What are Kinks?

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What are Kinks?



When it comes to sex and flava’ flaves, sometimes you want to experience something beyond vanilla. Enter the wonderful wide world of kink! While it may seem like more of a niche thing, sex science suggests that over 50% of Americans enjoy some form of kink or what they call rough sex. It’s a lot more common than we tend to think.

Right off the bat, it’s good to know that kinks don’t have to be something as intense as whips, chains, leather, or being tied and hoisted in elaborate rope bondage; they can be something more innocuous and innocent like role play. 

Bringing some kink sexual practices into the bedroom can be one way to ramp up sexual gratification. Sex (especially in long-term relationships) can be an act that has the potential to get a little stale and too “normal” to be truly edgy. To keep your bedroom activity spicy and exciting, it might be time to engage in sexual fantasy between the sheets!


What are kinks?

Kinks are defined as a sexual preference that lies outside of what society considers “normal.” As you might imagine, that means that defining what kink is and isn’t is kinda subjective. After all, what does the word normal actually mean? It’s got the word “norm” in it, which is telling. It’s just something culture agrees is within the margins, so to speak.

A painfully bland definition of what “normal” means when it comes to sex would be something like missionary sex solely for the purpose of procreation. By contrast, kinks are preferences, meaning that they’re enticing, exciting additions to sexual play, and not a requirement for reaching sexual arousal (though they definitely help!).

Again, you might think kinks are sort of rare, but that’s far from the truth. In the words of Gigi Engle, “There is still a strange, judge-y haze that falls over any kind of kinky sex. Even the very idea of asking ‘What is a fetish?’ is taboo. People tend to think that people into kinky sex are sexual deviants—nothing like ‘normal’ people having perfectly ‘normal’ sex.” But the truth is millions of people are into kink, and maybe you are too!

It’s also important to highlight that kinks are different from fetishes. So, what is the difference between kinks vs fetish? Well, fetishism is commonly associated with sexual attraction to a body part — thus, people can have a foot fetish, or even more specifically a toe fetish. For them, sexual play involving feet or toes is very erotic and a huge turn-on. Most sexperts assert that fetishes extend into the realm of a sexual requirement for the individual who has them, meaning that person will find it difficult to get aroused if they don’t have some part of their sexual fetish activated.

Kinks develop and manifest for all sorts of reasons, and if you’re worried that you or a sexual partner has a kink/sexual fetish that is causing them distress or harm, check on these questions:

  • Does the kink/fetish activity actually cause them long-term damage or risk their health in any way?
  • Does the kink/fetish consistently make them feel bad rather than good?
  • Does the kink/fetish impair their ability to function in a normally healthy way in their daily life, or mess with/challenge other parts of their life?
  • Does the practice of the kink/fetish put someone besides themself in danger?
  • Is the kink/fetish legal?

Kinks can be a coping mechanism for difficult experiences, or a way to let off steam from a challenging life. If you know someone who engages in kinks that are distasteful to you but otherwise unharmful to themselves/others, that experience is theirs to have and is private in nature. 

Changing someone’s sexual desires and sexual behavior is a task for that person and a professional sex therapist alone. Kink and sexual fetishism are deeply personal, and trying to change facets of someone elses personality and sexuality without their buy-in can feel like deep rejection.


6 kinks to know about

One thing that should be mentioned before we dive into sexual kink debauchery is that these definitions and explanations are incomplete, these concepts aren’t set in stone, and (for example) one person/couple’s interpretation of something like age play is going to differ from another.

Additionally, sometimes elements of some of the most common fetishes or kink are included in others. An age play dynamic between partners could also carry some level of power play, where the person playing the adult role is the dominant partner and has power over their “Little.” Onward!



BDSM in and of itself is a category that involves consent, boundaries, and limits. It doesn’t need to be a sexual practice, but for the scope of what we’re talking about here, we’ll explore it from the sexual side.

The term BDSM itself is a bit of a mouthful. Depending on where you look, it’s defined as [BDSM], meaning Bondage and Submission; B[DS]M, meaning dominance and submission; or BD[SM], meaning sadism and masochism or sadomasochism. 

All those fancy words are to say that someone with a BDSM kink likes to have some kind of element of power play in the mix. Sometimes this manifests as leather straps, ties, handcuffs, and other times it manifests as whips, chains, and blindfolds. Some people really get off on the idea of controlling someone else’s experience, or being completely out of control and at the mercy of another person.

Done properly, BDSM is both an intense and caring practice, where each participant is given the opportunity to limit the scope of their experience, and in an ever-changing way. If you’re interested in bringing BDSM into your bedroom with your kinkyboo, it’s important to have a discussion on what your comforts and limits are prior to the wrist cuffs and blindfolds. You also want to establish an easy system to allow for quick check-ins for continued enthusiastic consent.

If you live in a moderately-sized city, chances are there’s at least a small BDSM kink community in your area. These spaces can help you facilitate getting the necessary knowledge to practice BDSM safely, and you might even get a play partner out of it! A good place to find a kink community includes the social media network Fetlife.


Praise Kink

If you’ve ever received a mushy gooey yummy feeling when that special someone you’re into tells you you've done a good job, you might just have a praise kink. A praise kink is precisely what it sounds like: a fetish that focuses on overt and frequent positive verbal comments and affection. The act of giving or receiving praise is especially gratifying for both people, and can be a driving force in getting each other to orgasm.

Praise kink commonly involves a partner who enjoys giving the praise and a partner who enjoys receiving it. Sometimes a well-timed “Good [boy, girl, bae, any-gendered-pronoun]” is all the inspiration needed to get over that orgasmic edge.


