Vanilla Can Be Delicious

I recently found myself in yet another conversation with a longtime kinky player who made a disparaging comment about vanilla sex. If you’re not familiar with the term, it pretty much means anything sexual that isn’t BDSM, and it’s often used dismissively, as if sex that doesn’t include leather, whips, or pain is boring. Although I enjoy BDSM, I always find this kind of thing unnecessarily sex-negative.

I get where this attitude comes from. Marginalized communities of erotic affiliation often respond to their circumstances by diminishing or devaluing the dominant group. I’ve heard plenty of queers call straight folks “breeders,” though that’s been happening less and less as more queers raise kids of their own. I understand that it can seem like a useful defense mechanism, but grouping such an incredible spectrum of sexual desires and preferences into a single category renders all of the complexities of human sexuality invisible and irrelevant. That just doesn’t help anyone. The irony of this kind of speech is that dismissing someone else’s sexual preferences simply because they aren’t your own is exactly the kind of discrimination and stigma that the kink world struggles against.

Implicit in this language is that vanilla sex is boring, which I find really strange. I suppose if the only vanilla you’ve ever tasted was cheap supermarket ice cream, that might make sense, but real vanilla is one of the most complex and exciting flavors in the world. If you don’t believe, me, try a shot of Navan in a brandy snifter. You have a treat in store for you! It’s also really wonderful in hot chocolate.

Then, there’s the history of vanilla as an aphrodisiac and the studies suggesting that it’s rated as one of the more arousing scents, at least for some people. While I’m generally skeptical of such claims, it does seem to me that if vanilla was actually boring, it wouldn’t have maintained such a sexy reputation for so long.

I know that some kinksters talk about non-kinky sex like this because it makes them feel cool for being transgressive or for being bigger freaks than anyone else. I’ll admit that I used to do things like that until I realized that all that does is creates new definitions of what sex “should be” and reinforces shame. It also tends to foster a performance model of sex since it sets us up to compare what we want to do with our notions of what the cool kids are doing.

Having said that, I do recognize that we don’t have any other terms for sex that isn’t BDSM-oriented. “Non-kinky” begs the question of what “kinky” means. And “regular sex” doesn’t mean anything since we each have different notions about that. Plus, not all BDSM includes sexual or genital stimulation anyway, which makes it even trickier.

Until we have a more nuanced language, I’ll continue to call it vanilla sex. But in my world, vanilla is delicious, delightful, and a whole lot of fun.

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8 Responses so far.

  1. Remi says:

    I can’t remember if I’ve ever commented before, but I’m a regular reader by now. I had to comment, because my friends and I use ice cream analogies all the time, and this reminded me of a conversation we once had. We were talking about how a sundae (in this case we’ll say that kink is a sundae) is awesome and exciting most of the time, but sometimes you want something tried and true and safe, you revert to your vanilla (in our analogy, vanilla is different for everyone), because who doesn’t like vanilla sometimes? Some people have vanilla all the time, other people have sundaes and exciting flavors (slight deviations from vanilla) but sometimes they revert to their vanilla, and very few people have sundaes all the time and refuse to have vanilla all together.

    Or to put things simply, I’ve always seen vanilla to mean the more standard issue varieties of sex that just about everyone is comfortable with, not necessarily boring sex. After all, most sundaes start with vanilla.

  2. Tomio Black says:

    As someone who cooks, I can tell you something else about vanilla – it’s used in almost every baking recipe because it helps bring out other flavors that would otherwise be missed. It often cannot be tasted on its own merits, but if it is not added, then something will be missed.

  3. Pete says:

    Why is there such an obsession with labeling everything. Why not call it what it is… SEX!

  4. Lily says:

    I kind of am bored by vanilla sex at this point.  I don’t seek out vanilla partners and if the only option I had was vanilla sex I’d probably lose interest and read a book.  

    I wouldn’t disparage other folks’ interest in it, however.  

  5. Irene says:

    And check out vanilla flowers! Me, I like the term, and don’t mind at all if anyone wants to use it about me, as long as they don’t sneer.

  6. Tisha says:

    This distinction between vanilla, hardcore and kinky were always hilarious to me. It caused me to explore my sexuality in the first place, to figure out what this “hardcore” sex everyone was being vague about actually was. And of course, learning about kink freaked out some folks. Calling anything “non-kinky” vanilla does deflate it.
    But even kinkiness is really diverse in intensity and flavor, which means to refer to kinky as this single category reduces it to this scary thing, and vanilla as the other category just makes it sound monotonous, and I agree they aren’t just two extremes. There’s a lot of in between. I really appreciated the distinction you made that sometimes one can be kinky without having sex. I think the labels are convenient to broadly refer to fetishes that require research, but even vanilla sex should be looked up before tried, plenty horror stories with vanilla. That said, vanilla and kinky seem more relevant as constructs, but sexual activity like sexual attraction is diverse and fluid and not simply a linear spectrum. If we’re actually talking about sex, we could avoid “kinky” and “vanilla” by just talking about the specific options and safety tips for various styles of intercourse and sensory stimulus.

  7. French Vanilla, New York, add a little Creme de Menthe, or Armagnac, Chocolate syrup.  Just as each of these have their own interests and participants, but is based in the joys of Vanilla, so to can innumerable forms of sex be exciting, loving, bonding, world shattering, in spite of, and possibly because of its beginnings with the Vanilla.

    The Eroticist 

  8. Gretta says:

    I do find vanilla sex boring. I find most sex boring, probably because I find most people boring and predictable. I can’t watch the same plotline 5000 times and I have no interest in stimulating my genitals in the same yawn-inducing manner 5000 times. I’d rather just not have sex than have vanilla sex.
    Of course, I think ‘relationships’ are a neurotic hereditary disorder and breeding is evil, so who’s going to listen to me?

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