A lot of the shit we feel called to play with in the realm of kink is pretty fucked up.
I’m not talking about taboo but harmless kinks like drinking pee or hanging from hooks or getting fucked in a chicken suit. I mean sincerely fucked up shit: shit that brushes up against, draws power from, or outright embodies real evil that’s harming real people right now and every day. Race play and rape play and incest fantasies and forced feminization fantasies. Older men attracted to “barely legal” women, and cis men attracted to “chicks with dicks.” Breeding fetishes or cop fetishes or amputee fetishes. An awful lot of kinks are hooked into actual differences in power and privilege, and actual abuse and oppression.
I end up in the Daddy role pretty frequently. We joke about how women who desire submission have daddy issues, but seriously: too many of my partners have been neglected or hurt by their fathers. What we play with in our kinky relationships is driven, in part, by real hurts of theirs.
Just being a cis man and wanting to dominate women treads into fucked up territory. The ideal of kink negotiations is that everyone starts negotiating as equals, but with the lifelong pressure that women are under to cater to men’s desires and all the extra power that society assigns to men, we aren’t really starting on an even footing at all.
Having a fantasy or fetish with fucked up things about it doesn’t mean that you have to lock it in a box and bury it in the backyard of your mind. It does mean it’s going to have some risks associated with it, and benefit from your being especially thoughtful about how you engage with it.
So here are a few things you can do to play with fucked up shit without adding to the overall fuckedupedness of the world.
(Not a comprehensive list.)
1. Acknowledge that the shit is fucked up.
When you’re into fucked up shit, there’s a temptation to screw your eyes shut, stick your fingers in your ears, and deny that there’s anything fucked up about it. Like blithely saying “age is just a number” and closing your eyes to the power imbalances inherent in relationships between 50-somethings and 20-nothings.
If you think that having anything fucked up about your desires automatically makes you a bad person and means that you somehow wouldn’t be allowed to keep wanting those things, then maybe denial seems like the only path available to you other than eternal repression.
I don’t think that’s true, though. We can have fucked up desires and still be ethical people, and we can find ways to play with those desires that reduce the harms associated with them. Sometimes, thoughtfully executed fucked up kink can even be healing.
But first we have to open our eyes to the harms connected to the things that turn us on. It’s hard to mitigate something when you’re busy pretending it isn’t there.
2. Get familiar with the perspective of people who are on the downside of the fucked up shit.
Pretty often, fucked up shit mostly harms one group of people and mostly benefits some other group. It’s natural that people on the downside of fucked up shit tend to be made much more painfully aware of the details of how that shit operates than people who are on the upside.
So if you have kinky desires that intersect with fucked up shit that you are on the upside of, it’s really useful to educate yourself on what people on the downside have to say about it.
Be aware that the direction of power in the kinky dynamic you want to create may not line up with the fucked up societal power dynamics that it’s connected to. If you’re a cis man who wants a woman to feminize you into her pathetic, submissive sissy, the shit you’re playing with there is all about “feminine = pathetic & submissive.” Your partners are the ones who live their lives on the downside of that fucked up shit.
Don’t just look for perspectives from people who share your fetishy attraction to it, or otherwise cherry pick voices that say what’s comfortable for you to hear. Go learn from serious thinkers on antiracism or disability rights or trans rights or whichever vectors of oppression are relevant to the things that get your rocks off.
I’ll say it one more time: admitting that shit is fucked up doesn’t mean that you have to stop being turned on by it. I’ve talked to too many straight, dominant men who are childishly defensive about feminism—as though if they admitted any feminist ideas into their heads it’d make them stop being dominant. It won’t. Learning about how society privileges men lets you do a better job of building relationships where your partner is submitting to you as an individual, rather than coasting on the privilege assigned to you because of your gender.
Learning about your privilege from the downside will help you avoid leaning on it without meaning to, and better equip you to help deal with challenges that your less-privileged partners face, which makes you a better partner and makes your relationships smoother.
3. Only play with fucked up shit with someone who’s actively into it.
There’s lots of kinds of sexy play where it’s okay if one partner is not intrinsically into the play, but is doing it to be good, giving and game for their partner. If my partner is super excited about tying people up, I can be like “Great, tie me up and I’ll enjoy how much it turns you on,” even if being tied up doesn’t do much for me in and of itself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
With play that touches on fucked up shit, though, it’s a bad idea to try and talk someone into it, especially if they themselves are on the downside of that fucked up shit.
There is a tremendous amount of fucked up shit behind the phenomenon of white cuckolds hot to see their wives fucked by Big Black Cock. It’s loaded with racist stereotypes of Black men as brutish and animalistic, and the hot feelings of inadequacy that the cuck wants to play with are sweetened by having a socially inferior man get access to his wife. That fucked up shit regularly manifests in couples treating “BBC” pretty much the same way they’d treat cucumbers they get to use as dildos: as interchangeable and disposable sex toys.
