I’ve been wanting to prioritise writing this blog post for a while but what do you know? I realised, as I began to write it, that I’m currently in the midst of my own burnout. Writing it has been a bit of a slog. It’s taken much longer than it should have and my brain has struggled to retain and synthesise any of the information in order to get the words on the page.
Truth be told, feeling burned out is pretty horrendous. It’s a whole different level of exhaustion and overwhelm. Nothing feels exciting, motivating yourself to do anything — even things you usually care about and enjoy — is impossible.
But… honestly… this has just made me more determined, in a roundabout way. Burnout is super common and important to understand. So let’s talk about what it means to be burned out, and what kink burnout specifically is.
What is burnout?
Modern life is jam packed full of stressors: working long hours, giving presentations, break-ups, illness or injury, managing finances and, um, pandemics. Even life events that are exciting — moving house, changing jobs, getting married, having a baby — are classed as stressors. The cumulative, ongoing load of all these factors can affect a lot of us negatively.
While not everyone who feels stressed will fully burn out, it is a possible consequence of being continuously overloaded. Burnout is officially a work-related condition, but its symptoms are often related more casually to many other areas of life. These include: chronic health conditions, lack of adequate social care, and… kink! Really.
According to WebMD, burnout is: “A form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. [It] happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands.”
The symptoms of burnout are quite specific, and subtly different from stress or fatigue. They include:
- Emotional exhaustion: fatigue from carrying too much for too long
- Depersonalisation: depletion of empathy, caring and compassion
- An unconquerable sense of futility: nothing you do makes any difference
- A propensity to latch onto negatives and ignore positives
And all of these can absolutely relate back to, or impact on, our kink lives.
While I’d say the burnout I’m experiencing right now is broader than just kink, kink burnout is something I’ve experienced, and kink is definitely a piece of the puzzle. It’s also something many members of our community have dealt with. 58% of people who responded to our polls said they’d experienced kink burnout, and 12% thought it might be a possibility after hearing the description. Perhaps it’s more common than we think.
Kink is generally something I associate with release and fun. But it can also be a cause of stress, especially when balanced with the rest of life’s demands. This can absolutely lead to a unique type of burnout.
So, what is kink burnout? How does it feel? Does it feel any different to burnout for other reasons? And what can we do about it? So many questions!
How do you know if you’re suffering from kink burnout?
Kayla Lords talks about burnout in relation to kink and power dynamics in this episode of her podcast, Loving BDSM. It’s well worth a listen.
Kink burnout can be recognised when we start to feel the symptoms listed above, in relation to our kink lives or identity. We might start to avoid the things we usually love. We want to care about our dynamic. And we want to want to do all the kinky things we usually enjoy. But… we just don’t feel like doing them. In fact, we don’t really care about them at all right now.
We might feel overwhelmed with the expectations of our partner or our power exchange. We might feel stressed before there’s even anything tangible to feel stressed about.
If kink is starting to feel like walking through mud, or if you feel like you’re an extra in a vaguely kinky version of Groundhog Day… these are all signs. As is existential dread. Fun times, eh?
Why might you burn out from kink?
It’s often a combination of factors that can lead to feeling burned out, but kink can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Here are some reasons why that might be the case:
- Often when we start out with kink, we jump in with both feet. We want to do and try everything yesterday. This is also known as “frenzy” and it isn’t really the key to sustaining healthy kink relationships over time. In order to maintain a positive relationship to kink we need to find balance within it. Whatever that looks like to us.
- Kink relationships, especially in the early days of a new dynamic, can involve a lot of learning and habit-changing. They can be intense.
- Some dynamics are built on a foundation of high expectations. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to balance this with forgiveness and an appreciation of the complexities of the humans that are in the dynamic.
- For those of us with perfectionist tendencies, kink can be a breeding ground for self-flagellation. Rules and routines can be a really positive thing, they can also become overwhelming if we don’t feel fully able to sustain them or complete them to a standard we’re happy with.
- With kink becoming more and more mainstream, dating can be a bit of a minefield. For unpartnered or nonmonogamous kinksters, who are looking for meaningful BDSM relationships, constant disappointment and repeating negative patterns with prospective partners can take its toll.
- For lifestylers, the 24/7 nature of a dynamic can slowly become too much. If you’re thinking about things that are usually second nature, and dreading them, it might be time to reassess. Even just short-term.
- Long-term kink relationships can lose their shine too, just like vanilla ones can. We can begin to take our partner for granted. It’s easy forget to appreciate the good things, often being more critical than we might once have been. A lack of gratitude from a loved one can also lead to feeling burned out.
How does kink burnout actually feel?
Here’s what some members of our community had to say about their experiences of burnout.
“The effort of getting to events started to outweigh the enjoyment.” A lot of people echoed this: losing motivation to do the things they usually enjoy, whether that was attending events or even just spending time with partners. Others also said their sexual needs shifted away from kink-based sex to much more vanilla experiences.
From the side of a submissive: “I get embarrassed, I don’t want to communicate what I need. Instead of turning me on, dominance makes me exceptionally anxious.”
Some comments from Doms/ Tops, who also feel the burn out:
“The mental and emotional need to ensure safety was present in play made it feel like a chore.”
“There were times when I felt I had to put up a facade of being a strong, competent Dom, but in reality I had burned myself out and needed to find balance within my dynamics.”
