Kink Is More Popular Than You Think - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Your kink might be more common than you think.

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Your kink might be more common than you think.

By Joshua Eferighe

“It’s incredible to see how people open up to me,” says Stavroula Toska. She loves the look of relief on their faces when they realize they can talk to her and she won’t judge them. About their fetishes.

Toska’s a writer, director and actor who began working as a dominatrix while researching her 2018 TV series Switch. She’s trained couples and individuals, letting them talk about their fantasies and try what was on their minds. Couples who wanted the same things but didn’t know where to start or how to get past their own inhibitions could turn to her for guidance, learning how to submit when they wanted to and call the shots when they wanted to.

That kind of help might be made to order for a larger proportion of the population than you think. According to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine

69 percent of people say they’ve either performed or fantasized about BDSM.

The 2017 survey drew data from more than 8,000 Belgians asked about their level of interest in hitting or being hit with a whip, sexual uses of hot candle wax, controlling their partner’s breathing and playacting rape, among other things. Though only 7.6 percent said they considered themselves to be “BDSM practitioners,” 12.5 percent said they performed such activities on a regular basis, 46.8 percent had engaged in BDSM at some point and an additional 22 percent had fantasized about it. To put it another way: Fewer than 1 in 3 people aren’t into this.

“Many of the things that we’ve long considered to be paraphilic are actually pretty common sexual interests,” says Dr. Justin Lehmiller, author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. One reason such activities have been classified as rare or strange, he theorizes, is that psychologists and psychiatrists just thought they sounded unusual. “Once we started to really systematically explore them, we found that a lot of these are quite common,” he says.  

Paraphilic sexual interests are defined as unusual or anomalous and include not just sadism and masochism but voyeurism and fetishes. While kink has been increasingly normalizedFifty Shades of Grey, of course, but also more recent cultural artifacts like Netflix’s 2019 show Bonding — it’s only been seven years since the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by American doctors reclassified BDSM behavior as no longer a mental illness requiring treatment. For example, according to Gabbard’s Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders, Fifth Edition, if a sadist were aroused by fantasies or acts involving nonconsensual behaviors, clinicians were advised to prescribe antiandrogens — drugs that block the hormones that regulate the development of sex. Now, those into sexual sadism and masochism can still be considered as requiring treatment, but only if the practice causes distress to the person or others around them.

But engaging in kink can actually have a positive effect on health. A 2013 evaluation of psychological characteristics of people practicing BDSM found that they were less neurotic, more open and extroverted and less rejection-sensitive than the general population.

Still, the culture by and large remains underground in the form of secret societies, invite-only parties and online chats. Perhaps that secrecy just makes it more titillating, though. Mainstream guides like Time Out have even featured recommendations of best sex dungeons in some cities.

For first timers, though, that may not be the best option. Toska advises those who are interested in exploring their kinky side to find another consenting adult who will understand what it is they’re looking for and who agrees to explore responsibly. For those in a relationship, she says, it’s a good idea to speak with their partner about maintaining an open mind. “I’d also inform them that they are not alone,” she says. “There are thousands, possibly millions, of people around the world who share the same interest.”

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