Who you callin’ Vanilla? 7 Things We Can Learn From The Sexually Adventurous.
In case you’re not familiar with the hip lingo used by ‘alternative’ lifestylers who practice kink, bdsm, or swinging, folks who practice a more adventurous sex life refer to others who practice a strictly hetero-normative sexuality as ‘vanilla.’ Vanillas tend to subscribe to socially acceptable sex with themselves and their partners. There are certainly deviations in the definition of what’s ‘vanilla’ depending on what flock you’re frequenting, but generally speaking, most ‘deviants’ feel that they have a richer pallet of eroticism to play with than their ‘vanilla’ friends.
As tribal as it is to create in-group and out-group categories, I wonder if hetero-normative is really so ‘normal’ and if sexual exploration is really so ‘deviant’? What if sex is just defined too narrowly? No matter who you are, just try to definitively define what infidelity means to you and it becomes clear that sex is not a clear thing. Moreover, identifying as “sexually adventurous” is highly subjective. For example, some heterosexual and monogamous couples think oral sex or new penetrative positions is daring while others are comfortable with prostate stimulation and mid-air suspension using rope. Furthermore it is difficult to know for sure if one is indeed ‘vanilla’ since we have very strong social pressures to remain within a narrow slice of sexual behaviors and attitudes and to refrain from speaking openly about our sex lives. I’m not saying that there aren’t people on the fringe; I’m saying the fringe includes both those who are uninterested in expanding beyond a single sexual partner and the missionary position for their whole lives, and even folks who practice a sexual ‘deviation’ compulsively, grown out of a fear and/or bent towards true exploitation as a substitute for intimacy. Those exceptions not withstanding, the bell curve for Americans rests at serial monogamy, and most judge what one does and thinks about sexually as weird and unusual. Sex itself is deemed weird and unusual, confined to locked, dark rooms, and shrouded in secrecy. We tend to pair up, and validate said coupling by shutting others out, and then move on to a new partner when it’s not working anymore (hence the serial part of serial monogamy). We also tend to cut loose every now and again when we feel entitled to be “bad” and when we have built up much resentment from perceived external control.
I think peeling back the assumptions around sexual expression can be valuable for everyone, vanilla or not. Moving beyond any title you might hold to distinguish yourself from others, contemplating how to bring yourself wholly into integrity, especially sexually, is valuable introspection. Whether you are queer, straight, in an open relationship, or strictly monogamous, contemplating your sexuality can be immensely fruitful. In the spirit of sexual curiosity, I would like to share some empowering and healthful attributes that I find common with a majority of folks practicing ‘alternative sex’. These attributes transcend the number of people or orifices that are stimulated. You will begin to notice that these qualities are not relegated to the sexual realm either, rather, by practicing them in your sexual essence you have the opportunity to bring them squarely into the realm of every day life with more ease and grace, and vice versa.
1. People who practice alternative sex are actively questioning the norm. Going against the grain makes you acutely aware of all the things you take or have taken for granted, all of the agreements, beliefs, and expectations, that you had and currently have. Asking yourself questions about sex can give you the space to see how you really feel and where to craft your own personal experiments. ‘What is ’sex’’? ‘What is the point of ‘sex’? ‘What needs of mine can I meet through erotic connection?’ ‘How can I access more of my creativity and empowerment through sexual expression?’ ‘Why is sex generally defined as ‘penis in vagina’?’ ‘How do I feel about ‘performing’?’ ‘Do I feel pressure to orgasm…and at just the right time?’ ‘How do I define erotic play?’ By trying on a different way of thinking sexually, you can shift your frame of reference more easily and be more resilient in times of confrontation with disparaging views in other aspects of life.
2. Sexually adventurous individuals understand how to play. They know how to embark on an adventure without a goal in mind. They intentionally create time alone or shared with partner(s) that is good-humored and mutual in nature while tapping into their curiosity, spontaneity, and inventiveness, without a specific outcome in mind. Without a preconceived idea of what is or isn’t sexual, what is or isn’t right or wrong; allowing the highs and lows to unfold organically, the in-the-present response to sensory stimulation and its absence. They know how to, using consent as their boundary, explore for the sake of exploring. Playfulness is also a powerful path towards authentic enjoyment of wonderment and possibility.
