When 23-year-old Sacramento-based music teacher and TikTok creator Phrygian Monk was in high school, they started learning about kinks and fetishes online. Having grown up “deeply religious,” the world of non-normative sexuality captivated them — and as their research deepened on things like rope bondage and impact play, so did a longing to explore these practices IRL. So, when they turned 18, they joined their local kink community in their hometown of Sonora, California, and their real introduction to kink and fetish culture began.
But like any kink newbie, the more they discovered, the more they realized how overwhelming it can be. It was like trying to learn a new language — one that’s considered by most “vanilla” people (aka non-kinky folks) to be off-limits, shameful, and maybe even dangerous. When they were first starting out, there were so many questions that needed answers: Where in their community could they safely explore their interests? Where were the other Black, queer kinksters out there? And what was the difference between a kink versus a fetish, anyway?
To help demystify kink for newbies, Monk, who asked to use their kink name for safety reasons, decided to “carve out a space” on #KinkTok, the quasi-underworld of TikTok with 11.9 billion views where kinky folks flock to share laughs, opinions, and advice. There, Monk breaks down topics ranging from the crossover between swinging and kink to the dangers of nonconsensual fetishization in an approachable and conversational way.
For anyone starting to explore their sexuality, the fluidity of kink and fetish language can make the initial learning stages seem daunting. Still, there are some basics to know, starting with the difference between kinks and fetishes and the need for negotiation and consent.
How Do You Know If You Have A Kink Vs. A Fetish?
Most kinksters will say everyone has their own definition of “kink.” But, as New York-based founder of sex toy shop and education platform Delicto.com and fellow KinkToker Sarah Riccio tells Elite Daily, kinkiness broadly refers to being aroused by something that’s not in the “sexual norm” (a concept that’s subjective in its own right). “The term ‘kink’ is literally supposed to mean a bend in someone’s sexuality,” Riccio says.
If kink is the overarching umbrella term, fetish tends to be more specific. “A fetish is a fixation on an object,” says Sunny Megatron, KinkToker, educator, and founder of Zipper Magazine. “Most people have kinks, but not everybody has a fetish.”
Riccio says that while “kink” and “fetish” are often used interchangeably, many people see them as having one very crucial distinction: A kink is a want, whereas a fetish is more of a need. “Kinks supercharge your arousal,” she says, but they’re usually not deal-breakers. For many people with fetishes, however, their fetish must be incorporated into sex in order to reach orgasm.
What Are Some Different Kinds Of Kinks & Fetishes?
From leather to rope play, flogging to feet, exhibitionism to watersports (piss play), kinks and fetishes take a lot of different shapes. Monk, for one, is a member of the Queer Leather Association of Sacramento; some of their personal fetishes include leather, cigars, and boots.
Rachel Oristano, D.S.C.M., 35, a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine in Philadelphia, is a recreational kinkster who practices shibari, a type of rope bondage that originated in Japan. “A series of fortunate events and connections led me to my first shibari teacher,” she tells Elite Daily, “and I’ve been hooked ever since. Tying rope is like moving meditation for me.”
New England-based kink educator and enthusiast DawnSparkles identifies as a rope bottom (someone who gets tied up), sub, and masochist. “A lot of my kinks are not sexual,” DawnSparkles says, meaning her kinks often aren’t tied to sexual intercourse of any kind. “My kinks are very relaxing, and they get me in the mood for sexual gratification. But they often don’t bring me sexual gratification.”
Kim Pham, 30, founder of Asian food brand Omsom and KinkTok star known as Kim of the Internet, identifies as a lifestyle “mommy Domme,” or a person who dominates partners with maternal nurturing and discipline. And MJ Fox, 30, based in London, frequents sex parties as the communications and social media manager for Crossbreed, a curator of queer fetish parties. Finding her kinky community has allowed her to explore and understand her bisexuality like she had “never really done before.”
These [kinks] are not bad things. They are different from the norm, but that does not make them bad.
Is Having Kinks Weird?
Though many kinks and fetishes are still viewed by society as scandalous at best and morally corrupt at worst, they are entirely natural and way more common than you might think.
In fact, “most people have a kink,” says Megatron, who hosts American Sex Podcast. Are you drawn to partners who play guitar? Do muscular forearms make you swoon? How about getting turned on by eye contact during sex or by a particular scent? Yup, you’ve got a kink.
Pham agrees that kinks are for everyone. “I want folks to perceive themselves as kinky even if they like ‘lighter stuff,’” she says.
And as for anything “heavier” — or things we traditionally associate with kinkiness, like sadism or bondage — that’s pretty common, too. At least when it comes to fantasies. In 2018, sex researcher Justin J. Lehmiller published statistics about sexual fantasy and desire in the United States that found 93% of men and 96% of women had at least fantasized about something related to BDSM at some point in their life.
