Navigating the kink scene is generally a great mix of exciting and daunting. If you’re discovering your kinky side when you’re no longer a 20- or 30-something, though, there is a unique set of challenges that you might face. These could include practical things – like juggling responsibilities you didn’t have in your twenties, or managing a changing libido – but there are also the complexities of societal attitudes towards age. Not to mention the realities of baring skin in a room full of strangers (potentially for the first time.)
While we’re not going to go into all the nuances of age on the kink scene in this article, there are some things you can do to maximise the excitement and minimise the nerves.
Here is our advice for people over 40 (from people over 40) on how to navigate the kink scene.
1. Join and follow online communities and groups
Most events have online spaces to connect with fellow kinksters. It might be a Whatsapp chat, a Discord server, an Instagram account, a Fetlife event, or a good old Facebook group. It’s worth familiarising yourself with these things if you’re looking to scope out whether a space is right for you. (They likely won’t all be.)
Fetlife’s events page is a great place to start looking for events that might be of interest to you. You can set your location, but you will need to join the platform in order to access the events.
It’s important to note here that there is so much more to the kink scene than “just” sex. Of course, sex is – or can be – a part of your experience, but it really doesn’t have to be. There is so much more to explore: connection, intimacy and a like-minded community for a start. It’s worth knowing what you want to get out of it.
2. Start small, with socials or classes
Once you’ve found some events you think you might enjoy, or communities you’d like to explore, start with a social (often called a “munch”) or a class rather than jumping into a full scale play party.
Catherine, who was in a monogamous vanilla marriage until she was 40, jumped into dating – and kink – as a 40-something. For her, spaces like Anatomie – which offers classes and smaller events, including life drawing and discussion groups – have been an amazing way to meet like-minded people. “It’s such an exciting time now, as a confident, openly poly, queer woman heading for the next stage in my life,” she says.
3. Know the rules (and be prepared to respect them)
When navigating the kink scene, it’s important to be familiar with the rules of events you want to go to. And to respect them. Many kinksters – regardless of age – can feel put out having to follow dress code rules, for example. But those rules are generally there for a reason – even if it’s just to show that you’ve read the rules. Attitudes to kink are changing, and the scene is evolving fast: if we want to be active on it, it’s our responsibility to keep up.
Hamish, a photographer, notes: “It feels like the community has been invigorated by a younger generation who have been enabled by social media. And these new, exciting spaces feel out of reach, which is always true of youth, but I’m noticing it. Maybe the increased visibility [from social media] makes things feel more and less available at the same time.”
As the kink scene evolves, it might be that not every space is right for you. Find the events that align with you, and accept that you may not feel at home in others. Be careful not to let the life experience that comes with age morph into entitlement.
Leo (54) only really got into kink when he was 45. He adds: “It’s very important as an older man not to be the wanky guy on the edge of a scene, or initiate in that setting. Knowing your place is important in maintaining self respect in a situation where, in spite of what may be said about inclusiveness, it only extends so far…”
4. Embrace the experience that comes with age
That said, there are some real positives of exploring the kink scene with a few decades of life behind you. Even though modern, western society has a complex relationship with ageing – often fetishising youth – getting older brings with it experience. While that may not be experience of the kink scene specifically (I’ll get onto that in a moment) there are a lot of ways you can use your life experience to your advantage.
Alice (42) says: “Age, and the experience that comes with it, has given me so much confidence in other areas too. I communicate better, can ask (and know!) what I want/ need/ desire etc…” This confidence has made it so much easier for her to navigate a variety of kink spaces.
For Leo, age has meant a shifting view of sex itself, as well as a more open-mind when exploring potential turn ons. “I’ve got more room for my partner and am more open to experiment in general, or just to watch others enjoy their play [without feeling a need to get involved]. There are things that in the past I would have thought a waste of time – say shibari or watersports – that I would now be interested in. There are things I would have felt guilty even thinking about, like sadism or CNC [consensual nonconsent], that as I’ve got older I’ve been willing to own more, and to experiment with.”
5. Be aware of the potential power imbalance (and consider setting age-related boundaries)
However, life experience can also bring about unwanted, unacknowledged or nonconsensual, power imbalances. It’s not a given that being older means you know more. Couple that with being new to the scene, and you might find yourself feeling that the power imbalance is weighted against you. The reality is, though, that with age can come power – real or perceived.
So, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of an age-related power imbalance. Don’t write it off just because you’re inexperienced at navigating the kink scene. But also don’t let it put you off exploring the scene.
Alice – who is aware that she engages with a lot of people who are quite a bit younger than her at events – asks: “When does it get creepy? Is it ok to feast my eyes on someone half my age? Or play with them?”
There are no hard and fast rules here. Age play is a well-established kink in its own right (albeit one that doesn’t have to involve actual age gaps). But being aware of age as a factor is half the battle.
It helps to consider age when thinking about potential play partners, then. My personal boundaries around age are somewhat flexible. I will date and play with people who are around ten years either side of my age, but anything outside of this begins to feel slightly uncomfortable. In an Instagram poll on my personal page, around 60% of people who engage in kink said they have boundaries around the age/ age gap of people they will date or play with. It’s definitely something to consider!
6. Be confident… in yourself and in your “No”
One of the great things about getting older is that we are often more secure in our sense of self, and more aware of our boundaries. As Catherine says: “You don’t have to be sure of everything – but do be confident to say NO, or to say STOP.”
There’s a difference between saying, “No,” and shaming someone for something that doesn’t turn you on, or potentially shocks you, though. So long as kinks are consensual and legal, it’s important to keep an open mind: stick to your own boundaries, but also understand that personal limits can (and do!) change over time.
Alice feels much more comfortable in herself and her decisions now: “I was much more insecure when I did have the youthful body and face. [Now, I] have no need to impress anyone and I’m giving fewer fucks about what people who aren’t my friends might think of me.“
Sara (42) was glad she waited to jump into the scene. “I had kink relationships when I was younger,” she says, “but wasn’t part of the scene till I was older – for personal reasons. I feel like I’ve worked on my sexuality a lot and can be a part of it now.”
7. Don’t be afraid to be new; you don’t have to know everything
The most overwhelming message of advice, though, was to feel the fear and do it anyway! Ask questions, be humble, but don’t be put off from getting out there.
Alice’s thoughts? “My advice for anyone older who has doubts about being or getting involved is to do it anyway, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Life’s too short and precious to not live it to the fullest. There are more veterans and late bloomers out there than you probably think. There’s so much to explore!”
Erica says: “Get out there and be visible, so that other folks over 40 know there are like-minded people out there.” And many people echo the idea that if you’re coming into the scene when you’re over forty, you’ve definitely waited long enough! The likelihood is that once you do find your feet, you’ll wish you did it sooner.