Ever wanted to know how many Americans enjoy sucking on toes?
Turns out that 18 percent of Americans are eager to get their mouths on feet. Meanwhile, 15 percent have whipped or been whipped, 31.9 percent have engaged in spanking and 21.1 percent of frisky Americans have been tied up. Almost 14 percent have been in a threesome, and 3.4 percent have been to a BDSM dungeon. Over 20 percent like dirty talk, while 39.9 prefer it sweet.
Thanks to the first large-scale study examining the full array of American sexual behavior, we know that-Americans are going far beyond vaginal and anal penetration.
“There are literally thousands of sexual interests and expressions in the human experience,” Kinsey Institute research fellow and sex educator, Dr. Debra Herbenick says. Even if you managed to write them all down, nobody would take such a long survey. Still, fact that the study offers an unprecedented variety of sexual acts and interests tells respondents that abnormal is normal and normal doesn’t really matter.
It’s an important step towards normalizing kink. Instead of dividing people into “normal and kinky,” it simply asks about their sexual interests.
There’s more to sex than penetration, particularly vaginal penetration. It’s “home base” for seventh graders and even nonheterosexual sex follows the penis-in-vagina rule: With gay men, one man receives anal sex and he’s the “woman” and the other, the “man,” penetrates him. With lesbians, the “man” penetrates the “woman” with a strap-on.
This formula is silly, reductive and insulting. Nonetheless, it still guides our understanding of sex.
Herbenick’s study challenges that notion by offering sexual acts that aren’t gender-specific or sexual orientation-specific. Anal play, for example, was suggested as both giving and receiving. Using toys, sucking on toes, attending sex parties or classes, reading or watching porn, all can be done by any gender and sexual orientation.
Mainstream America believes men are kinky and women are romantic. Well turns out everyone likes a good cuddle and also everyone can get down with a hard spanking. Comparable percentages of men and women reported liking biting, spanking, dirty talk, massages, whipping, kissing and a romantic atmosphere (possibly while whipping).
Of course, no research is perfect or complete. Even this study has its limitations. “Surveys like these end up reinforcing hetero-normativity despite their best intentions,” says Dulcinea Pitagora, a New York City-based sex and kink therapist. She stresses that the survey is groundbreaking and critical to “improving our country’s sexual IQ,” but that, like most studies of its nature, there is room for improvement.
There were some blank spaces on a table in the study, under the female category of “insertive anal sex.” Pitagora’s concern is that leaving those spaces blank with no explanation reinforces the stigma attached to women anally penetrating men.
Obviously, there are women and men who enjoy pegging (wherein a woman anally penetrates a man with a strap-on), or we wouldn’t have a word for it. “Not providing a rationale for the blank spot is dismissive,” says Pitagora, “and exclusive and censoring of people who engage in those behaviors.” Behaviors that are already heavily stigmatized.
Those whose kinks did not appear in the study at all might feel a similar sense of ostracization. Someone interested in adult babyhood, for example, could see the slew of kinks listed and feel shame for being too “abnormal” even for a study that includes toe sucking and sex dungeons.
But including the entire encyclopedia of human sex acts would be impossible. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter if your kink was on the list or not, or if it was statistically low for your demographic. When Pitagora’s patients ask “is my kink normal,” she “deconstruct[s] what they mean by normal.” She tells them if they’re doing their kink in a safe and healthy way (consent being paramount) then she helps them figure out their kinks “according to what’s important to [them].”
“Other people’s stuff is their stuff,” she says. “Your own personal normal” is all that matters. Time spent fretting over normalcy is time you could be spending peeing on someone.