Of course, fewer people are actually acting out those fantasies. But as long as there’s consent between all parties and no one is in actual danger, Riccio says nothing is off-limits or too taboo to explore. Her rule is consistent with a lot of folks in the community: “As long as what’s happening is between safe, sane, consenting adults and no one’s getting hurt, I don’t think it’s OK to pass judgment just because it’s something you wouldn’t do,” she says.
Self-acceptance is a challenge for so many kinksters, and it’s something Monk wishes they’d had when they were starting off. “This is something that’s taboo,” they say. “It’s not conventionally talked about. There’s so much value in coming to terms with how these [kinks] are not bad things. They are different from the norm, but that does not make them bad.”
Megatron says that vanilla folks tend to “pathologize” kinky folks — especially those who are into BDSM or have more extreme fetishes or fantasies — assuming that their kinkiness must stem from unresolved trauma. “Nothing is wrong with you, and there’s nothing wrong with having fetishes or fantasies,” she says. “Some people carry trauma! Other people don’t. One or the other doesn’t make you deficient.”
How To Safely Explore Your Kinks
Before practicing kinks and fetishes with partners, Pham emphasizes that there’s a lot of solo introspection to do first. “Safe kink is truly rooted in communication with others and yourself,” she says.
For DawnSparkles, that has meant going to therapy to better understand her own desires. “A lot of this stuff is emotional,” she says about kinks and fetishes, and she feels it’s important to have the professional help of someone who could “break those conversations down” so she could engage in kink safely.
And while kinks and fetishes are not necessarily the result of trauma, as with any community, some kinky people do have trauma backgrounds. For them, acting out their kinks and fetishes can actually be “incredibly transformative and therapeutic,” Megatron says — even though she emphasizes it’s not a replacement for therapy.
As much as kink is highly personal, it’s also a community-oriented practice. Once you feel stable enough as an individual — having done the required internal work — the best way to explore a kink or fetish for the first time is to find your people, whether online or in person. Lots of new kinksters like to explore virtual communities on FetLife and Reddit or peruse the annals of KinkTok before diving into IRL experiences as a way to learn more about their niche desires. Some also turn to dating apps like Feeld, where users can set preferences for relationship styles and kinks to connect folks with similar interests.
For people of color and queer, gender diverse, fat, or disabled people — or anyone who isn’t represented in the depictions of kink and fetish seen in the likes of Fifty Shades — there are often additional safety concerns and anxiety around nonconsensual fetishization. “The kink scene is so overwhelmingly white,” DawnSparkles says. “People engage with me like a porn stereotype rather than a person. It’s hard to find a partner who is not looking to just f*ck a Black person and that’s it.”
DawnSparkles has had to disengage from certain communities and construct her own safe spaces. As an educator, some of her courses provide anti-racist perspectives on kink and fetish. And while creators like herself and Monk have built platforms that aim to be inclusive, she acknowledges that not everyone has the resources or skills to build the community they want. For those folks, she says, it’s important to know that there are people in the kink world who care. “Look for the people who are putting in the effort to actually take care of your community,” she says.
How To Navigate Consent & Negotiation
No matter how much research you’ve done, when you first begin to play around with your kinks, you might feel a little lost. And that’s OK. “It’s not shameful to go into something and have no idea of what you’re doing,” Riccio says.
Still, safety is the No. 1 thing to keep in mind. Riccio says it’s up to you and your partners to figure out how to make yours a safe, consensual experience — no matter the context. “Prioritize your safety and well-being if you’re on your own or with partners,” she says. “Consent [should be] established at the beginning, middle, and end, and it’s such a huge part of exploring kinks and fetishes.”
Particularly when it comes to submission, Riccio says a lot of inexperienced people assume that submissives don’t need to consent — that it’s their job to surrender all power and control. “That! Is not! True!” she emphasizes. Dommes should be doing things that their sub will love and enjoy, Riccio adds. “All parties should be doing it because it’s pleasurable for everyone involved. Everything must be consented to; otherwise, it’s abuse.”
Exploring Your Kink Is A Process
Monk says kink educators and enthusiasts generally understand (and love) that fluidity is a “hallmark” of kink and fetish lifestyles — but that sometimes, when you’re new, it’s difficult to know where to start.
“A big part of any alternative lifestyle is individuality,” Monk says. “I don’t kink the same as you would kink or even my partner. We kink together, but how we relate to things is individually different.”
In other words, as Megatron says, “kink is customizable.” As much as newbies may be tempted to look to others to show them how to do it “right,” a lot of the process of understanding your own kinks and fetishes has to come from within.
Coming to know your kinks and fetishes is an exciting process, even if it’s a little overwhelming at first. There’s a space for you to kink however you want to kink — whether it’s in the throes of a raging sex party, in the comments of your favorite KinkToks, or in the comfort of your own bed.
Phrygian Monk, TikTok creator
Rachel Oristano, D.S.C.M., licensed acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine in Philadelphia
DawnSparkles, kink educator
MJ Fox, communications and social media manager for Crossbreed