All of the definitions I’ve seen for kink fall short, so I had to develop my own. This became relevant because I’ve been accepted to speak at the Popular Culture Association’s 2022 national conference in The Eros, Pornography, & Popular Culture Area. Since this is an academic space, not a kink one, I feel that I need to bust myths and provide a workable framework for outsiders or those on the fringes of the kink scene to use. I want to create something that can help people understand, talk about, and study the behavior of others.
First, let us consider why other definitions fall short. The most common definition of kink that I’ve read has two elements: (1) non-normative (2) sexual behavior. I’d like to examine the ways that both of these elements fall short.
The terms non-normative, bizarre, or unconventional, as used in other definitions, aren’t specific enough for this context. Upon consideration, I found there are two entities whose perception of the behavior matters: The participants and their society. If the participants find their behavior abnormal but their society doesn’t, it’s a dirty secret or guilty pleasure. If the society finds their behavior abnormal but the participants don’t, they are outsiders.
This makes kink relativistic. By previous definitions (“non-normative sexual behavior”), any culturally unacceptable sexual behavior could be considered kink, such as gay sex in a society that considers homosexuality immoral. However, if we consider the perspective of the participants as well as their society, it’s likely not kink, as the participants probably consider their own behavior normal and acceptable.
The second element of the common definitions of kink also falls short. As I found when I began going to The Woodshed in 2016, not all kink is sexual. Some is indirectly sexual for the kinksters involved – They might get mentally and or physically turned on by the act, but not have sex right then and there. Additionally, for many kinksters, their behavior is satisfying in an absolutely nonsexual way.
I struggled for a while trying to find a word or phrase that includes both sexual and nonsexual motivations for kink. For some people, kink is purely a sensation activity. For others, it’s about connections with other people. My working phrase is “intimacy practice.”
The element that kink is performed by consenting, informed adults was absent in previous definitions, but I feel that it’s necessary to distinguish kink from abuse or assault. Therefore, everyone involved must be an adult who understands what’s going on and agrees to be part of it.
Therefore, the definition of kink that I’ve developed is as follows: (1) An intimacy practice (2) performed by consenting, informed adults (3 & 4) that both the participants and their society consider taboo.
I hope to iterate on this definition as I hear feedback from kinksters and potentially develop better, more precise language to describe kink itself.
How would you define kink? Is it something where you know it when you see it? Are there exceptions to my definition that I haven’t considered? Please leave them in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org