10 out of 10
Pairs nicely with a good draft beer. There’s a huge amount of variety. Sometimes, it takes some getting used to the taste (especially in those microbreweries). And how long you nurse it depends on you.
I want to start this post off by saying that I use the words “vanilla” and “kinky” a lot. To me, kinky is a self-identified descriptor, which is surrounded by blurry lines (and I’ll go into detail on this later in the post). Vanilla sex simply means anything else. I personally feel that vanilla is a great descriptor word for this because vanilla is a flavor itself. It is not a lack of flavor, as I believed when I was a kid. It’s complex and full-bodied just like anything else. So I don’t use vanilla in a disparaging or judgmental way. It’s just a colloquial term for sex that is not kinky.
At Woodhull this year, I had the great privilege of hooking up with someone who I had been flirting with for months. He initiated and it was excellent fun to build up the tension and finally get to actually have sex after that!
However, there was one thing that caught me off guard about this partner; he is not kinky. He has described himself as “kink-adjacent,” which is a fun descriptor that makes sense for him. I have never identified as a vanilla person, but I have had lots of vanilla sex before. My long-term partners have a tendency to start the relationship vanilla, but eventually, I reveal (or possibly install) a kinky side that takes over our dynamics.
After having a partner for two years who I shared an extremely kinky dynamic with, I had forgotten what a vanilla hook-up felt like. If I’m being honest, I don’t think this particular hook-up has really reminded me either. It started out innocently, with make outs and oral and fingering. However, over the course of two separate sessions, he had fisted me, pinned me down (including my head/face), and gotten me off using his foot? So suddenly, this “vanilla” hook-up became some of the kinkiest sex I’ve had (completely on accident).
As I thought about these different descriptors, and how I felt throughout the sex, I began to realize some fun things about sex and kink. Until recently, I would not have called urination a kinky act. However, as someone who is mentally exploring the hypothetical of watersports, I now feel distinctly kinky sometimes as I duck into the bathroom. The same thing could be said of rope, which I saw frequently in the theatre and hardware stores, but now I can’t look at rope without getting a little wet. The lines between “sexy,” “kinky,” and “vanilla” can blur in subtle ways.
I recently saw Kevin Patterson describe himself as “french vanilla” or “kink-adjacent,” so I reached out for a more detailed description of this and got this quote:
“I’ve got lots of partners who are kinky. None of it really sets my soul on fire, but I’m into seeing my partners happy. Their reactions are my kink. So, if that means biting the shit out of someone who’s into biting, I’m into it. If I get to watch my partner melt because I call her a “good girl”, that’s what I’m doing that night. It should still come with some communication, negotiation, and boundaries though. But yeah, for the most part, if it’s not a complete departure from my comfort zone, if my partner is hot for something I can turn it on for their benefit. And their reaction turns me on.”
I commented off-hand that this sounded like a service top to me, and Kevin didn’t disagree. However, I would never place that title on anyone who didn’t claim it themselves.
When I asked about full negotiations and other communication styles usually associated with kink, Kevin told me he had never participated in any of them. I’ve begun to re-frame kink in my mind. It still has to do with fetish and what gets people off, but kink is more than the actions that are taken in the bedroom. Instead, it is a feeling and dynamic that may or may not include sex at all. It has more to do with communication and mental/emotional dynamics. That may sound elementary to some, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it said out loud.
This idea becomes more clear to me as I hear about folx who experience and play with kink, but never involve penetration or stimulation of sexuality at all. I met one couple who enjoyed co-topping new people, but it only ever involved impact and sensation play. It never breached into penetration, genital stimulation or even dirty talk. Their focus was instead catharsis for themselves and their bottoms. It reminds me of the subtle lines that a therapist walks with clients. They can be friends, but it’s only in the loosest definition of it. Anything more would be crossing their professional limits.
At Woodhull, I also had a couple of excellent (extremely kinky) sessions with a close friend of mine, who I have played with a few times in the past. We did a scene that involved a lot of impact, where I did slip into subspace. It was familiar, but still deep and exploratory for me. This scene did involve a lot of negotiation, and a lot of verbal communication throughout. This is the kind of interaction I am used to these days, which makes me wonder how I will ever have a one night stand ever again. In this interaction, I was able to let go more fully and let my partner lead me where he wanted. It was more relaxing for me, because I did not feel the need to check in with myself mentally. I knew he was watching and I completely trusted him. This is partially because we’ve played many times before. But it also has a lot to do with the negotiation. He knew my limits, wants and needs. Because I knew that he knew, I didn’t feel the need to check in during the scene, and could leave that responsibility to him as we agreed.
