BDSM/Kink & Poly/Swing Relationships
While alternative forms of sexual expression have existed throughout history, today’s information technology has allowed an increased awareness of these non-traditional sexual practices. This awareness has been accompanied by a gradual increase in societal acceptance, and a proliferation in the expression of once taboo practices, including BDSM, Power Exchange, 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 constructs and issues associated with these unconventional sexual arenas.
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. The use of safewords 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. Polyamorous (or “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 a short-term form of polyamory, which is usually based on a long-term couple relationship which 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 sexual behaviour 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”, 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, one could debate the entire notion of what is “traditional” or “convention” sexual behaviors since this group may not be as large as previously thought. Secrecy and societal shaming has kept this “majority” group in the shadows for many years.
Frequent issues related to Alternative Sexuality are:
- 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 (e.g. “wanting more”)
- maintaining and improving atypical relationships (positive psychology)
- dysfunctional kink behaviours
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, as to stay current and informed on common issues experienced within these groups.
Insight Psychological emphasizes an open and accepting environment, in which you will feel comfortable discussing any non-mainstream sexual issue(s).