by Carrie Jameson, LCPC
So, your best friend tells you they are kinky and/or they practice BDSM (Bondage and Discipline [BD], Dominance and Submission [Ds], Sadism and Masochism [SM]). Whether it is your best friend, a sibling, parent, or child, you may want to be an ally, but simply don’t know what to do or say.
Before you go further, it might be helpful for you to try the following thought exercise.
Think back in your life to something that was special or precious. Remember how you felt. You may have wanted to tell someone close or trusted about this precious thing, experience or person, but maybe you were nervous too. Ask yourself the following questions and make a note of your answers:
- What did you feel in anticipation of telling them?
- What kinds of thoughts did you have before you told that person?
- How did you prepare for the conversation?
- What were your concerns? What was at risk for you?
- How did you hope that person would react?
- How did they react and respond?
- What did you feel afterward?
In the exercise above, you might have felt concerned, anxious, afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed about what you had to say. In the same way, it is often difficult for people to disclose their interest in kink or BDSM to friends, family, and loved ones. They may have many concerns and fears about how you will react and worries about how this new information will impact your relationship. In your role as a confidant, your response to your friend or loved one may add to feelings of fear and shame or may help to alleviate them. In part, it’s up to you.
Remember, it very likely took a lot of thought and courage for your friend or loved one to come out to you. It is still uncommon for our society to talk about sexual topics openly. BDSM is often judged and labeled as “not normal” or “wrong” by mainstream culture. Your friend or loved one is sharing a part of their life that is likely very important to them—how will you respond?
For some people, BDSM or being “kinky” is an identity. For some, it is an orientation. And, for others, it is both orientation and identity. Still others may consider it more of a leisure activity or serious interest (in academic research, also referred to as serious leisure) but not necessarily an orientation. People may practice BDSM for fun, as a spiritual practice, to explore relationship dynamics, as an aspect of their sexuality, and for many other reasons. For many, it is a deep and profound experience. The person disclosing to you likely has their own way of thinking about kink or BDSM and how it fits for them, their interests, lifestyle, and identity.
HOW TO BE AN ALLY
Here are some suggestions for providing support and responding to a loved one, if they share their kink or BDSM interests with you:
- Be curious. Ask questions if you want to understand something. You may even want to ask your friend or family member what it was like to disclose this information to you and how you can support them.
- Trust that your friend or family member knows what they are doing, from a psychological and physical safety perspective. If you have concerns about their safety or well-being, you can share your concerns—but ask first to determine whether they are open to discussing them with you.
- Don’t assume you know what BDSM or kink is for your friend or loved one. BDSM and kink are broad umbrellas terms that encompass many different practices and activities. Many people have interests in some but not all of these. It is especially risky to base your opinions, reactions, or impressions on popular media or pornography (books or movies like 50 Shades of Grey or Secretary, for example). Instead, ask your friend or loved one how you can learn more.
- It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Honor your feelings (and recognize that your friend or loved one may have different feelings). Go slowly in conversation if that helps; or talk a bit and then agree to return to the conversation at a later date, if that feels right. Set limits on the type or extent of detail you want to hear about someone’s kink or BDSM activities. Be direct and state your preferences—for example: “I would like to know about the club you attend but please don’t share graphic details of scenes with me just yet.”
- Don’t assume an interest in BDSM or kink is related to past trauma or any psychological dysfunction. In fact, studies have shown that people who participate in BDSM show lower levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other psychological concerns.
- Resist blaming kink or BDSM for other issues. Don’t assume your friend’s relationship challenges or psychological difficulties are automatically related to their kink practices.
- Honor the trust shown to you. Remember this person trusted you with a confidence. Don’t out them (i.e., disclose this information) to others without their consent. They may have told you, but may not want their participation in BDSM more broadly known.
- If you want more information, you can also do some research on kink and BDSM. Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s When Someone you Love is Kinky may be a good place to start. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) website also provides a variety of articles and resources. You may want to ask your friend or loved one about other resources they would recommend.
Read more of Carrie’s posts here.