Grayson Perry on Kinky Sex

On Sunday, Herbert and I went to see Grayson Perry talk about kinky sex, as part of the School of Life’s Sunday Sermons programme. If you ever get the chance, go to one of these – they’re excellent, and include a devilish host, group singing (in this case, Venus in Furs) and vodka with gimp-mask biscuits (pictured) afterwards. Worth getting out of bed for.

‘I’m not smiling,’ says Grayson Perry, ‘because this is serious.’

I should add that he’s looking resplendent in a black leather confection, complete with stuffed, rugby-ball dugs and pierced nipples. But then, that very outfit could encapsulate his sermon: we can acknowledge the ridiculousness and the pantomime of our erotic lives, but we must not denigrate the the authentic drive behind it.

Kink is not about camp, he goes on to say; it’s not about being gay or straight. It’s not foreplay before you have ‘proper’ sex. It’s about a desire do something or behave in a certain way which, when enacted, gives you intense pleasure, perhaps including orgasm, perhaps not. If you’re wondering whether or not you have a kink, you probably don’t.

Kink, he says, should not be something that’s sold to vanilla* couples as a way of spicing up their sex lives. At this point, Herbert jabs me in the ribs, and gives me a look that says, ‘That told you.’

But actually, I completely agree. If the seductions taught me anything about myself, it’s that I’m completely vanilla. I began them quietly wondering whether they would uncover some secret predilections within myself, and am now pretty much clear that I have none.

Sex – good sex, anyway – emerges from being honest with yourself and your partner. I have long felt a little bit ashamed about my lack of kink; I feel as though I ought to be more interesting. But that completely misses the point. Sex only becomes boring when you stop communicating and listening. If you’re ensuring that your needs are met, there’s no need for pick’n’mix spicing it up.

Kink has become a marketing tool in recent years, an opportunity for mainstream retailers to expand their ranges, and for magazines to find new material for their ‘10 Ways To Blow His Mind In Bed’ features. It seems to me that this adds to pressure rather than pleasure. Moreover, it patronises the people whose authentic kinks we’re seeking to mine. It reduces everything to play-acting. A half-hearted five minutes with the pink fluffy handcuffs (as Grayson says, ‘I doubt they even lock properly’) before reverting to the three-minute missionary will not tap you into the raw thrill you’re seeking.

Sexuality is a spectrum. Many of us explore themes in our fantasy lives that we have no desire to enact ‘out loud’. Many of us will include elements of kink in our sexual repertoires, for example spanking or bondage. I’m not arguing for a binary distinction between kinky and vanilla here. I’m instead suggesting that we should enjoy our own, unique sexual personas, without feeling afraid that this is somehow not enough.

Vanilla is a very nice flavour indeed. It is Mister Whippy ice cream and the finest creme Anglaise. Rather than slavishly replicating the external behaviours of kink, we could learn a lot from it. What struck me the most from Perry’s talk yesterday was how well he knew his own tastes, down to the finest detail. It is worth pointing out, on Valentine’s day (I was trying not to mention it) the plethora of black and red love gifts that fill the shops. Do these actually reflect anyone’s taste? Or do they just reflect our lack of engagement with our sexual selves?

So, I’ll start the ball rolling. These are my turn-ons (however ordinary they are): the sensation of someone whispering in my ear; the feeling of being dressed up and perfumed (only kinky if you’re not female, I guess); wearing stockings and red lipstick; the smell of Jack Daniels; the feeling of being overpowered by someone else’s desire; wearing a blindfold.

What are yours?

*For anyone not familiar with the term ‘vanilla’, it’s used to refer to people who don’t have any particular kinks or fetishes. It’s probably not always used kindly, if we’re honest.

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19 thoughts on “Grayson Perry on Kinky Sex

  1. Ha! Well, that would make it more fun than most people seem to manage. Since this revelation happened on my blog, I do hope I’ll get an invite to the reception.

  2. well it is a certain form of kink. I think all sexualities and power relations are kinky.

    Going to a ‘sermon’ about kinky sex, is kind of kinky in itself!

    Betty may disagree with me, but from my perspective, a vanilla marriage is the most perverse (and therefore kinky) thing that I could do!

  3. Thank god you’re ‘doing it wrong’ – it’s amazing how often liberalism so often becomes an excuse for inventing a whole new set of rules. How boring to be part of a homogenous club with set rules for behaviour.

  4. I am feeling particularly bruised at the moment because people in what is known as the ‘kink community’ have basically rejected me as ‘doing it wrong’ especially from a ‘sex positive/feminist’ perspective. I think the need some people feel for a ‘sexual identity’ is so strong they forget about other people, and how we all interact with each other.

    You are right though, Betty, that kink does get a particularly stereotyped picture painted of it in popular culture. Most pop videos and adverts use kink imagery to some degree these days! But I think some kinksters want to ‘keep kink special’ and so people like Perry saying ‘you are probably not kinky’ make me suspicious.