Porn performer and producer, @bathory_cvnt said: “I think ebbs and flows are completely natural in relationships so I try not to worry about it! I’ve been going through a really bad depression and sometimes I don’t want to dom my partner (doms need to feel secure too!) So maybe I’ll need to be extra open about how I’m feeling. I think we all have complicated relationships with sex and kink and it’s key to: a) listen to your body and mind’s needs, and b) not to feel guilty when you can’t perform. Especially as an AFAB person when we’re conditioned to perform sexually all the time.”
For many people, sex drive is the first thing we lose when we are overworked, stressed, or juggling too many things. But sex (and kink!) can also be great tools for escaping the stresses of everyday life. So how do we maintain some balance?
How do we prevent burnout?
It’s important to acknowledge that feeling burned out from kink isn’t a failure. It’s not a permanent state of being either. It’s very easy to judge ourselves (or our partners) for negative feelings about something we love. But it’s super important to try and avoid doing that.
Burnout is really a sign that something is off: there’s too much of something, or not enough of something else. It’s a chance to reflect and restore balance.
One thing we can do, which is scientifically backed, is focus on completing the cycle of stress. Emily and Amelia Ngoski talk about this in detail, in their book Burnout: the secret to solving the stress cycle (another one that’s worth a look!) Modern life is throwing stressors at us all the time. If we let them pile up, without telling our body we’re safe, we are much more likely to burn out. There are so many ways to do this:
- Exercise, or clenching and releasing different muscle groups
- Being outdoors
- Kissing (for at least 6 seconds)
- Hugging while maintaining your own body weight (for at least 20 seconds)
- Prioritising sleep and rest.
All of these things send a message to our body that it is safe. If we get into good habits of doing these very wholesome things on a daily basis, we can even help to prevent future burnouts.
Increased emotional intelligence is another protective factor. Skills like emotional self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and conflict management can prevent us burning out, too. And they are absolutely skills that you can learn and cultivate with a little bit of time and effort.
The thing that is burning us out is often something that we place importance in. Where kink is concerned it’s worth weighing up whether it’s better to stop (for a period of time, or for good) or persist and find ways through. If you feel relief at the thought of pausing, then it’s likely that that’s the right path for you. Ultimately, you’re the one that gets to choose.
What to do if think you have kink burnout
The majority of advice — from the internet, in relation to burnout in general, and from our community in relation to kink burnout specifically — is pretty similar, and straightforward: take some time out to relieve some pressure and reassess. Of course this isn’t always possible when talking about burnout relating to work, or family. But it’s often something we do have the power to choose with kink. For many of us, kink is a part of our identity, so giving it up can feel like a wrench. But pressing pause, or maybe just slowing things down a little, could be the reboot you need.
Where kink is concerned it’s really helpful to strip things back and return to the basics of connection. But how?
It almost goes without saying, but the first step to managing burnout is recognising you’re in it. This can be tough and accompanied with all sorts of feelings of guilt and shame. But if you don’t acknowledge it, you’ll be stuck in it.
Once you know you’re feeling kink burnout, the next steps are to communicate this to your nearest and dearest. Then try and identify the pressure points: the things that are tipping you over the edge.
Understanding these means you can work out which parts of your kink life to scale back or remove. This will often have the effect of making everything else seem suddenly more manageable. While spotting the symptoms might be tricky in and of itself, the longer you’re dealing with a specific set of stressors (and feeling like it’s all too much) the bigger the impact, and the fallout, is likely to be.
If a partner tells you they’re feeling burned out from kink, or you’re noticing a shift in their enthusiasm, try not to let your own feelings (or ego) get in the way. Listen to them, with curiosity and a genuine desire to understand. As cheesy as it might sound, remember that it’s you (plural) against the burnout, not you (singular) against each other. By creating a plan together, you’re much more likely to get your shared kink life back on track.
Some advice from our community:
“I manage [kink burnout] by going back to the very basics of intimate touch. A cuddle, a massage etc.”
“[When i had kink burnout] I felt like I was letting Him, and more importantly U/us down. But there was no way out but through. He lightened obligations. He focused on our emotional, intellectual connection. Even now [after an injury] I’m not at my previous level of fitness but it gave us a deeper understanding of our dynamic and an explosion in our commitment and depth of trust.”
“Just taking a complete break until the kink switch is flicked again helps a lot. [Kink] should be something you actively want to do.”
@bathory_cvnt says: “It doesn’t damage a kink relationship to take downtime! If anything, listening to each other’s needs will strengthen your relationship. Taking downtime from kink is a really good opportunity to connect with your partners in other ways.
“And I think being so conscious of my body and mind’s needs like this preserves my relationships well and prevents big burnout to be honest.
“When I was younger I used to have sex even when I wasn’t really feeling it. I think that behaviour, whilst something most young women suffer with and grow out of, isn’t helpful for your personal expression, sexual fulfilment and autonomy. So it’s really important to work on. I even take breaks while playing sometimes to make sure I’m fully engaged with what I’m doing, and I expect my partners to do the same.
“Sometimes it feels like a lot of PRESSURE and maybe make each other orgasm so it’s nice to just fuck around a bit then keep watching TV. Keep it light.”
Ultimately, orgasms, and the connection and intimacy created by having partnered sex are really good for our brains. So taking a step (or ten) back from kink or protocol when we’re feeling burned out, and focusing on connecting and creating said intimacy, can be super helpful in managing burnout.