Everyone was taking the online BDSM test in high school. Hushed voices rang through the halls, “What results did you get?” We held up our friends with the kinkiest results like a new man at his Bar Mitzvah, cheering and throwing him above the crowd. Someone at every lunch table and in every clique bragged about being 98 percent rope bunny, 54 percent masochist, and 24 percent pet. Most of us didn’t even know what that meant, but it had to be edgy and therefore cool.
Then there was Brian. He displayed his glowing phone screen to the cafeteria, reporting that he was in fact 100 percent vanilla. The entire senior class snickered. Brian became the butt of jokes for the rest of the year. “If Brian were a spice, he would be flour,” they’d say. He asked girls to prom, but none of them wanted to be associated with someone so conventional and uncool.
I saw Brian’s fate as a cautionary tale: To be sexually unadventurous was social suicide. I made sure to skew my answers to extremes when I took the BDSM test, my friends huddled around me. The final result was “100 percent primal hunter,” which took some google searches to understand. Primal hunters enjoy animalistic fucking with wrestling, screaming and biting. It resonated with me, as I sometimes see joggers running down the street like gazelles and my instinct is to hunt them. Even an embarrassing detail like that was still preferable to vanillahood. No one wanted to openly admit they had a limited menu of missionary and frottage.
Historically, our concept of vanilla was borne from marginalized subcultures reclaiming their sexualities seen as “weird” and “wrong.” Queer folks and BDSM practitioners have been thrust to the fringes of society for decades in America, so calling the normies vanilla was one small way to shift stigma back to those in power. Our idea of what is vanilla is also constantly changing, defined by the taboos of the zeitgeist. Choking and oral used to be seen as deviant behaviors, but now we can find gasping and sucking in most bedrooms.
When vanilla and kinky are a dichotomy, they create ingroups and outgroups that stunt our sexual exploration. We get to decide what personally is and isn’t vanilla, regardless of what an online test says we are. Now that more kinks are openly universal, weird is vanilla and vanilla is weird. If millions of people search for porn of milk enemas and sniffing armpits, we can safely say that the boundary between niches and norms is a spectrum. We don’t have to be ashamed of our discomfort if something truly disturbs us.
Fear of being boring leads to sticky situations where the “kinky” sex we strive for is outside of any reasonable comfort zone. Kink communities are full of aftercare and respect, even when exploring disrespect. The moment it stops being what both people want, it’s not healthy. Saying yes and meaning it is basic consent. Feeling funky in the eyes of a partner shouldn’t take precedence over personal comfort and safety. Especially when a guy says he wants you to “be called a cum-hungry college slut while you’re forced down on a hard cock at the grocery store, having your hands and legs tied, a vibrator in your asshole while getting edged with a Hitachi, eating cum out of your own pussy with your fingers (if you’re on birth control) while the other grocery store patrons watch.”
You don’t have to be Daddy’s Little Cumslut Kitten. If your idea of a good time is a cookie-cutter roll in the hay, own it. Your enjoyment of sex will skyrocket if you stop worrying about whether it was vanilla and start worrying about whether it was pleasurable. Sometimes the most consistent flavor at the ice cream shop is good ole’ vanilla.
Anya Neeze is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Boink! runs during alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.