You Need Help: You’re Vanilla And Your Partner Is Kinky

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Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q: “My partner of three years recently revealed to me that she used to be involved with BDSM with some of her former partners. We play lightly with power dynamics in our current relationship, but by most standards we have very vanilla sex. My partner told me that there are parts of her that she has to keep under very tight control unless she is in sub-space, and very hesitantly told me that while she is okay without being able to enter this space, it’s costing our relationship a bit. I love her and want to be able to fulfill her needs, but I’ve never been involved in BDSM. Above all I value her safety and the trust between us, and I don’t know how to take her to the spaces she’s asking to enter without going too far. She says that when she is in sub-space she isn’t able to think about her physical or emotional safety. I’m not particularly inclined towards violence or humiliation, but I would do anything for this girl. Any advice on how we can explore this in a way that’s safe for both of us?”


Chocolate Chip and Nikki Darling via the crash pad

Chocolate Chip and Nikki Darling via the crash pad

A: Right on! You and your kinky partner are in an excellent position to start playing with things and see what you find that you like. That she is communicating her desires to you is an excellent sign, and that you are game — that you “would do anything for this girl” — tells me you’re willing to experiment. That’s fantastic! That automatically gives you a leg up toward having fulfilling play together.

It totally makes sense that you value her safety and the trust between you, and that is of key importance when you’re introducing more kinky play into your sex life. There is no need to do things that don’t seem “safe,” or that violates trust between you. Go slowly — that’s my first piece of advice. Do things that actually seem exciting and doable for you. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of ways to play with kink, and you don’t have to do any of them that are uncomfortable. Start with the 10 or 20 or two that feel really hot and exciting, and who knows? After a little while of exploring those, more things might start to seem fun, too. Go slower than you think is necessary in the beginning. She probably won’t snap right into sub-space right away, and that’s okay.

Start experimenting. I love looking at it from a “science!” perspective: do the experiment, and collect the data. Didn’t go so well? Cool! On to the next experiment! Went awesome? Cool! Do it more! Went okay, but could be better? Great! Tweak the experiment and see what the new results are.

Make sure that you’re experimenting with things that YOU, too, want to do. It might be that you’re purely doing this for her, and that’s okay — but see if you can find the sweet spot where you’re into it AND she’s into it.

Here’s a few ways to build some confidence and get some skills and start playing:

1. Look up sex toy stores, kink community centers, play parties or other resources for kinksters in your area, and attend some BDSM demos.

Live research is one of the most excellent ways to get more skills. Attend the demos together, then go home and practice! Talk about it — what was hot, what might work for you, what seemed to not work for you. You might not agree with everything the presenter said, and that’s okay. Just take what works for you and start building your own toolbox. Sign up for an account on Fetlife.com and look around for friends that are in your area and groups that align with your interests. There are some challenges with Fetlife, but it can be an amazing resource.

2. Nothing in your area, or are you too shy to go out into the community? Check out Kink Academy!

Kink Academy is an online collection of BDSM teachings with hundreds of videos for just about any kink or fetish you could want. I’ve got some videos on there about D/s, power dynamics and protocol, but there are tons on rope, impact play, service and all sorts of things.

3. Read some dirty books, watch some dirty porn.

You might already do this — but consider doing it together, sharing what you like and talking about it. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Easton and Hardy are some of my highest recommended books for folks who are getting into power play and kink. Read some erotica aloud together! Say Please, the BDSM lesbian erotica collection I edited, has a wide range of fetishes and kinks in it that might give you some ideas (see the write-up on Autostraddle too!). Write down these discussion questions to ask each other after: (a) What was your favorite part? (b) Was there any good dirty talk that you enjoyed? (c) Would you like to recreate any of it maybe?

It is totally okay for something to be purely fantasy, and for something to turn you on even if you don’t want to do it. You don’t have to want to do everything.

4. Service topping is a thing, and might work for you.

Not all people are wired to want to dominate and top other people, but lots of us are wired to want to please our partners. So perhaps you won’t be extra turned on by actions that she gets excited by. That’s totally okay. It might still be very rewarding, interesting, supportive of your relationship, and hella fun for you to “serve” her by doing dirty things to her that she is super excited about. So you might be a top — someone who is mainly doing the action — and providing the things that she needs. Experiment with that, and see if you can find things that you really love too, but it’s also okay for you to be in service to her desires.

5. Reframe “violence” and “humiliation.”

Some BDSM activities are absolutely about violence and humiliation. But a lot of what might seem like violence are actually about sensation — sometimes intense sensation!—and a lot of what seems like humiliation is actually about vulnerability. You might just not be into any kind of impact play, and it might seem violent to you every time, which is fine — or, you might find a lot of fun and pleasure in some light spanking. (Check out this amazing video about impact by kink educator Mollena Williams, it might be a great thing to watch with your partner and discuss.) Regardless of whether a reframing appeals to you, go talk to some kink educators if you want to learn more about sensation and vulnerability play. Those things can go deep! There are dozens of things you can do before you play with those.

