It's okay if you're not into it, but you don't want to shame them either. Here's how to find the perfect balance.
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How to Let Your Partner Know You’re Not Into Their Kink Without Hurting , woman holding black whip for sexual role play on red background
Credit: Alex Sandoval

Not too long ago, I was in bed with a gentleman. We had just had a proper afternoon romp and were now having that pillow talk that comes after such things. From politics, to climate change, to sexual fantasies — we covered it all. But when we got to the kinks and fetishes part of the conversation, I was taken aback. While my years of writing about sexual wellness and sex positivity has introduced me to topics I may not have discovered otherwise, I had yet to come face-to-face with someone IRL who actually had the extreme kinks I've covered in articles. At first, I asked him if he was serious. Not in a judgmental way, but in a way you ask someone when you're not sure if they're being honest or trying to shock you. He was, in fact, very serious and asked if I'd be interested in performing this sexual act. Stunned, I knew what I needed to say, but because I was so taken off guard, I stopped and took a deep breath first.

Kinks and fetishes are nothing new. Even before Caligula (the emperor of ancient Rome from AD 37 to 41, who was notoriously kinky in his sexual pursuits), Etruscan cave paintings depicted women being spanked and having threesomes — both of which are fairly common sexual fetishes. But while this is true, a 2020 survey of 2,000 Americans found that 40 percent of respondents won't bring up their kink to their partner out of fear of being judged or, even worse, that their partner will leave them. (Reminder: Here's the difference between a kink, fetish, and fantasy.)

I was honored that this partner was willing to share his kink with me — especially in a society where not only is sex still seen as taboo, but so are many kinks. And that's a tragedy because humans are sexual beings, and as long as a sex act includes consenting adults, then no one should care how people want to get off.

But what should you do in the event that you find yourself in my position — stunned, and unwilling to partake in someone's kink, but not wanting to make them feel bad about it? Here, pros weigh in.

How to Talk About Kinks

That afternoon, I was not on the same page as my partner with his kink. So, I broached the subject carefully and tried to be very cognizant of my word choice. I didn't want him to feel an ounce of shame, and I definitely wanted him to feel comfortable bringing it up with other people he might meet in the future.

"After you list out all of the amazing things that you love about your sex lives together, then state the 'kink' or fetish' that you are not into and why," says Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven. "It is, however, an opportunity to offer [another] way to support your partner enjoying the kink or fetish." For example, you could accompany them to a kink event where they may have an opportunity to practice or indulge in their kind or fetish or maybe watch porn together that features the kink.

It's important to really let your partner know that you support them and think it's great they've discovered something they're into or are interested in trying, says Sparks. Just because something isn't your cup of tea, doesn't mean you should hate on it.

I explained to this partner that, while I really appreciated his ability to be so open and honest about his kink, I wasn't interested in pursuing it. I made it really clear that I thought this particular kink was fascinating (and I meant it!), but that it crossed boundaries that I wasn't willing to cross with him. He explained that he understood and admitted that he'd only found one woman who indulged in this kink with him, and also asked if I'd reconsider if we were in a serious relationship. Again, kindly, honestly, and open-mindedly, I said that, no, I would not. But I followed it up with the fact that, since he had met one woman who was into it, that meant there were others out there. I just didn't happen to be one of them.

If you're in this situation, "start the conversation on a positive note by first describing all the things that you enjoy best regarding your sex lives together, then start the discussion in the direction you would like to go," says Sparks. You might try something like, "Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I'm so happy you felt comfortable being honest about what you're into. That doesn't sound like something I'm up for but is there something else we can try together, that's maybe a little similar, that we'll both enjoy?" From there you can have a dialogue about what your partner desires, and you might even find there's something you both want to try.

Here's one tip that may surprise you: Avoid having this conversation while in bed, which can obviously be tricky. Still, "it's best to not have any discussion around one's relationship, especially sex, in the bed," says Sparks. "Bedrooms are designed for two things: sleep and sex. Instead, decide to have this sensitive topic over a coffee."

Of course, that afternoon back in August, I had nowhere to go. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get out of that bed and tell him to join me on the couch for tea and a chat about his kink and my feelings about it. I had to address it right then and there. In the end, he thanked me for not judging him and for my graciousness, admitting that he had taken a risk in sharing his kink with me and that he hadn't shared it with many people before. (After all, being vulnerable is a huge part of building intimacy.)

Should You Try to Meet Your Partner In the Middle?

As someone who's dated a lot of people with a whole range of kinks, I do my best to try to explore their kinks within my own comfort zone. There are two reasons for this: I'm curious, and I regard sex as a give and take. It's a shared experience, so why not dip my toe into the unknown, but on my terms? And when it comes to relationships, whether they're just sexual or long-term commitments, compromise is an important component.

For example, if you and your partner are both dominant, but they're seeking impact play (any sex act in which someone is struck with a hand or toy for sexual pleasure) with a submissive, "you can do submissive acts by 'bottoming' for your partner on occasion without 'being a submissive,'" says Sparks. This is a wonderful compromise because you get to practice and enjoy the kink with your partner without having to change who are you or what you want. (Confused? Peep this beginner's guide to BDSM.)

Or, if your partner says they'd like to tie you up, but you're not comfortable with the idea of being physically bound to an object, you can meet them in the middle by holding your arms above your head and interlocking your fingers. That way, you're bound on your terms. (Related: Is It Ever Safe to Engage In Choking During Sex?)

Whether it's a one-night stand, a fling, or your long-term partner, it's important to respect your partner's kinks as much as they respect your boundaries. "Express your support of them having found something that they enjoy," says Sparks, but you're not under any obligation to partake in your partner's kink. You can dabble in it and meet your partner in the middle, but — forever partner or not — kinks and boundaries go hand-in-hand. (Related: How to Set Boundaries In the Bedroom That'll Vastly Improve Your Sex Life)

Let's say you decide to give something a try. If at any moment you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or like you're pushing yourself too far outside your boundaries, Sparks stresses using your words. "Your partner(s) can't read your mind. And more importantly, by discussing your needs, wants, and desires, this helps you to establish an open line of communication with your partner(s)," she says. And, if your partner is really into it, they may not be focusing on your facial expressions or body language. It's at this point, you should say "no" or use your safe word (which everyone should have). Don't feel bad for taking your partner out of the moment; sex is about two people enjoying themselves. It's not about someone forcing themselves to do something for the sake of their partner's pleasure — unless, of course, that's your kink.

As for me? That partner and I saw each other a couple more times, but knowing I wasn't kinky enough for him and not seeing a long-term future (for reasons unrelated to sex), we parted as friends. But I hope, I truly hope, that wherever he is tonight he's indulging in that kink of his and it's everything he hoped it would be.