relationships, I will often sort of work it in without actually having an extended conversation about it, because I just can’t be bothered. I have brought up the mouth thing, and they totally get it. The hand thing can be hit or miss.” – Baz
Have you ever had any negative reactions?
“Not that I can recall. If someone is not into what I’m into, or vice versa, it’s fine! I’m a firm believer in no kink shaming. Just because it’s not for me, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.” – Tess
“Ranges from apathy, like ‘ah it’s cool, I don’t mind, I wear it for you, etc.’ to the extreme end like, ‘Oh eww’, ‘why would I wear that, that’s disgusting’. ” – Bryan
“No, but I have people who don’t get it. Not negative, but it has been like, after you bring it up, suddenly they’re very conscious of it and it kind of ruins the fun a bit. It has sort of been like a net negative, even if it wasn’t an abrasive, ‘no way, I hate it. That’s gross’ sort of reaction.” – Baz
How open are you about this kink/ fetish? When do you share about it?
“I think I’m quite open about being a kink-positive person. I love that I love sex and the world of kink, it’s something I like about myself. I also think it’s important to talk about things like kink and fetish, because it challenges the heteronormative narratives. I know for myself, exploring the world of kink really helped me navigate my own sexuality, and break down some of the shame and stigma I felt surrounding sex, and what it means to be a sexual person.” – Tess
“I don’t, no. I don’t tell a lot of people on purpose, I guess.” – Darren
“I talk about it, but I almost never actively label it as a fetish. It’s so much easier to talk to people if it doesn’t have the weight of those labels. Because if I say, ‘oh, he has gorgeous hands’, or if I’m talking about a guy I’m interested in, and I say, ‘I’m just obsessed with his hands’, then people will often be like, ‘oh, I completely get that’. Whereas if I’m like, ‘I have a fetish for hands’, they’re like, ‘what the fucking do you mean?’” – Baz
How do you feel about it? (Eg. could be comfortable, could be awkward or shameful, could be neutral)
“Positive! There are some kinks that are slightly less common that are awkward to talk about, like golden showers etc, but for the most part I feel fine talking about it all.” – Tess
“It’s expressing it to other people that I’m more worried about, than the action. I’ve spent four years with this, so that’s whatever. I think I’m fairly comfortable with myself with most stuff.” – Darren
“I feel complicated about in a very long-winded, human way, in that I feel strange for being very invested in anything that isn’t ‘normal’. In that way, whenever there’s something even just a little bit different about you, there’s that part of your body or your brain, that’s like ‘ahhhh’. In practice, I don’t have any problems with it. But I do, as much as I don’t let it rule me, feel the typical shame of ‘oh, this is weird, and you’re weird for liking it’. ” – Baz
Is there anything you’d like people to know about your kink/fetish? In terms of normalising or addressing any misinterpretations.
“Get into it and do your research, you might be missing out on a whole new way of getting off that you hadn’t even considered.” – Tess
“I don’t like the association – that it’s not okay because it’s not masculine or whatever.” – Darren
“It’s an interest that moves beyond aesthetics. I like it because of everything that’s weird and gross and awkward and stupid and silly about it. I don’t like people’s hands or people’s mouths or think people have gorgeous hands because they’re perfect, or because they’re the most ‘masculine’. I see it as weird and stupid, and everyday and mundane and I like it. And I like that it’s like that.” – Baz
Kinks and fetishes are fascinating. There are so many great conversations to be had when you take a minute to unpack and understand them. Whether you’re the most vanilla or the wackiest sorbet in the bedroom, we all have preferences and desires. Be kind, be respectful, and be open to understanding other people’s fantasies (within reason).
And, most importantly, have fun and stay safe xx.
UnSEXpected is a Glass column dedicated to the things we learn about sex and intimacy through conversations with friends. If you have any unique, funny or interesting stories you’d like to share, please get in touch! It’s the team’s goal to make this column a fun, safe and diverse space.