6. To be as safe as possible, negotiate before you play.

Set up the general parameters of the play you’re going to do before you get into it. It doesn’t have to be too specific — something like, Okay, I’m going to blindfold you and touch you all over, and then hold your wrists above your head while I finger you until you come. See if the two of you can anticipate the things that are the most risky, and make sure to establish what would be okay and what would be too much — for both of you. You get to have limits, as a top, just as much as she does.


Bhuma Belle and Tinder via the crash pad

Bhuma Belle and Tinder via the crash pad

Speaking of which: You wrote that she “isn’t able to think about her physical or emotional safety” when she’s in sub-space. If a submissive told me something like that, I would be a little concerned about playing with them. I highly encourage her to work on being able to communicate her limits, boundaries, difficulties and pleasures during play. (Maybe she can do that — that’s great! — but it seems unclear, by what you wrote.) Many of us get into a basically non-verbal space when we play deeply — and that’s totally okay, there are many ways to communicate non-verbally, through hand squeezes or moans and groans or key safewords. But it’s incredibly important for you to trust that she is able to stand up and hold her own limits if something gets too intense. She could consider a course about submission like Submissive Playground (which I run) — it would be really beneficial for you, too, as there are homework experiments for each one of the units, and you could go through the materials with her, do the experiments and collect your own data.

She would also really benefit from having more submissive community in an experience like that, which would hopefully continue to help her feel less isolated and more secure and confident in her sub identity.

I have one more thing to ask, though this is more about the long-term. Even though you’re game to play with this with her, it is possible that what she wants is different than what you want, and that you won’t find places you’ll overlap. You might want to think about a back-up plan if that’s the case. Is it okay if your kinky partner gets her kink needs elsewhere? Will you resolve to being a service top, and learn some good top skills to keep her longings satisfied? Will you open your relationship? Is it a dealbreaker? You don’t have to decide all this now, but it’s worth thinking about and being realistic about.

Since you’re at the very beginning of this exploration, I trust that you WILL find lots of places of mutual interest. After all, there are thousands of ways to explore each other’s bodies and desires and cravings, and a lot of the sensations and vulnerabilities can still be fun and light and safe (or even silly — it is play). Finding out precisely where your kinks overlap? Well, that’s the fun part!


Sinclair <3 Autostraddle! If you too want to get deeper in your submission, or if you have a sub you want to play deeper with, consider joining this round of Submissive Playground. Receive a $75 discount for Autostraddlers with the discount code “straddlethis.” Sign up by September 18th!


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Sinclair Sexsmith is a feminist dominant, poet and strap-on expert who writes the award-winning sex blog Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 36 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article Sinclair, it is really informative and sensitive. I especially appreciate this:

    “…a lot of what might seem like violence are actually about sensation — sometimes intense sensation!—and a lot of what seems like humiliation is actually about vulnerability.”

    I have not come across the idea of humiliation being framed as vulnerability before and it really speaks to me – I suffer hugely with the self critical voice that says to desire being submissive and in service is weak and wrong, and your framing it in this way is a big eye opener. Is there anything else you could add on this subject perhaps? Anyway, thank you so much, and please consider writing more here on Autostraddle.

    ps I am a long, long time reader and supporter of this site but have never dared to comment, this is one of my bravest ever moments. And to do it and come out as kinky at the same time… Woah, well done me, super-hero level brave. But I just had to because I appreciate this article so deeply.

  2. Been there. Quit while you’re ahead. Seriously, it’s not worth the heartache. She’ll never change and neither will you. You can pretend, but you will probably regret it.

    • Sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you. My perspective on the issue is quite different, as in my experience while some people seem to be only interested in/satisfied by vanilla or kinky sex, others are more fluid. It may even be a matter of finding a middle ground – which in some cases is possible, in other cases not. But it sounds like the person who asked the question is keen to explore possibilities. Regardless of what any of us think though, they asked, “Any advice on how we can explore this in a way that’s safe for both of us?” They didn’t ask whether or not it was worth pursuing.

  3. As Sinclair said, you can top people in different ways. You can still be gentle, caring, and affectionate as a top – or you can even be a silly, fun top (there are clown tops out there – so many different ways to top people!). And while many people like performing dominance in very overt and/or theatrical ways, you don’t have to. Also things like bondage and sensation play can be gentle and sensual. ‘BDSM’ encompasses such an incredibly vast array of practices and styles… Have fun exploring!

  4. “I’m okay with you not wanting to do [sexual thing], but you not wanting to do [sexual thing] is hurting us”

    Heyyyy this was the anti-consensual start of the story of how I maybe can never be bound or topped again that I can only tell my counselor! 🙂

  5. i need an article for “kinky people with vanilla partners who are suffering sexually but don’t want to bring it up again because i don’t want my partner to think i’m pressuring her”

  6. OOOOOOH! My situation was the opposite of this.
    It was a big deal. She was constantly worried she wasn´t doing it for me and I was constantly holding myself back. We talked about it all a lot and bless her, she did try but there were just things she wasn´t comfortable with. And I’d have moments where I thought that I could grow to like vanilla sex but that didn´t work either.
    I loved having sex with her but we never did quiet manage to “sync up” and it was noticeable. She was open to trying a lot of things and tried to adapt to her to but at the end of the day we were just into very different thing.

