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What is vanilla sex, and why is there so much shame associated with it?

So, you like vanilla sex? Well, then you must be boring or a prude (or even worse—a boring prude). 


Recently, we’ve noticed that vanilla sex has been thrown around like an insult, and we are here to change that. Honestly, what is vanilla sex and what’s the big deal with it anyways? We hypothesize that it has a little something to do with popular culture’s infatuation with vanilla’s more intimidating older sister: kink

A few years ago, Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm and brought BDSM, which is a form of sexual play including dominance and submission, to the forefront. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good kink moment, but why does vanilla have to be put down for kink to be put up? Can’t we all coexist in peace? 

We are here to say that if you are sexually vanilla, then it does not mean that you are boring or unevolved or lame. We stand with Emma Chamberlain, who openly stated on Alex Cooper’s Call Her Daddy: “On Call Her Daddy, I will admit that I enjoy vanilla sex.” More power to her–and to you!  

What is vanilla sex?

What is vanilla sex really? Vanilla sex is defined as any form of intercourse that does not include kink or BDSM. Just like the vanilla ice cream flavor, vanilla sex is simple and uncomplicated. And yes, it is just as delicious as the fancier, more elaborate flavors. We stan vanilla ice cream (oh, yeah, and vanilla sex!)

Ok, let’s rewind for a sec. If you’re still confused by what we mean about “vanilla sex,” let us explain. Oftentimes, it is helpful to define something by what it is not. Kink is pretty much the opposite of vanilla. Kink consists of the more wild, crazy, “out-there” sexual acts and experiences. This can range from hair pulling and role play to restraint and gagging (all safely and with consent, of course). 

Within a kink sexual experience, there is a consensual exchange of power that establishes the hierarchy of dominant versus submissive. Kink also toggles the line between pleasure and pain. Normally, what an individual engages in during kinky sex would probably not have the same pleasurable sensations if it were outside of a sexual scenario. With a safe word, extensive communication, and an open partner (or partners, if that’s your thing!), kink and BDSM can be extremely pleasurable. 

Vanilla, on the other hand, is slower, softer, and calmer. Where kink is wild, vanilla is tame. Where kink is intense, vanilla is gentle. Where kink is rough, vanilla is sensitive. With vanilla sex, there isn’t a whole lot of wild stuff happening—it’s just you and your partner, engaging in sexual acts, with a gentleness and tenderness that is more simplistic than a kink scenario. Enjoying being vanilla sexually is not better than preferring to be kinky, and kink is not better than vanilla—they’re just different! 

What is considered vanilla sex?

So, what does being vanilla in the bedroom actually look like? Like with anything regarding sex, pleasure, and intimacy, there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. This especially rings true when it comes to vanilla sex. We’re wary of blanket statements, because we know more than anything else that everyone’s experience with sex will vary. However, there are some commonly-accepted actions and pleasures that fall under the vanilla umbrella. 

The first and most obvious is good ‘ol missionary. This position, which allows for intimate eye contact, is basic and comfortable for all those involved. No gymnast-level flexibility is required and accessories are totally optional. There are other positions that can be considered sexually vanilla, as well, such as spooning sex and cowgirl. However, the primary distinction is that the vibe of the sex-sesh is slow, gentle, and delicate. Kissing, masturbation, oral sex, and slow sex, as long as they are done in a tender, soft way, are all considered vanilla. But, once again, the concepts of vanilla and kink are subjective.

Why is there so much shame associated with vanilla sex?

Much of the shame associated with vanilla sex has come from the glorification of its opposite: kink. While erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey helped to bring kink to the center of popular culture, the romanticization of kink has always existed. Modern-day porn has been one of the biggest contributors to our society’s infatuation with kink, with erotica, movies, TV shows, and other forms of media playing a supporting role. All of these romantic representations of kink have led to “vanilla shaming,” which puts any sexual act that classifies as “vanilla” in a negative light. 

Due to the combination of all of these factors, there is an expectation that you must be a freak in the sheets to have a good sex life, and to steer clear of anything considered vanilla in bed. If you aren’t into playing rough, then *GASP* you should just give up now and revert to a sad life of solitary existence in a remote cave somewhere. No! You can enjoy missionary with the lights off and have a good sex life. You can play around with your partner without all the accessories of kink and have a good sex life. You can freaking love vanilla sex and have a good sex life. As long as you are pleasured and satisfied, then you have a good sex life. 

Generally, people enjoy vanilla sex - they just don’t want to admit it.

If you like vanilla, sexually you’re deemed as boring. This. Is. Not. True. The mainstream media has the power to sway how we feel about ourselves, especially when it comes to vulnerable and intimate topics like vanilla sex. If having kinky sex is popular culture’s current infatuation, then anyone who is not having kinky sex can feel insecure and outcasted. 

Carly, a college student in Vermont, felt the external pressure to enjoy something that didn’t actually bring her pleasure. “It feels like there is this underlying competition among our generation as to who has the freakiest, kinkiest sex. And if you can’t contribute anything to that conversation, then you must have a lame sex life.” Carly’s sentiments are not abnormal for this day and age. If you love kink, then that’s great! But, we believe that both vanilla and kink can and should co-exist together. The vanilla-shaming ends here. 

Your kink could be vanilla sex. Embrace it.

We all know by now that society will try and conform you to be one certain way. The world will attempt to teach you all the “right” ways to be, act, live, love —and even how to have sex! And while we are the first to say that it is challenging and frightening to go against the grain, it can also be freeing. 

Try to start shifting your perception of what you feel is “bad” about you—in this case, preferring to be sexually vanilla. Tell yourself that vanilla sex is good. Trust that your body will never lie to you, and if being vanilla in the bedroom is what turns you on, then own it! Giving yourself permission to like what you like will change the game. 

Mia, a freelance writer in New York City, told us, “Once I let go of the expectation to be a freak in the sheets, and just allowed myself to enjoy vanilla sex, everything changed. My partner and I have never had better sex or been so close. Like, I can’t believe that I went this long feeling like a total snooze fest just because I liked to be vanilla in bed!” 

We know that it’s easier said than done, but shifting your mentality from viewing something as bad and lame, to viewing it as good and desirable, can help you on your journey to unabashed pleasure. 

You are a human being with ever-evolving desires. Maybe you like vanilla sex, maybe you’re into kinks, or maybe you like a little bit of both! Your sex life is exactly that—yours and yours only. Do not let the pressures and expectations of the world taint what brings you pleasure. Do what (and who, lol) makes you happy–even if that means being *GASP* sexually vanilla.