Surveys consistently indicate that a vast majority of people, at least in the U.S., are interested in kink. Despite this, the number of people who have tried kinky activities hovers around just one-third of those surveyed.
Why is this? Part of the problem may be a simple case of mismatched interests. One person’s kink may not line up with any partners they meet, even if all those partners have their own unique kinky curiosities. This doesn’t fully explain the gap between interest and practice, however. Another major contributing factor is prospective kinksters’ hesitancy to talk about their curiosity with others — whether they be partners, friends or even their friendly neighborhood adult retailers.
In a culture that labels things as either “vanilla” or “kinky,” it’s unsurprising that sexual shame plays into this hesitancy. Unfortunately, that reality not only keeps people away from adult stores and websites, it also keeps people from embracing the full spectrum of their own individual sexuality.
Kink is, by definition, a transgression of social norms. For some, that’s exciting. For others, it gives rise to sexually-limiting shame. It takes effort from multiple sources to chip away at this shame. Sympathetic educators, community leaders, therapists and coaches are doing their part.
Retailers have a role to play as well. While deconstructing cultural phenomena isn’t necessarily what we signed up for, there’s still much we can do to both improve our customers’ lives and contribute to a more liberated world. Here are some suggestions for responding to sexual shame in our physical and virtual retail spaces and creating more inviting pathways to kink.
Reduce negative messaging.
Boutique-style adult stores have set a new standard for shame-free shopping. Bright lighting, welcoming tones and clean spaces invite shoppers to peruse products without confronting messaging that suggests that sex is deviant. Adult product and service providers can replicate this approach in their own businesses. Physical stores can implement an interior design that prioritizes a celebration of sex without hiding any products in nooks or behind doors. Enthusiastic staff members who are happy to offer information and education also help.
For online stores, the same principles apply. Design sites to evoke a sense of exciting exploration. Include helpful content that goes beyond basic product descriptions. Have staff or writers contribute product reviews and include reliable educational content on the site.
Provide tours or demonstrations.
Any new situation is made easier with even a brief introduction. Offering a tour of your store or site can help newcomers get more comfortable and oriented in the space. This boosts confidence and the likelihood that they’ll ask questions or engage with items in the store. It also reinforces that nothing is hidden or worth hiding.
You can also provide in-person or virtual demonstrations of products to both draw curious would-be customers in and lower barriers for those uncomfortable asking questions directly. These can be scheduled and advertised in advance, ideally at no cost and perhaps even incentivized with the promise of a goodie bag or coupon code. The more you can meet hesitant explorers where they’re at, the more you’ll welcome into the world of kink.
Balance frank discussion with empathy.
We want our customers to know that their desires are natural. For many professionals, this means speaking in neutral or friendly tones when responding to customer questions about products or services.
But you also want to practice and express empathy by sharing in their excitement, hesitancy, or other feelings. No matter how common or natural a customer’s interest is, if they’re expressing eagerness or reservations, address that. Affirm their excitement and share any relevant safety considerations if appropriate. Note their hesitancy and ask whether they have any questions you can try to answer for them.
You don’t have to be a full-on sex coach, but acknowledging where a customer is emotionally, validating those feelings, and giving them information and tools for success invites them to engage in kink without shame and hopefully come back for another visit.
People naturally explore new things on the edges of their comfort zone, but won’t stray too far if an interest seems too deviant or even dangerous. To lower barriers, we must show curious kinksters that their exploration can be safe, fun and even essential to embracing their whole selves. Messaging that suggests otherwise goes against everyone’s best interest, implying that being kinky will leave someone ostracized or in unsafe situations.
Despite how some kinksters feel, there’s nothing wrong or deviant about being kinky. While playing with our understanding about what qualifies as “wrong” — without crossing the line of consent, of course — can certainly result in a lot of fun, branding products or businesses in this light keeps the number of people engaging in kink limited.
Many Americans are interested in kink. How do we get them shopping? We provide welcoming spaces for them to do so and avoid reaffirming any fears of being deviant.