“What is the difference between vanilla and kink?” an old joke asks. The answer, “Vanilla is a feather. Kink is the whole chicken.” It may be a lame answer, but there is some truth to it. For sure, I am not the only one who has noticed, but the kinky seem to be wired differently from others, and in more ways than one.
And speaking of chickens, the joke raises a simple, but profound question. “Does kink make us more creative?” Or, “do creative people tend to be more kinky?” Experts have touched on the same question before. Perhaps today, more than ever, they have come closer to an answer. For now, at least, it seems to be a resounding yes to both questions. Creativity and kink, it seems, fit together like hand and glove.
There is a good reason why. Kinky sex makes sex sexier. From dressing up, to using toys, playing roles, performing special practices, kink is all about spicing things up. Sexy lingerie may do it for some, but kinksters seem to go above and beyond a simple red sheer teddy on Valentine’s Day. They want leather, latex, handcuffs, and chains. Or maybe they want to want to role play: Princess Leia and Jabba the Hutt? Or maybe scenes from John Norman’s Outlaw of Gor where female slaves are called Kajira? For sure, there must be thousands of men and women who play out variants of just these two scenes, often in an x rated way, going well beyond where screen writers would dare to tread.
A few go well beyond their bedroom doors, even act out abduction fantasies. And speaking of role play, thanks to the internet, BDSM clubs have sprung up in every major city in the free world, many smaller hamlets too. Kink practices are also more varied, often employing highly evolved rituals such as shibari, candlewax, piercing, spanking, or whipping.
And speaking of play scripts, AHandsomeSavage (Fetlife name), dominant male writes this poem. These could be very similar to his spontaneously created role play words. Who knows? Maybe he reads his poems when the time is right:
“How does it feel To kneel in front of me
To bear the marks of ruined flesh
Blessed with love for all to see
How does it feel To struggle in my grip
Writhing amidst my gaze
As worn leather cracks against your hip
How does it feel
To take each strike in stride
A wanton cunt trembles in need
I can sense your honey flooding like the tide
It must be love
That screams above
The whimpers of my little toy
Bound and splayed beneath my feet.”
AHandsomSavage adds, “A good dominant will get in their head. A GREAT dominant will make their subconscious do all the work for him on its own. It’s not always just clobber them over the head and take ‘em home. Though frankly, I’m a big fan of that part too.”
Kinky sex often involves a greater range of paraphernalia, namely toys. Vanilla people don’t wear nipple clamps, handcuffs, or ball gags. The kinky will even use special furniture and maybe build a dungeon to store it all. Remember Fifty Shades of Grey? The protagonist isn’t the only one with a secret room.
But why? Why do we want “the whole chicken?” One theory is that BDSM helps people to achieve certain “altered states of consciousness.” Not long ago, a Northern Illinois University study addressed this very same question, surveying members of the internet site known as Fetlife; and asked them to recreate a typical session which involved actual scenes conducted in person at a local dungeon.
This was not a simple survey of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The participants performed seven scenes which involved everything from gentle touching and communication, to impact play, bondage, and fetish dress. The results are summarized in a paper published by the journal “Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.” (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-45384-001) They determined that both tops and bottoms had often achieved elevated levels of mindfulness associated with runner's high, daydreaming, and meditation. (http://healthmedicinet.com/i/can-kinky-sex-make-you-more-creative-researchers-claim-bdsm-can-help-people-achieve-altered-states-of-consciousness/)
They reported, ‘topping’ is linked to the state known as Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. “Flow is a concept describing those moments when one becomes completely absorbed in a challenging but doable task.” Tops, special note: the study of flow is well worth the reading. (https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/)Flow, for bottoms, includes a ‘sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation,’ and feelings of intrinsic reward. (http://healthmedicinet.com/i/can-kinky-sex-make-you-more-creative-researchers-claim-bdsm-can-help-people-achieve-altered-states-of-consciousness/)
Brad Sagarin, lead author of the NIU study, describes the flow state during BDSM as “the idea that the rest of the world drops away and someone is completely focused on what they’re doing. Both dominant and submissive roles have attested that the intense sensations of BDSM force a fixation on the here and now. This novel level of concentration can be accessed through a variety of kinky practices, but a popular example is rope-tying. The BDSM adage is that bondage breaks the mind away from daily duties and distractions. Ironically, it seems the restriction of movement offers a sense of escape.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-wide-wide-world-psychology/201502/the-surprising-psychology-bdsm)
This is exactly the idea behind “whole chicken thinking.” Kink practitioners are fully committed, totally immersed in whatever they do. Perhaps they have to be. Once the cuffs lock and a blindfold come out, a certain exchange of trust is layered onto the whole experience. Saving a safe word, there is no backing out.
