It’s Okay to Break Up if Your Kinks Aren’t Compatible

You’re allowed to prioritize your sexuality as much as any other part of yourself

leather bondage straps for kink and BDSM
If this is your biggest turn-on but it's a no-go for your partner, it might be time to rethink things
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The exciting thing about kink is also what makes it tricky to navigate: it’s personal. What you find kinky probably looks different from what your partner finds kinky, even if the variance is slight. Maybe you both love food play, but while you prefer being slathered in chunky peanut butter, your partner insists on creamy. And while that nut isn’t too tough to crack, some couples’ kink needs are so misaligned that they’re left with only two choices — seek outside sexual gratification, or break up. But because non-normative sexuality and kink are sidelined within more traditional relationships, some people struggle to justify a break-up over sexual and kink compatibility alone. 

In a recent letter to a Guardian advice column, an advice-seeker explained that they’re kinky, but their partner of three years is not. When the spark of their initial attraction cooled off and the pair settled into their comfy phase, it became clear to the advice-seeker that their sexual needs were likely to go unmet with this partner, despite the strength of their emotional and intellectual connection. Because their partner isn’t interested in non-monogamy, the advice-seeker chose to pursue a secret sexual affair to satisfy their kink needs rather than end their otherwise “secure and trusting” relationship altogether.

In her response, columnist Eleanor Gordon Smith emphasized that, while deception and lies are never acceptable, the advice-seeker has been socialized — like most people, and especially women — to down-play their own sexual needs. And because those needs fall outside the sexual norm, it’s even harder to see them as essential, on par with other lifestyle needs, like having children or living in a certain location. Desire difference in a relationship is something people can work through if there’s enough else that they want to preserve. But if you feel “bereft,” as Gordon Smith said, at the thought of not being able to express your kink — enough so that it leads you to infidelity — then it’s time to let go.

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“Continuing a relationship isn’t just a question of whether you like this person, it’s a question of whether your lives can really dovetail,” Gordon Smith wrote. “It is not deviant or selfish to decide that you have to have this part of yourself satisfied. For many of us, sexuality isn’t an optional extra to a life well-lived, it’s just as crucial an ingredient in wellbeing as friends or exercise or time with family. The fact that it’s called ‘kink’ and gets relegated to the sidelines of subculture doesn’t mean you have to relegate it to the sidelines of your life.”

There are some couples, however, who manage to find a middle ground. Even a person who identifies as straight-up vanilla probably still harbors one or two kinks and just doesn’t have the language to express it. If you’re aroused by it, it’s a kink — whether it’s eyeglasses or body lotion or beach towels or literally anything else under the sun. Broadly speaking, a kink is just something that turns you on. Together, in a low-pressure and judgment-free setting, partners can explore more deeply what gets the other revved up, which might give you both the confidence to explore things you haven’t tried before. 

But if that’s not an option for whatever reason, Gordon Smith says it’s not only okay to end the relationship, it’s what you have to do — for the sake of your partner, but also for yourself.

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