Social media, in particular, has made it easier for people with common interests to interact and form communities. Kink is no exception. Technology has allowed people from all over the world to connect with one another and create a sense of community. Social media has been a consistent driving force when it comes to maintaining widespread connectivity. Most people are engaging with some form of social media whether it’s for personal or professional use.
In this modern age, even employers and admissions boards expect to find prospective candidates online. Internet users can find information and outlets on nearly any subject or topic of interest under the sun. The internet has forged an astonishingly extensive global community where everyone can access each other virtually all the time.
Popular social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok have certainly made an impact on the kink scene. These outlets have affected accessibility to kink communities and education, the ability to remain informed on new developments or changes in the kink world, perceptions of kink, and even the very language that is used to describe certain practices or phenomena within kink.
To get a better understanding of the extent and direction to which social media, specifically Instagram, have affected kink engagement, awareness, and accessibility, I interviewed three sex educators to get their professional opinions and expert perspective.
Before we get into the actual discussion, could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Goody Howard: My name is Goody Howard MSW, MPH, my pronouns are (she/her). I am a sexologist, educator, and consultant. I’ve been doing this work for fifteen years, full-time for six, and online for four. I offer pleasure development and professional development workshops worldwide.
Shanae Adams: Hello readers, my name is Shanae Adams. I am a sexuality professional, which means that I teach different classes, different comprehensive sexuality classes for kindergartners to senior citizens and everyone in between, on different topics that exist underneath the banner of sexuality, and I can fit damn near anything underneath that banner. I am also a licensed mental health clinician in the state of Colorado. I am clinically trained, so I work with heavy mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, but my specialty is sex therapy, so that means focusing on pleasure, couples and relationship issues, exploring identities, and things of that nature. And I am a co-founder to a sex-positive community resource center known as The Chrysallis House, based in Colorado. We created this organization to serve community as a whole, but we do prioritize queer, BIPOC folx, and sex workers. We are heavy in the decriminalization gang both in Colorado, the United States, and abroad
Kim Pham: I am a domme of over 5 years and a BDSM educator. I am also the co-founder of a proud and loud Asian food brand called Omsom.
In your opinion, how has social media- in particular, Instagram, affected how people engage in kink, their awareness of kink lifestyles, practices, and communities, informed education, safety, as well as their perception of kink?
Goody Howard: Instagram has changed the way people engage in kink because it’s a visual platform. A picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t think awareness has gone up about kink, but I do think people have been able to find [the] community. The internet has made the world smaller. If people are realizing that there are other people that enjoy the same thing they do. This absolutely pertains to the kink community as well.
It’s also presented the opportunity for educators to share what they know to help people have more satisfying experiences. The only negative that I see when it comes to social media’s impact on sex education in general, is that we are very heavily censored. We have to change the way we spell sex and get super creative with how we discuss pleasure. We are restricted from running ads and usually can’t monetize my platforms. Some platforms will even remove the post for “violating community standards.” So it is harder for us to get our messages out.
Kim Pham: Instagram has really widened access to things that perhaps used to exist on the fringes. These social platforms still limit and censor our ability to see the whole picture, but I am really glad that more people are getting access to kink or BDSM beyond just porn. I have nothing against porn – but I believe that there are multitudes in kink beyond what you see in studio-produced porn.
So while it’s net positive that perhaps more folks are getting access to new perspectives on kink, the negative is that we are still playing by the rules of these platforms that are very sex-negative. There are unclear and inconsistent rules on what sort of content is restricted, and that leads to sex workers, creators, and influencers (especially queer + BIPOC folks) being unfairly shadowbanned. The narrative isn’t fully accessible or inclusive yet, but it’s better than before.
Shanae Adams: I feel like Instagram and social media in general have done a really great service to getting people engaged in kink and their awareness- in particular on Instagram and on social media are some of the best places to see non-mainstream kink. Non-mainstream kink is very much categorized by thin, white bodies, heterosexual appearing- definitely heteronormative kink practices. When you get on social media, you get exposed to a variety of different kinky people. You get to see how different people kink and there’s education out there that speaks to the nuance of your identities and the nuance of your experience when you go looking for it. That said, you do sometimes have to look. Social media can definitely be an abyss you get lost in as you try to find the information that you’re looking for.
And you can sometimes find non-ethical things and get education that kind of isn’t beneficial in real life or in the real kink communities. Another negativity that I see from social media is that these platforms don’t belong to the kinksters that are posting information and representation, and so because of that, if Instagram feels like it, they can block you, shut you down, delete your page, and there goes your following. So while you’re always kind of on the precipice of being erased or deleted, that’s why it’s super important for kinksters to have some other way to access your fanbase. Collecting emails, phone numbers, whatever you need to do because the social media platforms don’t belong to us. We are at their mercy, so having that back-up plan is definitely important.
