Is “That’s So Vanilla” The New “You’re Such A Prude”?

So I’ve been on social media lately — namely TikTok — and as I always do I went down a rabbit hole. When I found myself swimming in degradation and BDSM TikTok, something kept jumping out at me. “Omg, I told my friend I had a pain kink the other day. Like, sorry I can’t be vanilla like you” and “To all the bitches out there who only be liking vanilla missionary—”

Oh, to be a young woman trying to get her bod some attention it likes.

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The BDSM community is one of the most accepting, polite groups of people in regards to sexuality. This article is by no means an attack on them or a suggestion that they as a whole shame people for their tastes. In fact, it’s likely the people in these comment sections are not a part of the community at all, but rather people under pressure to be “cool”. You know how it is.

But there has been a rising trend about referring to people who do not wish to engage in certain kinks as “vanilla” which I find worrying for several reasons. This habit of shaming people for their taste in, or openness to discussing sex is not new — in fact, there is a history of denigrating people to either being “sluts or prudes” that this seems to reflect.


Particularly aimed at, you guessed it, women. How long have we been walking this thin line of being respectable in society and filthy in the sheets? Of being the freaky virgin? Never had sex, but wants it, but not too much, just enough — and just in the way her partner wants her to want it. Young women are constantly under pressures to be sexually desirable under the male, heterosexual gaze. We are posed, pliant, flexible. How long has there been this pressure to follow a sexual script? It should come down to what you want to do, not what you’re obliged to do. This excites me and that excites them — rather than a play you should follow to be found desirable.

It’s of no surprise to any of our readers, I’m sure, that there are problems with Australia’s sex education. In my recollection of the classes there was a lot of talking about baths when you’re on your periods (which, yuck, I cannot wrap my head around this, unless tampons??), how to put a condom on a banana, and the ever-present line: “girls, if you don’t want to, say no.” Did we go over the basics of the different sex acts? I’m honestly not sure.

A lot of what I learned about the actual function of sex was from osmosis, and honestly, mostly picking up sketchy shit from things my friends said. And what I read in fanfiction — which was often written by other fourteen-year-old girls. Is this painting a clear picture for you? Think honey pots and male thingies and frankly, issues with consent.

Would I say the Australian sex education failed me? Yep.

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“In a[n American] study that Rothman carried out in 2016 of 72 high schoolers ages 16 and 17, teenagers reported that porn was their primary source for information about sex — more than friends, siblings, schools or parents.” – Maggie Jones

There is still a lot of engrained puritan ideology in regards to our sex education. They don’t delve too deep lest they expose the children to the dark, taboo knowledge of partying peens, vages and silicon. There are discussions about sex, but not pleasure, not desire — not kinks and how they’re okay, and how to practice them safely; how to have meaningful conversations with your partners to make each of you feel safe.

A friend of mine detailed how this hush-hush nature towards sex impacted the conversations she could have with her partners. She really struggled to have a condom conversation. She couldn’t bring it up. Hey man, put on the condom, no, put it on. Seems simple, right? Not only simple but importantly, safe. But in an environment that remains tight-lipped and shameful around sex, talking about it is hard.

Chatting about putting a condom on has no place in that sexy passage you read three years ago — it has no place in porn. So how do we learn to have these conversations?

We’ve got little to no education, we’ve got the patriarchal pressures for women to behave one way or another to be seen as desirable; and then we’ve got the peer pressure, the shaming — the “that’s so vanilla”.

Can we not just enjoy sex as we enjoy it? Is there really a hierarchy in regards to sex acts?

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I myself have contributed to the discourse around pressuring my peers to being open to talking about sex. I once took a friend of mine to an erotica only bookstore. She whispered under her breath to me that “this book has really great steamy bits in it.” And I remember wanting to throw myself out of the store. We’re in a sex shop, darling. Everyone in here is reading sex. Why are you whispering?

I hated when people reacted like: “Ahhh okay, I don’t get it but I support you” when I would tell them of my sexual interests. Sometimes I’m like: “Omg, have a little flavour!”

And then I have to remember that there’s no such thing. There’s just sex, and pleasure, and desire. And not everyone has to be as comfortable talking about sex in public as me — or talking about sex in general.

There needs to be a balance, a harmony. There should be no inherent “coolness” factor for being interested in one thing or another. There should be no frustration and shame associated with enjoying missionary or asphyxiation.

Young adults, especially young women, do not need any more pressure to perform a certain way in the bedroom. Without proper conversations around pleasure in sex education and most of their instruction coming from questionable porn, we need to remove this discursive hierarchy of sex acts. Vanilla, spicy — it’s just sex. Enjoy what you enjoy, girlies. You do you.