Both of these states have long been associated with creativity, but, wait, there’s more. They found that BDSM reduces psychological stress, improves moods, and increases sexual arousal. That’s precisely the mental state in which both creativity and productivity flourish—when we’re not concerned with moment-to-moment survival or the stressful mundanities of everyday life. “The results contribute to a growing body of evidence that individuals pursue BDSM for nonpathological reasons,’ the researchers concluded,” including the pleasant altered states of consciousness these activities are theorized to produce. Kinky sex, in other words, makes us feel better. (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kathryn_Klement/publication/308575318_Consensual_BDSM_Facilitates_Role-specific_Altered_States_of_Consciousness_A_Preliminary_Study/links/57ec3b3f08aebb1961ffa604/Consensual-BDSM-Facilitates-Role-Specific-Altered-States-of-Consciousness-A-Preliminary-Study.pdf)
Still the chicken-and-egg question remains. Does BDSM make us more creative, or are creative people drawn to BDSM? Perhaps there is something of a clue in Madonna’s career, suggesting something of a creative person drawn into BDSM. Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Kelis, Nicki Minaj, Nine-Inch Nails, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Eva Longoria, Carmen Electra, all suggest the same.
Harper’s magazine, however, suggests just the opposite may also occur, that people become more creative as a result of BDSM, relating a story about a woman known as “Claudia:” Claudia “had spent the past few days negotiating with her husband about how she could flex her longtime fantasy of dominating him in a way they’d both enjoy. Afterward, she told me, the experience had made her feel confident, valued, secure and pleased at their ability to compromise—feelings which she was surprised to find lasted into the following day. When she arrived at work, still swimming in the satisfaction of a fantasy realized, she decided this was it. Raise day.” She asked for it and got it. (https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a12231118/how-kinky-sex-leads-to-career-success/)
Perhaps the best chicken-and-egg answer comes from famed psychologist, Donald Hebb, a theory widely known as “Hebb's rule.” He talks about the brain in this passage: “… persistence or repetition…tends to induce lasting cellular changes that add to its stability. ... When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A's efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased.” Hebb's rule is often summarized as "Cells that fire together wire together." In short, the mind rewires itself as it learns and as it practices. Chicken? Or Egg? Hebb would answer both. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebbian_theory)
In other words, the mind becomes more creative as we practice creativity (and BDSM). It rewires itself and changes accordingly. Many experience Hebb’s rule in more poetic or mystical ways, noting the change and calling it dharma, a “journey,” a discovery of the “true self,” or even “higher self.” Wakingeros.com suggests BDSM leads to greater intimacy and love. Whatever the language, whatever the descriptors, many of us have probably experienced an almost magical feeling of a growth spurt as the brain rewires.
