How to explain BDSM to your family without getting embarrassed

November 1 | drechyng
How to explain BDSM to your family without getting embarrassed
Buckled Leather Choker Collar from Leather Coven

I've been writing about kink online for over a decade. Sometimes, like when discussing the loving depiction of BDSM in The Addams Family, I write under my name. Other times, like when explaining how to find a BDSM partner, I wrote under my pseudonym, Sloane Adelaide. Why did I use a pseudonym for those posts? Mostly so that when prospective employers Google my name, they didn’t find a photo of me in Domme gear. But that was 2013; I was under the impression that I’d eventually want a job that would frown upon things like that. Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve realized that there’s nothing to be ashamed of as long as I keep it appropriate for the audience and circumstance.

Now I don’t mind writing academically or casually about kink and attaching my name to it. I've done a lot of research, I have a lot of knowledge, and I can speak authoritatively on the subject, so I'm happy to do so when asked. Do I talk about kink out of nowhere, with strangers or acquaintances, using “I” statements and sharing anecdotes? No. Never. Would I talk to my family about it? Would I be embarrassed? Would you? …Why?

How to explain BDSM to your family without getting embarrassed
Roz from Frasier dressed as O from The Story Of O

The answer probably depends on what your impetus for raising the topic with your family is in the first place. Maybe your family is concerned about something they inferred from a conversation they overheard. Maybe your family is surprised at something you posted online. Regardless of what raised the topic, don't treat your parents like they've just woken from cryosleep after traveling from another galaxy and need everything Earth-related explained to them. It's important to give your family more credit. Just because you haven’t had a conversation with them about kink before doesn’t mean that they don’t know what it is, don’t already understand it, or don’t partake in it themselves.

They've probably heard of it

Kink is everywhere, for better or worse. Sitcoms. Halloween costumes. Joke gift stores. Accessories sections in the mall. Fashion runways. Advertising. Don’t assume that your family is so vanilla they’ve never even heard of BDSM. Treating your parents like they’re ignorant or asexual (when they’re probably not) just makes you look insensitive. There’s no reason to go into detail. “My partner(s) and I engage in role-play and use toys” is all you have to say if you want to share the news with them (for whatever reason — we'll consider reasons later). If they have questions beyond that, it’s up to you if you want to answer them, but you don’t owe them any explanation. Just like you don’t owe them an explanation for why you dyed your hair, or for your clothing choices, or anything else that might set you apart from the perceived norm.

Remember though, that “perceived” is the key word; your family is more aware of the world's wide variety sexual tastes than you give them credit for. Of course, if they seriously have never heard of BDSM, consider just linking them to the Wikipedia article. And then they’ll say, “Oh! Like in (piece of media that is very well-known because kink is actually often-represented in popular media even if it's the butt of a joke or extremely poorly done). You can then decide if you’d like to educate them further or if that’s the end of the conversation.

But besides being asked point-blank "what's BDSM?" there are other reasons you might want to start the conversation with your family.

Encouraging openness

Feeling embarrassed about what gets you off disproportionately affects women and non-binary people.

Maybe you want to engage in open and honest dialogue with your family or friends in order to help normalize "non-traditional" sexual relationships. One of my greatest passions is encouraging women and non-binary folks to openly talk about their sexual tastes with those who consent to hearing about it in an effort to destigmatize these aspects of sexuality.

Feeling embarrassed about what gets you off disproportionately affects women and non-binary people. Finding supportive, consenting people with whom you can talk freely about sex is a positive and healthy experience. It can also be a very comforting way to explore a side of ourselves when we are not encouraged to be sexually independent or sexually active people the same way cis men are.

As a personal example, I felt more than comfortable telling my then-boss that I spent the Amazon Gift Card she gave me on a Hitachi Magic Wand. (Big ups, Ariel!) Talking to my colleagues in a non-work environment about all aspects of our relationships, not just the PG ones, has helped us all individually become more fully self-aware people — but it’s only possible because of our trust and friendship outside of work.

I am in no way advocating that everyone talk to their boss about their tastes in porn or what good deals they found for strap-ons online. Workplace sexual harassment is endemic, as we’ve seen in the media lately. Talking casually in the break room for acquaintances to overhear about your penchant for piss is deplorable. Sometimes I joke that I’m the most sex-repulsed pervert you’ll ever meet, because while I’m happy to talk to you about kink in the right place at the right time, I can’t stand those who make kinksters look bad by not respecting the boundaries of others. How bad of a look is it that you’re crossing someone’s hard limit while talking about how great of a Dom you are?

