First of all, remember there is no value or merit inherent in outness. That being said, I’ve always been a super-loudmouth activist about things, especially in regions where the surrounding culture is conservative, but there are many legitimate reasons why someone may not be open in public spaces about being a kinkster. Places of employment, for example, can be bad environments for “too much sharing”; ditto if you are in any domestic dispute involving child custody.
Conversely, there are also good reasons for openness, and partners who are more private should still make an effort to understand how keeping one’s private life under wraps can feel supremely disorienting and uncomfortable to someone who lives life more out on the table. Furthermore, the more open person in this situation might end up feeling like you’re trying to keep them and your relationship a secret. How can you resolve these seeming conflicts? What questions do you need to ask?
Let’s start with what information goes out where. This is especially a concern if either of you ever post stuff about your personal sex life on mainstream social media. I frequently have drawn from real-life stories for my blog posts, for example, never mind passing references to things on Facebook.
Some things to discuss: How do you refer to your partners in social media, if at all? (Some of my lovers have gotten nicknames, which I let them agree to.) Do you tag them in a post? (Some of mine yes, others no.) Is your relationship status acknowledged by an official link, or is it “complicated”? (I have decided to leave my current status “complicated.”) Until you have a good sense of what your partner is comfortable with, it’s a good idea to run your posts and status updates by them if you refer to them in it.
This same initial caution applies to pictures as well. Would you want to put pictures up on Facebook? On Fetlife? Here on fetish.com? Under what conditions? With mask? Not showing bits or only showing bits?
If you have doubts about privacy levels in your kink relationships, talk about it.
My kink is an essential part of my relationship; my closest friends know this. I also run a dirty storytelling show featuring real-life first-person sex stories, which means that I have to be ready to spill. I check with my partner: what I can put out in the world about us?
Once you’re off the internet, there are public, “meat-space” appearances. How do you dress when you’re out on the town? Do you wear a collar or not? What kind of collar? I have a bracelet that I always wear, but it’s nothing that would stand out as particularly kink-affiliated. I suspect that if I were to wear a “daddy’s little girl” t-shirt out in public, my partner might be uncomfortable.
If you have specific power-dynamic related terms of address or endearments for each other, where do you employ those? My partner’s actual name is my safe word; I use it to get his attention so seldom that it’s a notable, action-stopping event when I do. I call him by a different name all the rest of the time, except when people are around; in joyful situations, like greeting at the airport after one of our many long separations, it requires a real effort of will, not to squeal his “play” name across the terminal. I’ve learned to control myself, and in exchange, he has gotten more relaxed about soft mentions in the grocery store.
Everyone’s situation is different, which is why nothing beats discussion for dealing with these questions. Compromise will be necessary, as the more out one learns to curb their impulses and the more reserved/private partner learns to sit with the nerves that can come up when they’re stretching outside their comfort zone.
The most important thing is to take your partner’s concerns seriously and assume good will about each other’s feelings. You both want to bridge this gap, and that is the best starting point.
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