Vanilla sex — also known as sex that does not involve bondage, domination, sadism, or masochism — sometimes has a reputation for being, well, a bit boring. But you can absolutely be sexually adventurous and also vanilla.


Below, we cover what vanilla sex is, what vanilla sex isn’t, and what to try if you think your vanilla sex life is boring.


What Is Vanilla Sex?


It’s easiest to talk about vanilla sex in terms of what it’s not. It’s not kinky sex. But it’s also not P-in-V missionary with the lights off for six minutes and then let’s talk about our to-do lists while getting dressed. (Or at least, it’s not just that.)


Vanilla sex is any type of sex that does not involve bondage, domination, sadism, or masochism (BDSM, also called kink). Sometimes, people who are not BDSM practitioners will use “BDSM” as a shorthand for anything from sex that’s a little rough to sex that involves a sex toy, but if it doesn’t include any of those four components, that’s not the case. For instance, using a vibrator so you can orgasm during sex is vanilla; using a vibrator on someone else so they orgasm over and over in an increasingly painful way until you give them permission to stop is kinky. Lighting candles for sex is vanilla; dripping hot paraffin wax over someone’s body until they safeword is kinky.


The truth is, no type of enthusiastically consensual sex is better or worse, more or less perverted, or more or less fun than any other, as long as everyone involved is excited to be there.


What Should You Try If You Think Your Vanilla Sex Life Is Boring?


If you feel yourself imposing a judgement on any element of your enthusiastically consensual sex life, the first thing to look at is whether that judgement is because you actually want something different, or because you just feel like you should. If you and your partners are great at talking about sex together and satisfied with your sex life, congratulations! You’re doing what feels good to you, which not a lot of people manage. It’s okay to let go of judgements around the type of sex you have and to just enjoy it.


But what if you’re not satisfied with your sex life? The menu is wider than just “missionary, briefly” and “getting really, really into BDSM.” As a long-time kink practitioner, I can say that kink is absolutely not for everyone, and also that it doesn’t have to be. It’s just one way to have a sex life. There’s a whole world of vanilla sex to explore if you want to.


So How Do You Spice Up Vanilla Sex While Still Keeping It Vanilla?


A lot of people think of “vanilla” in the grocery-store vanilla extract sense, as the plainest possible flavor with just a whiff of artificial sweetness. But have you ever tried a vanilla bean? Vanilla beans are the pods that grow on the plant. To use one, you buy the whole pod, slice it open, and scrape out the seeds inside. Rather than saccharine, the smells and flavors are rich, luxurious, and sensual, a great addition to savory cooking as well as sweet. After using a vanilla bean, vanilla extract seems flat and dull. They’re the same thing, sort of, but also they’re not.


Similarly, when you want to make your vanilla sex life more interesting, it’s not that you need to switch your flavor profile, but that you need to find a richer version of it.


Getting in touch with your own fantasies, your own desires, and your own body is a crucial first — and ongoing — step. Make time for solo sex dates with yourself. Try different types of touch in different ways. If you normally use your fingers to make circles over your clit until you come, what does it feel like to tap with your fingers, stroke up and down, or try a little penetration as well? If you normally watch porn with your vibrator shoved down your pants, what does it feel like to get into bed with yourself?


Porn and erotica are also excellent tools for exploring your fantasies. If you never watch porn, try it. (Don’t forget to pay for it.) If you already like porn, what about trying a few different genres or scenarios? What about reading erotica? I suggest erotica anthologies with lots of different authors, because the variety makes it more likely you’ll find one you connect with. If you’re totally lost, Susie Bright’s Bitten and Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Best Women’s Erotica series are great places to start. Already into all that alone? Watch porn, or read erotica aloud, with a partner.


If you’re not used to talking about fantasies with a partner, it’s time to start. Talking about sex is important both because it lets you have better sex, and because it’s super hot. If you fantasize about a partner who moves with you from position to position to position, and you always just end up on top wondering why they aren’t trying to move around with you, a conversation is the only way to get what you want. Similarly, if you like orgasming best in one specific position and your partner always moves around at a crucial moment, say something.


You can also experiment with fantasy scenarios. What if you role play that you’re strangers picking each other up at a bar? In the pandemic the “bar” is probably just your kitchen – which is great, because then you can have “bar” bathroom sex. What are three other scenarios you can come up with to try together?


Finally, different positions in different locations (assuming you have the room and privacy in your home to explore) at different times of day can also make things more interesting. Even small changes — sex on the floor next to the bed, or on a sufficiently sturdy lounge chair, instead of sex on the bed, and in the morning or at lunch if you normally stick to nighttime — can help you start to think more creatively about your sex life.