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  • Bianca Fiore

On kink, queerness and fetishes: What's the difference and how are they perceived?

Are you kinky, queer, or both? Learn about the confusion between these terms and how they affect the way we look at our sexuality.

What Is the Difference between Kinks and Fetishes? When we talk about sex, fantasies, and desires, we often use the terms ‘kinky’ and ‘fetish’ interchangeably. Although they both refer to our sexual sphere and sometimes overlap, there is a big difference.

Kinksters sex-positive community drawing by Kinky Karrot

Fetish: definition

A fetish is a fixation that a person can develop on a specific non-genital body part, a situation, a clothing item or, really, anything else that may cause them sexual arousal. Famously, some people get excited by feet, for example, while others gain sexual gratification only by including certain objects like gloves or belts in their erotic games. There is no limit to what may represent a fetish. Often, the object of our fetish isn’t even an inherently sexual item. The difference is more in the effect that the object/situation/body part causes and in the way it’s seen by the person with the fetish.

What does having a kink mean?

On the other hand, it’s considered kinky sex anything that goes beyond ‘vanilla’ sex. As to say, anything that is considered (slightly or greatly) deviant from baseline sex. Making a complete ‘kink list’ would be impossible, as the example pool is as vast as the human imagination. Latex suit? Kinky. Bondage and BDSM? Kinky. Roleplay? Kinky. Sex in the office elevator? Kinky, and potentially cause for contract termination. ‘Kinky sex’ is a term that can be used to cover basically all that is not plain old missionary sex. People who enjoy kinky sex usually have several kinky desires but can still enjoy vanilla sex. So although we may want to include items that some consider their fetish (let’s say, for example, that we may enjoy wearing a corset sometimes) we do not necessarily need these items to achieve sexual gratification (as to say, we can still have fulfilling sex without wearing a corset). Both fetishes and kinky practices are completely OK and nothing to be ashamed of, as long as they don’t cause harm and everything is consensual.

Is Being Kinky the Same as Being Queer?

When they hear ‘queer’, many people think ‘different’. In English, queer does indeed also mean different and that may be the source of confusion for some.

However, in the sexual orientation sphere, queer is used to describe the identity of a person who doesn’t feel represented by what is considered heteronormative.

So gay, for example, is queer. Transgender is queer. Pansexual and polyamorous are queer. And asexual, too, is queer.

On the other hand, although queer can indeed be kinky and the other way around, not all kinky lovemakers are queer. In short, enjoying kinky sex doesn’t in itself mean being queer.

Queer vs Kinky: Identity and Sexual Desires

Some of the people who consider kinks to be queer focus on the fact that non-heteronormative sexualities lead the individual to go through the hard yet empowering process of exploring oneself, discovering and accepting one’s identity and orientation, and finding a place in a new community.

It is true that those with non-vanilla sexual desires share (at least part of) the journey.

However, as Dan Savage points out, if being straight and cisgender (a person whose gender identity matches their birth sex) only means having vanilla sexual desires, what does that tell us about the straight cisgender community? If the straight world is only made of missionary sex, doesn’t that seem like a rather small (and for many, boring) place to be in?

Moreover, kinky sex can be as ‘light’ as you wish it to be. In fact, for many, it is just a fun way to spice things up with their partner.

Without taking anything away from the journey of self-discovery kinks entail, does using handcuffs in bed compare to the challenges of living a non-heteronormative life in a heteronormative world?

The Fetishization of the Queer Community

It’s not unusual for people to wonder ‘Is my partner gay?’ just because their significant other has opened up about their cross-dressing kink. If this thought seems harmless to you, consider the patriarchal values and beliefs it’s rooted in.

For a long time, everything that veers off heteronormativity has been considered, at best, something to ridicule and stay clear of and at worst, something to be punished through violence and discriminatory laws.

Homophobia and misogyny often exacerbate the confusion around the world of kinks, fetishes, and queerness because according to the patriarchy, everything that is different is simply bad. Especially if it doesn’t reaffirm the gender roles of dominant straight male and submissive, powerless female.