But our colleagues and friends are not our family. In Vice’s article, What It's Like to Tell Your Friends and Family About Your Fetish, a few people provide anecdotes of their experiences telling people about their kinky sides. Similar to my experience with my former boss, one interviewee had a very good experience talking about kink with her boss. Talking about kink with her sister, however, was a different story. Often times, people will express a worry that your fetishes are dangerous. This can be coming from a place of legitimate concern and should be respected. Unless you are opening up to these people in order to have a safe person to tell about your upcoming adventures so that if anything goes wrong they can be an emergency contact, consider keeping the details to yourself and your kinky friends only. Besides being concerned for your well-being, people might not want to hear about your kinks because they are, quite simply, repulsed by them. That's their prerogative. The interviewee goes on to give some general advice that we should all keep in mind: people have the right to not hear about the details of your sexual activities.

How to explain BDSM to your family without getting embarrassed
Pear Of Anguish Iron-On Patch from Moon of Retribvtion

Deciding to share (or not)

This raises the question: should you be telling your parents about BDSM in the first place? The article "coming out kinky" on the Sex Geek blog is an absolute must-read, especially if you're worrying about how to reconcile being proud of your sexual identity and not over-sharing your particular kinks. The line should be obvious, but Sex Geek underscores it in saying that the people she chooses to talk to about her kink "actually want to know about it" and "are capable of processing it."

Do your friends and family actually want to know about it? Are they capable of processing it? Answer these honestly before you tell them anything about yourself. There's a reason people refer to as opening up as being kinky as "coming out," though I don't personally agree with that term. The reason is that many of us are also queer and have had to remain secretive about this aspect for reasons that are much more serious than whether or not I can talk about what kind kinks I have.

Do your friends and family actually want to know about it? Are they capable of processing it?

We might feel it's time to talk to our family about our kinks for a variety of reasons, some of which can just be practical. For safety reasons, it's a good idea to let someone know that you plan to be engaging in certain activities at certain times, so they can check in on you. In Margaret Corvid's article "Here's Why You Should Tell Your Friends and Family You're Into BDSM," she reminds us to "Be clear why you’re sharing — you’re not looking to shock, or to involve them in your sex life — you’re being honest for your own well being and safety."

But beyond logistical information for safety's sake, Sex Geek describes plenty of good reasons to talk about our kinks to our family and friends (and I would argue the world at large, if we are in the position of privilege to do so safely!). She explains that she talks to her mom about her kink to a certain extent because:

I want her to know I’m safe, and that the things I do with my partners, however far outside the norm of conventional sexual practice, are done consciously, consensually, and with caring and love. I want her to know that I am loved and supported, and that my kink, far from isolating me and marginalizing me, has in fact brought me into wonderful and fulfilling relationships with kind and thoughtful people. […]

Do I want her to know the specifics of what makes me come? Well, if you can find me a good reason why that information would help her understand and respect me, I might consider it. Until then, that’s quite simply none of her business.

If, after considering that your parents aren't chaste virgins who have never seen television after 7pm, you still feel embarrassed talking to your closest about your kink(s), it’s time to ask yourself why. Is it rooted in a shame you feel about having these kinks? Is it because you’re worried your friends and family don’t understand them, and can’t possibly? Is it because you’re living a lie and don’t actually know anything about kink but wish you were more interesting?

Any of these reasons would point to a different underlying cause of which embarrassment about talking to your parents about BDSM is only a symptom. Exploring these deeper feelings can help you come to terms with shame that might exist well beyond your kinks, and I suggest doing so with the help of professionals.

And of course, there's a very real chance that talking with your family could turn out negatively. lunaKM on SubmissiveGuide.com offers lots of great advice on what to do in this case. It's amazing what you can find online if you research a couple keywords.

But if you are secure in your preferences and proclivities, and you want to start an open and honest dialogue with those closest to you, seek their consent, keep the details to yourself, and remember that they have the right to ask questions or stop the conversation, just as you do. There's nothing to be embarrassed about when consenting, capable adults have honest conversations.

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  1. As a writer, blogger and internet busybody, it's no secret that I talk far and wide about a lot of topics. I'm not super open in talking about kink (hi, I'm kinky), but if my parents saw a piece I did on the subject, they wouldn't clutch their pearls and fan away the vapours. Not because they're wildly open-minded or super sexual, but because it's not out of line with the person they've been talking to for some time now. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and I can tell you that even people who you'd think would have objections to kink know what it is and, as Caroline pointed out in 2015, at least saw the previews for Fifty Shades of Gray… if they didn't go see it in theatres with their friends.

    I don't think any parent or family figure wants to hear their baby say "this is how I do it in the bedroom and occasionally in a 'playroom'." But I also think that if you're maintaining good communication with them as human beings in your life, that "I know what BDSM is because I've done even the most cursory Google search on the topic" shouldn't send them rolling over in their recliners.

    10 agree

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