The V-word

Saw a thread over at the SSNY Yahoo board that got me to thinking about the word “vanilla” and the way it is used in such a casual way by nearly all of us in the scene.

Yes, I could have posted a response there but as soon as it topped two hundred words, I realized I was wasting a blog post and I can’t have that happen, can I?

Simply put, I have always seen the word vanilla as nothing more than shorthand to denote those folks who are not kinky. By means of illustration, my ex fit into this category perfectly. She is the only vanilla person I know who is aware of my kink. However, to this day, she does not understand what it is that I get out of spanking and certainly doesn’t understand what it is a bottom gets out of it other than pain. She is the definition of vanilla — somewhat socially conservative and definitely kink free. When I use the term, it is not to say that my kinkiness makes me better than her in some intrinsic way. I don’t even think I’m more socially tolerant than she is because I’m kinky, I’m not — she and I see eye to eye on simply letting people live their lives the way they want. The term vanilla is just my way of saying she is not part of the scene, doesn’t want to be part of the scene and doesn’t even get the scene.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t folks out there that use “vanilla” as some sort of pejorative — they do. They act as if being kinky makes them somehow more evolved than those who are not. Total garbage and extremely reflective on the person thinking that way. A person like that is at least somewhat racist — affording himself a higher status based upon an arbitrary measure. Being into spanking doesn’t make me better than anyone outside the scene because that comparison makes no sense. It’s akin to comparing a baseball player with a writer and saying that the writer is lesser because he can’t hit home runs, not taking into account that the writer has no desire to even attempt to hit one let alone the ability to do so.

I can understand why someone would bounce off the word “vanilla” and see it as an insult. The folks that use it as dismissive of non-kinky people are only fooling themselves, using it as a cover for their own insecurity and feelings about being “different”. They make the difference into a badge of honor and put down those who are not “one of us”. I don’t know what other simple term might be used to reflect those people who are not in the kink but I do think that we all have to be mindful not to consider ourselves better than anyone. I am a person who enjoys spanking and other kinks, period. My kinkiness has no bearing on my societal status especially because I don’t think it is something that should be used against me either.

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28 Responses to “The V-word”

  1. But vanilla doesn’t just refer to a non-spanker, but rather to anybody not part of the BDSM world. It’s going to be hard to develop a specific word for this scene because there are relatively few people who are organized, and even these don’t care what one calls the rest of the world. It has always been up to writers like yourself to come up with the term.

  2. I see nothing wrong with the use of vanilla – I’ve never thought of the term as derogatory. My husband is vanilla – he’s not offended by that and it’s how he refers to himself in context of “our world”. I’m sorry that some people find it so offensive.

  3. radagast Says:

    MVee: I always think that terms crop up spontaneously and whenever someone tries to come up with a term, it often falls flat because it didn’t arise organically. At that point, it’s just advertising.

    As for what is offensive and what is not — I’m often torn between thinking some people overly sensitive and others not sensitive enough. Is offense a universal concept or just in the eye of the offended?

  4. I think offense is in the eye of the offended, Rad. I use the term vanilla even in reference to myself. I have a vanilla life that, quite frankly, is more important than this one. I have vanilla friends. A vanilla email address and account. As Headmaster Tony said, we’ve had vanilla outings within the FMS family. I’ve always looked at the term as nothing more than a way to describe the non-kink related aspect of my life.

    I suppose there are folks who use the term pejoratively, who think they’re special or better because they’re kinky. Feh. Baseball players and writers, as you point out. I think they are very in the minority and don’t see any reason to come up with a different term because of a few jerks.

    On the flip side, while I don’t take offense to a specific term, I do understand that others can, without necessarily understanding WHY. A great example of this is being called “Red.” I’ve been called that for 30+ years. I’ve always enjoyed the nickname, as well as others such as “ginger.” I’ve never even minded “carrot top.” I liked having red hair. But I know folks who hate hate HATE being called any of those. My father was one, and he hated me being called that. I have no idea why, but it doesn’t make his feelings of offense … or the others I know who don’t like it … any less real.

    Okay, I’ve talked too long and gone off on a tangent. My bottom line is that vanilla is a harmless, descriptive term which works very well within our community. I’m sorry that a few have been subjected to the aforementioned jerks and see the term as offensive, but I can only say that it’s not intended that way. At least in my pov.

