Let's Talk About...Kinkshaming
Here we are. The first rendition of Let’s Talk About in the first issue of Cringe. In Let’s Talk About we will be discussing topics that we talk about with our friends but not with the general public. Think of this as a group of friends sitting in the back of a bar debating on whatever we feel like.
This first topic we will discuss is kinkshaming.
As a generation, we have pushed for many things. Equality, racial justice and climate change, just to name a few. Another thing we have pushed for is to being open about our sexuality and preferences: We now talk about things with our friends that we’d usually shun away from when it comes to sex. This has allowed people to be open about their kinks and with the internet it’s helped them connect to other like minded individuals. We’ve preached online about how we shouldn’t kinkshame others and let people just do what they want with who they want - as long as it’s consensual to both parties, of course - but are there times when we’ve questioned it ourselves? Sure, we can preach as much as we want online but when it comes to sitting with your friends and they mention something slightly odd about their fantasies, we do what most people do. Sit there, nod, maybe ask a question, then quickly change the subject. It’s a form of the shame game. We can’t help it. It’s instinctual to question it, to think about how and why someone could be into something - ranging from feet to the darkest parts of BDSM, the former of which seems vanilla when compared to the latter.
Every few months a celebrity kink scandal will appear and trend on Twitter for about a week, filling up your timeline of damning statements and dark memes. Armie Hammer is a great example of this: The B-list actor known for playing the twins in The Social Network and the 6ft5 American who seduced Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name hasn’t had the brightest success in the industry but became a whole other form of famous - infamous, even - when an Instagram account exposed their sext messages, with some having him referred to as a ‘Master’ to the sharp right turn of Hammer claiming to be a cannibal. The cannibal comment became meme-worthy with TikTok, Instagram and Twitter being as creative as they can be, working their magic of making light of the subject, while letting the sensationalism of the kink reveal overshadow a conversation about consent and sexual power dynamics.
From the dark and disturbing to the light comedic comment, Jake Cornish of Love Island 2021 became a talking point on the show with how often he mentions his favourite thing: feet. Within the first two minutes of him being on the show, it was one of the first things he mentioned in his introduction video. The producers used it to their advantage by making the reference appear throughout the eight weeks of the show, with the commentator Ian Stirling commenting on the kink to parts of the show’s challenges.
Even the infamous Instagram page DeuxMoi which posts celebrity sightings and secrets have aliases for certain celebrities after their kink becomes published (the streets will never forget, Couch Fucker, we will always remember you) weirdly helps the topic become an open discussion instead of an intense shaming. Like when you tell your friends, and they accept it and are fine with it, but it will be the butt of a joke for a good few weeks. However, it seemed that more people were creeped out over Jake’s obsession with feet than Hammer’s obsession for human flesh, a story that died down earlier than one might have expected considering its magnitude.
Kinkshaming is much more than just a meme; it’s been a cultural phenomenon for many years. We’ve been subconsciously doing it since the start. It’s in our blood to be judgy. In the late 1870s, a married couple was put on trial after republishing Dr Charles Knowlton’s The Fruits of Philosophy: Or - a book (although not 100% accurate) on sex and contraception. In the 1950s, we were queershaming - and look at how many celebrities were quietly queer in the old Hollywood days. As a culture, we’re still wrapped up in slutshaming, and we’re slowly coming to the end of LGBTQ shaming so far. But kinkshaming has recently come into the public eye as the internet teaches us more and more about kinks than we collectively knew before. There are now popular websites that facilitate the darker side of kinks and certain fantasies, with some being profitable i.e. OnlyFans.
By and large, our society’s biggest kinkshaming scandals have been with watersports, also known as ‘golden showers’. Look at R Kelly, the talk of the town wasn’t rape - it was all about him urinating on girls. And another show of this was when rumours of former President of the United States, Donald Trump, was a fan of the action, creating the #goldenshowergate moment on Twitter and people were more worried about their President being into that than the threat of no national security and blackmail. Pee was the problem.
Seriously, people are still using that hashtag.
But why do we kinkshame? According to sex-positive relationship counselor Alex Sanderson-Shortt, shaming anything that deviates from the norm is just creating a barrier to your happiness and the happiness of others. He puts it best when he says, “We live in a complicated world when it comes to sex.” All around us, a hyper-focused, super-specific idea of want and desire is pushed on us from childhood throughout media, magazines and commercials to animated TV shows and movies. Even in this increasingly diverse world, there’s still one side of sexuality presented in mainstream media. Because of this, Sanderson-Shortt says, “our sexualities, bodies, and relationships, are examined, commented on, and judged.” We’re told from a very young age exactly what sex should look like, who our partners had better be and what we’re allowed to enjoy. Even with movies like Secretary, 50 Shades of Grey and shows like Sex/Life, there still is a judemental tone and an ashamed feeling the characters have when discussing their fantasies. When we’re constantly told to not question what we want, it can be stressful to watch someone be brave enough - confident, even - to shrug off those expectations.
While for some of us challenges to our way of thinking are seen as a great opportunity to learn, for others, it can feel like reality is falling apart. If that sounds like you, there’s no easy way to slice it: People have different definitions of desire, and no matter what you’re into, kink is here to stay.
I’m not pushing against kinkshaming just because it’s rude. This negative attitude towards other people’s private lives can have some serious consequences. In fact, the backlash can be so hard that many people in kink communities equate it to coming out. Although not everyone agrees with this idea, a large part of the community can only describe it as that; bigging up their alter ego personas online to be a borderline incel behind the screen. When a kink like rope or BDSM culture plays a big part in our lives, hiding it can be difficult and emotionally draining. Kink often plays a seismic role in friendships and the relationships people build. Many members of the kink community who post on their alter ego blogs about their experiences often include images of the aftermath: bruises, some rope burns and for some, knife cuts. But they keep it all a secret. Why, you may ask? It’s surprisingly common for people to lose their jobs or even custody of their children when their kink is outed to the public. Embracing judgemental attitudes about kink is what makes it acceptable for judges and bosses to continue making these kinds of life-shattering decisions. Recently, Manhattan City Council candidate, Zack Weiner shrugged off the video leak of him engaging in some BDSM activities with a dominatrix at a Halloween BDSM party back in 2019. He released a statement to the New York Post addressing, “I didn’t want anyone to see that, but here we are. I am not ashamed of the private video circulating of me on Twitter. This was a recreational activity I did with my friend at the time, for fun..”. You could compare being open and honest with your kinks to the first step in any self-help program: admitting and accepting it.
This doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your own sexuality (although you are totally encouraged to). Nobody is forcing you to suddenly invest in a latex bodysuit or a collar or a leash. Instead, all you have to do is accept that others do things differently. We don’t all like the same food, for example, but we don’t go around shaming people for eating wheat bread instead of rye (unless we are talking about mushrooms, because FUCK MUSHROOMS). Same thing for someone who loves mysteries, when you can’t live without sci-fi. It’s totally natural for us all to have diverse interests, and what someone likes is really none of your business. That couldn’t be more true than in the bedroom. What someone does to invoke pleasure as diverse as everything under the sun, and there’s no one forcing you to be into it, too.
After all, someone’s extensive karaoke habit shouldn’t make you decide to stop hanging out with someone, right? Private sex lives are no exception. Instead of kinkshaming, maybe think about why you’re so opposed to it in the first place.
*This article was featured in Cringe Magazine