Do you feel unsure about your sexuality, specifically your kinks? Have you been concerned whether what you enjoy is “good” or if it’s “bad”? Have you asked yourself, “Is it OK that I’m doing this?” or “Is there something wrong with me?” If you have, it’s normal. People have these concerns — sometimes to the point of causing great distress — that something is just not right about the “kinky” things they enjoy, but they have difficulty considering this objectively.
When trying to get some insight, it’s important to remember that since everyone has different likes, dislikes, levels of comfort, etc., and what feels good for one person may not be for another. “Good” and “bad” can be used as a shorthand for a value judgment and these values don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Because of this, I encourage you to instead think of them as either “healthy” or “unhealthy”.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help evaluate where yours fall:
When engaging in your kink, do you…
…require that you first become intoxicated? Are you unable to engage in your interest without first needing to get drunk or do drugs?
…ignore boundaries — whether your own or someone else’s? Do you routinely allow yourself to be pressured to do things you don’t want to do? Or do you pressure or “trick” someone else into doing things? Is “consent” something you let someone else decide for you or something you believe you should decide for others? (This does not include the practice of “consensual non-consent”.)
…not know when or how to stop? Do you have a compulsive need to do your kink? Does it feel like you’re “addicted” to it? Do you want to stop but you believe you can’t?
…feel guilt or regret afterward? Do you wish you hadn’t done what you just did? Do you experience anxiety or depression afterward? Perhaps feeling bad about yourself, beating yourself up, or even go so far as to have thoughts of self-harm?
…see that it has had an overall negative impact on your life? Such as preoccupying much of your thoughts at the expense of other important things? Compelling you to recklessly spend money? Causing you be late for or miss work? Affecting your interpersonal relationships, such as with family or friends? Or generally decreasing your quality of life?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you may have an unhealthy relationship to your kink. (If you didn’t then your relationship may be healthy.)
What’s important to note with feelings of guilt or regret is that while they may indicate a problem they don’t necessarily mean that the kink itself is the problem. Sometimes people feel guilt or regret because of their own beliefs about their kink; such as that they are a defective or bad person, something which our culture may teach us but may not be true. Some people feel guilt or regret after secretly engaging in their kink because they assume the people in their lives will not understand or approve. In both these cases, the issue may not be the kink but the attitudes and circumstances surrounding the kink.
What do you do if you think you might have an unhealthy relationship to your kink?
I recommend finding a qualified professional who is trained in mental health and has competency with human sexuality, particularly kink, and experience helping people with the kinds of emotions you’re having (e.g. shame, guilt, anger, addiction).
Where can you get a kink-competent* provider?
One place I’d recommend looking is the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom’s Kink-Aware Professional database. This database does not include all providers; only those that have requested to be listed. So, if you don’t see someone in your area, that does not mean there isn’t someone out there.
Another place to look is a search engine. Try searching for “therapy” or “counseling” or even “coaching”; your city or state; and your specific kink, or just “kink”, or even “sexuality”. See who comes up. If anyone looks interesting, give them a call. You may find other directories this way as well.
What if I have/don’t have insurance?
If you have insurance and need the provider to be in-network, contact your insurer for a list of mental health professionals in your area and then do a quick web search for each of them. See if they have a website with information about their competencies. If you’re unclear, give them a quick call. Most providers will be happy to answer a few questions about their qualifications and if they think they might be able to help you.
If you can’t find someone in-network, don’t despair. Sometimes insurers will cover out-of-network providers if their rate is comparable to those in-network. Or, they will cover a certain amount and you pay the rest. Ask your insurer about this. Then ask the provider you’re interested in if they are willing to work with your insurer.
If you are able to pay out of pocket you are likely to have more options. So consider if you’re willing to go that route and how much you are able to afford. I recommend thinking about this before you make any calls so you’re prepared to discuss it if you find a provider that interests you. (Note: unlicensed providers are not able to take insurance.)
How do you know if the person is right for you?
This is usually not immediately apparent. It’s like going to a doctor or restaurant or even meeting a new friend. Sometimes you may feel like it’s a good fit from the first visit, sometimes it takes a little more time. Prepare yourself for there to be some trial and error.
Before you make an appointment with someone, know that you are completely within your right to vet the person with whom you will be sharing many personal details of your life. This means you’re allowed to ask them about their education, experience, attitudes toward and competency with your specific kink (and even kinks, in general), and how they have helped people like you in the past. If they do not welcome your questions, this is, in my view, a red flag.
Also important is to be aware that if you do find someone and they in any way try to shame and tell you that you should not be kinky and are bad for being this way, I recommend that you STOP seeing them. This is not the behavior of a kink-friendly or competent provider and is not an appropriate match for kinky people. (They are also likely to not be a good mental health practitioner in general.) Seeing someone like this would be like a gay person wanting support for being gay and the provider telling them that being gay is bad and to stop being gay. If you do not feel they are offering reasonable support, then try someone else.
Does having unhealthy thoughts or feelings make you “crazy”?
If you are worried about the possibility that because you might have an unhealthy relationship to your kink that you are in some way “crazy”, please understand that having any of the above thoughts or feelings doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “mentally ill” in the way a lot of people think of it, but that understanding unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and the processing and modification of those things, is what therapists, counselors, and even some coaches are trained to do. This is why they are a good choice to support you through these types of issues.
(*Not just kink-friendly. Anyone can be “friendly” to a situation or type of person; it doesn’t mean that have any idea of how to appropriately help and support them.)