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March 25, 2015

Opening Our Kinky Minds

A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. You will find the original online version here.

An odd thing has happened in the wake of the technological revolution regarding how we hookup and otherwise connect with each other erotically. Unlike what I remember from the pre-internet era, nowadays I hear a constant drone of complaints about how hard it it is to find people to connect with sexually.

When it comes to leatherfolk and kinksters, there are times the complaints seem even more common, perhaps exacerbated by the more complex combination of deeper negotiations necessary and the wider range of sexual interests than the typical less kinky hookup site profiles might represent.

The complaints befuddle me because I don’t honestly feel it is harder to hookup today than in the past. Of course maybe I’m wrong. I’ve thought a lot about this lately. Here are my guesses as to why this might be happening. Admittedly I err on the side of assuming that most people use websites and apps like Recon and Scruff to find sexual partners. In my experience that’s generally true. And while I use the term hookup I think many use such sites as places to find dating material as well.

I believe a portion of the complaints stem from our on-demand culture. We have instant or nearly instant everything these days. So why not instant sex? Perhaps we are simply less patient with the effort and thought that might go into fostering more readily accessible connections.

The ease with which we can connect with others, seeing in often painstaking detail the range of people’s sexual proclivities, might actually be working against us. Let’s say you see a list of 15-20 sexual interests listed on someone’s profile. You notice one or two that don’t turn you on. I think the tendency for many of us is to write off that person because we’re not an “exact” match in terms of interests. Same goes for sexual positions, roles, body types, and so on. No two people will be an exact match. That’s just not how our sexualities work. We are all truly unique in the exact combination of physicality, erotic turn ons and chemistry that trip our sexual and compatibility triggers.

Lost sometimes in the online hookup culture is simply finding someone who appears interesting and figuring out what might work erotically at the time through conversation. Absent a detailed sexual resume, we are forced to engage and converse with someone to find out their interests, needs and desires. I believe many people can more easily find common erotic ground this way than they might using someone’s profile for reference accompanied by a few, quick back and forth messages.

Our erotic fantasies to which we masturbate and otherwise ruminate over are fed by a steady stream of images, video and hookup site profiles. On the face of it, this might seem like a good thing. But what if it’s actually feeding into a more solidified and unyielding self-definition of our erotic selves? What if instead of opening our minds to a range of possibilities it’s instead closing them to options?

Online hookup sites reduce many of our sexual identities into values in a database. Top, bottom or versatile. Dominant, submissive or switch. Hairy versus smooth. Height, weight, hair color and body type all clearly specified. Sexual interests categorized into check boxes on a screen. It all seems so neat and tidy.

But how many of us are actually accurately described by such pre-defined data values in a database sitting on someone’s server? No one. The uniqueness that is each individual’s sexuality and identity simply can’t be reduced to such simplistic information. Lost amid the data is the actual person behind the data. Lost are the subtle nuances that can be the more interesting aspects of a person.

Consider also that when someone reads a long list of erotic interests the reader often translates that in their mind to “I’m really good at all of this stuff with lots of experience – so you have to be also” when that might not be the case at all. This is especially disconcerting to a newcomer to kink. One might be incredibly skilled at some BDSM activity, for example, but a complete newcomer to yet another. But when they’re read by someone in a profile there’s usually no distinction. This leads to further apprehension to contact that person.

Some people also create intimidating erotic personas online. The persona isn’t their day-to-day presentation, but rather the fantasy (or perhaps part-time authentic) self that they use to satisfy their own erotic play needs. However, those same personas can make some people reconsider contacting them because of the uncertainty of where the persona and real person intersect.

I also think that the constant exposure to the highly detailed information some provide in their profiles, both in terms of photos and descriptions, coupled with other erotic images and video we view, elevates what I call people’s “reality threshold.” This threshold is the degree of reality someone finds necessary to enjoy an erotic experience. In other words, how much of the situation must be based in reality for there to be a successful experience? Some find they need very little based in reality while others find it quite necessary. No two people are the same.

As examples, when people view such things as well equipped dungeons and playrooms and profile pictures and descriptions representing highly geared, structured or orchestrated play, it can elevate their
reality threshold. Is this good or bad? Well, neither really.

But generally, the lower a person’s reality threshold, the easier it is for them to realize their erotic fantasies. The reason is obvious. Their mind can more easily fill in the reality gaps. For example, while one person might need a fully equipped dungeon with lots of ornate BDSM gear and a partner who maintains a strict role persona, another person might only need a dimly lit bedroom with a few BDSM toys and a partner who maintains some semblance of the role they are playing. Neither way is more correct, but the latter person is going to find it a lot easier to get their BDSM needs met. So it goes with all forms of sexuality and successfully finding partners.

I believe much of the dissatisfaction people have with their erotic experiences can be traced to their self-elevated reality threshold. When we masturbate or otherwise have moments of erotic fantasy in our lives, I contend we can, at least to some extent, consciously link our erotic fantasies to more realistic expectations. This can improve our chances of creating real life sexual situations that satisfy us. Can I prove this? No. But my instincts tell me this is true. It just makes sense. Detailed and specific expectations, lower chance of happening. A more open and free flowing erotic mind, higher chance of connection.

So maybe more of us need to keep our kinky minds open to a wider range of options in terms of types of people, play environments, sexual interests and role dynamics. Maybe we’d all end up having a lot more sex and fun if we do, and meet some interesting people along the way.

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