It turns out that kink isn’t just a haven for those who think differently, it’s actually a healthy outlet for those whose brains work differently.
Spend any time around a dungeon or kink event and the first thing you will notice is the hugely diverse representation in many spaces. As BDSM, and Kink as a wider subculture, grows in popularity as a place where people who might not find their identity elsewhere to create a niche for themselves, we have invariably seen a lot of neurodiversity grow within the BDSM subculture, especially as more neurodivergent people find BDSM and the social elements of their communities to be valuable networks for support.
What is Neurodiversity?
If you’re new to the Neurodiversity conversation, then perhaps some of the terms used will be a bit confusing. They sound like something from a young adult sci-fi novel, and many of them do come from that same place. To make things simple, neurodiversity is the idea that our brains all work in different ways. This doesn’t make any specific way right or wrong, nor does it place value on any specific neurological makeup. It just recognizes that what you might think of as “Normal” is only one of many ways to do things.
Within Neurodiversity, there are two categories: Neurodivergent and Neurotypical. These words describe a person’s position within neurodiversity. A neurotypical person has a brain that one might say works in the ways that society expects them to. They go about their day with no real significant challenges that one might expect to face no matter what. A neurodivergent person, however, has a brain that works differently and, as the neurotypical folks make up a majority of the world, may struggle with certain aspects of life based on their ability to adapt to expectations.
Examples of neurodivergence make up several different social, attention, and mood disorders; conditions like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Executive Function Disorders, Autism, CPTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc. These conditions have been seen as lifelong illnesses, but many within the neurodiversity community use terms like neurodiversity to de-pathologize these disorders, recognizing that, while some may need higher levels of support than others, it is better to fit these disorders under a social model for disability rather than a pathological disorder intended to be treated and possibly cured.
Neurodivergence in Kink
All activism related talk aside, though, neurodiversity is at the core of the BDSM subculture, and local kink communities draw in many neurodivergent people for varying reasons. I myself am an autistic adult and I suffer from several complex trauma processes, and I find a lot of fulfillment in the community.
The reasons behind why many neurodivergent people might find their local dungeon or BDSM munch to be a welcome haven are as varied as the needs of each person are. Each one of us has our own experience which dictates how we interact with the world around us.
We ND (short for Neurodivergent) folks do often have similar shared struggles, such as:
• Difficulty with changing routines or expectations
• Trouble reading or trusting social cues and coding
• A hard time processing complex or overly simple sensory input
• Hard time responding to unclear communication or shifting focus
• Difficulty with or a deep reliance on nuance or grey areas
The level and ways each person struggles will be unique to the individual and circumstances, and many neurodivergent people do an excellent job at working with these struggles to still maintain what might be considered the label of “High functioning”, or capable of functioning in a world that relies heavily upon and often demands a certain skill set in these areas.
Because of this, the world of Kink draws in many neurodivergent people. The reasons for this stem from two distinct realities for most neurodivergent people. Firstly, many of us see the world in a way that neurotypical people might not. Both because of our differing brains and the lived experience that comes with that, we tend to see things from our own unique perspective, and the freedom in exploration that kink provides us can be a wonderful space for us to live in.
The second reason is, as we work in our daily lives to overcome some of the expectations that are placed on us, the BDSM and Kink worlds offer us an environment with certain amounts of stability in expectations, outcomes, and roles. Communication and personal expression are an important part of Kink, and because of this, it gives us a great space to thrive.
You will often see neurodivergent people actively participating in our local communities because of this, whether it’s by leading, volunteering, teaching, helping others, or building a community structure. These activities allow us not only to fit in within the cultural context, but also allow us to thrive in our roles because of our unique talents and skills. Many of us have a unique heart for bringing in others, making people feel welcome, and want to build a safe place for people like ourselves, so we tend to dive in.
It also is an easy place for us to feel part of things. Many of us struggle in one way or another with standard social expectations. Whether that is due to trouble making new connections, struggles with shifting social hierarchy struggles with forms of executive function, the desire to be social without the energy to engage socially, there are a number of ways that being part of a bigger movement can help.
Communicating with Neurodivergent People and Partners
One key area where Neurodivergent people struggle is with communication. Now many of us are amazing communicators. We teach and speak and write, and many of the most interesting voices in our subculture today are ND. We aren’t incapable of communicating by any means.
On the contrary, we are typically eager to communicate and connect. However, many people are not taught to understand the ways we communicate (a great example is the perceptions around non-speaking autistic people, many of whom are poets, writers, and filmmakers who create amazing works), which leaves many neurodivergent people at a social disadvantage from the get-go. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially in a culture where relationships and interaction are the key driving force.
Neurodiverse people tend to communicate with the idea that we are used to being misunderstood. We are often either overly focused on details, or dismiss them outright. We may interpret subtext or social cues differently or sometimes not at all. We may have expectations attached to certain words or ideas that may differ from yours. It’s important to understand that we do communicate, just in our own ways.
Within the context of kink, this is something of a benefit as we exist in a world where we are encouraged to communicate. We are given the chance to negotiate expectations, to create understandings, and to build both our own styles of communication and social interaction. Give us space to do this, and then respect it.
It is important to us that you are clear and consistent when communicating things like boundaries, expectations, and experience. Be direct and open with us, as we’ll do the same with you. Give us space to ask what you might think are obvious questions, and you do the same, especially when it comes to things like negotiating dynamics or play.
Use inclusive language. Don’t just tell us what’s not on the table (Trust us, many of us have been building “No” lists in our heads for ages). Tell us what you DO want and DO like. Give us a direction as well. Don’t just say “Stay off the grass”, but also say “Go ahead and wander the garden path!”
And know that we are often anxious about communicating expectations. We’ll probably over-state and overthink because we know that typically we are at a deficit in them. Give us the space to make mistakes and when they happen, accept them as they are. You’d be surprised how often neurodivergent people face unfair responses and arbitrary feeling consequences for simply being who we are, mistakes and all is going to help us feel more comfortable continuing with you.
Some Final Thoughts
The neurodiversity of the kink world is one of its biggest strengths, and as we grow towards a better understanding of things like neurodiversity, accessibility, and how we can create a more equitable and egalitarian world overall, we should take it as a chance to also improve our understanding of neurodiversity within our own subculture, and in our own communities. As mental health comes to a better understanding of how our minds and bodies work together, so are many members of our own community gaining more insights into themselves and their own needs and desires. We should continue to grow and understand how these things have played into our kink world, and how they can continue to play a role throughout all of our activities and goings-on.
Aaron is a kinkster, writer, Viking, and Curling fan with over a decade worth of experience. He enjoys sharing the knowledge and insights he has gained over his own journey. Follow him on Twitter @BaronKink