.A ‘Fifty Shades’-Inspired Kink App? No, Spank You

It's not the "kinks" that need to be worked out.

Dear @nna is an advice column for the digital age. Got a digital dilemma of your own? If you have a question involving technology, the internet, or online etiquette, shoot it to [email protected] with the subject “Dear Anna.”

I recently read about a “kink” app inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey hullabaloo. Why am I so offended by its existence? I don’t care that people engage in BDSM, but there’s something about apps like this that seem so pandering. Your thoughts?
— Fifty Shades of Whatever

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[jump] If you’re talking about Whiplr, FSOW, then it’s definitely pandering to the Fifty Shades crowd. The promotional video makes that quite clear (watch it below). If I were to venture a guess, I’d say you’re probably offended because, like other unnecessary Fifty Shades merchandise (Fifty Shades onesie, anyone? How about a Fifty Shades tea? I’m told it’s “commanding and decadent,” which is precisely what I require from wet leaves — God, if only this rooibos had more bondage, I’m always saying), this app is trying to get a slice of the money pie, and let’s be honest, is probably not that invested in nurturing or educating would-be kinksters on the ins and outs of consensual BDSM.

In other words, it’s a gimmick. One with a sleek interface and video functionality, but a gimmick, no less. 

Users are somehow supposed to deduce meaningful information about someone’s sexual forte based on vague bubbles of kink “interest” (such as “fashion,” “materials,” and GOD HELP US “odors”)? No spanks, Whiplr.

You might also be annoyed that it’s really just another location-based hookup app a la Tinder and Grindr (and let’s not forget Cuddlr!). Whiplr is not offering anything revolutionary to the market, aside from, I suppose, the ability to send “kink-animations” to a stranger. (I tried to test out the app, but my profile wasn’t approved in time for this column, alas. Now I have to live with the remorse of never having been emoji-flogged. Thankfully, I can console myself with this cheerful, waving vegan mayonnaise emoji, a bizarre collaboration between East Bay rapper Lil B and Vegenaise.)

Also, much like Whiplr’s fifteen-minutes-of-shame predecessor, 3ndr (“the Tinder for threesomes!”), a goddamn app is not the way to navigate a complicated sexual relationship (especially one that hinges on extreme levels of trust and communication, as BDSM does). Do apps serve a purpose? Of course. An app is a great way to lazily order an artisanal burrito and have a pegged-pants hipster with a Fu Manchu mustache deliver it to you via unicycle, but it is not a medium conducive to nuanced, adult interactions involving your most tenderest of fleshy bits.

As sex therapist Esther Perel put it in a recent Atlantic interview, “I find it amazing that this country at this point is going to spill quantities of ink talking about Fifty Shades, when it doesn’t even have a basic education on sex. It’s like you’re introducing alcohol to people who haven’t had any water in years.” Perel is totally right, and so is Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon, who quoted Perel in her recent (and quite funny) review of Whiplr.

We are horribly informed when it comes to facilitating our needs in regard to the most basic, vanilla-est of sex acts. We spend billions of dollars on federal abstinence education programs, despite the fact that it’s consistently shown not to work, and despite the fact that 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, and have done so for decades. And on those occasions when we do try to teach students about sex in school, it often falls way short of the mark. When I taught high school (English, not sex ed) in the early aughts, one of my students casually mentioned that she thought pregnancy occurred from swallowing semen. Another got knocked up by her much older boyfriend, who thought she was cheating on him because he “pulled out,” so obviously the kid couldn’t have been his. In other words, when it comes to sexual knowledge, culturally, we’re, well, fucked. We use sex to sell cheeseburgers, but don’t know how to advocate for our most basic wants and desires. An app is not going to change that. In fact, it might make it worse.

Such was the case of the recent sexual assault in Illinois in which the perpetrator alleged that he beat up and abused a woman without her consent because he said he was reenacting a Fifty Shades scene. This isn’t to say that an app like Whiplr will lead to abuse, but it is somewhat troubling that it tailors itself to newbies. As the press release reads, Whiplr “aims to woo you into the world of kink and help you step out of your comfort zone.”

To inexperienced, curious kinksters, I beseech you: Go to a munch. Take a friend to a play party (there are a bajillion in the Bay Area), read a book (Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Kink is a good one), or attend one of Good Vibes’ informative intro classes. But please don’t get caned for the first time by some wannabe in a fedora because you clicked an “objects” button on your phone.

Follow @annapulley on Twitter. She’ll tweet you right.


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