  5. I agree with you Red. I have one friend that gives me a hard time when I use the word vanilla. She thinks it makes her sound boring. Trust me my friend is FAR from boring, but the plain truth is that it is her own insecurity that causes her to take offense to the word. I use the word vanilla when referring to “non-scene” related things or people, end of story.

    I may choose not to use it around her or joke with her about it but the reality is that I’m not going to come up with a whole new word for vanilla because my friend is insecure. Nor would she want me too. No would I want to. Vanilla sums it up quite nicely.

  6. I also observed that whole SSNY brouhaha about “vanilla” yesterday..and was a little perplexed and mainly bemused about it all. I hadn’t realized this was an “issue”. I never got the memo.

    For as much as I, like you, tend to overthink EVERYTHING about the spanking fetish and this community ..I never gave much thought one way or the other about the word ‘vanilla’ except that it seems like a lame word. Silly. Cutesy. All things I don’t enjoy, particularly.

    I have two “exes”…. One vanilla, one not. I never called the first one “vanilla”. I just referred to him as not sharing my kinky interests. It would never have even occured to me to think for a second that he was ‘less than’ because of it. If anything..it has taken me many years to feel that I am the ‘evolved’ one..merely because of living a lifestyle in which I EXPRESS my fetish. ( IS it even still a ‘kink’ if one isn’t ashamed of it??)

    Both relationships are behind me…for many reasons. Folks tend to think its all about the kink..or not. But—people are just people ..and have flaws. There are SO many elements to what makes a relationship work or fail.

    Spanking, as a kink, is something that can be used against you, exploited, mocked, or taken in stride. Or even a combination. Its really only an issue to US..the ones involved in it. Some people find it boring. Some, silly. My first husband had other sexual interests..but..I guess they aren’t called ‘kinks’ as they are a little bit more mainstream.

    The second marriage was/is a whole different story..the conclusion of which is that even a very much shared kink can’t make two people compatible. He is very into spanking, but not into parties or networking at ALL. Lotta shame still there.

    I think “spanking” , as an interest…isn’t the end- all-be all in any way in a relationship except to the extent you accept in it in yourSELF.

    I have acquaintances in the scene who LOVE talking about it to ‘vanillas’..just to get a reaction. Just to fly the flag. I don’t see the point in this. I don’t need to be on a soapbox about my fetish ( even though I am on one right now, I guess!) now that I have deeply accepted it within myself..and in my life. I don’t give a damn what the “vanillas” do or think about it. ..I just want/need to enjoy it.

    I just now realized how much I used the v-word, and how much I hate it.

    Sorry to blog all over your blog. I have this funny habit of usually agreeing with you, Rad.

  7. I never knew that there were people who take offense to the term vanilla, but I can understand it. Some people just don’t want to be labeled, even if it is harmless.

    When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I only use the word “vanilla” when I am around my scene friends and I use the word “scene” when talking to the few vanilla friends that know about my being into spanking. I guess it’s my way of owning my own vanilla-ness or scene-ness.

  8. You know you’re really kinky when smoochy straight-ahead vanilla sex just seems like one more perversion on the list.

  9. Tony..that WOULD be a novelty to me at this point! 🙂

    God..what DO these vanilla’s do behind closed doors, anyway?? 😉

  10. I think vanillas have as good a time as we do, in a different manner. To each his own, and it’s all good 🙂

    (But Tony, you do make it sound downright pervy)

  11. know what’s worse? ” ‘Nilla “. Ughh! I think my glucose meter broke on that one!!

  12. radagast Says:

    ‘Nilla is annoying as is the word ‘Puter for computer. Don’t know why it bothers me but it does.

  13. Rad, ….because it’s stupid, frankly.

  14. As an aside, I discovered a new term, akin to “vanilla.” The word is “mundane,” as in “Don’t bother/intrude upon/attempt to involve the ‘mundanes’ at the hotel during the BDSM convention because we want to the convention to be welcomed back next year!”