There is more to this than meets the eye. BDSM researcher Bert Cutler noted the prominent role of physically-induced mystical states in spiritual and healing rituals across cultures and throughout history. Cutler cited Native American body suspension, ecstatic Sufi dance, and acts of extreme skin piercing practiced by certain Hindu and Buddhist sects. When the boys in the Sateré-Mawé tribe come of age, they participate in a special hand-in-glove experience in a ceremony wearing gloves filled with stinging bullet ants. “These so-called primitive societies,” he added, “have discovered a lot of things that we are only just beginning to understand.” “Journey” may be just the right word. Kinky sex may, in fact change its practitioners in the very same way. (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/when-bdsm-is-therapeutic/412249/)
Both chicken and egg? At the most extreme end of the BDSM spectrum, lives a friend, a 24/7 sex slave. “I know subspace well,” she told me. “I discovered it seventeen years ago when I first became a slave. It happened during my first encounter with anal sex which was very painful. Later I found subspace again during deep throat training. I have found subspace again and again since.” Of late, she has been taken to clubs and bound hands-over-head. She was whipped until her skin was completely covered in bright red welts: subspace!
Her story suggests that, regardless of all of the pain and humiliation, subspace has taken on a special meaning, a full time pursuit, a raison d’etre in its own right. This particular woman served the needs of not just one master, but many. She did not seek greater intimacy, only the altered mental state. She lives out her life in ways similar to an ascetic. She calls it, in fact, “a Zen thing.” Clearly, my friend is in it for the whole chicken. (https://fetlife.com/users/5014145/posts/4597016)
The discovery of altered states and creativity as well as the concomitant mental health benefits, may be suggest a long overdue recognition for the kink community which has so often been labeled as crazy, twisted, or sick. “These new studies reveal that BDSM fetishists may even be mentally healthier than their vanilla-sex counterparts. Perhaps those who still oppose that the sexual creativity of BDSM can translate into music, writing, and art, just need to have some consensual sense beat into them.” (https://therooster.com/blog/how-kinky-sex-can-make-you-more-creative)
These days even those who practice psychology admit that kink is not the result of a twisted mind. If nothing else it shows the presence of an active mind, a healthy, imaginative, and playful mind. (https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/paraphilias-overview#1.) Some use the word “mindfulness,” the very same adjective used by those who practice meditation. Take for example, a school-approved student club, called Harvard College Munch, which meets to discuss kink, welcoming potential for a more open minded approach to sexual education and health. One member told a reporter that she had been hit with a riding crop, a belt and canes in a private munch get-together. “Floggers are my favorite,” she told a reporter. “There is historical precedent. The Iowa State University student government funded a bondage club in 2003, calling it a triumph for diversity, one publication reported. Now S&M clubs are increasingly popular at elite institutions as ‘50 Shades Of Grey’ climbed the bestseller list,” a different reporter said. “Columbia, Tufts, MIT and Yale have them…” Maybe they are onto something here. Maybe we all have much to learn. And maybe, just maybe, this kind of learning is actually fun. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/harvard-bdsm-club_n_2212806)
But that’s not all. Recently the American Psychiatric Association announced a change in the wording around “paraphilias,” the clinical term for BDSM in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Consensual kink is now considered to be within the realm of healthy sexual behavior. Consensual sadomasochism even has been accepted. At last, even the experts would agree that kink and, no doubt, creativity are not only fun, but also an integral part of a mentally healthy happy life. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/236790660)
Equally as important, kink practice shows the result of a highly evolved relationship in which two or more individuals have not only communicated and created a particular fantasy, but have also entrusted each other to act it out in a healthy and meaningful way. Another scientific study about SM reveals that “The increases in relationship closeness combined with the displays of caring and affection observed as part of the SM activities offer support for the modern view that SM, when performed consensually, has the potential to increase intimacy between participants.” Once again, we see whole chicken thought. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18563549)
Brain scans of couples who share sexually creative, novel, activities show that there is a certain flooding of brain and body with dopamine and other feel-good pheromones, precisely the same chemicals that make us smile, put butterflies in our stomachs, and create the pitter-patter feeling that comes with falling in love. Chicken or egg? Who cares? The kink brain is a creative brain, an active brain, in it all for the whole chicken, and a happier one at that.