Kinky People Sex

Art by Franz von Bayros

Art by Franz von Bayros

I’ve been thinking about labels recently. It started with the resurgence of the erotica vs. porn debate (which Tabitha Rayne addressed beautifully in this post) but quickly spun out to include people, sexuality, kink and the labels we use to describe ourselves.

I’ve written about my own system of genre classification and many others have addressed the question from different angles since. But when the issue was brought up again, I was struck by just how subjective labels like “erotica” and “porn” are. Yes, there are standards most people agree on – erotica has a narrative focus while porn is primarily concerned with sex – but beyond that there’s a lot of grey area defined mostly by an individual’s impression of a work.

I’m not saying that literature and genre defy definition (I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a post-modernist). What I am saying is that regardless of what label we place on a thing, that thing’s identity (or classification) will likely retain some level of fluidity. Anais Nin called a great chunk of her work pornography, while today we consider her catalog one of the foundations of modern literary erotica. A group of Christian moms considered this fondant teddy bear’s seam to be an overly sexual image. I can’t say I agree. The point is that a thing can shift labels depending on who is viewing it.

Which brings me to my actual topic. Labels and people. People use labels as a short-hand for larger, more nuanced identities – are you one of us, or are you “other”? In this way, labels can be incredibly useful. But if you become unquestioningly wedded to your label it can box you in, because labels can’t always keep up with the fluidity of a person’s experiences.

If you’re primarily straight but have slept with someone of the same sex, does that make you bi? If you’re primarily dominant but sometimes like to sub, are you a switch? If your experiences or beliefs are non-binary, then labels may fit accurately, but if you inhabit an ideological or sexual grey area, it often becomes a curiosity when you deviate from the behaviors your label dictates.

Kink is a great example of this. Kinky people are generally thought to be those whose interests fall outside the sexual norm (whatever the “norm” is). I’ve identified as kinky since my early twenties when I realized that threesomes (and foursomes) were a thing. Adopting that label was liberating at the time. As a result, for much of my twenties, I allowed the “kinky” label to direct my sexual interests. I played in ways that I might not have otherwise done and, for the most part, I loved it. I also enjoyed a ton of sex that I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed if I hadn’t also adopted the label of slut. But I also remember feeling that my occasional desire for straightforward, vanilla sex didn’t adhere to my label(s), so I often went without the no-frills missionary I also craved.

At that point in my life, I thought that kinky people were supposed to have kinky sex all the time, which isn’t necessarily true. For many people, kink defines their sexualities in a very whole and satisfying way. But for others, like me, identifying as any one thing excludes five other labels that I could just as easily adopt. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I made up my own label – sexually omnivorous. I want a helping of everything and always have. Or, to put it another way, I have a very fluid relationship to my sexuality and kinks.

Now, just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ll toss out a few of the labels that I do feel comfortable claiming:

Bisexual

Non-monogamous

Voyeuristic (with an exhibitionist streak)

Dominant (though not a Domme. I’m more of an alpha who likes D/s. Domme implies things I don’t want to claim.)

I also like rough sex and boundary pushing. I like feeling vaguely uncomfortable and I like it when my partner feels vaguely uncomfortable too (within the bounds of consent). More than anything, I love intensity. If a sexual experience serves up intensity, odds are I’ll be interested. It doesn’t matter if the intensity is emotional or physical. Even better if it’s both.

That said, I also love vanilla sex (which can also be emotionally and physically intense). I love missionary. I love waking up, having slow, drowsy sex and then going back to sleep. I love catching a quickie before running out for drinks. I love oral – both giving and getting. I love Sunday mornings in bed. I love entire week-ends spent doing nothing but straight up fucking – no games, no trappings, just hungry-for-more fucking. I even love making love with the right person.

So, do my more conventional tastes cancel out the kinks? I don’t feel they do – I think my sexuality covers a lot of ground and that exercising all aspects of it gives me pleasure. I’m hardly going to lock down the snuggly-missionary-loving part of me in the name of kink, any more than I’d give up D/s play because it doesn’t fit conventional sexual tastes. What I want has everything to do with who I’m with and what we need at the time. Sometimes, it’s rough. Sometimes it’s sweet. Unlike my young self, I’m not interested in missing out on either.

So, to bring it back around. If a person dedicates themselves to writing “porn” that’s great. If they claim the label of “erotica” (or “erotic romance” or “smut”) for their work, that’s great too. The danger is in becoming overly committed to a label – whether it’s porn, romance, kinky, straight, feminist, Christian, atheist or anything else. My concern is that, when a label becomes an ideology, it can curtail the intellectual, creative and sexual fluidity that makes you an individual, rather than a component of a larger, homogenous group (kinky people sex aside); or, in the case of erotic fiction, it can needlessly limit your work in a falsely simplified genre.

