Letters From Japan: “Kink Shaming Boyfriend”
Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered
Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Ask Hilary" in the subject line.
I read an article you wrote before about kink, and wanted to get your perspective on my problem with my Japanese boyfriend. He’s very vanilla in bed, which I respect, but it’s not for me all the time. I’m into bondage (as a domme) and until we started dating, it was a big part of my sex life.
He said he was into kink, but when I try to talk to him about what his and my fantasies are, he shuts down completely, or worse, he gets rude. He said my likes make me “not wife material.”
We had a stupid fight a few days ago and it’s making me reconsider the relationship. I was looking for a new leather belt for work, one I could wear over dresses. He flipped out when he saw what I was looking at, said I was sick for buying that sh** in front of him, and stormed out of my place. It was literally this belt on Amazon.
We haven’t seen each other in person since, and I’m kind of over this whole pretending to be vanilla thing. Should I try to be more understanding, or is this just how Japanese men are?
Dear Kink Shamed,
The article you are talking about from the Ask Hilary series is “Unhealthy Relationship.” In that situation, which I have gotten permission to speak about, the letter writer sustained injuries during non-consensual knife play at the hands of her partner. She was not into kink of any sort and ultimately had to take drastic measures in order to leave the situation safely.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case for you. You openly enjoy bondage and are comfortable with your identity as a domme — and that’s awesome! More people should be understanding and aware of their own kinks. As a friend of mine once said: “Why bother getting down if you don’t know what’ll really get you off?”
As with everywhere else in the world, Japanese people encompass a wide range of attitudes toward sexual openness, so to speak. There are asexual/aromantic Japanese people, just as there are those that live in 24/7 BDSM lifestyles with multiple partners. It really depends on the person and (except in rare cases) isn’t something most people feel comfortable speaking about until the relationship has progressed to a certain extent.
One Japanese couple I know had been together for three years before they actually opened up to one another about a mutual interest in having a daddy-little girl relationship, and now engage in that lifestyle almost exclusively. From speaking to them and others that have embraced their kinks, it’s more of a matter of building a high degree of mutual trust than it is a fear of sharing what turns them on.
While communication is definitely a part of it, there may be a lack of trust in your relationship that’s keeping him from openly sharing his interests. People are allowed to like or dislike different acts and behaviors in the bedroom, but in a relationship built on mutual trust, they have faith that their partner won’t do anything to truly hurt them or force them to do something that they don’t want to do. Clear consent is a key part of any kink, after all. Given the various safety and health concerns that some forms of kink include, absolute trust in your partner is vital and not likely something that can happen in a few months or even a year of a relationship.
It can also be hard to find a serious partner with whom you can engage in that kind of relationship. Most users of mainstream Japanese dating websites and apps don’t tend to mention it — period. Sure, you might find a few people that will put key terms like ドＳ (dom/domme) or ドＭ (sub/little) in their profiles, however, what one person deems dominant could be seen as barely above vanilla by another, so even these terms can be hard to sort out without some deeper discussion and trust-building first. “The way people react [to those terms] makes you feel like some kind of criminal, like you’re going to abuse and ruin a potential partner’s life” (Japanese man, 40s). “You get freaks messaging you about how they’ll force you to do XYZ, or else” (Japanese woman, 30s). “People throw around words like ‘slut’ and ‘hentai’ [pervert] if you so much as show a bra strap in a photo—it’s ridiculous” (Japanese woman, 20s).
In your case, your boyfriend claims to be into kink, but doesn’t make any effort to share or explain what that means to him. While this could be a language issue, I get the impression it has more to do with him not being prepared to share that side of himself. He might have a vague idea or even an extensive playlist of porn that clearly shows what he likes, but he’s not comfortable enough—either with himself or with you—to put that into words. Further, when asked, he lashes out. He’s being exceedingly immature and rude, regardless of his reasons for not sharing.
One of the larger red flags in your message is his saying you’re not “wife material” because you’re sexually adventurous/a domme. That tells me that, probably on a deeper level than even he is aware of, his image of a wife is someone who is either completely submissive or is “proper” in the eyes of society. He might hope that he can turn you back into a non-kink interested person by not engaging in any kink-related discussions. In which case you need to consider whether you’re willing to lose that side of yourself for him. If not, then you need to let him know.
I get the impression it has more to do with him not being prepared to share that side of himself.
Essentially, there are two options available to you: first, you can sit down and try to have a discussion with your boyfriend about what his kinks are, and see if those can line up with yours. This will mean putting some pressure on him to actually address the topic instead of lashing out or shaming you. Given his reaction to that belt experience, however, it seems like too much of a hot button issue for either of you to approach. You could let things quiet down for a few days and then try to discuss them, but be aware that he could blow up again or continue to insult you no matter what.
His reactions aren’t your fault. If he isn’t capable of having a mature discussion about his own sexuality or sexual likes and dislikes, that’s on him. If that is the case, then you have your answer. It might not be a pretty situation, but it could be better in the long term for both of you.
Your second option is the one you mentioned, which for your own peace of mind and happiness, sounds like the best choice based on the circumstances described in your letter. If you’re already reconsidering the relationship, you could just cut your losses and move on without having that discussion. He’s already avoided seeing you for a few days and I assume you haven’t been texting that often either so if you’re truly ready to move on, this is the time to do it.
if he isn’t capable of having a mature discussion about his own sexuality or sexual likes and dislikes, that’s on him
He is perfectly welcome to his own opinions and disinterest in participating in your kink, but if he’s berating you and equates buying a leather belt for work with wearing bondage gear, then there might not be much point in staying with him. Go out (or online, because pandemic) and find someone that’s into your fabulous domme self. Good luck!