Before social media, how did most people get introduced to kink and continue to learn more? How does that compare to now? Are there pros and cons to that previous way?
Kim Pham: It’s been porn. That’s typically been the first and foremost way people are introduced to kink and BDSM. I’m not anti-porn – I am only anti-porn being the only source for someone to learn about kink. That’s starting to change with platforms like Reddit, Feeld, and Fetlife, but again it’s slow.
Shanae Adams: Before social media, I think a good portion of people got introduced to kink through websites like Craigslist where you were able to post those interests. And something like that exists now on Fetlife, even though Fetlife kind of makes me itch, because again it’s just mainstream kink. There’s no real nuance of representation in other experiences and people of color get buried. But you would learn from showing up at a friend’s party, the people that were around you. And so I feel like the kink scene was a whole lot more underground just because you had to know somebody in order to get into it, whereas now it takes some uncovering, but I wouldn’t say it’s as underground as before. I think there’s definitely pros and cons of both it being above and underground. Now it’s a lot easier to find somebody who has the skills you want or to find a play partner that has these identities that you want to play with. You can experience the liberation and empowerment of kink. The cons of that is that people….You know, I think the biggest con to people finding kink through social media is just that we don’t own those sites and so you could connect with somebody and all of a sudden that site goes away, so you really have to make sure that you’re connecting outside as well. A pro of connecting organically in person is that you’re already connecting organically in person.
Goody Howard: Before social media people got introduced to kink through porn. So some of their foundational ideas about their kinks could be wrong. Now, we have social media and people can find community very easily that way. I think the old way was less accurate. Exploring a new part of your pleasure script is a less lonely experience when you have a community.
Do you think that discussions surrounding kink, online and in other mediums, is helping to destigmatize participation in kink?
Kim Pham: 100%. Not even just participation, but understanding. These larger cultural conversations are making space for people to not feel shame and to begin to understand what they like, what’s it called, how to engage with it safely, who they should learn from or experiment with. The more we normalize these conversations, the less shame and stigmatization that surrounds kink.
Goody Howard: As with anything, the more conversations people have the more socially acceptable things tend to become. I teach a workshop called Everyday Kink where I identify how a lot of common pleasure scripts are rooted in kink. It never ceases to amaze me how people react to finding out they’ve been kinky this whole time. So the more discussions we have, the more people will realize they’ve been kinky all along.
Shanae Adams: I think that discussions surrounding kink are helpful to destigmatize participation in kink. I think that the more you see representatives of people who engage in kink the easier it is to imagine yourself being in the kink community. I also think that it’s really important within this notion of representation that you get to see a lot of different things. Kink is an umbrella term. There’s so many things that exist underneath the banner of kink. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it can be really helpful to read articles or read blogs. Watch videos. Watch other people’s understandings of kink that way it can help you as the reader, as the consumer, imagine whether or not you have interest in that and see yourself doing kink activities.
Are kink Instagram accounts etc. also impacting perceptions for individuals who don’t practice kink? If so, what does that look like?
Goody Howard: I think the presence of kink on social media definitely opened some eyes. But it may cause people to think that if they are vanilla, or not into kink, there is something wrong with them. Media tends to draw distinct lines between black and white when the fun stuff is in the gray area. The current portrayals of kink communities always include leather, and whips, and chains. It is so much more than that.
Shanae Adams: That’s a really good question. I think that when it comes to viewing another person’s experience it is very subjective. And so you’re going to view that other person’s experience through the confines of your own culture, the confines of your own norms, through the confines of the things you’ve been taught. If you don’t know what kink is, if you don’t witness the consent and all the liberation, all the foundational work that you have to lay before you get into these activities, it’s really easy to perceive them to be something that they’re not because you don’t know that nuance.
Kim Pham: I am hopeful that these accounts can start to show the multitudes in the kink world. For so long, kink was something you only engaged in through porn and it looked one very particular way, created largely by and for straight cis men. Now, we have all different types of humans and bodies engaging in kink – from kink models to educators to toy reviewers. I’m glad people are seeing that kink doesn’t have to look one way and that it can be non-sexual as well! Showcasing the multitudes is always a win, in my eyes.
Could you speak a little bit on how platforms like Instagram also affect the language and frameworks we use to characterize kink? For example, it’s somewhat common now to see bios with the term “NMIK,” which I believe is a relatively recent term, although I may be wrong.
Shanae Adams: When it comes to language, the cool thing about language is, the more that we have language to explain our experience, the better we are able to explain our experience. You see that now, for example, I didn’t know what NMIK stood for until I saw it here and was able to look it up, but having that standpoint of no minors in kink is a new term that’s coming up. And to see how people are engaging with language and with their own experience is really powerful, as we come up with new language. Social media is definitely an effective way to change the language, to change our understandings and provide more perspective.