11 Comments

  1. i love how you address the fluidity of labels here, just because you *are* something does not mean you cannot fluctuate…

  2. SoYouThinkYouCanSee

    June 25, 2015 at 4:41 am

    ““One thing is needful: ‘Giving style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own natures and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason and even weakness delights the eye.” — ( “Friedrich Nietzsche”) for Malin xx Hermann

  3. This is excellent, Malin. I can’t help but think, with election season coming up here in the US, and all the tragedies we’ve had recently, that we would be much better off if we all took a more nuanced approach to labels. Labels have become ideology in so many cases (probably helped by the fact that they make soundbites and headlines more convenient). As you say, they are important for self identification and classification. But it also seems they can so easily be used to pigeonhole and attack. Maybe, what I’m really wishing is that people in general would be a little more thoughtful. (Ha).

    Your post was thoughtful and beautiful and made me think, for sure. Not only about my own labels, but about labels in general and how we use them as a society.

    • Thank you, Maria. I love that you mentioned elections because politics and religion seem to be just as tricky with labels as sex (funny that it’s the three topics forbidden by good taste at dinner parties). I think, in the end, I’m just wishing for more thoughtfulness too..or at least more consideration in how we label ourselves and others. I wonder if that will ever happen. I’d like to think so, but I can’t help but doubt it’ll happen any time soon.. xx

  4. Labels are indeed interesting things. They can help to categorize or generalize. They can be inclusive or exclusive. The can promote or destroy. A single label can do all of these things, depending on the ‘issuer’ and the ‘recipient’.

    As writers, especially writers of essays or short fiction, they are critical (because of the shorthand/allusion-like aspects of them.). The say a lot in a little space. To get a bit computer sciencey, they are compression of ideas into single/short terms, yet there is something lost in that compression.

    To keep the topic touching on sexual discussion (even though this topic could be distilled to all aspects of labeling), take the term ‘sex positive’…

    Now on my last tour of duty in the twitterverse, I was amazed at how often this term popped up on my feed. So often it became annoying. Then, it became intriguing, because it became obvious it meant very different things to very different people (and also, some wield the term in a superior sort of way, almost making a ‘positive’ term feel very negative). When I started asking twitter friends for their definition of it, more than once having to probe for a bit deeper meaning from them beyond the “Well, isn’t it obvious, idiot?” response (always politely and positively said of course). The spectrum of responses was extremely subjective.

    Some thought ‘sex positive’ was like an apple.
    Some like an orange.
    Some like a kiwi.
    Some like a grape.
    Some like a cornucopia.

    (I exchange types of fruit with real answers for the sake of brevity)

    The only thing they all had in common were that they were fruit. The label at best is a general, moving target, “I don’t think it means, what you think it means” sort of conundrum.

    End of the day, labels are a form of tool. They can help shape things. They can utterly destroy things. It all depends on just how the label is used.

    • “End of the day, labels are a form of tool. They can help shape things. They can utterly destroy things. It all depends on just how the label is used.”

      Yes! I love the notion of labels as tools. When they’re used properly they’re very useful. When they aren’t they can break things. It’s a wonderful analogy, FT. Thank you.

  5. Label, label, label—it’s this weird thing we insist on giving, in every aspect of life, to everything we read, view, consume, do, and choose. On one hand, it’s important in our quest to understand ourselves, to define who we are and what we prefer; yet on the other, the simple act of doing so may, as you mentioned, limit the opportunities we take or are presented with. I don’t know if this is something that will ever fully change in society, but I think (hope) as more people open up their minds, we might find that a lot of these labels really don’t say anything about us at all.

    Lovely, thoughtful post, Malin. XX-Jade

  6. I was pondering a similar topic over coffee this morning. My issue with labels is that they are generally a binary, rather than a spectrum. You are 100% something, or not it at all. And whether we’re talking sex or literary genres, that’s problematic.

    • “My issue with labels is that they are generally a binary, rather than a spectrum.”

      That’s exactly it – labels are as exclusive as they are inclusive, which means that they can imply things that aren’t accurate, while glossing over qualities that might provide a more nuanced picture of the whole. It’s why I don’t claim the label of Domme – it implies far more than I want to lay claim to. Thank you for posting your thoughts. You hit the nail on the head and I appreciate it.

  7. Ahhhh…the label game. We humans love to play it. In fact, some of us can’t help ourselves. We buy a label-maker and label everything in our lives. It’s a compulsion. And addiction. And yes, for some of us, a real need.

    I agree whole-heartedly with you that labels have their place, both for the labeler and the labelee (not really words…I made those up). Labels can help us build or tear down an identity. And since identity (and our understanding of it) is central to our existence, labels can be necessary. But, like you say, labels can eventually become confining if we allow them to be finite and rigid rather than changeable and fluid.

    “Fluidity” of labels is a good concept. The ability to move in and out of labels as we see fit. I like that idea.

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