The answer to the question about whether to come out of the kink closet to your husband, wife, partner, or potential partner is extremely complex.
While many professionals tend to argue that we should be 100% honest with partners, the truth is that the decision about whether to come out is based on a multitude of factors.
I would like to begin by discussing the issue of coming out to a potential new partner, and then move on to evaluating the issues surrounding coming out to an existing partner.
Today, society is more accepting of homosexuality than it is of kink. It could be argued that it is far easier to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual than it is to come out as a person who desperately needs to be beaten. While many people accept homosexuality, most of our culture demonizes people who practice bdsm.
I recognize that this comparison between sexual orientation and bdsm is a slight detour from the question about whether to come out to a partner, but it is a relevant comparison because we are unlikely to find ourselves in a situation where we are homosexual and our date is heterosexual and neither of us is aware of the confusion. Additionally, there is a far more negative connotation associated with kink than with homosexuality.
I will present two scenarios and predict what I believe would be the likely outcome in each situation.
In both scenarios you live in a reasonably liberal city and are surrounded by open-minded friends and family.
Scenario # 1: You are gay. You are out with a group of friends and you make a pass at someone you think might be gay. You flirt and the straight person says, ‘Dude, I’m straight.’ There might be some good natured teasing among friends and then the conversation moves back to talk about the best micro-brew in town or whether the goat cheese is organic.
Scenario #2: You are kinky. You want to be tied up and beaten. You go on a few dates with someone and feel them out to see if they might be ‘open’. You haven’t directly asked them about kink because it didn’t feel appropriate on a first or second date where the conversation centered around politics and work related things. So here you are on the third date and you’re drinking a little wine and your date seems to be loosening up and the topic naturally turns to sex. You feel your way around and decide it might be safe to ask your date if s/he is kinky. They have read ’50 Shades of Moronic’ and they say, “Yeah, that can be kind of sexy.” Feeling emboldened, you say, “It’s hard for me to talk about it, but I really like to be tied up and beaten with a cane.”
I’ve spoken to countless people who have experienced scenario number two (or some nightmarish version of it) and been met with one of a few different reactions: silence followed by the date fleeing awkwardly, silence followed by hostility from the date, or sometimes a friendly and permanent departure.
When considering whether to come out of the kink closet, it is easiest to broach the subject early in a relationship, when the stakes are not as high. There are ways to carefully introduce the topic so that you can gage whether your potential partner might be open to exploring with you (or better yet, also be kinky). I have talked to lots of clients about this issue and can help you navigate this process.
But what about talking to an existing partner or spouse? Most kinky people have tried to get a feel for their partner’s level of kink acceptance: They’ll drop hints, buy fluffy handcuffs to ‘spice up the sex life’, talk about something they heard in the news about a famous person being caught on tape engaging in bdsm… and the desperate attempts to introduce kink without having a potentially damaging discussion go on and on.
It’s scary and can be dangerous to sit down at the table with your long-term partner and say, “I experience pain as pleasure and the reason I can’t maintain an erection during intercourse is because I have to incorporate bdsm into my sex life in order to feel aroused.”
What if your partner leaves you? What if they want a divorce? What if they tell everyone you know that you’re kinky? What if none of those things happen but they simply pull away emotionally and your previously unsatisfying but existent sex life dies as a result?
I’ve counseled countless people who love their partners and are happily married. They consider their partner or spouse to be their best friend, business partner, companion, co-parent, and help-mate. Unfortunately, despite the deep love they feel for their companion, they live a private sexual hell.
For most people, BDSM is not a desire, it is a need. Over time, if this need is not met, pain and frustration build. This pain is real. Pain and desperation often lead to obsession. I have seen countless clients who were so afraid to come out to their partners, and so filled with shame, that they stayed silent and resorted to doctor prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Others relied on non-prescribed illegal drugs, and alcohol to ease their suffering.
I have also had some clients who were in situations like I just described who came to terms with their need for bdsm, who were able to get their needs met with or without their partner’s involvement and who were subsequently able to get off of medications.
*I am not suggesting the discontinuation of medications without consulting your doctor*
It is clear that the stakes are high: there is misery in remaining silent and there can be misery associated with coming out to your loved ones.
The greatest factor in determining whether to talk to a loved one about your alternative sexual needs is the extent to which the lack of fulfillment of those needs causes you pain. As I said above, there are many people who suffer to such an extent that they resort to drugs and alcohol in order to cope. There are plenty of other people who are strongly drawn to bdsm but who have fulfilling sex lives and the need for bdsm is on the milder end of the continuum. For those people, the risk-benefit ratio may not be in favor of coming out. I have directed much of this blog toward people who are seriously struggling and I have done that because if you are reading a blog titled ‘How Do I Come Out To My Partner’ I
assume you are in enough pain that you are seriously considering talking to your partner. But the direction of this blog should not imply that every person who enjoys bdsm should consider coming out of the closet. It should not imply that bdsm engagement is necessary for all people who are drawn to it. Some people simply enjoy bdsm and can live with or without it.
This blog is primarily aimed at people who feel compelled to talk to their partner.
Things to consider when thinking about sharing your kink with your partner may include:
* Your partner’s attitudes about sex
* Whether your partner is open minded in general
* The quality of your relationship
* Your mutual ability to communicate and work through problems
* Whether your partner is able to see grey areas as opposed to thinking in black and white terms
* Your partner’s general willingness to learn about and incorporate new things
* Your partner’s level of investment in the relationship
With so many things to consider and so much on the line, you may gain some clarity and comfort from talking about these things with a therapist. If so, I am happy to help. If you live in Portland, please feel free to contact me for an in person consultation. If you are unable to pursue counseling in Portland, please read my ‘Distance Counseling’ page so that we can arrange online therapy.
Ronda Gallawa, M.A.