With the mainstream popularity of books, television shows and movies like Secretary, 50 Shades of Grey and True Blood, steamy sex seems to be everywhere. More to the point, risky and over the top adventurous sex is all anyone wants to talk about. But what if that just isn't your thing? While there was once a feeling that those who sought out different forms of sex play were the odd man out, today it's the ones who just want so-called vanilla sex who end up feeling like deviants.
The fact is, kinky sex makes its way into popular culture on a fairly regular basis. Back in the 1970s, the porn opus Deep Throat became wildly crazy. It was fashionable to be seen going to see the movie and it also made you look a bit edgey. The popularity is spurred led to Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times to coin the phrase "porno chic".
Other movies like Nine and a Half Weeks and Basic Instinct have achieved similar notoriety for bringing kinky sex into the mainstream as well. Movies aside, books, television shows and even popular celebrities are a driving force in making overt and sometimes over the top sexuality fashionable. A well known columnist of a UK newspaper recently berated a reader for never eating out his girlfriend. Recently, we've seen the impact 50 Shades of Grey has had on the public's perception of sexual play. And, to be fair, it's not even that great an example of the genre. But still, its popularity has inspired couples from every walk of life to try something new. Rhianna, Lady Gaga and, of course, Betty Page have all played up BDSM themes as a part of their public persona. Simply put – the popularity of kinky sex may not be new, but when it's peaking, vanilla sex turns into a dirty word.
Using the word vanilla to describe sex wasn't initially developed to be a slur or a jab at the established norm. Originally it was used by the BDSM community as a way to describe the traditionally accepted norm they chose to deviate from. It was sex – stripped bare. No toys, no lubes, no props. As a result, the phrase is defined by what it lacks as opposed to what it contains.
With kinky sex dominating pop culture, however, the phrase has taken on a more unsavory connotation. Now when people refer to sex as being vanilla, the perception is they mean boring. In a somewhat ironic twist, this leads people who have a vanilla sex life to be more likely to hide that fact from their friends or, worse yet, to try and force themselves to enjoy something that simply isn't for them.
Introducing toys, reading endless "spice up your sex life" articles you can access or simply trying something is absolutely a good idea when it comes to your sex life. The key is that it has to be something that actually gets you fired up. In an effort to escape the vanilla world, there are people engaging in activities they don't enjoy and faking their enthusiasm – along with their orgasms.
That's not what sex is meant to be about. Sex is supposed to be fun. For some people that means donning leather boots or learning how to build a St. Andrew's Cross. For others it means role playing, toys and tactile props. Still for others it simply means getting it on – maybe with a specially crafted playlist running in the back.
And there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with any of it.
Ultimately, sex is about having fun and engaging in what makes you feel good. When kinky or alternative forms of sexuality hit the mainstream, people are more inclined to talk about their sex lives with the people who matter most – their partners. The greatest thing we can learn from the resurgence of various forms of kink isn't that we all need a riding crop and some rope. It's that being open about sex and employing the type of open and honest communication fostered within the BDSM community.
Ultimately, there's no such thing as truly vanilla sex – unless you're having boring sex and that's another issue entirely! A person's sex life is, in many ways, as unique as any other part of their personality. If your sex life strikes you as being dull then of course you should get out there and try new things. But running off to buy a blindfold and a collar won't make you a lover of BDSM any more than throwing a helmet on will make you an astronaut.
Instead, use those pop culture icons to open up about your sex life and talk about what you'd like to do – or what you already love. The sexiest trait anyone can exhibit is passion. And talking about sex is about as passionate as it gets. Where you fall on the spectrum of kink doesn't determine how good your sex life is – you do.
By Laura Varnishe