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What is Kink-Shaming and Why Is It Harmful?


In the BDSM, kink, and fetish communities, we have a saying: “your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay” (often abbreviated to YKINMKBYKIOK.) The world of kinks and fetishes is vast, and not everyone is into the same things. In fact, you’ll probably struggle to find two people with an exact overlap in their interests. This little saying is supposed to convey that, while we might not all get off on the same things, we support consenting adults in getting off in whatever ways work for them. 

The opposite of the YKINMKBYKIOK approach is kink-shaming. But what is kink-shaming, what harm can it cause, and how can we work to eradicate it from our communities? 

What is Kink-Shaming?

In short, kink-shaming is the act of making someone feel shamed, guilty, dirty, problematic, or otherwise “bad” for the kinks, fetishes, or fantasies they enjoy. 

Kink-shaming can take many guises. Some of its most common forms include:

  • Making sweeping statements or generalisations about certain kinks (e.g. “people who are into pain are mentally ill.”)
  • Attacking an individual specifically for the kinks they’re into (e.g. “you’re a freak if you get off on being tied up.”) 
  • Relating consensual kink to non-consensual acts of violence or abuse (e.g. “you like spanking your wife? Way to out yourself as a domestic abuser!”) 
  • Accusing people of perpetuating real-world harm through their participation in kink (e.g. “you call yourself a feminist? You’re setting women back by submitting to a man!”) 
  • Having a disgusted reaction when someone discloses a kink or fetish (e.g. “ewww” or “gross.”) 

Why is Kink-Shaming Harmful?

Kinks and fetishes, broadly speaking, are sexual interests that fall outside of society’s narrow norms (even though some of them, such as interest in spanking or foot fetishism or latex, are incredibly common.) This means that many of us who are kinky have experienced moments of wondering “what’s wrong with me?” We might have worried that we are sick, broken, perverted, or bad people for the kinks that we enjoy.

Kink-shaming perpetuates this societal stigma. It drives kinksters further underground and buys into the narrative that there is something wrong with consensual expressions of sexuality that are outside of the mainstream. This harms not just the individual who has been kink-shamed, but the entire kinky community. 

Even being kink-shamed once can set a kinkster back months or years on their journey to self-acceptance and peace with their interests. Shame can also have a profoundly negative mental health impact, leading to feelings of guilt and self-loathing. It can cause people to withdraw from the community, leaving them feeling alone and isolated, or stop them from finding it in the first place. 

At the extreme end of the spectrum, kink-shaming can have serious real-world consequences. It’s thankfully relatively rare, but people have lost their jobs, lost their housing, lost custody of their children, and even been criminalised due to their involvement with consensual kink and BDSM activities. 

How to Avoid Kink-Shaming Others

Avoiding kink-shaming doesn’t mean you have to be into the same things as someone else. It does mean, though, that you don’t get to judge or criticise other people for the things they’re into as long as they act on them consensually and with due regard for safety. 

Approach other people’s kinks with a spirit of curiosity. This doesn’t mean trying them if you don’t want to, but it does mean keeping an open mind about them. Ask polite questions, refrain from making judgements, and try to see things from their point of view. 

You can also maintain your own boundaries without kink-shaming. If seeing or hearing about a particular kink is deeply upsetting or triggering to you, then you don’t have to see or hear it. But you do have to set those boundaries appropriately. “I’m glad you’re happy but I find talk of that kink really triggering so please can you talk to other people about it instead of me?” is a perfectly okay thing to say. It’s also fine to respectfully leave a space if something is happening that you cannot cope with seeing. 

If all else fails, embrace the spirit of YKINMKBYKIOK. How would you want someone to treat you if they found out about your kinks? Use this as your guide for how you treat others. 

So You’ve Been Kink-Shamed? 

Being kink-shamed can be a truly horrible experience that can have a lasting impact on your mental health, wellbeing, and self-esteem. There’s no one right way to handle it if you have been kink-shamed. But there are things you can do that might help you to feel better and not let shame get its claws into you in a lasting way. 

First, if you feel safe and able to do so, consider calling it out. The person who kink-shamed you might realise their error and apologise. If they double down, you know that they are not a safe person to be open and vulnerable with. 

Even if they don’t apologise immediately, they might reflect on your words later and choose not to kink-shame someone else in the future. Don’t feel obligated to take on an educator role but, if you feel able to, you might offer the person some more information on what your kink is all about, common misconceptions surrounding it, and why kink-shaming causes harm. 

Next, talk about the experience with someone you trust, and preferably someone else who is also kinky. They will be able to sympathise, empathise, and remind you that there is nothing wrong with you. Spending time in a kink space, such as a munch or play party, can be very healing after an incident of kink-shaming. 

Finally, take care of yourself. Being kink-shamed can leave you feeling vulnerable and grappling with serious negative feelings about yourself. But there is nothing wrong with being kinky! Kink-shaming says more about the person who shamed you than it does about you. Your sexuality is a beautiful and positive thing, and no-one gets to take that away from you because of their own hangups. 

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