Kim Pham: Culture and the internet can feel the same in so many ways – and so things that happen on the internet feel like they become crystallized into the culture. And that very same phenomenon is happening with the language and vernacular we use online to speak about kink. We are seeing communities and interactions that used to happen only offline happen now online, and it’s so cool to see how that affects kink language,as well as culture.
Goody Howard: I think social media platforms impact the way Kinksters communicate because of the censorship. We have to figure out how to recognize each other on social media without getting our accounts flagged or Shadow banned or deleted. That is where most of these codes come from. Even as sex Educators we have to spell sex like “s3ggs” To keep from getting restricted
Are more people identifying as kinky now, or is it just that people now have increased awareness and accessibility to perhaps communities and practices they might have always had an interest in but didn’t know about?
Shanae Adams: I don’t know if more people are identifying as kinky. I know that kink isn’t definitely as “taboo” as it used to be, so identifying that way doesn’t cause people to gasp and clutch at their pearls, but like I said, when it comes to having more representation, more knowledge to explain your experience, it makes it a lot easier to have an understanding of what you’re experiencing. When it comes to people identifying as kinky, I think we’re all kinky. We all have a kink because of how, like I said, it’s an umbrella term. So maybe in terms of more people identifying as kinky, maybe it’s more people are actually coming to terms and being confident and comfortable with themselves. Maybe it’s increased self-awareness as opposed to awareness of kink communities.
Goody Howard: I think more people are identifying as kinky because more people know what Kink actually is. In human sexuality, kinkiness is the use of non-conventional sexual practices, concepts or fantasies. Because the concept of unconventional is subjective, many more people are realizing that they are actually kinky.
Kim Pham: Perhaps both! With greater access comes greater education (even if imperfect). People have always been kinky – I just think they needed room to explore + learn more about their desires without the shame and stigma that has surrounded kink. It seems like more and more folks are feeling comfortable identifying as kinky, which I love! Kink is such a huge umbrella, and I welcome all to join us in challenging the norm.
Does social media help individuals more safely practice kink? Whether that’s through just sharing information, offering classes, and maybe even setting norms?
Kim Pham: It’s tricky. To give you context: I joined TikTok this year as a BDSM educator, and in less than 8 months I have 58k followers. I would like to say that’s because my content is amazing, but in my eyes, it’s actually a reflection of the lack of accessible and inclusive BDSM education. So I’d say we’re still early in terms of the popularization and destigmatization of kink in the mainstream. A lot of the content that I see within these online spaces still feel very much BDSM 101 – teaching folks the vernacular, specific acronyms, aftercare, negotiation, etc. While not perhaps as “advanced” as I’d want the dialogue to be, I am so glad that by socializing some of these core, foundational aspects of BDSM and kink, we can empower people to really start their own journeys and seek out the learning that resonates with them.
Also, in the same way that social media has made it easier to find kink education, it’s just as easy to find and share misinformed or bad information. It’s a double-sided coin, and it’s on these online communities to self-moderate + keep folks accountable.
Shanae Adams: I definitely think social media can help individuals practice kink safer. It’s a great place to offer information, to offer classes, to find a person who can help you go through this process, the same with setting norms. Like we said, language changes norms and can be presented or changed on social platforms as well. I definitely think social media can help people practice safer and to find those masters, those mentors to assist them in practicing their kinks safely.
Goody Howard: Social media absolutely helps improve safety. When you have a community you also figure out what the shared values are. Create a culture together. This gives opportunities for workshops on safety, consent, exploring pleasure, expanding understanding of kink and much more. And not only improve safety it improves pleasure and satisfaction.
In your opinion, does the overall kink community have gatekeepers? And if so, does social media make it easier for individuals to become part of these communities?
Goody Howard: All communities have gatekeepers. It’s the nature of the Beast. I think social media makes it easier for the gatekeepers to be overthrown.
Kim Pham: That’s a huge reason behind why I started my platform – when I first started getting involved in the kink community, I felt super intimidated and had tons of imposter syndrome 5 years later, I started my Tiktok and Instagram explicitly to become the resource I wish I had early on in my journey.
But to be honest, I understand why some folks feel the need to gatekeep. When I think about those folks, they gatekeep because, for many generations, kink has been so inaccessible, stigmatized, and surrounded by so much shame, that many of these communities had to form in the dark, in the shadows, and on the fringes. When you’ve gone through those hard, dark times of being outcast, discriminated against for your desires and your lifestyle, it’s really easy to be protective of that.
I really empathize with that OG generation – I’ve been in this for five years, and there are some people who have been living kink lifestyles for 20+ years. I understand why they might feel protective or territorial of their spaces and communities – and there’s room for that. I also think there is room for educators like myself who have the privilege of having the patience and time to welcome more newbie folks with grace.
