advice, kink

Is psychological kink play “healthy”?

Recently, I’ve noticed quite a few questions—both in the Submissive Playground course and in the Ask Me Anything box—concerning kink, trauma, and wellness, particularly about psychological kink play like D/s and Daddy/girl dynamics and whether or not they are “good” for you.

After my own recent experience of a D/s Daddy/girl relationship dynamic “going sour,” as I’ve been phrasing it, I have many of my own questions about the ways that these dynamics can contribute to emotional or psychological damage, can play into our past hurts or traumas, and/or can cause further harm.

I do deeply believe that D/s and other psychological kink play can be healthy, but like any relationship, can also be profoundly unhealthy. It’s not the dynamic that determines that health or damage so much as it’s the relationship—and a thousand other factors.

(Even categorizing relationships as “healthy” or “unhealthy” is oversimplified, since I think no relationship is entirely “healthy” or “unhealthy” all the time.)

I realized I needed some other expert opinions on kink and wellness, so I have been reaching out to some of the mental health practitioners that I know who are kink-friendly and knowledgeable.

This is my first interview so far, with Dr. Matt Goldenberg in Seattle. He and I have been friends for more than 10 years, and I am really grateful to know him and have access to his smart brain!

A couple of the resources we mention in the interview:

As I’ve been pondering, and through this interview, this is what I’ve been thinking:

  • I don’t believe any particular act is inherently healthy or unhealthy (except perhaps illegal ones, or ones deemed “morally wrong” by the community at large, which are generally things like non-consent)
  • The same act can be “healthy” and feel great for some people and be “unhealthy” and feel bad for other people, and the same act for the same people at different times could feel healthy or unhealthy depending on the circumstances.
  • The biggest indicators of “unhealthy” scenes or moments in kink are feelings. If things aren’t feeling right, they probably aren’t.

But I still have a lot of questions, like:

  • It is my belief that no fantasy is inherently wrong, and that playing with deep psychological triggers can sometimes be incredibly healing. What to you is the relationship between mental wellness and the practice of kink?
  • How do you know if the kind of kink you’re practicing is contributing to your compulsions or damage, rather than healing it?
  • What are the signs that one should watch for that may indicate someone is in a “danger zone”, playing with things they perhaps shouldn’t be?

As I delve deeper into psychological kink play, the nuances of it are increasingly interesting for me … This may be the beginning of a larger project.

I have a few more psychologists and therapists to conduct interviews with already. Do you have any suggestions for mental health practitioners who are knowledgeable about kink (they don’t have to be kinky themselves, but some knowledge is important), and who may want to talk to me? Have them get in touch, or send an email introducing us:

Do you have other psychological kink and wellness questions? Ask me here in the comments, and who knows, I may ask your question in the next interview.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

7 thoughts on “Is psychological kink play “healthy”?”

  1. BT says:

    Could you post transcripts of your interviews/videos? Would be helpful to people who are deaf/hard of hearing, don’t speak English as their native language, are in a place where they can’t use audio, and/or simply process written info better than verbal. (Probably would help others too but those were the groups I could think of right now.)

    I really love your work and want it to be easy to access! This post in particular really interests me because I use play to process things and would love to read more about the psychology of it.

    1. Sinclair says:

      Hey! I would LOVE to have transcripts up of the video interviews, but honestly I do not have time or money to make that happen. I do know that transcripts are incredibly useful for accessibility things as well as a variety of other reasons, I’ve been working hard on getting transcripts for the Submissive Playground course videos this past year.

      This kink/mental wellness project of mine is probably a little bonus side project, so while I do want to do some things with it, it’s not going to be a place that I can throw many resources. Doing video interviews is the easiest way to ask someone else for their time—it doesn’t take as long to have a conversation as it does to answer a written interview or write an essay, for example. So right now it’s the best format I have. I do know it’s limited, though, and I will keep that in mind as the project continues.

      Meanwhile, though, if you—or anyone!—would be interested in volunteering to transcribe this video (or others), I would love to talk to you about that and I could surely trade for something interesting.

        1. Sinclair says:

          Thanks Eva—I didn’t know that. Might be a great place to start.

  2. Chriss says:

    I’m also interested in transcripts, and would like to potentially volunteer to write them up. Can we chat about this?

    1. Sinclair says:

      Great, thank you Chriss! Would you email me about it?

  3. Amy W says:

    Great interview, and very interesting! I couldn’t agree more that what may be “healthy” and feel great for some people can be “unhealthy” for others. It’s what makes each of us unique, and what makes our sexuality so exciting! Being communicative, honest, and up front is always important in every relationship. Part of positive sex is not worrying or judging what others do, and focus on figuring out what works for you and your partner at that time.

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