Here is something I take as a given as a kinky person: people are not always erotically compatible.
Two people who only top and don’t bottom might co-top others but would have trouble finding something to do just the two of them. Ditto two bottoms, ditto one partner who wants to switch within a partnership and another who prefers a consistent role. Or one person whose kink centers on power exchange and one who likes to play with sensation but not power. For some combinations, there might be ways to creatively get everyone’s needs met, but for others, it would be pretty challenging if not impossible.
There are many reasons talking about one’s specific kinks is normalized in kink communities, and this is a big one: if you’re looking for someone to do kinky things with, you’ll want to find someone with corresponding interests.
When I’ve tried to date (or, um, seek mental health care) in queer spaces that weren’t specifically kink-aware, the prevailing assumption was the opposite. The assumption there was that as long as two people had compatible genders, they would have compatible erotic practices. (Or, really, compatible sexual practices, as the distinction between erotic and sexual doesn’t tend to be made in most circles either.)
There is a lot of talk about communication and consent in queer circles, but the framework of that talk isn’t broad enough to encompass kink—at least, not as I practice it. Someone might ask how you want to receive touch, but not whether you want to receive touch. What kinds of sex you like, but not whether you like sex at all. Whether you enjoy playing with a power dynamic, but not whether you enjoy playing without one.
The unspoken assumption is that there are some activities only kinky people like (power play, pain, fetishes), and others that everybody likes (genital sex, gentle touch, power-neutral interactions). If a kinky person partners with a non-kinky person, this idea goes, they can simply default to non-kinky activities.
Kink is presumed optional; gentle, power-neutral sex is presumed universal. And if everyone can agree on gentle, power-neutral sex, then everyone is compatible.
The problem with this idea is twofold. First, for many kinky people, our kinks are important enough that partnering with someone who doesn’t want to go there with us would ultimately be unsatisfying. Second, wanting gentle, power-neutral sex is not universal. Some of us don’t. I don’t.
I have an online dating profile where I state that I’m kinky, and a somewhat common response I get is that I’m so brave for putting what I want out there. But identifying myself as kinky is less about bravery and more about self-preservation. If I don’t announce what I’m looking for, most potential dates will expect gentle, power-neutral sex. Since that act is not on the table for me, I don’t want to risk ending up with a partner who assumes it’s on the table for everyone. Talking about kink is a way of going after what I want, but it’s also a way of shielding myself from what I don’t want.
Everyone deserves partnerships where all parties can find erotic fulfillment and all parties respect each other’s boundaries. Understanding that not everyone is compatible means knowing that not every potential partnership can offer me or potential partners what we deserve. I talk about being kinky because I want to be able to find fulfilling partnerships and consensual erotic experiences, and I want others to be able to do the same.
Maybe that’s brave. But for someone who doesn’t consent to normative sex, it often feels like the only way to go.