Sharing the most intimate details of your sex life is still largely taboo. But if you can’t talk about it with your closest friends, is bringing it up in the bedroom going to be that much easier?

If it weren’t for mainstream erotica and softcore pornography (hello, “Fifty Shades of Grey”), you might not have known much about experimenting with boundaries in the bedroom. And if it wasn’t for anonymous studies, we might not know just how many Americans have tried — and liked — spanking and tying each other up.

The truth is that at least some of your friends have probably tried it — and one out of five make it part of their regular play in the bedroom. According to the , more than 22 percent of sexually active adults engage in role-playing, while more than 20 percent have engaged in being tied up and spanking.

Perhaps more surprising? Another found that , even if they hadn’t had the opportunity to explore it. And there’s growing research that getting adventurous in the bedroom could have multiple benefits, both for your health and your relationship.

While the word kink doesn’t have a medical or technical definition, it’s generally any sexual practice that falls out of convention — commonly considered acts such as loving touch, romantic talk, kissing, vaginal penetration, masturbation, and oral sex. “Kink” itself refers to anything that bends away from the “straight and narrow,” though there are a few categories that commonly fall under the kinky sex umbrella:

  • BDSM. When most people think of kinky sex, they think of BDSM, a four-letter acronym that stands for six different things: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism. BDSM includes an extremely wide range of activities, from light paddle spanking and dominant/submissive role-playing to bondage parties and pain play.
  • Fantasy and role-playing. One of the most common forms of kinky sex involves creating imagined scenarios. This could be as simple as talking about a fantasy in bed, to as complex as wearing costumes or acting out scenes in front of strangers.
  • Fetishes. are interested in fetish play, defined as treating a nonsexual object or body part sexually. Common fetishes include the feet and shoes, leather or rubber, and diaper play (yes).
  • Voyeurism or exhibitionism. Watching someone undress or watching a couple have sex without their knowledge are common voyeur fantasies, while having sex in a public place is one form of exhibitionism. Both are surprisingly common (and kinky) — of adults surveyed were interested in voyeurism.
  • Group sex. Threesomes, sex parties, orgies, and more — group sex is any act that involves more than two people. and 18 percent of men have participated in group sex, while even higher percentages voiced interest in the idea.

Hear the science out first: Kinky sex could help you feel better and be more mentally healthy. A found that both dominant and submissive practitioners of BDSM were:

  • less neurotic
  • more extroverted
  • more open to new experiences
  • more conscientious
  • less rejection-sensitive

They also had higher subjective well-being compared to the control group. This could mean two things: That people with these traits are attracted to kinky sex, or that kinky sex can help you grow and gain confidence. But the latter is very probable, especially as we research more about the effects of kinky sex.

For example, found that couples that engaged in positive, consensual sadomasochistic (SM) activity had lower levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol, and also reported greater feelings of relationship closeness and intimacy after their sexual play.

And a of a handful of “switches” (people who take on the opposite role they’re used to, such as a dom who becomes a sub) found that consensual BDSM can reduce anxiety by bringing the mind to an altered “flow” state of consciousness. This is similar to the feeling some get when they experience a “runner’s high,” engage in creating art, or practice yoga.

It’s no surprise that since we don’t talk about kinky sex, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around. Let’s clear the air on a few common kink stereotypes.

Women are interested in kink, too

While specific types of kinky sex often appeal more to one sex than the other — for example, more men are interested in foot fetish play, while more women are interested in experiencing pain as part of sex — both men and women want to explore kink about equally.

You’re not “crazy” to try BDSM

In mainstream media, BDSM is often associated with abuse and violence. Some practitioners have even because of their kinks. But studies show that the average person who engages in consensual kink has .

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment

The image of a leather-clad dominatrix wielding a matching whip might jump to mind when you think of kinky sex. But really, all you need is an imagination and a partner who’s game.

If you enjoy certain fetishes or want to explore the world more thoroughly, there are definitely stores for that. But trying kink isn’t nearly as equipment-heavy as, say, playing in your local recreational hockey league. You don’t even need blindfolds or handcuffs if you want to get playful with sensory deprivation or restraints — a tie or pillowcase can work in both cases.

Even though kinky sex has a lot of benefits, and even though it can be whatever you and your partner want it to be, there are still a few things you should keep in mind so that your explorations are fun, safe, and positive.

Everything begins with consent

Informed consent isn’t just something that happens before you’re with a new partner, it’s something that should happen before any sex act, especially if you’re trying out something kinky for the first time. Communication is so important to healthy sexual relationships, but vital when you’re exploring dominant/submissive roles or potentially causing pain.

Safe words are no joke

Part of your fantasy might involve restraints or resistance — which is more common than you might think among women. To make sure you can say no in your fantasy world, but still have a way to clearly say no to your partner, use a safe word you agree upon before you get kinky. The default phrases you can use are red light (stop) and green light (keep going).

Think about (and talk about) your “hard limits”

Everyone has different limits and boundaries. While being open to new bedroom activities is great, being open about what you don’t want to explore (as in never, ever) is equally important. Discuss these “hard limits” with your partner openly — there’s no reason to be coy.

Make sure pain is pleasurable — and without health consequences

A big part of kinky sex is mixing pain and pleasure. While many couples draw the line at light spanking or slapping, those who explore other avenues — such as breast and genital pain — should educate themselves so that they don’t do serious or long-term damage to tissue or nerves.

Aftercare is just as important

Even when engaging in non-kinky sex, women can experience “,” which includes symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, or motiveless crying. Countering this with aftercare, which incorporates emotional intimacy and communication, is important, especially for BDSM.

So don’t just go to bed after intense sex. Check in with your partner and make sure they’re okay with what just went down.

Kink can look very different to different couples, and that’s totally okay. Exploring kink doesn’t have to begin with buying a leather body suit and a whip. It can be as simple as seeing what happens when you break from your regular bedroom routine and enter a new world of sex.

The core tenets of successful kinky sex are similar to those of any strong, long-term relationship:

  • communication
  • trust
  • understanding
  • patience

And now that you know it’s science-approved, don’t let socially-constructed taboos get in the way of your pleasure. Go forth and get naughty.


Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, and Reductress. You can reach out to her on .