Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: Are Kinks Hereditary?
-Written by Dr. Anjali Mediboina, House Surgeon, ASRAM
I recently read a dialogue in a book where one of the characters mentioned that kinks are hereditary. And I was like, wait, what? We have certain sexual preferences because… our ancestors had the same said preferences??? While I was a bit disturbed at the thought (I tend to have an extremely overactive imagination), I also had to research it.
Let’s start with the definition; according to dear Oxford,
Kink /kɪŋk/ a person’s unusual sexual preference.
Huh. I found this a little bit problematic; who’s to say what usual and unusual preferences are, anyway?
So, I went to Wikipedia instead:
“In human sexuality, kinkiness is the use of non-conventional sexual practices, concepts or fantasies. The term derives from the idea of a “bend” (cf. a “kink”) in one’s sexual behavior, to contrast such behavior with “straight” or “vanilla” sexual mores and proclivities. It is thus a colloquial term for non-normative sexual behavior.”
Basically, in 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a German psychiatrist, wrote a book called Psychopathia Sexualis, where he described around 200 clinical cases of “sexual perversion”. Meaning, any and all types of sexual behaviors that deviated from regular, heteronormative, penis-in-vagina coitus. Now, this book was highly influential in its time, resulting in numerous papers and studies which lead people to believe (even to this day) that any sort of sexual deviance must be associated with mental illness and criminal activity.
But more on that later. For now, I’ll be using the word kink in a looser way, to describe any sort of sexual preference.
So, back to the question on hand: does genetics play a role in sexual preferences, or kinks?
First, I did a PubMed search using the keywords “kink”, and all that came up were multiple articles on the “kinks” in DNA helices, which gave me a major throwback to 12th grade biology, lol.
Then I used the keywords “sexual preferences” AND “hereditary”. Now, while this gave me a better result, pretty much all the articles focused on sexual preferences in terms of orientation and the possible links to genetics. Which was an interesting read, but not exactly what I was looking for. After that I switched out the word “preference” with “behavior” and again, pretty much the same results. A lot of papers have been written to link our sexuality and sexual orientation to genetics, but I wasn’t finding anything that talked about one’s sexual desire. And yes, I used the term “desire” in place of preference as well; totally different results (but also something I shall explore later).
So, I turned to Google, instead.
One article (originally posted by Glamour) interviewed Dr. Justin Lehmiller, PhD. His work includes multiple research articles on sexual activity, sexual health and relationships, and is the author of two textbooks and the website Sex and Psychology.
In the interview, Dr. Lehmiller explained it like this: sexual preferences have links with personality, so for example, (according to his extensive research) people with an extrovert personality were found to have fantasies involving group sex and polygamy. And, personality, to a certain degree, is hereditary. Ergo, sexual fantasies could be, to some degree, have a genetic component. He also mentioned that sexual activity differs from person to person, depending on their areas of sensitivity- for example, some people are more sensitive in their nipple area, while others aren’t. So, based on that they could be interested in nipple play and so on. And these areas of sensitivities also could have a genetic component to it.
He summarized by comparing the “causes” of sexual preferences as pieces of a puzzle. Genetic components could be one piece, with other pieces being psychology and environment.
To quote Dr. Lehmiller:
“Two people can develop the same sexual interest for very different reasons, depending on the confluence of all of these factors.”
I’m honestly not surprised to have found a mostly inconclusive answer to my question; the human psyche is, after all, incredibly complex. But, it was an interesting search for me, and hopefully an interesting read for you 🙂
- Kink (sexuality) [Internet]. Accessed Nov 30, 2022. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kink_(sexuality)#cite_note-FOOTNOTEShahbazChirinos2016-1
- Lustig, H. Are Kinks Hereditary? What Science Says About the Genetics of Desire. Glamour [Internet] Sep 22, 2022. Available from: https://www.glamour.com/story/are-kinks-hereditary