How many times have you been reading through reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or another platform and come across something along the lines of "The writing was okay, but oh my god, sugar daddies are disgusting" or "I cannot believe any woman would want to read a book with dubious consent" or even "I thought I'd like this book but the hero was way too submissive. Gross!"
Kink-shaming. All of it. And it's problematic.
For those who don't know: Kink-shaming is the act of using someone's sexual fantasies or experiences as "proof" that that person is a bad person, or in an attempt to embarrass someone for their sexual preferences.
Romance novels are already judged six ways to Sunday for being "fluff books", creating unrealistic expectations in women, and being unfeminist. The absolute last thing we need to is for romance novel readers to be judging one another for our reading preferences.
Romance novels, and often books in general, are supposed to be a safe place to explore themes and situations that we may not otherwise want to experience in real life. I doubt most of us wanted to live through the Girl on a Train experience or spend our time being chased down by the government Jason Bourne style. Yet, we enjoy reading them because they take us out of our monotonous daily lives and thrust us into a fictional world in which we can live a life other than our own.
Some argue that romance novels exploring dark themes such as dubious consent, rape, drugs, and BDSM may encourage readers to enact those scenarios in real life. For instance, following the boom of Fifty Shades of Grey there were many who worried that young readers who fell in love with the book would think that the abusive relationship between Christian and Ana was an accurate portrayal of a BDSM lifestyle. And yes, there is always the risk. But what's more likely is that A. a reader will discover they like the theme and go on to read more BDSM books, perhaps stumbling into the realm of far more accurate portrayals or B. Want to learn more about their interest in a BDSM lifestyle and do the research on it, discover that Fifty Shades was not the safest or more realistic portrayal and explore BDSM in a more appropriate way.
I think what is far more likely, however, is that a reader will delve into the Fifty Shades world, find entertainment and then simply move on from the book, remembering it only as a footnote in their reading history.
Outside of the Fifty Shades phenomenon, it's far more likely that a reader has certain fantasies and then seeks out books the fulfill those fantasies, as opposed to simply falling into them. A reader may find pleasure in rape fantasies (one of the most common sexual fantasies among women) or simply rough sex or sugar daddies or watersports. A reader could be happily, monogamously married, yet find excitement in the idea of multiple partners. Or perhaps they want to explore their bisexuality in a way that isn't harmful to their current partner.
Maybe--or definitely--they don't want to experience those things in real life, so they choose a safe means in which to investigate those desires that doesn't involve putting themselves at risk.
Or hell, maybe they do want to do those things in real life. Maybe rough sex is exactly what they like. Maybe a BDSM lifestyle does interest them. Maybe they want to find sugar daddy. And maybe they enjoy watersports.
The long and short of it is: there are kinks out there that you may enjoy and there are kinks out there that may make you go, "Oh hell no". But whatever your feelings towards a particular kink we should never participate in kink-shaming in our reviews of a novel (especially since if you'd bothered reading the triggers or content warning or blurb or reviews, you'd likely have known ahead of time that the book had those kinks).
It is okay to say: "You know, I didn't expect the hero in this books to enjoy watersports and that isn't really my thing" or "I didn't know before reading, but I know now that I'm just not into books about the Daddy Dom/Little Girl lifestyle".
It is not okay to say: "Ok, this book was disgusting. Who the hell wants to be peed on by their partner?" or "Whoever reads daddy dom/little girl romances should be ashamed of themselves."
There will always be books out there that are not to your taste. And, despite your best efforts, I'm sure you will be shocked by a book a time or two. Maybe a certain subgenre of romance turns your stomach or revolts you and that's okay, but you can express your disinterest of those books without shaming those who do like them.
So...let's just keep kink-shaming out of the romance genre.
Author note: I want to make it clear that my anti-kink-shaming stance only applies to those kinks that do not involve other people against their will. I do not believe that kinks should involve other people against their will or without their knowledge or break the law in any way, shape, or form.