Picture this; you have just finished a date with the person that you just started seeing and are about to be intimate for the first time. You are super excited because things have been going extremely well between the two of you. They have the qualities that you have been searching for in a partner and you are starting to feel confident that perhaps they will be someone who will remain in your life long term. You cannot wait to move the relationship from a romantic space to an intimate one and then you are hit with it; your kinks are not compatible. Perhaps you are a submissive and were hoping that their dominant traits would continue into the bedroom or maybe you are a Sadist and they have an aversion to pain. What does this fundamental incompatibility mean for your future with this person? Is it possible to make things work?
Kink incompatibility can be incredibly frustrating to discover when already invested in a person emotionally. Often, we create a vision for what our intimate life will look like with our partner/s and when that expectation does not become a reality, it can send us into a tailspin, doubting the very relationship that we have grown to love. The question remains; can a relationship work between two people whose kinks are fundamentally different? The short answer is yes. However, in order for the needs of both (or more) partners to be met, there will be work to do.
First and foremost, it is important to discover not only what kinks your partner may have, but what it is about those kinks that is appealing to them. For example, if your partner identifies as a submissive, it may be helpful to ask what type of submissive they are. What do they gain from their submission and what accompanies it? Often, our kink identities are complex and to begin working through the incompatibilities, it is important that all aspects of one’s identity are discussed. Once these topics are covered, we may be able to use some of this information in later stages.
Understanding why someone has the kink they do can also be immensely helpful in the discovery process. For example, if one partner is interested in cucking but the other is not, deeply understanding what it is about the cuck fantasy can be very helpful. If they enjoy the humiliation the most, can that be integrated into the relationship without bringing in an additional person? What sort of things have humiliated them in the past? Can roleplay be enough to satisfy the need for humiliation? These types of questions are what can get us to discover the depths of our partners’ kinks and we can use that to adjust to meet their needs.
Next, it can be helpful to understand how much someone is married to their specific kink role. Are they willing to try out new roles? Are they comfortable using toys or equipment that they never considered? This is where limits come into play. Sitting down and discussing what someone may or may not be willing to try can be an excellent way to discover new kinks. This can also happen by watching porn together, reading erotica, checking out online forums where kinks are discussed and more. Creativity is key when trying to find the balance between two kink identities that do not seem to fit together.
Couples may also want to consider how they define their relationship structure and agreement. Often, the topic of whether or not a couple will be monogamous is not even discussed, as monogamy is the societal standard that frequently dictates how relationships will look. This does not need to be the case. Each couple has the ability to determine how the structure of their relationship will exist and sometimes, being open (whether monogamish, polyamorous, or otherwise) can allow for more needs to be met. Keep in mind, this does not need to be in a sexual way! If one partner is a Sadist who craves spanking play, they may be able to find themselves a spanking partner who only exists in that play space and does not involve any sex whatsoever. This can take pressure off of the partner who has no interest in that type of play and allow the other partner to have the need met that is not being satisfied in the relationship. This type of additional partner works well when one partner has an interest and the other does not. However, what happens when both parties identify as the same role?
For this issue, integrating additional individuals may also be of help. For example, if both partners in a relationship are submissive, it may be possible for them to find a third Dominant partner who uses their power to Dom partner A into topping partner B or vice versa. This can allow for the intercourse to remain between the couple but also allow for the dynamic to be at play. Both partners will be in a submissive role and the third party may derive pleasure from their participation. Keep in mind, all parties involved must consent to absolutely everything!
Lastly, when all other options seem to have been exhausted, it may be time to check in with a professional. Couples counseling, with a kink specialized therapist, can be incredibly helpful for couples struggling to get on the same page about their erotic lives. There is no shame in seeking additional support and a kink specialized therapist will likely have worked with this issue before.
Overall, kink incompatibility is certainly a tough issue to work through but it does not mean that a relationship is doomed to fail. Like so many other things that come up in relationships, this takes work, patience and understanding. With communication, creativity and respect, we can create relationships where needs are met and all folks are satisfied!
Elyssa Helfer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in the Kink and Alternative Lifestyle community. She is a writer, lecturer and advocate for sexual empowerment and sexual freedom. She has a private practice in Los Angeles, CA and is dedicated to shifting the narrative about both the mental health and Kink community.