If you’re gonna play with that shit, don’t just look for Black men who you can talk into it; do it with a man who is advertising his own desire to play the role of BBC. Then give some attention to finding out about the details of his desire and what he needs for that kind of play to be good for him.
4. Connect with people as people
If you’re a person who wants to be degraded and objectified as a slut, it might seem like the thing to do would be to find yourself a misogynist to play with—some “traditional masculinity” kind of guy who objectifies women simply because he’s never learned to do differently. But you aren’t your fantasy. You are a person who enjoys being treated like a slut, and there will come a time when you need the person who fucks you like a slut to also be able to engage with your human needs outside of the sexytime slutty parts of you.
So look for partners who can see you and treat you and respect you as a person first, and who move carefully and consciously into treating you in fucked up ways.
Same thing the other way around. If you have a fantasy of being smothered by a BBW, and you go hunting for “a BBW” to fulfill that fantasy, it’s awfully easy to shortchange the humanity of the people you’re trying to attract. Because you’re putting the feature that you’re fetishizing ahead of the person who you’re connecting with, and especially because there’s a lot of fucked up shit around weight that primes us to devalue fat people in the first place.
For one thing, doing this makes you unattractive, because people tend to really dislike being clumsily and obliviously objectified. For another, it makes you likely to treat them badly, even if you don’t intend to. And for yet another, you end up trying to create connections with people who aren’t any good for you, since all you’re looking at is whether or not they check your fetish box.
If you make a conscious effort to find out who someone really is as a person—what they care about and how they think and whether you, y’know, actually like them—you’ll find that your kinky connections flow much deeper and smoother.
If what you’re doing is the kind of “play only” hookups where not getting to know one another as people is part of the point, and what you want is fucked up play with people who are less privileged than you are, then:
(1) Accept that it is perfectly reasonable for them to assume you’re an objectifying asshole. Most of the people like you who’ve wanted to hook up with them this way in the past were objectifying assholes. Graciously go through whatever steps they want to go through in order for them to feel confident they’re going to have a safe and satisfying time with you.
(2) Put extra effort into finding out what they want out of the hookup, not just what they’ll let you do to them (or let you talk them into doing to you). Ask really explicitly. Like: “What would make this really hot for you?”
5. Be considerate in how you expose other people to the fucked up shit you’re playing with.
If you do some Nazi death camp scene at a public dungeon, even if you and your partner have talked it all through and understand that you both find fascism horrific and playing with it is a way of processing that horror—the other people in the room do not know that. And even if you went around and told them all, they don’t have the bond of trust that you and your partner share to allow them to confidently believe it. So they have to wonder if they’re in a room with people who think genocide is sexy. And you can see how that might not make for a great night for some of the people there.
There’s an important distinction here between prudish stigma directed at sex and kink, and displays of kink that imitate or support harmful shit.
If you ask me, weird sex, nonstandard relationships, and exotic pleasures are not inherently harmful and are under no ethical obligation to conceal themselves. If someone wants to get harnessed up as a human pony and pull their partner around the park in a cart, more power to `em. People say “How will I explain it to my children!?,” and I say “You’ll just have to tell them that some people are less boring than you are.”
The thing to be thoughtful about is how easy it’d be to mistake the kink you’re displaying for abuse, racism, misogyny, etc.
If your kink looks like fucked up shit, and you don’t take care to make it unmistakable through your words and actions that you are not actually simply perpetuating that fucked up shit, you will be making yourself and the spaces you occupy less welcoming for marginalized people.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your fucked up play, or that you can’t talk about it. Just talk about it in ways that make carefully clear you know what you’re playing with is fucked up and that you don’t endorse it outside of consensual play. And when you do play with it, give extra consideration to spectators, to make sure that they understand what’s going on and that they’re happy with it.
6. Work to unfuck that shit outside of your play.
It’ll help keep you from sliding into complacency about how fucked up it is. It’ll help you deepen your understanding of how it’s fucked up, and how to play with it without having it blow up in your face.
I think it isn’t a coincidence that so much of kink is entangled with fucked up shit. One of the main unifying themes that makes kink kink is taking things that are forbidden, dark or terrible and putting them through a strange emotional alchemy to turn them hot and passionate and connecting. When it’s done consciously, carefully and with good intent, it’s a thing of beauty.
I worry that folks come into kink with fucked up desires and what they find is one set of voices saying “That’s too fucked up; you can’t want that or you’re a shit person,” and another saying “We don’t care who’s harmed so long as we get our jollies.”
Those aren’t your only choices. If you have cravings for fucked up shit, you can navigate exploring those desires in ways that don’t harm anyone and don’t perpetuate that fucked up shit.