There are a lot of different kinks and fetishes out there. The intricate tapestry of our genes, social contexts, upbringings, and sexual histories can contain myriad combinations of interconnecting factors that make any one thing or circumstance particularly arousing or exciting to think about. Feet, tickling, human furniture, cuckolding, anal play, watersports… It’s different for everyone, and that is okay! But one thing that many of us kinksters have to think very critically about at some point is the inevitable moment when our arousal steers our fantasies into territory that normally, we’d find pretty uncomfortable.
For a long time, I struggled with a great deal of shame and guilt over what I’d find myself fantasizing about late at night.
In my ten years of being sexually self-aware (I didn’t even learn how to masturbate until I was 21), there has always been a sociopolitical discourse of some kind telling me that my fantasies are dirty, perverse, and transgressive. My early guilt was rooted in feeling that satisfying sexual desire outside of marriage was sinful, and that my fantasies were lustful thoughts that God was surely ashamed of. My later guilt became rooted in my submissive fantasies going counter to my feminism. Either way, there has always been some kind of social narrative to tell me that some of the things I find sexy are things I should feel ashamed of. Often, I’d find the feelings of shame increasing my arousal, resulting in a cascade of guilt and self-deprecation once the afterglow of orgasm had passed.
Feeling the need to hide one’s transgressive fantasies often drives individuals toward shamesploitation pornography and sexual isolation, feeling that they must conceal and suppress their perversions around others, most especially those they care about. Fear of rejection and ostracism only exacerbates the deep mortification and fear many can feel about their fetishes, never feeling safe, brave, or confident enough to consider exploring their fantasies in a healthy, exciting way. This can be especially difficult for those who have gone out on that limb and confided in someone, only to have that person rebuke and shame them for their honesty.
I am 100% sure that I am not alone in having felt ashamed of my desires and proclivities. There have been taboos and cultural regulations around atypical sexual practices for the great majority of recorded history. The truth is, many people are aroused by transgressive fantasies. For many, simply the illicit pleasure of imagining transgression is enough to get those hormones and endorphins rushing. Some of those fantasy scenarios may push or even breach legal and moral boundaries that normally, we’d never consider crossing. This isn’t a purely sexual phenomenon, either; I’m sure that there is a great deal of the population who, like me, has taken ephemeral emotional or psychological pleasure in fantasizing about inflicting violence or harm against someone who we feel has wronged us, or someone we love.
Transgressive fantasies can also often be self-directed, in which we dream about being the (often helpless or unwilling) subject of someone else’s deviant behaviour, or we imagine ourselves as someone/something that various cultural taboos (and in some cases, biological restrictions) prohibit us from embodying. It isn’t socially acceptable for a grown adult to enjoy wearing diapers, sucking pacifiers, and being cared for, for example, and I’d hazard a guess from my own journeys in and around the kink community that kinksters in this fetish area (commonly referred to in the community as AB/DL, for Adult Baby/Diaper Lover) are perhaps the most closeted and at-risk for shame spirals and the subsequent psychological toll that they can take. Other at-risk kinksters that I tend to notice are men who are into cross-dressing and/or feminization (forced or otherwise), and female submissives (especially feminists!) who get off on hard domination and non-consent fantasies. I know that I have felt many a time that I’ve somehow betrayed my gender, that I am a hypocrite, or that I am perpetuating the tacit cultural approval of harmful patriarchal discourses and rape culture, simply for fantasizing.
“Binging and purging” on fetish desires is also common behaviour in those who feel ashamed of their fetishes and fantasies. If and when a person finds an outlet through which they can explore their desires, these days it’s usually via websites like Fetlife, Bondage.com (which is unfortunately in bankruptcy, though the IRC community continues to thrive), Alt.com, and IRC chatrooms on various adult-oriented networks and servers. Especially in the latter case, closet kinksters can discuss and explore their fetishes with other like-minded people in the comfort of relative anonymity. Finding outlets like these can be a tremendous relief; for many, realizing that they are not alone in their desire can be enough to bump them out of the shame spiral and get them frolicking down the road to fantasy fun land. For others, however, enthusiastic overindulgence, spurred on by a well-meaning and encouraging community, can lead to a sort of crisis point at which the kinkster will decide that they have gone too far or that it’s becoming too real.
