View From The Top: Is Kink The New Vanilla?

“So I had this great first date last night, right?” Andrea said, pausing over her brunch plate. We’d finished the obligatory hour of catching up, and she was ready to dish. “We had so much chemistry, she was so responsive to my flirtation, and kept giving me this look that just made me melt. I can’t place it, but her mouth did this twisty thing and her eyes got all sparkly…” she trailed off, a little smile on her face, feeling it again. “But we never talked about kink. I know, I know, I should have brought it up — we’ve talked about this before.”

I took another bite of my vegetable egg scramble, chewing and grinning, while she kept going. Our favorite corner diner was just loud enough that nobody could hear what she was saying, and quiet enough for us to hear each other.

“The first date happened so fast, we didn’t do the banter I usually do before I go out with someone. And then I just got so distracted with how fucking cute she was,” she paused again. “I asked if she was kinky, and first she said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said a few more things, and she was so vague about it, saying things like, ‘I can be, I guess.’ So I didn’t want to push it further, and I got kind of distracted by the other conversation, which was really good. But I need her to know that I’m kinky, and that it’s pretty important to me… but how do I tell her? When do I tell her? The second date? The fifteenth?”

I shook my head, pretty sure the question was rhetorical.

She smiled ruefully. “The women I keep going on dates with have such specific expectations. They want me to be into some sorts of kink, but not too much into it. Leather hoods or dungeons would cross over some sort of line.”

I nodded. “Right, but tying someone up with a tie would be just fine, and practically a requirement.”

“Yeah. It’s like they want kink, but only the most palatable version of it,” Andrea lit up a little at that idea. “Or like kink is the new vanilla? But not exactly.”

“It’s such a particular version of kink. And I think it’s different depending on your community and what the folks around you normalize. Maybe it has to do with how much more kink is portrayed in the mainstream,” I guessed.

She nodded, looking thoughtful. “It seems like that’s more socialization than what people really want, though. As though they’re now expected to be at least a little bit kinky, so they are — but is it really coming from their desires? Or are they just doing something they think they’re supposed to like?”

I shrugged a little. “It’s so hard to tell with desire. It can be so slippery, so hard to pin down. And just because someone else, or the culture, suggests something doesn’t mean that that person wants it any less, or has any less of a legitimate claim to explore it. They may not have discovered it from scratch when they were six and always loved playing cops and robbers or whatever. Watching some kinky movie, having that flood of recognition, and then trying it out and liking it is just as legitimate of a way to come into kink — but hopefully they still feel like they have agency, and can make their own decisions about what they want or don’t want to do.”

“I guess that’s what I worry about,” Andrea said, putting down her knife and fork. It was getting brighter as we were speaking, the dark clouds and dreary rain lifting. People weren’t coming in with umbrellas dripping like they had when we arrived. “That people are secretly enduring, because they think they should. But I guess that’s about building trust, right? Seeing someone make little decisions, observing how they respond to hardships, and seeing if they generally feel the way they think they’ll feel about the decisions they make.”

“Sure, and going slow with play and trust within the dating, too. Starting with things that are less intense, and then going deeper, if that seems like the right thing that both of you want to do,” I said.

She waved her hand dismissively. “Yeah, sure. But building trust like that, that’s… later. That’s like month four of dating or something. This is a first date dilemma, or even a pre-date issue.”

“What do you really want, though? You’ve said before you don’t really want to meet people at kink events, because most of the time they’re kind of too kinky for you. You want some kink, but not too much?”

“I don’t really know,” she said, looking right at me. “I know I want to experiment. I know I have fantasies I want to try out. I know I want more than the kink-lite expectation in the queer worlds, now that kink is all popular and feels so mainstream. But it’s not like I want to be a dom or a sub or anything that formal. I want to play. And I want to talk about it, and so often it seems like people don’t even want to do that. They just want it to magically happen, as if talking takes the fun out of it. I don’t trust that.” She stabbed her pancakes again, an edge of anger in her voice.

“Did something happen with that?”

She took a deep breath. “Yeah, just some other date I had last month. I kept asking what she liked and sharing some of what I was into, and she kept brushing me off. I thought she was just shy, but she eventually said that she didn’t want to see me again, that I was ruining the moment with all my talking about it.”

“Ouch. That’s not fair,” I said.

She shrugged. “She can want what she wants, you know? I want to talk about it. She doesn’t. C’est la vie.”