  15. The tem “vanilla” sounds very black&white, you know? It almost implies duality, as in you either someone who “gets” BDSM or who doesn’t get it, or you someone who participates in BDSM or you are someone who has never and would never participate in BDSM. The term useful as far deliniating people into two totally separate groups.
    But, as a term to describe sexuality it is awfully blunt. I think it’s more realistic to think of sexuality as a spectrum that includes all dispositions and predispositions. Personally, I am disposed and predisposed to liking spanking. And that’s just the way God made me. Like you said, Rad, it’s totally pointless, senseless, and foolish to make a value judgement based on our sexualities.

  16. One more thing: on the history of the term “vanilla.” If I am not mistaken, “vanilla” is supposed to refer to the flavor of ice cream. The idea being that BDSM is like 31 flavors, vanilla being only one.
    It’s implicit in the term that “vanilla” boring and limited. It strike me as a political statement. A way to promote the idea of BDSM as a way of sexual freedom and expanded horizons. But, at the same time, it is inherantly pejorative.

  17. anonymous Says:

    the thing is, vanilla ice cream is delicious.

  18. radagast Says:

    I admit to liking vanilla ice cream especially when it is made well and in combination with butterscotch, nuts and whipped cream.

  19. Yum. That IS a good combo…especially when spooned into the mouth of one’s play partner! 🙂

    there is vanilla and then there is high end, homemade, gourmet, madagascar vanilla bean..etc etc.

    I guess, like with any flavor of anything in life…it depends on one’s mood.

  20. radagast Says:

    One of my pet peeves: Food and sex. Although both pleasurable, I think they should be kept separate.

  21. I agree.

    (…was trying to be quippy..but, it’s too early.)

    Actually, I have NEVER found that whole ” smear food on each other’s bodies” thing to be appealing in the slightest. Sticky, non hygienic, and gross. The food scene in 9 1/2 weeks was NOT sexy to me.

  22. radagast Says:

    I thought 9 1/2 Weeks was crap but have heard the book was better. However, it wasn’t as bad as Titanic.

  23. 9 1/2 weeks was sexy for its TIME…and I sorta like Adrian Lyne’s filming ‘style’..but now it’s a little dated and stereotyped. It was nice to see Mickey Rourke before he destroyed his face with botox and scalpels..in any event.

    Wow..you REALLY have an axe to grind with Titanic, don’t you? lol. When I owned that as a boxed set..my kids used to always and ONLY ever want to see part two. The entire love story was lost on them ( and me too, pretty much) but the grim details of the ship’s demise was sorta cool–you have to admit!) 🙂

  24. SD..I think ” mundane” is far more perjorative than vanilla. Just saying…

    I still maintain that ‘mainstream’ is the best.

  25. Lisa . . . certainly. In fact, “mundane” specificies what “vanilla” merely implies. I’m just reporting what I hear.

  26. sorry to quibble. I guess, to me..vanilla is a sillier way of describing something..almost with a tiny touch of ‘affection’ for these… unevolved types ;-)…(j/k) and mundane implies a yawn fest. Perhaps they go sky diving..wrestle alligators…bungee jump. They just don’t get an erotic kick out of spanking. Hmmmm..maybe we should just continue to call them ‘non spanking people’. (Anything…ANYthing but “nilla)

  27. Sorry to be joining this discussion late, but you’ve really touched on something I’ve often thought before, Rad. I agree that there’s a touch of unwarranted condescension in the term “vanilla” that irks me. Like you, I’m very happy to be built the way I am psycho-sexually, but don’t feel that it makes me any better, more interesting, or more ‘real’ than those who aren’t. Now I do think that being honest with myself and those close to me about who I am makes me more interesting and more authentic than those who lie to others and repress themselves, but that’s a whole other issue…

    With that said, I did a kick out of a recent conversation at work where one of my key creatives, a lovely, bratty and hipper-than-thou native Greenwich Villager was being bitchily hilarious.

    “You really need a spanking, young lady,” I said (we have the kind of work relationship where that kind of comment doesn’t feel out of place…).

    “Ah, I don’t go to that college,” she replied, “I’m surprisingly vanilla.”

    I was kind of impressed – even though she was saying she was not One of Us, I loved her spot-on use of the v-word to describe herself. Presumably she has some non-vanilla friends…

  28. radagast Says:

    Max: Yes, it does sound as if your coworker has been exposed to the terminology. I don’t mind descriptive shortcuts because I don’t use them as bludgeons — unfortunately, some folks do. On the other hand, there is something called being overly sensitive.

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