I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner,” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.
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Dear Sexplain It,
Is it bad to be 100% vanilla, and never ever have anything to do with BDSM, kinks and fetishes? Are there other people like me left, or has BDSM taken over the world, and converted everyone, forcing me to either choose between converting myself or staying single for the rest of my life?
I am 100% vanilla and have no desires whatsoever for BDSM or kink in any way, shape, or form. I have zero pain tolerance and will avoid it every chance I get, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.
I also don’t like inflicting or seeing others in pain. I don’t like breath play at all, and I don’t like having my neck touched by anyone. No exceptions! I also don’t like fear, humiliation, degradation, or cruelty either. I don’t like being bound because I’m claustrophobic.
Are there any people out there like me who are authentically 100% vanilla, not because of conditioning, shame, or guilt, but because we are just that way naturally?
Where do I find someone like that? How can I guarantee that I end up with someone who is 100% vanilla and will never desire anything kinky? Also, is it selfish if I break up with a partner for not being 100% vanilla like me? I ONLY want partners with NO kinks or fetishes? Is that okay?
The more sex articles I read online, the more anxious, depressed, and inadequate I feel, like there’s no one out there who is compatible with me exactly as I am.
— Vanilla Man
Dear Vanilla Man,
When I first read your question, I thought to myself, “This dude sounds like a guy who’d ask why there’s no white history month.” The answer is because the United States already caters to white folks, just as it does to folks who are sexually vanilla. When sex happens on-screen in blockbuster movies, it tends to be missionary sex. Depictions of BDSM and kink in mainstream media are slim—that’s why Fifty Shades of Grey was so groundbreaking when it hit theaters, even though the franchise is complete trash. And while a vanilla dude may get teased by his friends for being boring, that’s far different from being told you are shameful, deviant, or have a mental illness for wanting to be tied up and spanked.
That said, you’re right: there has been an increase in articles about BDSM and other kinks, and for a couple of reasons. First, there’s more demand. As kink becomes less taboo, lots of people are finally seeking resources on how to explore their desires safely. (Fifty Shades ain’t the greatest educational material.) Second, there’s still lot of unnecessary shame around having “taboo” sexual desires, and sex experts such as myself are attempting to fix that—because having kinks is totally normal!
Contrary to your beliefs, BDSM isn’t taking over the world or forcing you into submission. (Do you like kink puns, or is that also a hard limit?) Rather, the increased coverage is an attempt to correct a societal wrong. Besides, what would I say in an article about “How to Have Vanilla Sex?” Look into each other’s eyes and stay in missionary for five minutes until you orgasm? Y’all don’t need my help for that!
My boring-ass vanilla friend, I promise you’re not alone. There are still plenty of folks who are just like you, albeit probably less demanding about their partners’ preferences. This idea that there’s no one left on God’s green Earth that’s like you—when you have one of the most compatible sexual preferences—is plain wrong. So stop speaking in “sweeping generalities,” says my colleague Megan Stubbs, Ed.D., author of the upcoming book Playing Without a Partner. When I showed her your question, she added that someone enjoying a particular kind of sex “doesn’t negate or invalidate the type of sex that you enjoy.”
“It takes many mediocre first dates for most people to find someone they’re compatible with.”
As to where you can find someone who’s equally as vanilla as you are? Um… anywhere that isn’t a specific kink or poly site? I’m pretty sure OkCupid still asks sex questions, so that’s a way to see if you’re compatible with other people from the get-go. Since any form of kink is a dealbreaker for you, I’d make a note of that in your bio. I was trying to think of a clever way to address your vanilla preferences, but honestly, it might be better just to be blunt: “I love sex, but TBH, I’m not the most adventurous in the bedroom.”
If you don’t want to put it in your dating profile, or you’re meeting people outside the apps, you can talk about your sexual preferences after a date or two. When you do, you can say you’re vanilla—but not as aggressively as you put it in this question. Say something like: “I’m definitely vanilla and tend to enjoy more standard sexual encounters. I find eye contact in missionary really intimate and satisfying.”
And guess what? They may be kinky, and it might not be a match. Dating is a lot of trial and error. I’ve had people turn me down after a date once they learn I’m bisexual. Not a match. I’ve been on dates with people whom, I come to learn, are vanilla in bed. Also not a match. Dating is the process of finding someone who is a goddamn match. And remember, it takes many mediocre first dates for most people to find someone they’re compatible with—sexually or otherwise. Don’t be discouraged.
You also ask how you can guarantee that you end up with someone who is “100% vanilla and will never desire anything kinky.” There’s simply no way to know how someone’s desires might change in the future. It’s like asking, “How can I guarantee that my wife won’t cheat on me?” There’s no 100% guarantee for anything. The sun may blow up tonight. Just because it’s risen four billion years in a row doesn’t mean it’s going to rise tomorrow. Still, we carry on with our lives and do our best.
“People’s sexual frequency, habits, likes, and dislikes are never something that is locked in stone,” Stubbs says. “Someone who may be into one type of sex may change their mind down the road.”
Lastly, you ask if it’s selfish to break up with a partner for not being 100% vanilla. The answer is no. “It takes two people to be in a relationship, so if one party is dissatisfied for whatever reason, they can decide to end it,” Stubbs says. I just hope that if you find someone who’s otherwise amazing, and who wants to explore something on the tamer side—like dirty talk—you try your best to keep an open mind. I don’t want you to be so focused on finding your 100% vanilla partner that you miss out on someone whose personality aligns with yours in other important ways.
I know I was a little hard on you, my vanilla buddy, but I really think you needed to hear all this. You’re not alone. There are plenty of folks with the same sexual desires as you. You’re also not being persecuted for your desires, so you can breathe a sigh of relief—not in a breath play way, I promise.
Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment.
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