  5. I love the three-pronged approach you’ve gone for there! I’ve been thinking about this all week, since I wrote the post. In confess I’m a bit tied up in knots over it. I feel like there’s a really weird climate around kink at the moment – one one hand, we use it as a kind of visual shorthand for sex (for example magazine articles about sex are often illustrated with a picture of a woman in leather with a whip), and on the other hand, we like to see kink as snigger-worthy and a bit dangerous (that Eurotrash/Daily Mail interface). That leaves people of all points on the sexual spectrum feeling a bit bruised and defensive. It seems to me that the inclusion of cartoon-kink in the mainstream is a reflection of intolerance rather than acceptance – we’re seeking to dilute it by co-opting the most friendly bits. That’s why I can really understand the desire to mark territory around it – because, frankly, it lets me off the hook too.

  6. In my humble but quite well-informed opinion, Dan Savage is a wanker of the first degree. If you really are interested to know more about him I will send you some links, but some of them will include me slagging him off.

    He is also narrow in his version of who is ‘kinky’ who is ‘vanilla’ who is ‘straight’ etc. I find it all a bit sad really.

    I think we all have our own idiosyncracies – we are not all the same at all. But categorising people in terms of ‘types’ sexually really is limiting.

    Especially for those of us who just don’t fit any recognisable type.

  7. I got as far as ‘if you are wondering whether or not you have a kink you probably don’t’ before I gave up.

    we all have kinks. To suggest that we don’t, as a ‘kinky person’ I think is kind of oppressive. It’s like saying, if you are wondering whether or not you are straight, you probably aren’t.

    Kink is not a sexual identity it is just a word, like ‘perversion’ or ‘homosexuality’ or ‘desire’ or ‘fetish’.

    Sorry Grayson but I am glad I didn’t go to your sermon.

  8. Sex, for me, comes from an aggresive place. So i think i’m more into walking the edge of excrutiating pleasure, so good that it sometimes it hurts.

    I like kisses. Good kisses, no, great kisses, the ones that get me wet in no time, eyes closed, mouth open, nothing in mind at all. I also like rough handling. I love the feeling of a man’s strength, holding me in a way that shows that he actually wants to, that he’s not faking, that he’s actually there. I like spanking, a confident spank that shows no fear, no holding back attempts of being what a porn movie’s idea of a man.

    Most of all, i think my biggest turn on is when he’s there. Really, undeniably, unequivocally there.

  9. Love this conversation. I’m still learning to own my kinks, much less voice them to a lover. It’s crazy how difficult that can be. Will agree on the sensation of someone whispering in my ear .. I love kisses on the backs of my thighs, an over the knee spanking, tiny bites on my ass and role playing.

    I also love eye sex with random strangers. . . it happens so rarely, but it’s electric when it does :)

    xoxo

  10. A great article – you see this is what I want to explore, if the things I fantasise about are kinks or just wrinkles and the actual thing I want is far more vanilla

    Which is not to say that simple is boring, just different but I would like a chance to explore the spectrum a little bit, even if its with the aim of returning home at the end

  11. I land on the kinkier side of things, but there is always room for a lovely, creamy vanilla session too. In fact, I value our kinkier encounters more if they’re interspersed throughout the wide range of so-called “vanilla” encounters–which are, of course, far more than “just” the missionary position. Which is also fabulous in its own time and space.

    I agree with your idea here: good sex (and even better: fabulous sex) is about that communication between partners and knowing yourself and him/herself well, as well as being open to finding out more. Dan Savage (a well-known sex columnist here in the USA) coined the term “GGG” for what makes a good sex partner. It stands for being “Good, Giving, and Game”. In other words, being good at what you do and intent on improving where necessary; giving rather than only receiving pleasure (and learning to find pleasure in the giving of pleasure, I might add); and being game for exploring as necessary. So if one partner truly enjoys a particular position or game or whatever, or really wants to explore it, one should be Game for trying it out–and giving it an honest chance. If it completely goes against what one is comfortable doing, that’s a bit different (and might give pause as to whether it’s a partnership with a future, I might add).

    But I’ve learned that it is being GGG that leads to excellent sex. Just took me a while.

    Enough preaching. So what are MY turn-ons? Oy. I guess I’ll just list a few: having my body stroked while he whispers in my ear, being looked at with that certain look in his eyes, wearing high-heeled “fuck-me” boots, having my nipples tweaked/pinched, flogging/spanking, bondage (but medium level–not hardcore, but not merely vanilla bondage either), wearing a blindfold, etc. etc….I have a lot of them. Ahem.

  12. Brilliant article. Communication has to be the most important element in any relationship, whether vanilla or kinky, and something that I think many of us don’t do as well as we think we do. But with a bit of practice, it can make a huge difference in a couple’s mutual satisfaction.

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