Stop Writing Me Prescriptions For Vanilla Sex

January 14 6 min read

"I'm into the kind of sex you know better than to tell your therapist about" I loudly declared to an audience of drunk college kids and local misfits at a regular open mic night in a seedy Panhandle dive bar. 

Aside from satisfying my humiliation kink, stand up comedy has been one of the only spaces I could express my submissive sexuality without having my politics or mental well-being questioned. Jokes, you see, are based on non-sequiturs to begin with. So, when I spoke openly about my face ramming repeatedly into a mattress as my rear took a beating from a particularly dexterous copy of The Second Sex, people laughed!  And get this, not one person offered me unsolicited advice or a BetterHelp referral code afterwards.

Therapy, however, was not so open-minded. I started CBT in the wake of my father's death, which was also right around the time I entered my first serious relationship (mistake!), presumably in the hope of upgrading from an abusive father to a nurturing daddy dom. The man I fell for, however, quickly revealed himself to be more vanilla than a scoop of Dairy Queen soft serve. I should have amicably ended things upon that fatal discovery but the narrative I was being fed in-session led me to believe there was something wrong with me for being unable to feel satisfied with a good-natured guy who genuinely loved me.

I saw multiple therapists throughout this period, all of whom at one point or another wanted to discuss my dating patterns (which was totally fair given that every other week I burst in crying about which toxic ex changed their Hulu password to spite me.) When I would bring up BDSM and the incompatibilities with my current partner, my shrink would grant that while sexual power exchange can theoretically be done in a healthy way, I should "wait and see" if I still desire "that sort of thing" after I'd spent a few good years processing my trauma.  As a result, I began to see my sexuality as a trauma-borne illness that needed to be cured.

Before elaborating on the negative impacts these clinical attitudes can have on patients (particularly those with a history of trauma), I should note that there are cases where sadomasochistic acts can be used as a vehicle for abuse. For example, before plugging myself into online kink communities and learning about healthy BDSM practices, I subjected myself to a fair amount of intimate partner violence thinking that was what being a bottom meant. Limits were never discussed, consent was often violated, and the people inflicting the abuse didn't even know what D/S was, nor did they care to learn.

Furthermore, in an article about finding kink-friendly therapists, VICE contributor Penda N'diaye writes "Because kink, particularly, is often based on power dynamics, it’s easy for a clinician to pathologize these behaviours, when, in reality, they are often positive and healthy modes of sexual expression".  She goes on to cite therapist and sex educator, Andrea Glik's work on sex-positive therapy which acknowledges that kink can sometimes be directly related to a patient's reasons for therapy, and thus clinicians should be equipped to distinguish between cases such as those and when kink is a normal (and healthy) part of self-expression.  I think it's important to point out that calling for a kink-informed approach to mental healthcare is not just a matter of inclusivity, but providing adequate care.

Despite all my best efforts to guard against it, the kink-shaming therapists had got in my head. I found myself asking: even if BDSM can be practised in a healthy way, does one's desire to practice it stem from trauma?

From what I have read from my studies of sex, it seems the psychology community is split on this answer. Feminist philosopher Carol V Quinn writes "Psychologists have explained the interest in BDSM in various ways: as an escape, as deviance, as a way to heal oneself after having been sexually abused, and as arising from childhood experiences"* And while some psychologists cling to the historical position that BDSM is always pathological, a 2014 study in "The Journal of Sexual Medicine" finds that over sixty percent of people enjoy dominant/submissive play.  This is all to say that questions about the origin of BDSM practitioners' sexuality have no clear answer. So, giving suggestions on how to unlearn desires with unknown origins seems like a fruitless project if you ask me.

But for the sake of the argument, let’s say my fantasies of being tied down to a workbench and flogged like there’s no tomorrow are the result of prolonged child abuse…so what?  As Quinn goes on to say, for some women, re-enacting their assault in a way where crucial details have been changed "gives them a sense of control over that which was previously 'uncontrollable'".  To suggest that "curing” oneself of kink is essential to healing not only causes a patient to doubt their own sexual agency, but it implies trauma itself is some sort of systemic infection rather than a set of painful experiences that (with the right professional help) we can learn to reclaim and overcome.  Not to mention that for many kinksters, BDSM is not just about sexual preferences but belonging to a community where self-expression and vulnerabilities are practised in an erotic way.  For myself and many others, this is an essential part of what makes life beautiful. 

The sense of self-estrangement instilled from ill-informed attitudes about BDSM can take a significant psychological toll on those already conditioned to believe they are not a whole person. I can say that implementing my therapist's suggestion to sit back, relax, and let my partner give me a nice soothing back massage in lieu of a spanking did little beyond intensifying my shame towards wanting a surly, off-brand Paul Giamatti to bend me over his knee and teach me a lesson.  

 Prescriptions for traditional intimacy caused me to stay in an unfulfilling relationship, become increasingly isolated from my own desires, and to feel like I was not in the driver's seat of my own sexual life for too long. The opportunity to explore my sexuality through comedy is what allowed the authentic part of myself to "win out" I suppose, as here I am sitting at my desk writing for a sex blog, wishing my fat ass was covered in bruises. 


*V. Quinn, Carol. “Sadomasochism”. Sex From Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia, edited by Alan Soble, vol 2: M-Z, Greenwood Press, 2006, 960-966.

Rachel Elizabeth
« Ex-philosopher turned comedian writing about kink, trauma, and body politics. When I'm not oversharing in group therapy I'm detailing my masochistic misadventures in my confessional newsletter Chaotic Submissive. For inquiries I can be found loitering outside your local hardware store in cherry red lip gloss and a push-up bra. More info about her here: » All posts →