As we’ve seen, sexual desires and identities are two separate concepts. But in a patriarchal society, that doesn’t matter. What matters is to make both look illegitimate when they don’t reflect what the patriarchy considers to be the norm.

So if you’re kinky or have a fetish, you must be ridiculed and considered queer (because being queer means being ‘less’ in a patriarchal society) and if you’re queer, you must certainly have a fetish too (because having a fetish means being undesirable in that same society).

According to this worldview, the queer community is unavoidably made a fetish of, either as the object of irrational fears to be acted upon or as the repository of all unspoken desires that are unacceptable in the heteronormative world.

Kink and Pride

Even though identifying as kinky doesn’t per se also mean being queer (and vice versa), this doesn’t mean that the kinky and queer communities don’t overlap. They quite often do.

The question ‘Does kink have a place at Pride?’ has sparked debate in recent years. Not so much because of the difference between queer and kinky but rather because of the stigma of expressing sexual behavior in public. This especially refers to members of the leather and BDSM community who, for example, wear ‘fetish gear at Pride’.

The fact is, the LGBTQ+ rights movement has fought and achieved a lot for the sexual liberation of all.

Our identities as humans do not only boil down to our sexual orientation and erotic desires but in the case of LGBTQ+ individuals, these have been used to criminalize and pathologize an entire community. It is only logical that some wish to express them in public in a celebration of their identity and rights.

Moreover, the kink community has given those who had long considered themselves ‘sex freaks’ due to kink-shaming a safe and accepting place to be.

Not only sex-positivity and kink-positivity can be life-changing, but the queer BDSM and leather communities have been at the forefront of the AIDS crisis raising funds and awareness and providing care and counsel to queer HIV-positive patients. Often times, being queer and kinky means being part of a community of strong cultural and historical significance in the LGBTQ+ world.

So I Like Kinky Sex/Have a Fetish: What Now?

Whether you also identify as queer or not, if you have recently discovered your kinky side and/or a fetish, you have found a whole new world to explore. So buckle up because you may have just opened the door to an exciting new chapter in your sex life.

Here is some advice if you’ve just discovered your kink/fetish:

  1. Relax, you’re perfectly normal: There’s nothing wrong with you and you’re not a freak. If you enjoy non-vanilla, non-missionary sex, you’re still a person and you’re still worthy. Fortunately, times are changing and in many places, kink-shaming isn’t so widespread. However, if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable about your sexual desires, remember that you can and should protect yourself. And that includes cutting them off. Besides safety, respect, and consent, you don’t owe anything to others, especially the chance to make you feel humiliated (unless that’s part of your kink, of course).

  2. Try new things: If you’ve realized that you enjoy kinky sex in general, there’s so much for you to explore. Incorporate new toys/situations/games in your sexual life to see what you like. If you’ve just discovered your specific fetish, try to explore it in all possible ways to learn more about yourself.

  1. Find your community: Especially if you’re still not ready to talk about it with your friends/partner(s), know that there are plenty of people out there who share your passion. Not only can they become playmates, but most importantly, they can guide you safely into this new world and make you feel accepted and surrounded by kink-positivity.

Learn about safety practices: Some kinks and fetishes can be dangerous (think about erotic asphyxiation, for example). In these cases, it’s crucial that you take your time to learn how to practice them safely. That is also why having a supportive and consent-focused community is important.

How do you introduce a kink into a relationship? Yup, that can be scary. Even more if, so far, you’ve only been very traditional in bed.

  • Go nice and slow: at first, it may be best to start with the lightest possible change to spice things up, and see how it’s received. You can then gradually ease into more adventurous stuff.

  • Talking things through is also always a very good idea. After all, you’re a couple and honesty is important. Even though this is a big deal for you and a part of who you are, there’s no need to enter this discussion with fear.

  • Remember that you’re talking to someone who loves you and who’s likely to support you. Smile during your conversation, and if you feel like it, remind them that you just want to explore new things together and you don’t think there’s anything wrong with them or their desires either. Maybe, they’ll even share a few sexual secrets too!

What about you? Have you experienced kink-shaming? Are you on a journey of self-discovering? Would you like to know more about fetishes, kinky sex, and being queer? Let us know in the comment section on the very bottom of this page!

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