Sex talk
Speaking of Vanilla Sex

Simon Sheppard,

QSyndicate Madonna popularised kinky sex with her Erotica album, but while some people like it kinky, others like "traditional" sex. Is there something intrinsically better about kinky sex, or can't plain old vanilla taste just as good?

As the saying goes, one man's eroticism is another man's belly laugh. Similarly, even if we define "vanilla" as just straightforward sucking, assfucking, and mutual jacking off, there are plenty of straight folks out there who find any male-male sex to be unacceptably kinky. It's probably unsurprising that gay men, already outside the sexual mainstream, seem on average more open to try, um, "exotic" stuff. Then, too, there's increasing kink-awareness in society these days.

Decades ago, guys into SM would have to sneak around the sexual underground to find what they needed. Nowadays, all they have to do is go online. Used to be it took a while before most men matured into kink; now guys are getting kinkier and kinkier at younger and younger ages, or at least thinking about it.

"Most of the kinky stuff is still in my mind, not something I do in real life," says my 20-year-old AOL acquaintance Jeremy, who chats online about spanking and bondage. "Vanilla sex with my boyfriend is very, very nice, no I don't feel anything is missing. But when I think about sex, it's the non-vanilla stuff that I think of!" Which is not to say he'd rule out real-life spankings: "If I ever started seeing a guy who was already into it, I would try it out," he says.

There's no doubt that kink has brought intensity and adventure to some people's lives. But does that make vanilla somehow second-rate? When I asked M. Christian, editor of Guilty Pleasures, an anthology about kinky sex, whether there was anything wrong with staying vanilla, he was succinct: "Absolutely not!"

There are, to be sure, people for whom the various back alleys of eros hold no allure, no matter how many bondage videos are on MTV. There are also men who would really like to try out some weird stuff but are held back by caution or fear: a fear of getting hurt or a fear of what they might find out about themselves. And these are perfectly good reasons not to do things, even though rising above fear can have its rewards. Sexual pleasure can be fun in and of itself, but it should also be a means to an end, which is, to sound perfectly old-fashioned, happiness and well-being. It's all too easy for some people to fall into a kinkier-than-thou frame of mind. It doesn't really matter what kind of strange things you do if you're not enjoying it. Keith, another young man who's considerably more experienced than Jeremy, says, "I've done all sorts of kinky things, and looking back, I wonder how I got into some of it.

Curiosity, I guess. I'm not sorry I did it, but I don't know whether I'd do it again."

So if you know someone who is getting tied up, flogged, and pierced, that's no reason for you to feel like a wallflower. Our sex lives are not a contest, and nobody's keeping score. So get out there and... cuddle!

Simon Sheppard is the co-editor of Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power (Alyson Books)

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