It’s not about gatekeeping or not – it’s about creating more space in kink for everybody to find community and belonging, however that looks for them.
How can social media like Instagram enhance our engagement and exploration in kink?
Kim Pham: I don’t think Instagram is thinking about engagement – they’re thinking about community moderation, guidelines, and policies. What I would want from Instagram or any platform is just transparency around their guidelines. I’ve seen people get shadowbanned for very different things. I’ve seen varying levels of enforcement depending on the size of your following.
I’ve seen BIPOC + queer people get punished way harsher than other creators. We need transparency around these guidelines and an open dialogue with a lot of these communities that oftentimes rely on these platforms to make a living, whether as a content creator or sex worker.
Shanae Adams: Our engagement is enhanced through representation. People creating content. People with a variety of identities creating content and finding their niche, their tribe, their group of people that want to interact with them.
Goody Howard: Instagram is an amazing place for education. It’s also a place full of misinformation. If Instagram had more expansive and holistic community standards, educators and community leaders would be able to share accurate, inclusive, safe, and satisfying information. Education has to be [just] as accessible as porn.
What do you believe is the future of kink as it relates to technology like social media?
Shanae Adams: I look forward to the toys. I look forward to new kinky inventions, new ways to tantalize all of the senses, all of the nerve endings, and to pleasurable bliss. I look forward to continuing to fine-tune the consent practices, and the ethical standpoints of what it means to engage in kink. I look forward to being able to have kinky play places have some understanding of intersectionality and trauma-informed care, so that more people do feel inclined and safe to access these areas to learn and play. I really hope that the kinky community and kinky society as a whole has a standpoint in being able to liberate all other communities. There are so many liberation aspects and activismal aspects – tools that can lead to activism and liberation we find in kink.
Like self-advocacy, like consent, like empathy, like paying attention to everything as a whole and being able to critically think. I hope more people will continue to create content that will help push these ideals and bring forth more of the things we want to see in our kinky communities, that way we can all continue to be liberated and pleasure focused.
Kim Pham: I am hopeful that the future means more access, more education, and more normalization around kink. I am so excited for a future where we talk about kinks, perhaps in the same breath that we ask about birth charts. The internet really popularized + normalized astrology as part of our everyday, normal vernacular. It’s super normal for someone on a first date to ask “What’s your star sign? What’s your birth chart?” I would love for our desires and sex positivity to be a part of that societal dialogue one day. People are starting to own more of their individuality in an out loud way and I really hope that kink can one day be a part of that. Do I want everyone to be kinky? Only if it feels authentic to you! But at a baseline, I’d love for kink to be something people feel at least comfortable to discuss and own as part of their truths!
Goody Howard: The future of kink is bright! Technology and social media have made the world smaller and put communities together that would not have been possible otherwise. It also can improve the spread of accurate, safe information in regards to all things sexuality.
In conclusion, the direction and exact impact social media like Instagram, have had on kink expression and participation is a complicated, multidimensional query. On one hand, social media has continued to spark wider cultural discussions surrounding sexuality, including kink. The online presence of educators, models, artists, and companies alike have all contributed to this moment in time where more and more people are learning about what exists out there in the realm of kink and what opportunities for self-discovery might lie in wait. This is certainly very different from time’s past where most of the kink “education” per se came strictly from porn or from websites like Craigslist.
Social media has made it easier for individuals to access each other as well as information, but it has made it just as easy for people to encounter misinformed and potentially harmful content; highlighting the importance of safe practices online and in person. Although social media comes with more accessibility, these platforms have also continued to censor and shadow ban several helpful kink educators and sex workers, with particularly harsh punitive actions against queer BIPOC folx, further limiting access to diverse perspectives.
Accessibility can only have so much of an impact when the accounts and information available to us are not inclusive or diverse- or when these diverse, nuanced perspectives exist, but are being strainfully confined and shunned. It’s clear that a much wider perspective with which to view kink is not only necessary, but desperately longed for by educators and the community at large.
Additionally, it’s hard to say whether there are more kinky-identifying people now than compared to the past, or if it’s all just a matter of more people having names and words to describe their internal experiences, longings, and desires. While it’s impossible to predict what the future has in store for technology, social media, and kink expression, one thing remains clear. Both kink and social media are here to stay and we are currently at a brand new horizon with virtually endless possibilities.
As the social media landscape continues to grow and evolve over time, alongside widespread changes in kink awareness and perceptions, there is truly no telling what may come to pass.
Interviews Obtained from the following Professionals
Goody Howard, MSW, MPH (she/her)
Sexologist, Educator, and Consultant
Shanae Adams MA, LPCC, NCC, CIGT (she/they)
Clinical Sexology Ph.D. Student
Kink and BDSM Educator and co-founder of OmSom