Just three years ago, Rihanna graced the airwaves with her delightfully catchy hit "S&M," which was followed shortly by the publication of bestseller 50 Shades of Grey. Yet, despite the popularity of these racy titles, little is understood about kink. Though we're all dirty sexual creatures deep down, many of us are apprehensive about exploring the more unconventional facets of sexual expression and few of us understand how to integrate these parts of our sexuality into our relationships. Enter Cassie Fuller and Touch of Flavor, an organization that holds kink workshops and organizes kink events.
We caught up recently with Fuller, who enlightened us about the world of kink sex-ed, answered some FAQs (like the difference between leather and BDSM) and shared some tips and pointers for the kink-curious.
What's the difference between leather, kink and BDSM?
Kink and BDSM are really the same thing. I like kink personally because it doesn't carry the same negative connotations. BDSM makes people think of dungeons! Kink can really be anything. It can be eating chocolate off your partner, hair pulling, spanking—not necessarily flogging. Some people really enjoy massaging and neck nibbling—and that's all kink. Leather has a kink side to it, though there's tradition behind it. It's a lifestyle. People live leather, but do kink. There's more protocol there.
Is there a proper kink etiquette? And what are some general tips and suggestions for those just starting to play in this world?
Generally, when in Rome, do as the Romans. Though there are different rules for various events. As for basic rules:
- Don't touch anything unless you ask first. That includes people, belongings, toys, etc. Never assume anything. Consent is very important. I've said this a lot: our culture has gotten things backwards. We teach girls that Prince Charming is just going to come and kiss them, but even he should ask permission!
- Respect a person's limits. Don't negotiate. For example: if a woman says "don't pull my hair," don't ask, "okay, well, can I touch it?" I personally hate it when people touch my nose.
- If you're in a relationship, check in. Talk to your partner and see if it's working. We get into relationships where we do the same thing over and over again, but sometimes our partner isn't happy. It's important to know that someone is listening. But different relationships require different rules. These just are basic guidelines. Some people just do it [kink] only on the weekend—others live it. Something like a master/slave relationship would require more discussion.
- Establish safe words. These are really important because communication can be lost in the heat of the moment. Easy ones: green = go, yellow = slow down, red = stop. They are universal—and easier to say than "pineapple!"
Do you find that people often need guidance when starting to explore kink?
I think a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions. Many people have read 50 Shades of Grey and have ideas of what things they do and don't look like. Kink-ing responsibly is important. Take the time to figure out what you and your partner really want. We are not born good communicators. There's more than "yes, I like this." Instead, it's "how I feel about this is …" There are books and good material out there that can help guide, but there's also fake material. It's important to know good information from bad information, so you can do things safely. This is all meant to be fun!
How does it feel to be a woman in kink? How did you get involved in Touch of Flavor?
I'm actually the founder of Touch of Flavor. I got involved with kink over 10 years ago. I thought it was important to get this information out there. I saw TV shows out there incorporating kink and wanted to educate others. People look at kink in a broad way: I'm a "top" and "dominant." Others just like to engage in kinky play.
There's a few interesting things about being a woman in this field. A lot of men think it's odd to be a dominant top woman. A "bottom" receives. A "dominant" is in a power exchange relationship. The "submissive" is the opposite. It's taboo for a woman to be dominant and in control. The media feeds ideas about women being submissive. It's usually assumed that I'm submissive. I have different challenges than a man when it comes to this world. Submissive men don't experience quite the same challenges. It's less taboo for men to want to be submissive—most of the people who want to be submissive tend to be strong willed. They have control, and they want to give up their sexual side to someone else.
Who attends your conferences and workshops?
We get a lot of couples—lots of monogamous couples who have been together for years who are looking for something to add to their lives. We also get a lot of LGBTQ folks too. At our last event, our ages ranged from 18 to 72, but most members are between 30 and 45. The 72-year-old woman asked us if she was "too old" to make it, and celebrated her 72nd birthday with us. The one uniting factor is that these people are open minded.
Do you think kink is something everyone should try at least once?
I think that everyone already has tried kink at least once. Most people have tried a little role play, food play (chocolate licking), fuzzy cuffs or even holding down your partner while making love. We try to convince ourselves that what we're doing is not that stuff. As long as you're interested in trying something, you should do it—I would never tell anyone to try something if they weren't interested. Look at what you've done and enjoyed and see if you can explore it more.
Where should the kink-curious start?
Sit down and think about what you like and don't like. Make a personal checklist. Talk to your partner and have him or her do the same. Compare notes. See what you can explore together. You can also attend an event like Touch of Flavor and you can do research online, but make sure it's credible. But the best education is interactive. There's nothing like feedback. Try to make it to a few educational events and try to network while you're there. There's a lot to be said about cooperative learning. Continue to be a student, forever. For women: always remember that whether you're submissive/dominant or bottom/top, you are empowered and have the right to do what you want with your body. People think if submission it's anti-feminist. It's not. Every woman has the right to do what she wants with her body.