I played with one other person at Woodhull, who revealed to me an entirely different mindset in kink scenarios. (This is why I love my life: every time I think I know about kink/sex/relationships, I learn something new that I just haven’t seen before.) This partner was amazingly relaxed. We simply did some play with scratching and other sensations. I would not say that I was dominated. Anything they asked me to do, I did it, but it was never from a place of submissive obedience. It was simply playing, in the truest sense of the word. I did not mentally relax through the scene in the same way I normally do because the negotiation was brief and not comprehensive. I needed to make sure I was mentally and physically okay the whole time because the top never agreed to take on that responsibility. We laughed and chatted through the whole scene. It never brought on any subspace, and I never felt like we weren’t equal. In fact, I felt energized and entertained by the play. It was almost like a therapy session in that it left me fully centered and ready for life.
So in one weekend, I had three different partners (hello I am slut). Between those three, I experienced styles that differed wider than I thought was possible. I’m used to each partner having subtle differences. However, this was like having different languages to learn on the fly. Good gods, it was the most fun I’ve had since I discovered puzzle games on my phone. It started me thinking about communication in a whole new way.
So what happened in the first (vanilla) hook-up? Well, there was no negotiation. Though I was at one point pinned down, I didn’t say “I’m okay with this.” Of course, I consented to everything. The sex was hot and the person could read my enthusiastic yes to everything, but I did not verbally say “I like this” until after we were done. Even then, it was in a casual way. We talked about our firsts (“I’ve never gotten anyone off with my foot before,” “I’ve never had a fist that big inside me”), but we didn’t decompress as I’m used to after sex. Though I had been dominated during sex, I did not go into subspace. As a result, I didn’t need that much aftercare, and what I received was exactly what I needed. It was about 20 minutes of cuddling and laughing, just enough to enjoy the sexy afterglow. Then we showered (and had more sex there) and parted ways for the next activity. These are all the things that seem to come with the unwritten rules of vanilla hook-ups.
I looked to my vanilla consultant, Kevin, to help with these unsaid cues and how to navigate them:
“Kevin: I just trust my partners to tell me what they like…and to be honest when I check in with them.
Indigo: How do you check in? Words? Physical Cues?
Kevin: Physical to start, but verbal whenever there’s anything even vaguely uncertain.
Indigo: If you don’t mind my asking, what does a physical yes look like versus anything uncertain?
Kevin: Moaning, arching in, eye contact, heavy breathing. Versus still breathing, hand stopping. quick sharp inhalations, wincing.”
-Conversation between Me and Kevin Patterson via Twitter DMs
Though the sex was amazing, and I wrote about it extensively in my personal logs, I didn’t feel the same way I do when I have kinky sex. Kinky sex touches my soul very deeply. I connect with partners in a way that I rarely achieve just through vanilla sex acts. I have been grappling with what it is that I miss with (most of my) vanilla sex. When I compared these different partners at Woodhull, I realized I am missing vulnerability and trust. When I don’t negotiate in any way with a new partner, I can’t really let myself go around them until we’ve had a few sessions together. It takes me longer to release my brain and let the sensations take over. Until that happens, I can’t be in the moment the same way someone else is.
Before I offend anyone, I have had non-kinky sex that was extremely connective and it helped me feel closer to my partners and it was amazing. But that has only happened with established partners who I’ve had sex with a lot. In one night stands, or sessions with new partners, it is unlikely that I will completely relax and be in the moment. When I negotiate a kinky scene, there is more freedom for me to relax because I know we have explored the options and covered limits, boundaries, and cues. The emotional return on kinky scenes is immediate, in some ways. After just a 30 minute conversation, I can immediately relax into the scene, instead of having to wait until I know and trust my partner.
So when kinky acts get explored without using explicit words, it’s often just fine. With very little communication, my first ever sex partner tied me up and fucked me. That went well for me, and I’m still a rope enthusiast. With no verbal communication, my vanilla hook-up concluded with a foot job, and getting pinned down. That ended up great for me, and I hope to have more interactions with this partner.
But it still frightens me a bit to think about hook-ups with other people going the same way. This partner and I flirted online for months, and we read each other’s work, so there was subtle communication, and time to get to know each other. That doesn’t even count the vetting from other mutual friends. During our sessions, I did not know what would happen from one moment to the next, and that was exhilarating. However, if I had met him at a bar somewhere, I would not have let him do half the things he did. I trusted him enough for them because we had chatted for months. And so it scares me when I think about the lines between kink and vanilla beginning to muddle. If someone doesn’t take the time to understand what they are doing in a scene, feelings and physical bodies can be hurt. Trauma can be created or past traumas triggered.
In my lifetime, I have been lucky to experience all levels of kink with my partners, and I have been luckier still that my experiences are all good. I want to learn more about different styles of kink and communication, and how they develop. It’s important to have a good time in this life, but it’s also important to protect yourself and others. This is what I explore and emphasize communication whenever possible. Personally, I feel comfortable in the balance I’ve found. I can give someone my trust, but it has to be earned by them, and I do not regret where I’ve placed my sexual trust so far.