The first time I heard lovemaking described as vanilla, condemnation dripping from the tongue, I might have felt my private life was wanting were it not for my sense of play. My inner child has always loved vanilla, especially the rich, creamy French version. Mystifyingly delicious in every food or beverage and heady as a scent, there was nothing plain about it.
That I was having vanilla served up with the occasional whipped cream topping didn’t mean the vanilla was lacking in flavor.
Or was it?
I suddenly had doubts. They crept in sinuously, like the serpent in the Garden inviting me to do…what exactly?
Don leather? Get spanked? Buy cuffs because scarves were too pedestrian for a real night of naughtiness? Doing nothing of the above, I kept quiet instead. Not exactly wearing the badge of vanilla as an honor, not exactly advertising that I liked my intimacy served on a platter of monogamy with a side of mischief, heavy props left at the door.
Somehow, vanilla had gotten a boring reputation.
That someone else might call this sexualove style the ‘default’ of modern living, ‘mundane’ even, annoyed me. It wasn’t personal per se. I know assumptions abound about sex. I expect them from more conservative corners of society; I expected those who are working to open the narrow bounds of respectability to cut vanilla some slack. After all, it has a long, venerated history as an aphrodisiac, the nectar of lovers with the power to make men swoon.
Despite the bad rad, vanilla was really one sensual bean. It was time for redemption.
It’s easy to see why natural vanilla is an epicurean delight. The bean requires careful tending and sweet cajoling to give up its essence.
“She is such a fickle lover, that to produce the coveted and expensive bean, she’s forced humans into serving as her pollination bitch and botanical sex slave,” writes Midori in the now defunct Carnalnation. “Every drop of vanilla we consume comes from of painstaking hand-pollination, one flower at a time.”
In her treatise against those who dis this style of love, Midori taught me a few good lessons. First, vanilla is derived from the same Latin word that brings us vagina. Second, “if someone needs a point of reference of another sex style to define their own pleasures, it means they’ve not given their own sex style its own value to stand on its own worth.” Be proud of who you are and own what turns you on. Finally, dirty is good. Even the vanilla kind of dirt.
Maybe the idea that vanilla has a rebellious streak seems outlandish, but not when we accept that for many people, a healthy relationship depends on balancing the need for safety and commitment with the need to explore lust.
“In order for monogamy to work, it has to be ‘dirty,’” writes Irwin Kula in Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (Hyperion, 2006). “If the forbidden is what is exciting, we have to work hard to bring the taboo into our most intimate relationships. If transgression is so titillating, we have to learn to transgress where we’re most safe.”
“Our relationships can be nothing less than pleasure chamber. But we need to create situations and takes risks that are out of the ordinary and push the envelope,’’ he continues.
His idea of transgressing included some hanky panky in the great outdoors, which is very ecologically hot in my humble opinion. It’s also vanilla by many standards, more daring than missionary though more tepid than say leather and ropes. The takeaway message from Kula, who takes on the prudish establishment in the name of Love, is that it necessary to acknowledge our primitive urges, even the ones that we want to insist belong on someone else’s mind, for the sake of relationship.
Nothing artificial about these vanilla tendencies.
Do fantasies have to include bells and whistles, prop and circumstance, or blindfolds and whips in order to qualify as wickedly erotic?
“The common use of ‘vanilla sex’ fully describes unaccessorized conventional intercourse that’s necessarily boring and pedestrian,” writes Midori. That is what I thought too at first (remember the sneering tone used to distinguish the flavors). That implies that everything else is anything but bland or unimagined, which could be the case, or not.
Pleasure comes from many things. Willing flesh molded by a lover’s touch, creativity and a sense of play, spontaneity, a shared history, knowledge of your body’s special touch preferences, a willingness to explore. The list of what makes someone irresistible in bed is endless and intentional. Attitude reigns supreme, as much as that perfectly sculpted body, those kissable lips and practiced fingertips, that wanton leather get-up.
“Imagine slow, deep kisses with languid caresses appreciating every molecule of the other’s existence, and awe and wonder at the abandon into one another’s pleasures. Imagine the sweet vulnerability of exposed passion and a moment’s desire to consume one another. Kinky or not, roles taken or not, toys used or not, these passions can send the lovers into indescribable flights of intimacy.”
However we make love, kinky or not, it should be enjoyed. We are seeking the same outcome – meaningful connection and joint pleasure. For some, that’s a traditional romp with marriage and monogamy. To assume doing it vanilla style means there’s a flaw in that plan “exposes a possible low confidence or lack self-examination of one’s desires. Celebrating kinkiness, in whatever manner you are kinky, should not be about sneering at not-kinkiness.”
What’s truly boring besides boorish assumptions about how others make do in the bedroom? Predictability. No sense of spontaneity, the missing humor link or the fear of being vulnerable with another deadens pleasure quickly. What binds our secret erotic selves aren’t restraints, but ‘impenetrable walls around the self’ that keep lovers from knowing intimacy even in the midst of intercourse.
Vanilla, the carefully removed extract from hand pollinated orchid beans, is full of adventurous exploration, flirtation and nights of wild abandon. It’s mouthwatering love speckled with dark bits, and I can have bowl after bowl of that creamy stuff. After all, the refined palate determines how tempting and delicious the banquet is.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Sexis Magazine.
©2010-2012 www.TinamarieBernard.com; PARTIAL reposts only permitted with link back to original article.