Degradation Kink

This is pretty much the opposite of a praise kink. If you’ve got a degradation kink, you derive pleasure and gratification from either giving or receiving degrading comments, gestures, and actions. This could show up as wanting to be punished as a prelude to sex.

When it comes to degradation kink, sex researchers and others agree that open communication is critical — and that you want to be very specific. Here’s one sexpert responding to a man wondering about how to work with the degradation kink that his girlfriend is into:

“Open communication is essential. This is because a submissive may crave specific kinds of sexual degradation but does not consent to other forms of abuse. For example, ‘filthy slut’ might be a turn on, but ‘fat pig’ is seen as abusive. Or you might consent, say, to being degraded verbally while tied up, but not to being pegged or beaten. She may want you to neglect her and tell her she’s shit, but doesn’t consent to you ejaculating in her face.”

Sometimes sex play can have elements of both a praise kink and a degradation kink, leading from low lows to high highs in a BDSM scene, for example. And there are lots of worksheets to help you and a partner or partners prepare for a “scene,” which is another word for a sexual encounter.

Age Play

Age play is a dynamic where one person or partner plays in an innocent state, sometimes referred to as a Little. To be extremely clear, this dynamic isn’t meant to sexualize minors. Everyone involved in age play should be of adult, consenting age, and not all people engaging in age play are sexualizing the experience. For some, the ability to revert to a more innocent state is therapeutic, relaxing, or a breath of fresh air after being a working cog in a 9-5 job machine.

In the words of queer community INTO, “​​Littles are age players, a subpopulation of the BDSM practitioners/leather fetish community who center child-like joy, wonder, and playfulness in their lives and relationships.” Again, this dynamic doesn’t have to be sexualized, but it can be. “Age play can be both sexual and nonsexual, and it can be sweet and rooted in caretaking or be dark depending on the sexual preference/kink of the individuals involved,” INTO states.

If you know someone who is a Little and are looking to have a romantic relationship with them, be sure to check what their relationship is with being a Little, because it can be traumatic and distressing to have to shield an innocent part of yourself from external sexualization, especially when that’s not specifically desired and requested. 

In age play, there’s also a mommy/daddy/caregiver role that can be present, as well. Sometimes this involves the caregiver dressing their Little in juvenile clothing, and doting over them.

Role Play

Playing someone else during sex can be fun! This kink plays a part in both age play and BDSM to various degrees. The fact is, stepping outside of yourself and being able to play a different role can be invigorating and relieving. Maybe your boo is your teacher and you’re the student who needs to get their grades up. You might do anything — anything — to get that A. ;)

Anal Sex

For some, anal sex seems so normal as to not even qualify as a kink. But there are 16 states in the US alone where anal sex is still against the law. (If that seems ridiculous to you, you’re not alone!) So it’s enough outside the bounds of what society says is a “norm” that, for many, it counts as a kink. 

Depending on the anatomical equipment you bring to a partnership, having anal sex can seem a little nonsensical to some. There might be a pussy literally right next door, and what’s the fascination with putting things in butts, anyhow?

In fact, anal sex is a fairly common kink. One nice thing about anal sex is that it’s a sexual act that can be participated in by those who identify with any gender and sexual orientation. Everybody’s got a booty, and even though some of the internal bits are different, there’s lots o’ pleasure to be had. Penis-havers can experience radical sexual pleasure from prostate stimulation, for example, while vagina-havers can blend anal stimulation with clitoral or vaginal play to go into sensation overload.

Part of the allure for some people is that anal sex can seem wrong, or taboo, particularly in western cultures. This lovely booty sex act has been around for a lot longer than modern society’s ideas of wrong and right though, so if you want to stick things into your butt or someone else’s butt with sex toys or very phallic body parts, go for it — enthusiastically consensually, and with lube lube lube.

Group Sex

Ever thought your sexual desire would be magnified with more bodies? Group sex just might be your sexual interest!

This kink has both healthy and unhealthy manifestations. One unhealthy dynamic is those who engage in unicorn hunting. This is usually when a hetero-cis couple is looking to bring in an additional sexual partner (almost always a woman) to form a triad. But low-key they really just want another human to function as a sex toy, and don’t really take that person’s autonomy and feelings into account. There are absolutely healthy ways to bring others into your relationship, but you want to be respectful in how you go about this.

Another common example of group sex is orgies and swinging. Group sex doesn’t always mean engaging in sex with multiple people at the same time; sometimes it can be purely voyeuristic. For example, it might turn you and your partner on to have sex in the same room as another couple, so that you can hear, see, and build off the sexual energy everyone is bringing to the space.

If you’re having group sex or plan to bring more sexual partners into your life, make sure to stay up on your sexual health testing. It’s obviously very important for everyone involved in a shared sexual activity like a play party to be as safe as possible, and STI testing is part of that.

If you plan on using adult sex toys at said group sex outing, also make sure to be able to clean and protect your toys between partners. This might mean you put a condom on the sex toys, too, or be ready to clean and sanitize your strap-on between partners so that everyone can engage in the safe sexy stuff they enjoy.


Want to learn more about kink? There are lots of ways to do so. Author and activist Roxane Gay, for example, has written extensively on the subject in beautiful and inclusive ways. The important thing to remember is that kinky sex can be a normal, healthy sexual expression of your truth and desire.

As long as all parties involved are showing up with enthusiastic consent, there’s really no limit to the heights or depths you and your partner(s) can go. Kink is deeply individual, and overall if yours isn’t hurting anyone, let your freak flag fly!


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