In my own case, when I was first exploring my own kinks and fetishes, exposure to kink-shaming narratives soon after I had indulged would send me to that crisis point, at which I felt the full weight of social disapproval driving me back to Christian-style repentance and redirection. I would get rid of everything kink-related I had acquired; I deleted bookmarks and files, cut off contacts, erased chat transcripts, tossed toys, even changed my e-mail address once, in an effort to put as much distance between me and my shame as possible. And sure enough, weeks, perhaps months would roll by, and inevitably, the urges to indulge would begin to bubble up again, teasing at the periphery of my dreams day and night, lingering naughty thoughts keeping me awake and itching until the wee hours of the morning. Eventually I would have to scratch, and the cycle would begin all over again.
Binge and purge, fast, repeat, the embarrassment and shame growing like a spiral with each turn of my sexual seasons. There are people out there who have spent quite literally thousands of dollars in a cycle of purchasing-purging-replacing toys and accessories related to their fetishes. It is both tragic and deeply psychologically damaging in the long term to keep this cycle going on too long.
This stuff is not cool. As adults, we have forgotten how to play. We have lost track of that delightful childhood ability to inhabit fantasies, to play pretend while understanding that it has no impact on who we are outside of play. My friend’s kid pretends that she’s Luke Skywalker, and then morphs into a princess, and then performs surgery on her dolls (and maybe her younger siblings if she can get away with it), having no difficulty figuring out who she is by the time she’s called in for dinner. She has an endless fantasy playground in her own mind in which she can be anyone or anything she feels like for a little while. So why abandon this practice as an adult?
Thanks to a long history of the enjoyment of sex being taboo, many find it difficult to incorporate role-play style make-believe into our sexy fun times. We’ve let the world convince us that there are only a limited number of acceptable ways in which adults are allowed to play and have fun in an adult manner, incorporating our sexual maturity and appetites. Reclaiming the ability to play make-believe can radically change for the better the way we understand and feel about ourselves and our kinks, and has the added benefit of enriching our every day experience.
So when you get your wank on, and find yourself thinking about something transgressive and feeling that wave of guilt, there is one crucially important thing that we all need to remember before we let shame kill our boners:
Your fantasies don’t determine the fullness of who you are outside the bedroom.
Our kinks are a part of us, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Fantasy can be a perfectly normal and healthy aspect of one’s sexual experience. As we age and mature, we tend to distance ourselves from the practice of playing pretend, under pressure from narratives suggesting that the ability to meaningfully engage in fantasy is antithetical to maturity. We live under the illusion that adulthood means being disengaged from the world of make-believe, and being firmly entrenched in the moral and ideological structures of the “real world.” We still partake in fantasy, but in constrained, regulated ways, with dominant cultural narratives dictating to us what is an accepted fantasy realm, and what is not.
One thing we need to realize about fantasies and fetishes, as I stated right up at the top of this article, is that the reasons we find any given thing or situation arousing can be extremely complex. I might never unravel the full anatomy of my psychological drives, and that is okay. It can be counterproductive to try to figure out why we want what we want, except on the most basic levels—i.e. submissive urges tending to be a response to high-stress lifestyles, desiring regression being a powerful drive rooted in a need to feel cared for, and so on. What really matters to the overall mental and emotional health of our kinky selves is learning how to accept our kinks as valid, if complicated, expressions of our sex drive, owning and honouring them as a part of our whole selves, and giving ourselves permission to re-learn how to play pretend and explore fantasies in a safe, comfortable environment.
So! Let’s all pause and take a deep breath, and resolve to shut down the shame, shall we? We can let go, now, of the need to react with fear or disgust when someone confesses their kink. Instead of reacting with “Oh my GOD that is so WEIRD!!!”, we could try something like, “Oh, interesting! What is it about that thing that turns you on?”
I know I’ve learned a lot from asking that question. Not just about others, but also about myself.
In conclusion, I’d like propose a universal declaration of BULLSHIT on the stifling of the adult imagination in the name of maturity and correctness. Rather than suppressing and shaming ourselves for these urges, let’s see if we can find the courage to be honest with ourselves, the enthusiasm to play and try new things, and the grace to allow others to enjoy their fantasies in a safe, responsible way, free from the heavy yoke of shame. I think we’ll all find that we can still do our day jobs.