What is “vanilla” sex?

Anita Cassidy

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In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on sex and desire. We shared some writing recently about how hard it can be to talk about sex and what helps us do this and I have written before about my own journey from what might be called “vanilla” to kinkier sex.

There was a good article recently on VICE about what “vanilla” means and it included quotes and wisdom from one of Alethya’s favourite writers and activists, Meg-John Barker.

The article is here and here is MJ Barker writing about it too.

For me, vanilla is not a negative term but rather describes sex that is perhaps gentler than kink and BDSM influence sex and which focusses more on penis in vagina and mutual orgasm. It, perhaps, seems less playful but does not have to be.

I have written before about the fact that, whilst I identify as kinky, most of my sex is still fairly “standard” with PinV, often in the missionary position (I come best like this) with some oral sex as part of a little foreplay.

The key for me is not if sex is “vanilla” or “kinky” but is it the sex you both (or, all) want to be having right now. Sex can be cuddly, cosy, it can forceful and dynamic. It can involve toys and ropes or erotica or not. It can be enjoyed fully clothed. It is about playfulness, cuddles, contact and intimacy as well as, of course, mutual pleasure. Sex should shift with, and accommodate, the changing needs and desires of the moment and the individuals sharing that moment. It should always involve consent and communication.

The worst sex I ever had was the sex where no one ever spoke a word about what they liked, what they needed in that moment, what they dreamed or fantasised about. The more we can know, accept and talk about our sexual selves the better our solo and partnered sex will be.


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