Kink has made its way from back rooms and hidden dungeons and burst its way into the mainstream in recent years. And while many long-term kinksters are vocal about their dislike of the Fifty Shades series, there’s no denying that it has awakened some previously dormant (or at least kept more secret) sexual desires in people across the world. This newly-popular status for sexual interests that were previously deemed “deviant” brings up a lot of questions, the biggest of which is: Where do kinks come from?
The short answer is: No one is really sure.
“Kinks, much like sexual orientation and gender identity, are created through a complex interplay that research doesn't fully understand of genetics, environment, and our experiences paired with sexually relevant contexts,” clinical sexologist Rena McDaniel tells Bustle.
Before we dive deeper into where kinks come from, let’s establish a working definition. However, just like the question of origins, defining kink is trickier than it seems at first. Dictionary.com says it’s “bizarre or unconventional sexual preferences or behavior.” But of course, it's more complicated than that.
“‘Kink’ is a construct and the meaning is subjective,” sex therapist and sexologist Stefani Threadgill tells Bustle. “There are no defining factors that deems one ‘kinky.’”
With that said, there are some sexual practices that are commonly put under the “kink” umbrella. For example, bondage, sadism (pleasure from giving pain), masochism (pleasure from receiving pain), spanking, foot fetishes, and role playing are all well-known types of kinks.
“People who are not into role-playing are in the minority among Millennials,” McDaniel says. “The 2017 SKYN Condoms Millennial Sex Survey found that two thirds of Millennials reported that they are into role-playing, and research by Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s showed that roughly 50 percent of folks like being bitten."
So if kinks are just different ways to enjoy sex, where do they come from? Up until fairly recently, being kinky was considered a mental disorder. In fact, kink was only removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the guidebook for psychologists and psychiatrists — in 2013. When you think about the fact that that’s only four years ago, it’s pretty amazing that we’re able to have such an open discussion these days.
"If you happened to have a really great masturbation session on a blue couch, then suddenly blue couches might start making you a little hot and bothered."
Dr. McDaniel says that one way people form kinks is by creating a sexual connection where there wasn’t one before. “Sometimes kinks come from our brains pairing an otherwise non-sexual, neutral object, body part, or situation with a sexually relevant context,” McDaniel says. “These pairings can happen at any point in our life. For example, if you happened to have a really great masturbation session on a blue couch, then suddenly blue couches might start making you a little hot and bothered.”
She also points out that our fear responses and our arousal responses are very similar — and that our bodies can’t always tell exactly what’s happening when we’re turned on.“Kink's also play on body responses like our adrenaline system that release endorphins (feel good hormones) when activated,” McDaniel says. “Your body can't tell the difference between a sharp knife and a credit card when you are blindfolded and the rush of energy flooding your body from having a credit card dragged over you helps increase blood flow to the genitals, which increases arousal.”
So we don’t know exactly where kinks come from — the simplest answer is that it varies from person to person. Some people might be able to trace their kink to a specific blue couch they masturbated on once, while others might have no idea why getting spanked gets them going. But, ultimately, does it really matter?
“Honestly, as long as you are playing in a safe, sane, and consensual way, who cares why you like getting tied up or bitten or spanked?” McDaniel says. “There's a reason it’s called 'playing'.”
So instead of worrying about where a kink came from, go out and enjoy it! Because couldn’t we all use a little more play in our lives?