Slate Writer Asks: ‘Is Kink a Sexual Orientation?’

It’s been nearly a whole month since anyone strung a new letter on the LGBTQIA freight train. How about “K?” 

Yup. You can’t make this stuff up. Kink is a new sexual orientation, according to Slate writer Jillian Keenan, who also freelances for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The New Yorker.  “Is Kink a Sexual Orientation?” Keenan asked, arguing that “Kink is often so fundamental to our sexual identities that it has to be, at least in some cases, an orientation.” 

Referencing Live Action’s video series showing Planned Parenthood employees instructing “teens” in BDSM, Keenan complained about the “sexual hysteria” of the “anti-sex crowd.” “The latest panic,” she stressed, “is that kinky people will lure vanilla children into our sexual hellscape through trendy pop cultural depictions of BDSM” (think: Fifty Shades of Grey). 

Such a panic, in Keenan’s eyes, “raise[s] a question that is often discussed in sexual subcultures but rarely mentioned in the mainstream: Is kink a sexual orientation?” Of course, Keenan already knew the answer. Kink is “so much more than merely physical,” she gushed, and “Our orientation is so deeply rooted that many of us feel we were born with it.” Just like “love,” she explained, “kink mixes language, ritual, trust, power, pleasure, pain, and identity in a way that can’t be captured by a stereotype.”

“We don’t choose kink,” Keenan stressed – and for most “kinky people,” “BDSM is not a choice, a hobby, or a phase.” (So get ready to be drummed out of polite society, kink-o-phobes!)

Keenan also disputed the definition of sexual orientation. While “BDSM is technically how I love my husband,” she admitted, “to reduce the orientation of love to a physical technicality is every bit as reductive (and ultimately inaccurate) as it would be to argue that homosexuality is not an orientation.”

“Sexual orientation is far more about who is putting his penis in your butt—or who is spanking me with a belt—than it is about how either activity occurs,” she explained. Wow, thanks for clearing that up.

For a “more nuanced and complex” approach, Keenan invited readers to “imagine that an orientation toward ‘men’ is not an orientation toward genitals or chromosomes but, rather, an orientation toward some kind of intangible, supra-physical ‘male identities’” and then, also, for women. “Is it so strange,” she pondered, “to imagine that some people might be oriented toward identities that are neither male nor female but, rather, dominant or submissive?”

To (re)define sexual orientation, Keenan turned to Shakespeare: “Perhaps sexual orientation is ‘an ever fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken,’” or, in other words, “any sexual identity that is so fixed and unshakable that it defies choice, reason, and even, at times, simple evolutionary explanation.”

She later expanded, “Maybe to qualify as a sexual orientation, an identity must not only be innate, unshakeable, and unchosen, but also stigmatized.”

If you accept her definition, she concluded, “then my kink is my sexual orientation.”


Although Keenan was once a self-identified bi-sexual, she’s now “attracted to ‘tops,’ or sexually dominant people, as a group.” For her and “many kinky people,” “gender is irrelevant.” In other words, she makes it up as she goes along, and because she can’t make up her mind, we’re supposed to create a whole new protected sexual class for her.

Not only does such an “orientation” “overcome gender” according to Keenan, but also it “overcomes the strong evolutionary human impulse to avoid pain.” She explained, “Perhaps this should go without saying, but kink hurts” and thus “Anything that can swim upstream of such a forceful tide must be rooted in something more fundamental and legitimate than merely what’s trendy.”

Like, say, Keenan's push for legalized polygamy.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.

Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center