Dr. Carol Queen Explains Playing With Praise Kink

by Dr. Carol Queen

Kink has so many ways to enhance your life with its fuckery. Every nerve you have might be stimulated in ways delicious and devilish. In fact, science tells us we actually have way more than five senses, so that is a lot of potential sensation. Bodily experience isn’t all, though. Plenty of kinksters enjoy playing with their emotions as well. Kinky talk isn’t all “You dirty girl!” or “Bad dog, crawl on your belly.” Fear, shame, humiliation…these types of play are not for everyone, and some even find them so challenging that they won’t play that way at all. Submissive or masochistic as one might be, there are (usually, sometimes, maybe) limits to what you want to hear or names you want to be called. This is all good, since one of the life-changing things about kink is becoming perfectly clear about what you do and don’t want and learning to negotiate for exactly that. For example, if you want to light up your sense of self-esteem at the hands of a skilled top, maybe you’re looking for a practitioner of “praise kink.” This is an increasingly high-profile form of play that can shower you with respect, affection, and glow, and who can’t use a little of that? (And to be clear, that glow you feel might be in your pants.) 

According to our friends at Babeland, “If hearing a compliment or a phrase of affirmation turns you on, or if it gets you going to validate a partner with words—you very well may have a praise kink.” The difference between enjoying or bestowing a compliment and engaging in praise kink has to do with how hot it is for you—and/or its context within or as part of play. This is indeed a kink, since not everyone experiences praise as hot or sexy. It need not occur within a hardcore BDSM scene, though it certainly might. Praise kink can heat up vanilla sex, too! 

It’s perfectly possible for those whose self-esteem is already robust to find words of praise hot. (Hey, most people do not get enough praise. We might as well glory in it when it’s coming our way, amirite?) But a praise kink can include more complexity than that, since many of us are socialized to deflect praise and can have a seriously fraught relationship with it. For those whose reflexive behavior when praised or complimented is to bat the words away or deny their accuracy, doing a praise kink scene, where the good words fall like warm rain, can be a kind of torture! But, you know, some kinksters like torture. So, if you can’t take a compliment, don’t let it stop you from exploring this kink. In fact, doing it in a power exchange context can potentially open the door to feeling better about praise. 

How do you get into praise kink? Honestly, you could start out solo, by showing yourself love and positive affirmation during masturbation. Dare to think those thoughts. If your walls aren’t thin (or are), speak them aloud, too! You can start simply: “I’m getting myself so hot, my touch is so good, I’m so good, my sexuality is so powerful.” During sex with a partner, give or ask for feedback when they do something amazing to you or vice versa. Tell them they’re a good lover or have them tell you. (Partner play including any new element will go more smoothly if you talk about what you want to do in advance, so you can negotiate any fine points or specific desires. This is doubly true if your play will happen in a power exchange context.)

In dominant/submissive play, the top can lean in to the “good girl/boy/boi/dog/etc…” language that might already be a natural fit for such play. They can challenge their submissive to withstand delightful torments and praise them when they do, or they can heap hot words upon them and dare them to take all that praise. Sometimes praise kinks might emerge during certain kinds of role-play—they might also be outgrowths of the love and value you feel for your partner. 

Listen, it can feel radical and powerful to take back and learn to play with the words that get hurled at us on the street. We are all familiar with the lingua franca of everyday misogyny and queerphobia. The dirty talk of kink (and, for that matter, sex-positive solidarity) can go some way toward putting words like slut and cunt back into our own hands, used for our own purposes. But none of us should feel under any pressure from others to adopt this vibe in our sexual speech or in the sexual roles we play. It’s a different kind of radical to step into our own self-esteem, in bed and everywhere else, to take in the experience of hearing how fabulous, how stellar, how fucking sexy, how blazing hot—and yes, even sometimes, what a good girl—we are. And if it starts with a kink, cool. But let’s all try to let the message land. 

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