Do It Better

A Therapist on How to Discuss Your Kinks With a New Partner

| 05/21/2021

STIs Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

Starting a new sexual or romantic relationship with someone can bring up a multitude of emotions. There’s the excitement of connecting with someone new, the anticipation of spending time with them, the curiosity about where the relationship might go, the anxiety of potential hurt, and the vulnerability of opening up to someone (just to name a few).

But what if you have a kink or fetish that turns you on, but you’re not sure how to discuss it with your new mate? Shame, discomfort, and potential rejection might prevent us from having this conversation. We’re taught a very rigid idea of what sex can look like, what’s acceptable, and even more so, what isn’t. Kinks and fetishes are often considered in the latter category, but they are much more common than we may think.

Let’s talk a bit about kinks and fetishes. A kink is essentially anything that exists outside of a “vanilla” sexual practice. Kinks can include things like voyeurism (getting aroused by watching other people have sex or be naked), bondage (tying someone up or enjoying being tied up using various restraints), choking, and roleplay. A fetish is deriving sexual arousal from a non-sexual body part or object. Think high heels, leather, tickling, and feet.

Sometimes kinks and fetishes develop at a young age from something considered taboo or subversive, but not always. Participating in or fantasizing about “non-normative” things is incredibly common. In fact, in his 2018 book Tell Me What You Want, Justin J. Lehmiller discovered that a whopping 97% of Americans have some sort of sexual fantasy. If you have a kink or fetish, you’re not alone, and there are ways to share your desires with your new partner.

Shame is isolating and ultimately keeps us from getting our needs met.

What Keeps Us From Sharing

As a sex therapist, one of the most common issues I support clients with is navigating shame. Religious shame, societal shame, cultural shame, shame clients experienced from past partners—it all permeates my clients’ perceptions of themselves and ability to relate to others. Vanilla, heterosexual sex is normalized in popular culture, so anything that deviates outside of that makes folx feel isolated and even perverse. Shame plays a huge role not only in not disclosing a kink but not exploring sexual desire at all. Sometimes, clients are so steeped in shame that it takes several sessions for them to feel comfortable sharing their kink or fetish with me, even though that’s exactly what they’re coming in to discuss! It’s important to know that whatever consensual desire or behavior you’re into is not perverse, and you’re not alone (trust me, I’ve heard it all). 

Unfortunately, shame is isolating and ultimately keeps us from getting our needs met. Let’s take a client who I’ll call Maya as an example. Maya enjoys impact play. For her, that means she likes to be struck by hands or toys on various parts of her body, particularly her butt and thighs. Maya and her ex-girlfriend used to engage in impact play frequently, but she just started seeing someone new and feels nervous to ask him to spank her using a paddle during sex. Part of her fear comes from a conversation she overheard him having with friends about BDSM where he said he wasn’t into it and didn’t know if he could be with someone who didn’t “respect herself.” Of course, this made her incredibly self-conscious about her kink, even though it brings her immense pleasure and satisfaction. As a result, Maya doesn’t talk about spanking with her new guy, finds herself dissatisfied with their sex life, and begins to consider ending the relationship.

Ways To Share

Step One: Embrace it! 

Whatever your kink is, you’re not alone. Pleasure is creative, and it’s your right to explore what feels good to you and turns you on. Consider masturbating to images, videos, or fantasy about your kink, and notice how good you feel when you let yourself experience it. Finding other kinky folks is also really helpful. They don’t have to share the same kink (although they might), but being around other sex-positive people can help normalize the diversity of sexual desire. Social media makes it easier to connect with other kinksters and find more information about your desires. Allow yourself to normalize it for yourself, find community in it, and celebrate it. Ultimately, this makes you more likely to advocate for your needs and have a pleasureful gratifying sexual experience.

Frame it as something exciting rather than something you have to disclose or burden them with.

Step Two: Talk about sex more.

Communication is essential in any relationship, especially a romantic or sexual one. Internalized shame makes conversations about sex seem scary or unapproachable. Creating space to talk about sex not just right after or right before engaging in it can also help lower the stakes. Talk about sex at dinner, after work, when you’re getting ready for the day. The conversation doesn’t have to be about the sex you and your partners are having; it could be about sex in general. Some conversation-starters I suggest to clients are: 

  • “What is something you thought to be true about sex when you were younger, but completely changed after you started having sex?” 
  • “What’s your favorite part about sex?” 
  • “Do you masturbate? What’s your favorite way to masturbate?” 

Allow yourself to communicate your interest with your partner, knowing that the more you talk about it, the easier and more accessible it gets. 

Step Three: Invite them in 

When it comes time to talk about your kink with a new partner, try to think of it as an exciting opportunity to deepen your connection. Consider saying something like, “I love the sex we’re having, and something that really turns me on is role-play. Have you ever done something like that before?” Here, you highlight what’s already going well and invite them into your world even more. When you frame it as something exciting rather than something you have to disclose or burden them with, your conversation about sex becomes even more expansive. Your partners may have questions about what it means, which is an excellent opportunity to share more with them. Maybe watch porn together that highlights your kink and let them notice how much it turns you on.

Additionally, pleasure isn’t one-directional. Ask your partner what they like and their fantasies. Chances are, they also have something they’ve done before and want to try with you, or have never done but have always been curious about. This invitation is a chance to increase pleasure and intimacy and, ultimately, get your needs met.

Step Four: Negotiate

Now that you’ve discussed your kinks, it’s time to put them into practice. Maybe the initial conversations serve more as a way to plant seeds and pique interest. It doesn’t mean you both have to jump into play right away. You can discuss which parts of your kink feel the best and most exciting to you, experiment with various toys and scenes, and approach it gradually and with curiosity. It’s OK for them to want to take and leave multiple aspects of your kink, and you theirs. Maybe you’ll even discover a new kink together that feels unique to your dynamic. Remember, sex is expansive, you’re not alone, and sharing your erotic desires brings you closer to your partners.

Have Your Needs Met

Learn helpful tips to establish healthier communication in the on-demand workshop Couples Communication, led by Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC.

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