by Dr. Kristine Chadwick
“Romance is everything.” ~ Gertrude Stein
Romance . . . ah, romance. Most of us seem to know what qualifies as romantic (it’s hard not to with the emphasis on romantic love in our society). And many of us understandably crave romantic experiences. But what is romance, anyway, and what does kink have to do with it?
Romance is a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love or a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life (Oxford Languages). Mystery. Excitement. A removal from daily routines. This definition calls to mind activities, gestures, ambiance, and interactions that inspire a positive, often loving, set of feelings.
So what is kink? It’s a clever unusual way of doing something or unconventional sexual taste or behavior (Merriam-Webster). When partners engage in exciting kink play, they are stepping away from the norm (i.e., society’s narrow definition of acceptable behavior), and away from their everyday lives. Kink, and its common manifestation as some form of BDSM, is “unconventional sexual taste”; acts falling under the kink umbrella are sexual fantasy material, and almost one in three American adults engage in kinky acts.
When examined through a definitional lens, kink seems well suited as a means to create romance and romantic encounters.
There is often mystery and excitement in playing with bondage, sensation, or different roles; and in creating scenes. Obviously, some kinky behaviors may come to your mind as more romantic than others. But we aren’t here to kink shame, and whatever creates a feeling of excitement and mystery or takes one away from the mundane daily routines of life seems like fair fodder for a romantic evening!
What if we take the idea that kink can be romantic a step farther? What if we can learn to consider kink between two (or more) loving individuals as inherently romantic?
After all, engaging in kink involves a lot of trust, vulnerability, and openness to new sensations and novelty with one’s partner(s). And what is more loving and romantic than that?? In fact, science demonstrates that novelty in sexual and sensual play is particularly effective at releasing all those feel-good brain chemicals. And while sexual novelty does not necessarily involve kinky acts, most American adults include BDSM in their sexual fantasies. Thus, you’re not alone if you want to act out that fantasy of restraining your partner’s hands or running a feather—or maybe dripping hot wax—across their body. People engaging in kinky sexual behaviors often experience a release of endorphins, which relieve pain and stress, and this relief, in turn, releases dopamine—also known as that intoxicating “runner’s high” feeling. This sensation, along with the tingling vibrations of excitement, are also associated with infatuation and romance. So it’s safe to say that the two may already be closer than you might think.
Although those engaging in kinky play have usually worked out a lot of the specific activities prior to starting to play, there still remains a great deal of mystery and excitement about how each person is going to experience the various elements of a kinky play session, the order in which acts are going to happen, and the emotions each partner is going to feel before, during, and after the session. This mystery based on anticipation, trust, and excitement is the heart of romance.
Those who engage in Domination and submission may be particularly prone to feel the romance of kink.
According to some submissives, there is nothing more romantic than entrusting one’s pleasure to their Dominant, knowing, in return, they are stimulating and pleasing their Dom(me). The excitement of wondering what their Dom will ask (or tell) them to do next, combined with the vulnerable, accepting mindset proves to be incredibly exciting for the submissive, taking them away from their everyday life. And for a Dom(me), the romance can come from surprising and tending to their submissive, seeing their submissive’s eyes widen in delight and anticipation as the Dom(me) binds their legs in a beautiful knot and runs a soft suede flogger along their thighs. Again, all the features of romance are there.
Romance requires security and openness with another person to feel that combined rush of love and lust. Those who engage in kink regularly have been found to feel more secure in their relationships, have an increased sense of well-being and openness to trying new experiences, and have decreased sensitivity to rejection. Thus, kinky folk generally are well positioned mentally to experience romance through a variety of activities.
All this talk of romance and kink is not to imply that all kinky play is romantic. Not all kink involves overtly sexual acts. Platonic kink play is common and delightful. But even with platonic kink, play partners need certain levels of trust and vulnerability–otherwise known as intimacy–with each other. Thus, while not romantic per se, many of the elements that make for good romance–trust, vulnerability, excitement, mystery–are there in platonic kink as well.
What constitutes a romantic encounter differs from person to person.The message here is not that romance can only occur through kinky play. Not at all! Flowers, chocolate, and a night kissing under the stars can make for a very romantic evening. But so can a flower flogger, liquid chocolate carefully drizzled over the nude and bound body of a lover, or a night of devoted service to one’s Dominant. Kink can be romantic, and romance can be kinky! To see them as mutually exclusive is to fundamentally misunderstand both. Kink can be a means to expand many a romantic repertoire, and more romance in life sounds delightful!
About the Author:
Dr. Kristine Chadwick is an enthusiastic lifelong learner about the psychology of human sexuality and a fierce advocate for de-stigmatizing sexual wellness and pleasure. Kristine earned her PhD in psychology at the University of Rhode Island, and currently is part of a national research team studying the mental health benefits of BDSM. She is a certified sexual health resource and aspiring AASECT-certified sexuality educator. She is a staff writer for As You Like It and the Eugene Intimate Health Center.