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What is Kink-Affirming Therapy and How to Foster It? A Guide for Therapists

Introduction: What is kink-affirming therapy?

Kink-affirming therapy is a therapeutic approach that acknowledges and respects diverse expressions of human sexuality, particularly those related to kink, BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism), fetishism, and other alternative sexual practices. It is a type of therapy that honors client’s kinks and seeks to explore them without judgment. This work often involves helping clients dissolve their shame and guilt around certain kinks or fetishes. Kink-affirming therapists understand that these desires are valid and can play an integral role in an individual's identity and well-being. They work collaboratively with clients to address any issues or concerns they may have related to their kink interests while promoting self-acceptance, communication, and consent. In this blog, I will provide a list on how to foster a kink-affirming space. You can also check out the first two blogs in this series on Depathologizing BDSM and the Potential Benefits of Engaging in Kink.

 How to foster a kink-affirming space:

  1. Nonjudgmental attitude: Create an environment where clients feel safe to discuss their kinks without fear of judgment or shame. This can include putting in your bio that you are kink-affirming, signaling with books/posters/etc in your office or telehealth background, and letting clients know early on that this is a topic you feel comfortable addressing if they want to share.
  2. Do your own Research: Stay up to date about various kink practices and terminology. It is important to ask clients what certain terms mean to them but do not rely on clients to educate you on the topic. Some of my favorite books for learning more are Sex-Positive Social Work, Kink-Affirming Practice, and Different Loving.
  3. Avoid Assumptions: Don’t assume what clients mean when they use certain terms. You can always ask “What does being interested in X mean to you,” or “Can you explain what Y looks like for you?”
  4. Consent-Centered Approach: Prioritize discussion around consent, boundaries, and negotiation within kink dynamics. This can help to model what healthy relationships and mutual respect look like when discussing kink.
  5. Talk About It: Break the stigma by bringing up kink. You can mention during your initial sessions that this is a topic you are comfortable addressing and allow the client to bring up if they want to explore that more.
  6. Cultural Humility: Recognize the intersectional identities that often come into play with kink including race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.. Many kinks play on power dynamics which may mean different things depending on the client’s identity and relationship to power structures.
  7. Trauma-informed care: There may be trauma intertwined with kink dynamics or preferences which should be approached with empathy and trauma-informed frameworks. Kink can also be a way for people to work through past trauma in a safe and consensual way.

Although this is a non-exhaustive list, by implementing these strategies, therapists can create affirming and supportive spaces where clients feel empowered to explore and embrace their kink identities and experiences. Check out the books listed above if you are seeking to broaden your knowledge and understanding.