I recently started a new relationship with a very wonderful lover who has brought some interesting and imaginative ideas to the bedroom that I’d never tried before. He seemed a bit taken aback that these relatively minor league acts were not part of my repertoire. “But you’re a sex columnist!” he joked. “Just because I’m a sex columnist doesn’t mean I’ve done everything,” I responded. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean I’m interested in everything either.
I mean, I’m hardly a prude when it comes to sex and I’ve always said I’ll try just about anything once… or twice if I like it. I’ve done and enjoyed things some people wouldn’t even dream of yet I also recoil in horror at other lurid acts that really get some people’s juices flowing. And while I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “vanilla”, a term borrowed from the world of ice cream to connote conventional, basic and without frills, it’s certainly a flavor I like to sample from time to time.
“Because I study and write about sexuality, I am of course someone who swings naked from chandeliers while having group sex on film,” noted Lynn Comella, a sexuality scholar and women’s studies professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “And while I am not at all opposed to that in theory, in practice it is just not who I am”.
Salon.com columnist Tracy Clark-Flores observed that even though “sexual freedom means different things to different people”, within certain sexually liberated spheres there is a topsy-turvy hierarchy to the mainstream with monogamy at the bottom and “public poly-whatever-y” at the top. She cites a number of second-hand examples of people facing biases within kinky communities for being too vanilla, even though you’d think a group that has experienced enough disapproval and marginalization on account of their sexual choice would refrain from passing the same kind of judgment on others.
Everyone faces a certain degree of struggle in figuring out with what gets their motor running, especially as they become more acquainted with sexually progressive communities. As blogger Clarisse Thorn points out, “Being a sex-positive feminist, I also sometimes worry that other women will read my work and it will increase their performance anxiety. I worry that writing about some stuff I like will be misinterpreted – that it will lead other women to feel like, gosh, is this something liberated sex-positive women do? Is this something I “should” be doing?”
And like oh so many other issues in our contemporary landscape, this one is further complicated by the world of marketing. It’s a tried and true marketing axiom that when people start feeling satisfied and comfortable, they consume less. As pointed out by Bitch magazine in their smart and funny series ‘Thinking Kink’, making people feel shitty about their vanilla-ness is mainly a capitalist calculation. Just look at the spike in BDSM-related purchases since the release of “50 Shades of Grey”. Good Vibrations in San Francisco experience a 65% increase in the sales of bondage sex toys, and New York-based Babeland say a 40% increase. While many of those purchases were likely made out of genuine curiosity, imagine how many were bought under pressure of feeling like their routine sex lives weren’t exciting enough?