3. Folks that play with more than one partnership or sexual alliance, actively deepen their capacity to withstand uncertainty. Most people base their comfort in certainty. Unfortunately there is very little in life that is certain. Most folks also have beliefs about what they will or won’t like even before trying it. Sex, as we move closer to a deeper understanding of what that means for ourselves, requires a tremendous amount of positive regard for the process of moving through uncertainty. This means having a willingness to suspend your conclusions, rather than satisfy the impulse to create ‘certainty’ through judging, in favor of curiosity. Just try. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.
4. People who practice a more open sexuality tend to be aware of their hang ups and traumas. While there are two ends of the spectrum here, ‘stuck in the story’ or ‘everything is fine’, I encourage you to gently hold both in an effort to be more open to surprise. On one end folks might replay the traumatic stories of their lives thereby allowing the past to define who they are, or are not. On the other end, people may not acknowledge their wounds driving the pain deeply into their subconscious bodies. Both tendencies affect our ability to experience ourselves freshly. By accepting where you hurt and also relaxing its hold on your experience, you develop the capacity to renew yourself continuously.
5. Kinky individuals are in touch with and validate their fantasies. We have a tendency to relegate our fantasies to the shadows, not allowing ourselves to acknowledge or really speak to them. We all want to be good and right and yet ironically, by fighting against these fantasies in an effort to remain clean, you can get yourself pretty dirty. Shame and ‘numbing out’ are natural reactions when fighting against ourselves and our instincts – an essential piece of yourself manifested as an inspired sexual scenario. Denial, just like compulsion, is a potent source of fuel that you can pour on the secret inner fire of suspected unworthiness. Sexual honesty would promptly put us face to face with the most shattering and yet liberating of all realities: we would realize, in the face of our true desires and longing, that our sophisticated lives have something ridiculous and deeply hypocritical about them. Validating and bringing to light your fantasies with love, actually channels more creativity into everyday living. It also ‘puts a marble into the jar’ of trusting your worthiness to be here, fully as you are, rather than how you imagine you should be.
6. Folks who play with power dynamics and fully serving their loved ones are not afraid of porn or BDSM. Sexuality that is free to be, neither augmented or diminished beyond what one is inspired to create or experience within consent, does not typically look like the porn and BDSM found in mainstream. Our power-fixated culture has spilled into the world of sex. Most mainstream pornography / BDSM found easily online is characterized by aggressive dominance and exploitative relationship dynamics. Because of this, it is unlikely that a ‘vanilla’ will explore the exhilaration that comes from being entrusted to unconditionally guide a submissive through a sexual experience if their online porn queries return only force and power-tripping domination. In the same way, it is unlikely that a ‘vanilla’ will explore the intensely pleasurable relaxation that comes from relinquishing all the stress around decisions and thinking to their trusted dominant when all they see is weakness and victimization. One advantage to playing with power is you can discover what feels good to give and receive; what relaxes you and what creates tension and how to see the world beyond the ‘suckers and assholes’ lens.
7. People who care more about developing their sexuality than the fear of being rejected are less afraid of what they think other people think. Once you get beyond thinking that your sexuality is abnormal and uncommon, the next hurdle is that being truly and completely truthful about sexual matters can put everything at risk– marriage, reputation, job and social position – your whole social existence. Humans are social animals, and ostracism is the worst kind of torture a human can bare. That being said, radical authenticity is extremely magnetic. By deciding to fully embrace yourself, including fully exploring this infamous ‘beast’ of sexuality, you prioritize your experience of yourself from the inside out. You say fuck it to the opinions of others (or what you think they think). Dissent, born out of loving yourself too much to comply to inauthentic expression, is a healthy practice which allows you to actively design your lifestyle rather than being part of a ‘groupthink’ conundrum.