The Problematic History of Kink and Mental Health

Kinky people are often looked upon as outliers, often considered dangerous, off-putting, or crazy. When we look at things from a wider perspective, even the clinical texts reiterate our otherness.

EXHIBIT A: Kink was designated a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until its fifth revision in 2013. Similar changes to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) weren’t made until the 11th version that goes into effect this year (2022).

It feels odd to comprehend that embracing all of the parts that make me who I am is a political act. Standing up and speaking openly, proclaiming my truth unapologetically is an act of defiance against those who would perpetuate harmful stigmas. It is an act of defiance against the older versions of the DSM and ICD that relegated me into the “mentally ill” column for my kinks and fetishes. While I have diagnosed mental health issues, my kink life is not part of that list.

I have read study after study, paper after paper that reiterates the harm caused by stigma. I have known since my suicide prevention work 25 years ago that LGBTQ+ identified people are more likely to attempt suicide, and I have no doubt that people who identify as kinky are largely in the same boat.

I am here to help people understand, but more important, I speak my truth because I have nothing and no one to hide from. I don’t need to hide who I am to be worthy of respect and love; I am the same person who has been loved and respected for my work in other areas, and by being open about the kinky areas of my life I am also giving a name, a face, and a voice to something that we are all too happy to relegate to the dark corners of our closets.

Being kinky does not mean you’re crazy.

Your kinks and fetishes do not mean you’re crazy. But the stigmas attached to them do even more damage by making kinky people more averse to the professional therapy and counseling that might help identify actual mental health needs. Finding a reputable and kink-aware professional who can help you to identify your mental health needs is a beautiful thing. Having a trusted professional to talk to can go a long way toward making you feel more comfortable with who you are, and it may well be that your stress, depression, or anxiety would benefit from a pharmaceutical intervention like mine did. I started taking Lexapro in early 2022 and it has made a world of difference in my anxiety.