Eroticizing Our Play

Pleasure and Healing in Kink and BDSM

Photo by Anna Shvets

What is Kink?

What is it that defines kink and BDSM? Is it a practice, an identity, an orientation, or even all three? As with other practices and identities that have been marginalized, it is difficult to pin down exactly what does and does not constitute inclusion in the realm of kink and BDSM. For the purposes of this essay, we will be using the standard definition of BDSM, which includes bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. We also consider kink to include BDSM and its practices, as well as fetishes and practices that are alternative to common activities such as oral, vaginal, and anal sex. We believe that kink, similarly to queerness, inherently defies the process of definition; creating one’s own definition is an act of resistance in itself.

Challenges to Positive Sexuality

The ideals of presence, embodiment and mutual pleasure can be a challenge to actualize. Continued experiences of dehumanization and discrimination both from one’s culture and community can lead to the internalization of negative beliefs about oneself and the sexual practices one engages in. This internalized negativity can lead to feelings of shame and the adoption of ways of thinking that limit how a person engages with pleasure, sex, and the social communities that support these practices. However, kink and BDSM are inherently subversive, and can be used as a tool to change and play with negative experiences, replacing them with positive sexual empowerment.

Personal Empowerment and Growth

Community involvement in both kink and BDSM can be seen as a toolbox to enhance the ways partners communicate, experience play, and care for each other. These skills can disrupt traditional patterns of sexual interaction, and replace them with healthier, more pleasure-focused, and empowering experiences. For example, a person who has experienced trauma can re-explore the traumatic event, but in an environment that is controlled with parameters clearly defined, helping to build a sense of safety and trust. One of the authors was once playing with a partner who had been sexually assaulted. She was tense, and they encouraged her to “stay calm” as they worked through a bondage scene, unaware that the person who had assaulted her had used this phrase. She immediately used her code word for “caution.” Although unaware of the specifics of the situation, this signaled a necessity to pivot, so they changed activities and moved on after a brief check-in. Afterward, it became clear that although the phrase was triggering to her, it was more important for her to feel a sense of control by asserting her boundaries (e.g., using the code word; pausing play to check in) and redirecting the scene as opposed to allowing a previously traumatic experience to stop the scene. In this case, communication was essential to both partners feeling a sense of ownership over roles in the scene, and the ability to create new positive memories in the face of trauma.


By its very nature, participating in kink subverts common and deeply held ideas about consent, empowerment, and identity. Kink brings pleasure, acceptance, and play to the forefront, relying on an individual’s self-awareness and centering their needs during both negotiation and play. This is especially important for members of marginalized communities who may have internalized negative messages about their identities, sexualities, and expressions. Kink can be a valuable tool for self-exploration, and provides contexts where players can “rewrite” previous experiences in order to heal through pleasure and play.



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