The waiter came and took our plates away, offering the check in return. “It’s totally legit to question whether or not she wants something because she actually wants it, or because she thinks she want it,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “But you don’t have to go blue in the face about it, especially not with other people. That’s for them to figure out. It kinda doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“Yeah, except when I’m trying to date them,” Andrea says, tossing some cash on to the table.

“Even then, I think. You just have to be honest about what you’re looking for, and keep going after it. You’ll find the right person. Might take a while, but you will,” I said.

“I’ll just keep kissing toads, I guess,” she said. “Want to see who I’m chatting with on HER before we go?”

I grinned. “Absolutely.”

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Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


  1. Hi Sinclair, my Domme and i love your posts. She wants to know if you’ll write a follow up to the one about knife play. You left us with a cliffhanger, and would love to know more about that experience. Thanks!

    • Hmmm I believe that knife play article was actually about trust, which is why I didn’t write the entire kinky scene with the knife between the characters. The sex play was mostly to illustrate the movement of the trust between them. I’m sure you can imagine what happens next with the play :)

  2. “They may not have discovered it from scratch when they were six and always loved playing cops and robbers or whatever.” Oh god it’s so nice to hear someone else describe their childhood fascination with kink. Rationally I know my experience can’t have been wildly different than many other kinky folks, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually heard someone else discuss it. I was constantly trying to organize chase-and-catch games with other kids… I wanted so badly to be pursued and captured – and then suffer unimaginable tortures at my captor’s hands ;)

    • omg totally! I always wanted to be the servant when we played kings & queens, and I always made sure to make mistakes so I’d get punished.

      • Once a friend went to Disney World and brought back toy plastic handcuffs and I. was. In awe of them.

        (Also totally loved every child game where I would end up kidnapped / tied up…)

  3. i just had the same feels as Andrea during a date last weekend and yes it is such a complicated feeling ughhhhhhh

  4. Wait but I love this title bc every queer under the sun seems to be ~kinky~ now and “so I met this guy on fetlife” and “come to my rope bandage class!” and blah blah and

    1. I’m bored! Of hearing! About kink! At every queer event, because

    2. I’m not kinky at all and have Zero things to add to these conversations other than to say “I’ll pass” on the rope bandage class, which is always weirdly reminiscent of the knot tying portion of Girl Scouts?

    I hated Girl Scouts

    • I also think talking about sex in general is approximately as boring as the chapter of Moby Dick that’s all about rope, which is to say p fucking boring, but maybe I’M the one who is boring

    • I know that not just any scratchy old rope is used for rope bondage, but to me rope harnesses just look like the lingerie equivalent of wood pallet DIY. If the person doing it has some skill, it shows, but it’s still obviously a really out of place wood pallet, you know?

    • honestly same, this is half of why i don’t even go to queer events anymore. if i wanted to talk about kink i would go to kink groups!

  5. When people press me too hard about every little thing I like it totally kills the mood for me. Like, if I have to completely spell out the entire scenario it just doesn’t seem spontaneous or exciting at all. Also people seem to have this expectation that I should 100% know everything I like or dislike and be able to articulate elaborate fantasy scenarios off the cuff and that’s really intimidating. I would have stopped talking to the person in the article as well.

  6. I saw the picture of the vanilla beans and extract and got excited. I thought finally somebody else was as concerned about the vanilla shortage as me. My friends don’t seem interested even though it greatly effects my ability to keep making free pastries for them. Does it make sense that I thought there was an article about the vanilla bean shortage? Of course not. But logic seldom has anything to do with my thought process.

    • The vanilla shortage is a simple supply and demand problem for the most part. Many vanilla producers switched to other crops because they weren’t making any money. The farmers basically make the same thing regardless of what we pay. It’s the middle man that gets all the money. As the shortage increases they are being forced to pay more to the growers. It will probably take all year but the prices should go down. But a lot of companies are searching for imitation vanilla to compensate. Which is fine for cheap stuff like Hershey’s and Nestle’s products. Their chocolate is crap anyway. (obviously just an opinion). Better culinary products need real vanilla beans.

      Chocolate, on the other hand, is an issue. The cocoa bean shortage is caused more by climate change. The cocoa bean quality in some countries is too low to be used. They don’t have enough cocoa butter. Plus it takes two years to grow to harvest cocoa beans. Some of the larger chocolate companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle, whom I bashed in the previous paragraph, have invested money to adapt to the changing growing conditions. Trying to increase production in less space and changing weather. So there is hope.

      I don’t really know anything about kink. Unless you consider scaring the crap out of people about a shortage in vanilla and cocoa kinky.

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