I’ve Changed, But My Kinks Haven’t

Q:

Hi! TW kink, unhealthy relationships, mention of self harm.

I’m 26 going on 27, and after a very long wandering, I’ve settled on the nonbinary/agender/fluid area (I’m AFAB) and as of four months ago, I have accepted that I am a lesbian. This should be a joyous occasion, but it’s come with a massive problem. I still have my kinks.

Okay, rewind to when I was a much younger adult and my first relationship (sort of, as in it was virtual and also deeply problematic). I had a lot of interest in kink, by which I mean power dynamics with me on the submissive end, fantastical role play ideas, and at the time, a lot of edgy stuff that I would put in a self-harm category now. I was also really depressed, so much so that I temporary quit college at the time. He had what at first seemed like comparable interests, despite being a lot older than me and us having almost nothing else in common, and we were ‘together’ for two years. I quickly found out that he was not very interested me having boundaries, listening to me, that he had some very concerning interests, but I clung on until I went back to college and he got mad about me basically getting better and I dumped him. I felt no real attraction for him, just the weird coping mechanism he provided, and as I felt less safe the allure of submissively zoning out plummeted.

I then immediately (as in practically the day after I broke up) pivoted to my male best friend who was everything this guy was not, ie vanilla as hell, safe and soft spoken, and let me drag him around. I felt no attraction to him, although I tried a lot, he was just safe. This toxic in a totally different form ended four years ago during covid, although we are somehow still friends, and I haven’t had a relationship since, in part because my sexuality completely turned off.

As a result, I concluded three things: I needed to work on myself more, that I must have been asexual, and that my kink desires were self harming and totally a form of comphet. After all, what I experienced and saw were exaggerations of cis hetero dynamics I hated and clearly didn’t fit. I have worked on myself more and I’m in a much healthier and happier emotional place despite the stress of starting my career and upcoming moving out for grad school, but then I had desires again and strong attraction about six months ago unprompted. And I appear to still have kinks.

They are softer and more relationship focused, and no men are involved, and they are much more accommodating of my gender identity, but I still feel the pull of a D/s dynamic and I have a hard time visualizing sex, dating, and desire without it. I’m scared that because of my past and the mental problems I had at the time that they are still some weird coping mechanism, and I was actually vanilla the whole time. I never expected to feel this interest again, and now that I have I don’t know how to approach it. Specifically, I’m not sure how to (1) heal the trauma, and (2) how to have a healthy, safe, and queer kinky relationship in the future when I finally dare to date again. Like, forget the kinks, I managed to never date a woman!

Warily and confusedly yours,
M

A:

Hey there wary and confused M,

I’m glad you wrote in. It sounds to me like you have a complex, interlocking set of experiences to work on. A lot of the stuff you described reads like my own challenges with healthy sexuality. I’m glad to try and provide guidance.

The interplay of trauma and life

You’ve clearly done a lot of important reflection and work that has yielded a happier life. You should be proud of that. Even so, I think there’s still a conflict in the interplay between sexuality, asexuality, and trauma. I think it’s important for you to hear this:

It’s okay to live a life where your interests overlap with the result of trauma.

Trauma of any kind contributes to the tapestry of our lives. Trauma from relationships and sex can be particularly impactful, because they can scramble the way we interact with the world. I use the word ‘scramble’ purposefully, because that’s what abuse does. It warps and rearranges our worldviews and sense of self into something that is inexplicably harmful. Self-defeating, even.

What makes certain kinds of entrenched trauma hard to work through isn’t just identifying or addressing the ‘issue’. It’s that the issue has become a part of how we live. Addressing it may require compromises in other parts of ourselves — parts that are healthy, good, or even unrelated. Trauma works by rooting itself in the minutiae of our lives. It wouldn’t be impactful if it didn’t.

Your story sounds familiar to me because I also grappled with gender identity before finding my current self (via transition). Pre-transition me was a sexual and romantic trainwreck. I did risky, impulsive things, even when I knew it wasn’t good for me. It just felt right in context because I was soothing other wounds. Just like you, it took a lot of (ongoing) self-work and recovery to craft a happier person.

Despite these efforts, some of my harmful thoughts and processes survived. They’ve taken on a calmer shape, but I can trace many of my sexual and emotional interests back to traumatic origins. I used to see this as The Progress. That I was slowly suppressing and removing parts of myself tied to my trauma. I thought that eventually, The Progress would expunge all of these thought processes and I could be free.

