Race Bannon AKA member LoneWolfPig has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. In this article he talks about navigating kink relationships.
All relationships have their unique challenges. Kinky relationships are no different, but sometimes the kink aspect can add another layer of complexity.
When someone asks the question "How do I best navigate kink or fetish relationships" the correct answer is likely to always be "Well, that depends on many factors." There is no single set of advice that fits all situations.
Scan the multitude of mainstream articles on what partners argue about and you will see the same few topics mentioned such as money, chores, and private alone time, but on nearly every list you see sex. So, kink relationships, especially those for which kink takes a central place, logically have a lot of potential intricacies.
I will not reiterate here the standard relationship advice fare such as open and honest communication, taking things slowly when you are in the dating phase, and allowing limerence (the early phase of being infatuated with a new person) to run its course before making big decisions such as moving in together. Those all apply to any relationship. There are lots of articles extoling the virtues of following those and other common guidelines.
Instead, I would like to talk about a few challenges specific to kinksters. Admittedly these are but a few of the many discussion points I could mention. One could write a book about such advice. It is also important to state the advice I give here is through the lens of my own conversations, experiences, and biases. As with any advice, always think for yourself and adapt to your own situation or ignore it completely. No one has a corner on the relationship advice market.
Upfront at the beginning of a relationship two (or more) people should ideally decide if they are forming a relationship that has some kink in it, or are they forming a relationship that is organized around kink itself. Extreme power dynamics are but one example of a kink-centric bond, but all types of kink relationships might have sexuality and their related sexual subcultures as pivotal commonalities, and these are the ones I believe require advice outside the mainstream.
Relationships with a bit of kink can probably default to standard relationship advice, but a relationship centered around kink offers us a few wrinkles that can make navigating it trickier.
I would also suggest that if kink is likely to be a desired vital and central component to your relationship(s), try to fish in kinky ponds when dating rather than taking your chances among the general generic dating pool. Yes, it is always possible that a vanilla partner will grow to develop the same erotic interests you have, but why not hedge your bets and start from already playing in the same sandbox. Recon alone has massive dating potential.
Idealism, however, is not always possible. One of the things you will often hear from someone newly discovering their kinky or fetish self, or finally deciding to be more forthcoming about that side of their personality makeup, is that it feels like a "second coming out." If you are gay, bisexual, or otherwise identify outside of a heterosexual orientation, and have not entirely hidden that fact from everyone else, you have likely already experienced some form of coming out – to friends, to family, to whoever it seems appropriate to lay bare your true self to interact with those people more honestly. That is not always easy.
Add into the mix that many people discover their kinkier interests later in life, perhaps well after they have embraced their identification with an orientation, perhaps when already deeply entrenched in an existing relationship, and it can be really complicated. The need to be forthcoming to others with your kink reality becomes another hurdle.
What if you are already in a longstanding relationship and one (or more in a poly relationship) begins to discover that they have proclivities in the kink, fetish, leather or BDSM realms?
It is not always a popular thing to say, but the non-monogamous and polyamorous might have an advantage in this regard. Kinksters can often get their kink needs best met if their relationships are open to some extent. The likelihood that two people will be an identical fit, especially over time, in terms of kink and fetish interests is unlikely. I have observed a lot of long-term kink-based relationships and most of the successful ones I have observed are open. That is not to say the monogamous cannot find adventurous erotic fascination with each other, but navigating a monogamous sex life can pose unique challenges that could be somewhat alleviated if partners had the option of exploring their kinks with others.
An erotic sadist leatherman I know recently confided to me that once he is deeply in love with a partner, he finds it difficult to practice more extreme SM with them even while that type of play is required to fully satisfy him. External play partners can help alleviate this stress point.
Then there is the touchy area of total power exchange relationships, especially of the 24/7/365 variety. Are you creating a full-time power exchange arrangement, or will you just turn up the volume when play happens or when attending a fetish event? Will this be short-term or long-term?
Intense power dynamic relationships are an area where I am sure I diverge from some of the more rigid practitioners in that I feel anytime someone within such a relationship senses that it no longer serves them as a positive, enjoyable, or growth opportunity partnering, they can advocate for needed changes or walk away from the relationship.
I do not care if someone feels they "own" another or "are owned" by someone, or how intense the power dynamic, everyone ultimately has agency over their own future. The moment any relationship manifests nonconsensual abuse or the fit between two fetish perspectives diverges significantly, it is time to reconsider that relationship.
Lastly, remember that all of kink and accompanying cultures are ultimately constructs, meaning we have individually and collectively created them. Sure, we often build upon already existing archetypes, iconography, erotica, and the current dominant culture, but things that can be constructed can be deconstructed (not always easily) and put back together any way you want. Your new version of kink and accompanying relationships might run counter to trend or tradition, but if it serves your and your partner's needs and does not negatively impact others, go for it. Be the creator of your own ideal kink relationships. Playing follow the leader is fun, but so is being the leader.
There is so much more I would like to say, but I have run out of word space. Until next time…