“I don’t know if I’m vanilla. Maybe more like… vanilla with sprinkles?”
I wasn’t sure how else to describe what I liked from the sexual menu. Most of the time I was just happy to have any kind of loll in the sheets, with lingerie and toys and a little dirty talk saved for special occasions. I didn’t know anything about topping, rope, impact play, or much of anything beyond stereotypes of what kinky people did in the dark (or with the lights on, for that matter).
Now I know. And I like it. If I were in the dating pool again and getting to those initial discussions of likes and dislikes with someone, it might seem like I’d fall distinctly in the kinkster side of the divide. The floggers hung up by the bed and the latex cat gloves — complete with claws — would call me out if I didn’t say so.
To some, I might seem like a doting mom domme. Tying up my partner and lavishing them with all sorts of sensations is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening, and I’m equally happy having the tables turned. To others, I might seem like I’m content to stay in the shallow end of the kink pool. Single tail whips and electric wands are a sure way to get me to call “Red!” during a session.
If we were to make a list of everything that’s Vanilla and everything that’s Kinky, the kink side would probably be much, much longer than the other. Then again, ask anyone to make such a chart and you’d probably get widely different listings. Anal might be far out in the kink zone for some and a regular Saturday night for others. The divide, if there is any, is entirely subjective.
Before I say anything else, I want to point out that kink as a category doesn’t have to be inherently sexual. Asexual and aromantic people can have just as much fun with the various activities, dynamics, and accessories as anyone else. And even for someone like me — where BDSM and sex are usually intertwined — the two don’t always have to go together. The first scene I ever did was incredibly sensual, but not sexual. Even now, sometimes I might want to be flogged or to start a little sensation play to simply relax and break the daily cycles of anxiety.
Still, the terms vanilla and kink most often come up around sex as if it’s a binary distinction. That might make sense if we’re talking about community — like being a part of the kink community through parties, workshops, and classes versus not. But when it comes down to how we define ourselves, one category isn’t more enlightened or necessarily interesting than another. And many of the dynamics that show up so starkly in BDSM are often already present in our sexual connections, even if we don’t see them. The little ways we role play, determine who leads and who follows, make requests for new sensations, and more all edge up to activities that might seem taboo if placed in a different light.
To some extent, who’s kinky and who’s not sometimes comes down to whether we show it or not. There sure is a huge market for vibrators, nipple clamps, anal plugs, and other toys, far greater than even the hungriest BDSM chapter. And for most of us, it’s fine to leave those things in the bedroom for their own time. On the other hand, my friends know enough about me that they feel comfortable teasing me whenever a knot needs to be tied for a household project or if I accidentally let slip a “mrow” as I’m thinking about something.
And yet I still think of myself as “vanilla with sprinkles.” I can do lovely things with rope and paracord and leather, but most of the time I’m happy to make out on the couch. To some, that might make me seem like an experienced kinkster. To others, I might seem pretty tame. And I can be all those things. I don’t find any shame in either label. Vanilla is great as a base for adding toppings to, and kinky opens up all sorts of inventive fun.
Labels are only shorthand, anyway. Vanilla doesn’t mean disinterested in anything other than missionary, and kinky doesn’t mean open to anything and everything. The terms are a quick way to center a conversation that then gets more complexity and depth, directing your attention to a general range rather than indicating all sorts of specifics. And both have their place. Even the most novel dish might get a little boring if indulged in too frequently. We all have our own ranges, from what we consider a staple to the activities that near the boundaries of our desires.
There are so many flavors to try. And at some point, what they’re called doesn’t matter. The most important category is what you like.