Alternative Sex Behaviours
What are alternative sex behaviours?
While alternative forms of sexual expression have existed throughout history, today’s information technology has allowed people to have an increased awareness of these non-traditional sexual practices. This awareness has been accompanied by a gradual increase in societal acceptance, and an increase in the expression of once taboo practices, including BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism), power exchange (an agreement that one person will lead and the other will follow), polyamorous and swinging/open relationships, and kink.
As these alternative sexual behaviours often lie outside the “traditional sexual sandbox” in which most people have “learned to play”, those who choose to explore and develop these alternative forms of sexuality often find themselves inadequately informed and unprepared to successfully navigate the ideas and issues associated with these unconventional sexual arenas.
BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, and Masochism)
BDSM has been recently popularized by the “50 Shades of Grey” franchise. Often stereotyped as involving whips and chains, BDSM is characterized by intentional and consensual differences in power and control between partners. Generally, one partner assumes a dominant role, while the other partner accepts a submissive role, though partners may also switch roles.
BDSM often involves the use of restraints, forced or controlling behaviours, and the infliction of various forms of pain and punishment for pleasure. The use of safe words by the submissive partner signals that mutually agreed-upon limits have been reached and ensures that safe consensual boundaries are not exceeded.
Polyamory involves intimate love relationships that include more than two individuals. Poly relationships are often sought out by those who feel that their mental, emotional, and physical needs are best met through relationships with a number of individuals, as opposed to one partner. Poly relationships may be structured in an infinite number of ways, and usually involve some type of power hierarchy.
These multi-partner relationships require clear communication and well outlined rules, roles, and expectations if they are to exist with minimal conflict. Poly relationships are also subject to the same issues any couple may encounter, including breakdowns in communication, jealousy, sexual issues, power/control issues, past traumas, cultural differences, and a variety of personal mental health issues. They may also be complicated by the fact that some individuals may also be involved in other external marriages/relationships.
The larger the polyamorous group, the more chances of something “going wrong” between individuals, which in turn can affect the whole poly system.
Swinging is when a long-term couple relationship expands to include other couples or individuals sexually from time to time. Because swinging tends to be centered around an ongoing committed relationship, couples tend to establish a set of agreed-upon rules regarding sexual limits, limiting emotional involvement, and restricting extra-relational sexual activity to both partners being present within a set proximity.
Swingers often encounter issues involving partner exclusion, jealousy, and non-consensual activity. “Open relationships” may refer to swinging, although it often refers to relationships where partners are free to engage in intimate activity outside of the relationship that does not include the involvement or presence of their partner.
Kink is a general term that may include a variety of non-traditional sexual behaviours, which often push the limits of societal acceptance. “Vanilla” sexual behaviour occurs at the other end of the sexual spectrum as traditional conventional sexual behaviour (heterosexual, missionary sex that excludes fetishes and other alternative sex practices). This is the type of sex that is accepted by societal norms and constructs.
Kink is often applied to any atypical form of sexual expression, including various types of fetishes and paraphilias. Once considered to be a “perversion” (an abnormal sexual practice), research into human sexuality and psychological functioning is demonstrating that when atypical kink behaviours are safe, consensual, and allow ongoing biological, psychological, and social functioning, they may play a healthy and exciting role in individual sexuality.
In fact, the entire notion of what is “traditional” or “conventional” sexual behaviors is debatable, since this group may not be as large as previously thought. Secrecy and societal shaming have kept this “majority” group in the shadows for many years.
Issues related to alternative sex behaviours
There can be some challenges with trying out or adopting some of these alternative sex behaviours or lifestyles. They can include:
- Power/control issues
- Self-esteem/self-worth issues
- High risk behaviour
- Trauma (past and present; emotional, sexual, or physical)
- Trust issues
- Communication issues
- Relationship rupture/rift; cheating
- Structural hierarchy, needs and expectations issues (example, “wanting more”)
- Maintaining and improving atypical relationships
- Dysfunctional kink behaviours
When is it time to get help?
Getting started – If you and/or your partner are interested in trying out an alternative sex practice, it’s important to lay the groundwork first to give yourselves the opportunity to be successful in your exploration. This may include check-ins along the way as you’re learning more about the practice, your relationship, and yourselves. If one of you is interested in experimenting but the other isn’t, this can be challenging for your relationship – it’s best to talk about that and find a way to have both of your needs met in a respectful manner.
Once you’re in it – issues can really surface that you weren’t expecting or didn’t think would be an issue until you tried it (feeling jealous, for example). You may need support to work through these issues in order to carry on with experimenting or adopting your new practices, or possibly to work on your relationship.
Treatment methods for dealing with issues resulting from alternative sex behaviours
There is no specific treatment method for dealing with alternative sex behaviour issues. If you’re experiencing issues, then therapy may include couples counselling, treatment for low self-esteem, trauma, etc.
If you’re curious – this will mean learning more about the practice you’re interested in, discussion, and setting boundaries in which you can both agree.
What will I get out of treatment with Insight Psychological?
Insight Psychological has several certified and experienced Psychologists and AASECT sex therapists who are continually updating their knowledge through the latest research being published on atypical forms of sexual expression. Accompanying this knowledge and expertise is an open and ongoing professional relationship with local BDSM, poly, and swinging communities to stay current and informed on common issues experienced within these groups.
Insight Psychological emphasizes an open and accepting environment, in which you’ll feel comfortable discussing any non-mainstream sexual issue(s).
Insight has a team of therapists in multiple locations in Alberta who can help!