There’s a lot of information out there these days on how to tell your partner about sexual fetish — but what do you do if you’re on the other side of that situation? What’s a great way to react when your partner comes to you with something new and a little more, well, extreme than you’re used to? It’s a delicate situation, especially if what they’re into isn’t something you’re into or, in some cases, something you’ve never even heard of. But don’t worry! There are great ways to react when your partner reveals a fetish.
Kinkly.com defines “kink” as “an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of sexual activities that are considered to be unconventional or unorthodox.” It’s a broad definition because kink encompasses a wide range of activities, from spanking to bondage to getting turned on by pretending to be a puppy — to name just a few possibilities. And because we live in a sex-negative culture, a lot of people have kinks that they’ve kept secret for fear of being seen as freaks. But that doesn't mean that in order to be a good partner, you have to automatically go along with whatever they want to do.
"Whatever you decide, it's good to thank your partner for telling you something about their sexuality, even if you have a negative feeling about the activity," sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman, PhD, tells Bustle. "It isn't easy to share that, especially if they feel any discomfort or embarrassment around it. A simple 'thanks for telling me about that' shows that you value their sharing it, even if you don't want to do it."
So that's one great reaction — but what are some bad ones? It’s important to remember that it was probably really, really hard for your partner to work up the guts to tell you what they’re into. They were probably terrified that you’d be disgusted or you’d shame them or you’d laugh in their face — so don’t do any of those things. I mean, it’s totally understandable if you have an immediate, unthinking reaction and laugh, for example, but if that happens it’s important to apologize immediately and move on to one of these nine possible responses instead.
1. “Sure, why not?”
Some kinks — like light bondage or even a light gag — have become pretty common, but your partner might still be nervous about sharing them. If their kink is something you just don’t think sounds that crazy, awesome! Go for it!
2. “Sounds fun! Let’s do it!”
Best case scenario, your partner’s kink is something you’ve fantasized about too and your only reaction is excitement. In that case, go have fun! "If you learn something interesting about your partner’s desires in bed, and it’s something you’re interested in, too — go for it!" April Masini, relationship expert, author of four relationship advice books, and the Ask April advice column, tells Bustle.
3. “I’m not sure I can do that, but I could do this instead.”
Sometimes a kink falls under a broad category, like how handcuffs fall under bondage, which falls under BDSM. If you can’t see yourself doing the exact thing that your partner is interested in, determine what category it falls under, figure out what other sex acts fall under that category, decide which ones you think you could do, and suggest that instead.
4. “Can I have a little time to think about it?”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing some time to think about how you feel about your partner’s newly revealed kink. Especially if it’s something that you think is kind of coming out left field, taking some time to really think about how you feel about it is definitely preferable to just blurting out a reaction. Take your time, work through your feelings, and you and your partner will be stronger for it.
"You may uncover a fact about yourself you didn’t know — like an ex always wanted to do a particular sex act and the ex was someone you broke up with badly, so you equate that sex act with the unpleasantries of the break up," Masini says. "Knowing that allows you to separate out your feelings about the act from your feelings about the person you did the act with in the past. This is how we move past obstacles, in bed and otherwise."
5. “I’ve never heard of that one before! Can you tell me more about it? Can I do a little research?”
A great way to become more comfortable with a kink you’ve never considered before is doing some research on it. Figure out what it’s about, what it triggers in people, how to do it, and why your partner likes it. You also totally get bonus points for being willing to learn more about what your partner is into, even if in the end you decide it’s not for you.
"It's a good thing to ask your partner if they have websites or books you can check out," Glickman says. "Porn sites can be a good way to see what it looks like, but don't just look at them. Read up on how to do whatever it is they suggest, and make sure you're getting your info from someone who actually knows about it."
6. “Can you show me some of the porn you watch to help me understand it a little better?”
If your partner has a kink, they may have watched porn (or read erotica) about it. In fact, a lot of what turns them on about it probably came from that porn or erotica. Ask them to share it with you and then watch it on your own first. If it’s something you think you could get into — or at least watch without a look of disgust on your face — offer to watch it with them.
7. “I’m not turned on by that personally but I’m turned on by you being turned on, so let’s try it!”
"Your partner may not enjoy certain sex acts that give you pleasure, but does them because you enjoy them," Masini says. "That’s the glue of a relationship: giving and receiving. If you're with someone who’s stingy in bed, chances are they’re stingy elsewhere. Is this you? If so, reconsider a blanket no and give a shot as an experiment."
Sex is about giving and receiving pleasure, and the best sex is at least half about giving, right? As sex advice guru Dan Savage always says when he’s explaining his philosophy of “good, giving, and game,” no one should do anything that will leave them curled up crying in a ball on the floor, but if your partner’s kink just leaves you feeling kind of “meh,” why not try it? If they’re super, super turned on by it, you might find that you’re so turned on by them getting turned on that the act itself doesn’t even matter anymore.
8. “I don’t think I can do this with you — I’m sorry.”
"If your partner suggests something that you know you don't like or that you've had unpleasant experiences with, you get to set any boundaries you want," Glickman says. "If you don't want to do the thing, you deserve to be able to tell them and have that be OK."
Sometimes kinks just don’t match up — and that’s fine. If your partner has revealed a kink that you 100 percent, no question, no way, no how can participate in, gracefully decline. Just remember to keep the shame and disgust out of your voice and off of your face as you do so because there’s no need for that, right?
"If a kink your partner is into, completely makes you retch and have nightmares, just say no," Masini says. "There will be times when your partner says no and if you’re both respectful of these no's, you’ll focus on what does work and what you both like and let go of what just crosses the line and is not going to be part of this relationship."
9. “I don’t think I can do this with you — but we can talk about you doing it with other people.”
And finally, if your partner’s kink is something you’re not into but you’re open to non-monogamy — or you just want your partner to sexually satisfied, even if that means you’re not the one satisfying them — then maybe it’s time to explore other options. Depending on your partner’s interest and where you live, there may be clubs in your area catering to those needs. But if not — or if you’re just looking for a place to start — check out FetLife (NSFW) as an option for connecting with likeminded people.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (9)