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Exploring Kink with Your Partner: A Beginner's Guide

October is a month of fun fall festivities, but did you know it is also National Kink Month? Many people see kinks as a taboo subject, but they are surprisingly popular in adult sex life. In one survey, nearly 50% of respondents expressed interest in kink, even if they hadn’t had the chance to explore it. And one out of five adults (20%) regularly engage in role-playing and/or bondage and spanking. 

Sexual kinks are nothing new; they were prevalent in many ancient societies throughout the past 2,000 years. One of the most well-known historical sources about sexual practice is the Kama Sutra, which originated between 400 BCE–200 CE. The text is most known for its variety of sexual positions, but it also includes sexual games to play with partners, such as the “love game.” The love game involves a partner dedicating all their actions towards the other partner’s pleasure. You may be surprised to learn that the Kama Sutra also explores bondage, spanking, and rules of conduct within threesome relationships.

One of the most ancient kinks in historical Europe was striptease or seductive dancing. In 19th century France, striptease or ‘public luring dance’ was popularized. Kink was also prevalent in ancient Greece and Rome, in which voyeurism, flogging, and group sex were popular sexual practices in these cultures.

Let’s break down exactly what kink is and how you may want to incorporate it into your relationship in the spirit of National Kink Month.

What Is Kink?

Kink doesn’t necessarily have a clear and cut definition, but what we do know is that it refers to any unconventional sexual act. Unconventional sex can mean different things to different people, but in this case, unconventional refers to anything outside of the mainstream conception of ‘typical vanilla sex’.

Vanilla sex typically includes vaginal penetration, loving touch, kissing, romantic talk, masturbation, and oral sex. Whereas kink is more of an umbrella term for many different types of unconventional sex practices. Kink is “An intimate experience, an exchange of power between people that can be physical, erotic, sexual, psychological, spiritual, or, most often, some combination,” according to sex educator Tristan Taormino, a recent guest on the Dear Sex podcast. Now that we know what kink is, let’s explore the different types of kink. The most common categories that fall under the kink umbrella include:


This is probably the most common thing people think of when they hear the word kink. This four-letter acronym actually stands for six different things: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism. BDSM is a category of its own that includes a large range of activities and extremes, such as spanking, bondage, dominant-submissive role play, and choking.


Kink and fetish are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. A fetish is the sexualization of something (such as an object or body part) that is typically non-sexual and treated as an object of fixation. Common examples of fetishes include sexual interest in feet and shoes, body hair, leather or rubber, and underwear.

Role Play & Fantasy

This sexual kink is one of the most common kinks and includes acting out an imagined scenario with a partner. This can range from simply talking about a fantasy to actually acting one out in costume. Common fantasies or role play include: having sex with an authority figure or a stranger; a boss and employee fantasy; doctor and nurse; and other variations of dominant and submissive roles. There really is no limit to this category other than your imagination!

Group Sex

This category of kink involves sexual acts that include more than two people. Group sex can involve threesomes, sex parties, orgies, and more. This kink is fairly popular among adults; an estimated 10% of women and 18% of men have engaged in group sex.

Voyeurism & Exhibitionism

Voyeur fantasies often include watching someone undress or engage in sexual acts without their knowledge. Exhibitionism typically involves the desire to have sex in a public place or where strangers can catch you in the act. These kinks may be more common than you think, as over a third (35%) of adults in a study were found to have an interest in voyeurism.

How to Explore Kink Safely with a Partner

Getting into kink can feel intimidating and a little scary if you've never done it before. It requires vulnerability to open up about something that turns us on, especially when that turn-on is unconventional or out of the box. Here are our best tips on trying kink safely with a partner.

1. Educate Yourself on All Things Kink

If you are a beginner in exploring kink, it may be good to get information from sex experts. Learning more about kink may help you feel more prepared and less intimidated. If you are interested in exploring kink with your partner, you may even want to suggest reading and learning about kink together. Author and friend of Good Clean Love Tristan Taormino wrote The Ultimate Guide to Kink, a fabulous introduction the topic.

We also suggest digging into whatever interests you on Reddit threads, kink and BDSM educational blogs, or even sex-positive Instagram and TikTok educators. Learning about the kinds of kink you want to try with a partner is a great way to begin an open discussion.

2. Have an Open Discussion

Whether both you and your partner are interested in kink, or you are independently suggesting it, it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your partner about exploring kink together. Learning about kink with a partner is a great way to facilitate open discussion and explore what you both may be interested in trying.

Creating an honest and non-judgmental space with your partner is very important when it comes to discussing kink. You may be surprised at what your partner is interested in and vice versa! Take steps to ensure both of you are comfortable with being open and honest about your desires and what kinks you may be interested in.

3. Negotiate Your Limits Before Engaging in Kink

This is a crucial step to engaging in kink with a partner. Make sure that both of you know what you are and aren’t okay with, and make your boundaries as clear as possible. Making a list of things you are not interested in and sharing with a partner is one way of negotiating your limits. Do your best not to make assumptions about each other’s needs or desires. Clear communication is key!

4. Choose a “Safe Word”

Establishing a safe word creates a clear and quick way to communicate ‘No’ to each other during the act. This word serves as a signal to the other partner that you want to end the current kink play you are engaging in. You may also not know exactly what you like and don’t like, especially if you are a beginner to kink. Therefore, setting a safe word can help you clearly communicate that something is not okay when trying new things.

5. Remember Kink is About Mutual Pleasure

When exploring kink with a partner, it’s important to remember that kink is about mutual pleasure. All parties involved should enjoy the kink being practiced, whether they are on the receiving end or not. This is why negotiating limits and having an open discussion about kink with your partner(s) is crucial!

Want to learn more about exploring kink? Check out these Dear Sex podcast episodes: