Kink Shaming, and What It Isn’t

The idea of kink shaming as a thing to avoid is a useful concept, and like all useful concepts it can be misapplied.

Mainstream society is savagely judgmental of sexual pleasure, and cruel towards anything and anyone that stands out as different. I don’t think that’s news to any of us who have desires for unusual pleasures. We’ve all seen the freaky shit that’s so desirable to us mocked, vilified and banned. We’ve noticed how people baselessly assume that anyone who gets turned on by whips or restraints must be damaged or wicked.

One of the most important functions of kink culture and kink communities is to band together and create a space where we can get some relief from that judgment. Places like Fet are where you can come to talk about wanting to milk your partner like a cow, and not be automatically treated like there’s something wrong with you. Instead you can find other people who want similar things and get to see how they are not broken or wicked, but are in fact living happy lives. That’s a tremendous good for many people.

One of the big challenges in having a kink culture is that we don’t all want the same freaky shit. The defining feature of unusual desires is that they’re unusual. There just aren’t enough lactation fetishists to sustain a totally independent community. Even kinks like rope that are hugely common within our communities are still a bit thinly spread through the general population. So we hang out, virtually and physically, with people who are into only some of the things we’re into, people who are into kind-of-but-not-quite the same thing we’re into, and people who are into things that are wildly different from the things we’re into and that we have no interest in at all. The only thing we have in common is that we’re all into freaky shit.

And just because we’re into freaky shit doesn’t mean that we don’t still carry mainstream society’s judgments with us. That garbage is hard to unlearn. It’s super easy and regrettably common for someone with one fetish to point at everybody else’s fetishes and say “Eww! Gross and bad!” and if we’re all running around yucking each other’s yum it ruins the value of having kinky spaces.

That’s what Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Your Kink Is Okay (YKINMKBYKIO) exists for. It is a philosophy of empathy and a recognition of common cause. It’s a commitment to not shame people for being kinky in ways that are different from the ways in which you’re kinky yourself. It’s an essential part of the social glue that allows a shared kinky culture to thrive.

So far so good.

But check this out: the point of YKINMKBYKIO is to refrain from condemning kinks for being kinky. It does not mean that labeling something a kink should make it immune to all critical thought. Saying “I will not call your thing bad just because it’s weird,” is very different from “I will automatically call your thing good just because you call it a kink.”

There are folks whose kink is watching kittens crushed to death under someone’s foot. I am not obligated to say their kink is okay. Their kink is animal abuse. I’m not condemning it because it’s weird or I feel icky about it; I’m condemning it for an articulated ethical reason.

Kinky culture doesn’t have to be an amoral free-for-all that confirms mainstream culture’s perception of us as psychopaths who don’t care who is harmed so long as we get our thrills. It’s a place where we have the opportunity to develop better ethics, based on something more solid than “weird things are gross.”

There are men who are here to dominate women because they’ve realized that women should get to choose the sexual experiences that are right for them, that some women (as well as some people of other genders) have found joy and fulfillment in submission, and that with connection and caring it’s possible to dominate someone in a way that honors their unique desires and enhances their life. There are also men who are here to dominate women because they believe that it’s natural or right for men to have dominion over all women, and who look at women as objects on which to project their fantasies and take out their insecurities.

In the judgment of mainstream culture, those two sorts of men look pretty much the same. Through the discussions, examples and education of kinky culture we have the opportunity to elucidate the difference. It isn’t kink shaming to point out misogyny in kink. And it isn’t kink shaming to hold that misogyny is a bad thing, whether it comes in the form of kink or not.

Disapproving of a kink on the basis of its being racist isn’t kink shaming–it’s racism shaming. There is no contradiction in being against kink shaming while being perfectly okay with racism shaming, and our kinky culture has no need to defend itself from racism shaming. As is true everywhere else, a community that rejects racism will be overall more inclusive and healthier.

So look: having conversations about whether or not some kink is ethical is a great thing to do. If someone says a kink is racist, coming back with “I don’t think it is because…” is a fair response.

Workshopping ways to engage with desires that have unethical aspects to them in non-harmful ways is great too. So many of us have powerful and persistent fantasies that are vile and abusive, and we’ve learned that repressing them doesn’t make them go away. Kink culture can be where we learn ways to satiate those desires in ways that do no harm.

Heck, you even have the sovereign right to decide that you’re fine with racism or misogyny or cruelty to animals. Of course, if you bring it up in public, other people have their own right to tell you how they feel about your decision.

But crying “kink shaming” when someone points out ethical problems with something in the world of kink isn’t a valid response.