Tackling Kink Injustice From the Inside Out
Taking a look at potential changes to better serve the kink community.
Posted Jul 09, 2020
The inaccuracies about the kink community have long existed prior to the media’s flawed and frankly dangerous depiction of kink practitioners. Fueled by a history of questioning social normativity, the kink community has been faced with backlash and incorrect judgments for decades. They have existed in a system that perpetuates not only secrecy but immense shame.
The question that now remains is why, when the research is at the fingertips of anyone with a computer, are we still spreading false information that is incredibly harmful and resulting in negative psychological consequences for anyone whose erotic orientation is outside of what society deems as the norm?
Like many other deeply ingrained stereotypes, we can typically find intergenerational patterns of discrimination that keep the negative cycles in motion. However, unlike other stigmatizations where negative beliefs are openly discussed and passed down to the next generation, the kink community exists in an unusual space where much of the stereotype exists not because of the conversations that are happening but in many cases because of the conversations that are not happening. When someone begins a sentence with, “I have a secret to tell you," it is not unusual to approach the conversation with a preconceived notion that what you are about to hear will be taboo. An overwhelming portion of the kink community exists in that space, at least from what I have seen in the therapeutic world.
The kink community is stuck in a cycle where secrecy perpetuates stigmatizations and the stigmatizations simultaneously encourage secrecy. Until the cycle is broken, there will likely remain a divide between the kink and vanilla world, and while the celebration of differences is undoubtedly a beautiful thing, if the cost of misunderstanding those differences is a lack of proper mental health care, we must strive to correct the problem. Clinicians have not only pathologized BDSM practitioners but, in some cases, refused service if the client was unwilling to acknowledge or work on perceived “abuse” by the clinician. (Wright 2006). Clinicians who assume abuse due to an unfamiliarity with a kink dynamic or a bias towards the kink community are fueling the shame, fear, and mistrust that many kink practitioners have about seeking help.
Research suggests that the number of competent therapists working with kink individuals is dismal compared to the folks who seek help. In 2013, therapists attitudes toward BDSM were measured through an Internet-based survey and found that only 48% of therapists perceived themselves to be competent in the area of BDSM, while 76% had worked with at least one client involved in BDSM (Kelsey, Stiles, Spiller & Diekhoff, 2013). These numbers, which are relatively consistent in this realm of research, are indicative of not only a lack of knowledge in the topic but perhaps reflect a much larger issue. The question that remains is not, are therapists neglecting the entirely accessible information on working with the kink community, but why have they chosen to do so?
Confronting personal bias is incredibly challenging and embracing or further, accepting, the kink community and their practices as non-pathological may require a shift in an individual’s personal worldview and value system. This task is not one that is easy as it often requires leaning into immense discomfort and analyzing one’s own history and formation of views regarding sexuality and erotic expression. Dismantling a system that has long perpetuated problematic societal ideals on how sex is supposed to look is a mission that many sex educators and sex-positive therapists have been fighting for, and while their work is praiseworthy, there is far more work to be done.
As a relative newcomer in the sex-positive therapy scene, I am able to see the incredible foundations that have been laid before me by sexual revolutionaries of the past and slowly, alongside the forward thinkers of our time, I am seeing the path clear for where we need to move in the future. It appears that tackling the issue from all angles is ideal.
With our sex educators pushing for modernization and in many states implementation of proper and medically accurate sex education in the school system and sex therapists working to eliminate shame and empower sexuality and erotic desires within the therapy room, we still have room for a third wave of movement forward. This wave is tackling the stigmatization from the inside of the mental health community by increasing kink education for therapists in our graduate-level programs, promoting kink coursework post-licensure, and turning to the incredible research that is so valuable to move our field forward.
In order for kink identified individuals to get the best possible mental health care, it appears that creating a safe environment, backed by knowledge and advanced level education, is ideal for self-discovery, elimination of shame, personal growth, and healing for our clients. By allowing ourselves to open our minds and shift away from fallacious arguments regarding kink to embracing alternative practices of erotic expression and understanding that they may be more commonplace than we had once believed, we can begin to adjust this long-standing narrative from one of demoralization and inherent pathology to one of empowerment and acceptance. After all, despite the various theoretical orientations we all practice from, our primary goals permeate through every lens; those are, to help, to heal, and to ultimately change lives.
Kelsey, K., Stiles, B. L., Spiller, L., & Diekhoff, G. M. (2013). Assessment of therapists’ attitudes towards BDSM. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(3), 255–267. DOI:10.1080/19419899.2012.655255
Wright, S. (2006). Discrimination of sm-identifying individuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 50, 217-231