top of page
Group 15646_edited.png

What Defines a Kink?

What does “kink” mean?

Depending on who you ask, “kink” can be either a shorthand for any sexual or sex-related act or behavior that seems to be outside of what many people consider conventional, or a synonym for BDSM, which stands for bondage, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. Often, people use it to mean both, lumping rough sex, BDSM, and fetishes of all types under the kink umbrella.

In general, role play, spanking, bondage, and foot fetishes are commonly considered kinky. But sometimes, what someone thinks of as kinky can be based in their own experience and perspective. For instance, some vanilla folks consider anal — including any anal penetration or contact — to be kinky, while some BDSM practitioners consider water sports — which involves urinating on or being urinated on by someone else — to be vanilla. For some people, threesomes are kinky, while for others, threesomes are a routine Tuesday evening after dinner.

What’s the difference between kink and BDSM?

The main difference between kink and BDSM is that BDSM includes consensual negotiated power dynamics with a psychological component, where kink is only about the physical actions. For instance, spanking can be both kinky and part of BDSM. If you’re spanking someone because it feels pleasurable for them, brings blood to their butt and thighs and all the fun nerve endings in that area, and feels erotic for you, that’s kinky. But if you’re also spanking them because you both agreed that you have the power in that moment and spanking is an expression of that power, then that’s BDSM. BDSM is also more likely to include pain.

How many people are kinky?

As clinical psychologist and Lover co-founder Dr. Britney Blair tells Bustle, BDSM “is really one of the most common sexual fantasies. Many people have experienced some form of bondage play or have had fantasies about it. It’s much more common than people think.”

How common is it? According to a study of Americans published in PLoS One, 43% of respondents reported public sex as one of their “common lifetime sexual behaviors,” while 30% reported spanking, 20% reported tying or being tied up, 22% reported role playing, and 13% reported playful whippings. According to a more informal survey, 40% of Americans consider themselves to be kinky — though because kink is partly informed by perspective, the number could be higher. The same survey found that (only) 76% of respondents were open to trying new sexual acts.

Does being kinky or practicing BDSM mean someone has experienced abuse or trauma?

No. If you are interested in BDSM, it does not mean you were abused in the past.

Just like vanilla people, “There are certainly people in the BDSM community who have experienced abuse in the past and are working that out. Most, however, are not,” Dr. Blair says.

Dr. Blair points out that studies show kink is connected with higher relationship and sexual satisfaction. Individuals also report feeling less neurotic, more open to new experiences, and more conscientious.

What does BDSM do to a relationship?

Practicing BDSM with skill and consent can bring people closer. According to two studies discussed in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, couples who participated in sadomasochistic activities like bondage, sensory deprivation, and other stimulation along with expressions of caring and affection experienced lowered levels of cortisol after their scenes, and increased relationship closeness. Even if a scene did not go as planned, while some couples experienced decreased closeness, others experienced increases.

“The increases in relationship closeness combined with the displays of caring and affection observed as part of the SM activities offer support for the modern view that SM, when performed consensually, has the potential to increase intimacy between participants,” the study authors write.

Why else is kink fun?

Sex is supposed to be fun. Kink is supposed to be fun. Both are opportunities to introduce creativity and play into your erotic life.

“Sex is a way that adults play, it’s a way to disconnect from reality,” Dr. Blair says, and the sexual novelty and excitement that arises from engaging in kink is a great way to do this.


To learn more about exploring kink and adding more adventure to your sex life, download the Lover app for expert courses on how to get better in bed.


bottom of page