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Sexual Software, Biological Hardware and Kinkster Traits

The diverse sexual experiences we enjoy do not escape the age-old argument of nature vs nurture.

Were we born this way?

Or made this way through our environments and early experiences? Like the kink vs vanilla distinction I talked about in my first blog post, ‘Are You Kinky, And Does It Matter?’, when we start looking at how behavioural preferences are formed, it isn’t as straight forward as we may assume.

What we do know is that most of the things we enjoy doing in the bedroom are not necessarily those which we have been taught to prefer by our environments and the significant people in our lives. There also appears to be some genetic and instinctual causes, particularly when it comes to the practice of BDSM, and what happens outside of conscious awareness for BDSM practitioners.

The subcortex of our brains have circuitry for sexual dominance and submission. Both of these circuits are connected to our brains pleasure centres. Men and women (pardon the binary gendering here, but the bulk of the research remains, ahem, binary) are wired to enjoy both dominance and submission although they may have preferences for one over another. A study from 2009 found chemical changes in the brains of participants in consensual, sadomasochistic play.

On a biological level, taking part in kinky activities actually affects how our brains do their thing, on a totally unconscious level.

Dominant and submissive sexual behaviours are interesting in and of themselves, and really deserve a whole piece dedicated to it. Stay tuned for that one.

I have talked a bit about nature, but what about nurture? Is there something about the environments we grew up in that might have a role to play in what sexual activities we enjoy as adults?

Humans have critical periods where their environment has a significant impact on how they develop skills (speech, gross and fine motor movements), their worldview and components of their sexuality. Some things are instinctively arousing and these are known as cued interests. When non-sexual stimuli present themselves at one of these sensitive periods, they can become objects of arousal. These are known as uncued interests, as they were just there at the right place and time to have a lasting effect.

This is why uncued interests (kink and fetish activities fall under this category) are so much more variable than cued interests; just about anything can become an uncued interest if it is present at that sensitive period of a person’s development. I have spoken with lots of people who identify as kinky and everyone I have asked about that critical experience which shaped their current practice can identify almost exactly when and where it occurred. For example, latex fetish triggered by enjoying superhero movies and Saturday morning cartoons!

Sexy superhero

So what is the contemporary viewpoint on the nature vs nurture debate, when it comes to sexual behaviour? Today it is accepted that basing sexual behaviour and preferences solely on biology and how we are hardwired disregards how complicated human beings are; we have complex social lives which are highly motivating and we are also conscious beings (we know we are human and we can think about this stuff).

This also means we can consider ourselves in the context of how as individuals, we respond to the world in which we live.

Although everyone is different, there are particular building blocks that form our personalities and this is what is known as Trait Theory. The Trait Theory that is most tried and tested is the Big 5 Model of Personality.

The Big 5 Model comprises of the following attributes and scores individuals along each of them:
  • Openness – curiosity, creativity and adventure

  • Conscientiousness – thoughtfulness, organisation and attention to detail

  • Extraversion – sociability, assertiveness and excitability

  • Agreeableness – pro-social behaviours, trust and kindness

  • Neuroticism – sadness, moodiness and emotional instability

A study from 2013 found that people who engaged in consensual, kinky sexual practices scored lower on the scale for neuroticism, were more extroverted, more open to new experience, more conscientious, were less rejection sensitive and scored higher on measures of subjective well-being (how happy the people said they were) compared to those who didn’t identify as kink practitioners.

In short, these are all really good things and suggest that those who engage in kinky practices are happier and more well-adjusted than those who don’t.

So why did I include this discussion of trait theory in this piece?

Well, I think that those who like some kink in their sex lives are happier and more well-adjusted for a number of reasons. For centuries, kinky sexual practices have been pathologized and deemed unnatural and even dangerous. However, the evidence suggests that living authentically and in alignment with our true selves make us happier. By going with how nature and nurture has shaped our sexual preferences, we turn out to be happier people.

Am I Kinky and Does it matter?
Check out Rem's last article here!

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