This…didn’t turn out to be true. Especially when I learned that trauma embeds itself in the good parts of myself, too. It’s possible to whittle pain down to a point where the remaining pain mingles with your well-being. To cut any further would require excising things that you cherish.

I recognize and feel the frustration of having experiences (like kinks) that call back to a traumatic time. It can feel like unfinished work. But the reason I propose living alongside your changing interests is that it better affirms two facts:

1. You have done immense work to recover from your trauma and become a happier person.

2. You have a right to seek companionship, friendships, and life even though the long tail of trauma is sometimes still present.

Measures taken and growth earned

When I read your submission, I was struck by how much of the ‘work’ of this recovery you’ve already done. You identified past errors and harmful influences. You sought out comfort but also worked through why comfort isn’t the same as healing. You’ve reflected on parts of your (a)sexual being, gender, and how they interact with past pain. You’ve taken steps to build a stronger foundation for life.

Those of us recovering from trauma often want to feel ‘whole’ again — especially when that trauma is interpersonal. Our past took something from us, and we work to earn it back. I think the enhanced societal awareness of mental well-being, therapy, and recovery has been great for that. But I don’t think we as a society have properly contended with the next question of healing: When have I done work?

I don’t live in your shoes, but I think you’ve more than earned the right to seek the ‘healthy, safe, and queer kinky relationship’ you want.

To address your questions more directly:

How do you heal the trauma of your past? Well, I don’t think I have to provide guidance on how to heal your trauma because you’ve already done much of it. You’ve developed a blueprint of recovery and healing that works for you. And in your own words, you’ve already applied it to your life.

You need only look back to that blueprint, apply it, and make adjustments to fit your changing needs. These adjustments will be context-sensitive. They’re the kind only you can identify and apply because ultimately, it’s your life and you are the premier expert on it. You have a track record of proving this expertise, too. Just remember to applaud your achievements from time to time. We all deserve time on the podium after the shit we’ve been through.

How do you have the healthy, queer, kinky relationship you want when you dare to date again?

By seeking it out and developing it with all that you’ve learned from past relationships, pain, and healing. That sounds like a ‘draw-the-rest-of-the-owl’ statement, but I think it’s accurate. Your story didn’t sound like it was the kind that needed instruction. I think you need assurance, and I can definitely assure you that you’re capable and confident enough to build the relationship you want.

As for the practicalities of dating, I recommend dating apps because I don’t leave the house enough. Make a profile and swipe around. Build that profile. Find other profiles you like and screenshot them. Then model parts of your profile on theirs. Do they have photos? How many? What kind? How do they talk about themselves? Make your dating profiles reflect the things you like in others. Have fun. Start conversations.

Further reassurances

Besides the above, I think I have a few more useful paragraphs for you.

For one, being asexual and kinky is a-okay. Asexuality covers a wide umbrella of experiences. Many asexuals are kinky and use kink to supplement the way they experience intimacy and closeness. It’s fitting, since so much of kink is about power dynamics and not just sex. I recently read this paper that explored some of these experiences. (Linking academic papers is one of my love languages. It’s not you. It’s me.)

Even if your kinkiness or sexual desire is a coping mechanism, there isn’t anything wrong with that. It may cause friction with your asexual identity, but remember that nobody aligns perfectly to their labels. Intimacy (not just sex) is how people cope with certain stressors in life. We’re highly social creatures, and seeking closeness with trusted people goes far to alleviate pain. The only thing we need to watch out for is when the risks of our coping mechanisms begin to weigh up against the benefits. If you ever feel like an asexual identification doesn’t apply to you anymore, then you have the right to adjust it to fit.

Navigating your gender identity seems to have done something good to settle your kinks into a more comfortable place. This is definitely a good thing, because it illustrates internal consensus — an agreement between your experiences and the person you want to be. It’s encouraging to hear, because it sounds to me like this is where your feelings should be when not being influenced by abuse and mental distress.

I don’t have further words besides these assurances. You’ve traveled from strength to strength and have found identifiers and needs that fit you. I think you’ve achieved so much and only need to celebrate your achievements and walk forward another day.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 38 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. LW, your problem is that like many mentally ill people who’ve recently gone through some kind of recovery process, you’re trying to fit everything into a one-size-fits-all healthy/unhealthy binary. Stop talking about your kinks (and implicitly, everyone else’s) as if wanting a relationship and being done with the edgy shit get you a good grade in therapy, and start actually listening to what you want. There’s no “real you” and we’re all going to die.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!