  7. Semi-related question: So what do I do if I’m the kinkier partner and I’m seeing a girl who’s game to give things a try, but is drawn to sub-ing?
    I like the idea of it. For me, it’s more about control (actual or the illusion of), than dom vs. sub roles. But having dated only girls who have been strictly dominant, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
    With plenty of kink experience under my belt (I had to jump on that pun), I’m suddenly nervous like a teenager about this.

  8. I knew my husband was into BDSM before we started dating. We really love each other. However, he says he is a dom that is into power play, and he wants to dominate his sub without having to over power them physically, and he likes humiliation. Since we started dating and after we began having sex, I have satisfied his need by telling him ‘sexy stories’ while he jerks off to them. He doesn’t want to have physical sex because he says that it is boring, takes up too much time, or complains that it doesn’t last long enough for him, he basically wants me to tell a story while we physically have sex. I can’t get on my knees due to previous injuries and I don’t like to give oral raw (I always use a flavored condom), and I don’t do anal, he says that those limits are too much for him and that he wants to ‘play’ with full freedom, knowing that he can do anything he wants. I have to ask him to spank me or to whip me and then he treats it like a chore when its suppose to be his kink and I, sometimes, enjoy it. Lately, I have been avoiding going to bed because he will expect another ‘sexy story’, however he has been saying that he wants something new though I have covered, in great detail, many different forms of bdsm in our stories, such as race play and what not. I actually find that I prefer to be a dom myself occasionally switching to a sub and that I prefer more classy types of bdsm such as the elegant tying and whatnot, however I don’t know what to do anymore for him. He gets very depressed if I go more than a day or two with giving him a sexy story. What can I do?

  9. I am lost and looking fo a real friend to speak with ( Male) , who may be dealing with similar issues. My wife and I have lived as Dom and slave forapx 15 years, with me topping fro the bottom. Now clearly making her be someone she is not out of pressure , that to not do so would end the relationship . The end result is she has decided that she can not continue. She has found religion and inner strength and while I love her dearly aim stuuglng with a loss of trust some things she has said in the past, that made me feel amazing .

    I could write a book to go over it all , but I do not seek to lay blame. It has indeed caused me to look inward and ask why do I seek this lifestyle, and not look for love and connection. I am not interested in bashing her, I am only looking for someone to help me on my journey through sharing thoughts and feelings with the goal of becoming a more balanced person in the end .

    I love my wife dearly , but have never struggled as Ian now , we have little money. Do I can not afford counciling at close to 100 dollars an hour , besides it is only I thank can change my mindset and I feel that can be done by sharing with the right person. I ask any man, that would like to share their stuuglng with a kind and understanding person to email me at matlockpaul@hotmail.com . Sorry do not know w here else to turn?

    If someone knows a beer place for this post please let me know , thank you

  10. I am lost and looking fo a real friend to speak with ( Male) , who may be dealing with similar issues. My wife and I have lived as Dom and slave for app 15 years, with me topping fro the bottom. Now clearly making her be someone she is not out of pressure, and that to not do so would end the relationship . The end result is she has decided that she can not continue. She has found religion and inner strength and while I love her dearly I am struggling with a loss of trust some things she has said in the past, that made me feel amazing, and missing the connection that clearly only I felt.

    I could write a book to go over it all , but I do not seek to lay blame. It has indeed caused me to look inward and ask why do I seek this lifestyle, and not look for love and connection. I am not interested in bashing her, I am only looking for someone to help me on my journey through sharing thoughts and feelings with the goal of becoming a more balanced person in the end .

    I love my wife dearly , but have never struggled as I am now , we have little money. I can not afford counciling at close to 100 dollars an hour , besides it is only I that can change my mindset and I feel that can be done by sharing with the right person. I ask any man, that would like to share their struggling with a kind and understanding person to email me at matlockpaul@hotmail.com . Sorry do not know where else to turn?

    If someone knows a better place for this post please let me know , thank you

  11. Hello firefae,

    New here everyone, very sorry about the double post ! Now to your issue, the sad truth is you are darling with addiction! This sexual practice and idea has been planted when he was young and most likely formed his sexual fantasizes as he was sexually maturing mentally and physically and jerking off to it all.

    We could go on about how to deal with it ,but I think sometime the very real answer is to use it to your advantage, as they say often it is easier to swim with the current than agains it ! I would recommend a book called ” Cupid’s poisoned arrow, it will explain in detail how this happened and why, it will give you constructive thoughts on how to deal with it .

    My thoughts at this point would be for you to get into his head and use what you know to mold him in a direction that is better for you, and hm in the end. Perhaps stories that speak of dominant females and submissive men, thus setting the the tone for your to take charge ove time. This may sound silly but it will work amazing overtime if done right . Please pick up the book!

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