A guy started chatting me up at a party. After a few minutes, he peered closely at my ears. "Are those handcuff earrings?" (It was the '80s, okay? Shut up.) When I confirmed that they were, and no, I wasn't just wearing them as a fashion statement, he shook his head reproachfully. "That kinky shit—don't you know that'll ruin you for regular sex?" I laughed. But in a way, he was right. Once you're used to kinky sex, it's difficult to have strictly regular, vanilla sex. I was reminded of that recently, because I tried.

Why was I having vanilla sex? Well, I went through a phase of wanting to meet people from outside the kink community who didn't know me as "Mistress Matisse." I just wondered what it would be like to date without the backstory, as it were.

I went out with several pleasant, good-looking guys from a social-networking site. I told them all, "I'm pretty kinky." They all replied, "That's cool." But the sex was all pretty unkinky—and not terribly successful. I have skills and confidence in bed, but I came away from those encounters thinking, "I do not understand how to be sexual like this."

Now, one can debate endlessly about what qualifies as kinky sex. But I've figured out exactly what makes sex vanilla. The defining feature of vanilla sex is this: You communicate about it using only mental telepathy. Or so I'm forced to assume, because nonkinky people don't talk about fucking. Not before they fuck, and definitely not while they're fucking. With every kinky person I've ever dated—which is a lot—there was some conversation about "So, what are you into?" And during kinky sex, it's normal to give overt instructions: "Lick me there. Higher—yeah, like that!" Or ask questions: "Is that good? Faster or slower?"

So the no-talking thing completely threw me. I've slept with men who spoke no English whatsoever, and it felt not unlike that. But at least those guys knew we were working with a handicap. The vanilla guys all seemed to assume there was a default pattern of how sex should happen, and discussion was neither necessary nor desirable. I was consciously trying to do as the Romans do, so when my pre-sex conversational forays didn't fly, I didn't push it.

But if I ever had default settings for sex, they're gone. At a certain point, I decided, "To hell with it," and I just started talking. Some of the vanilla guys proved open to direction, but initially, they all acted startled—and not particularly pleased—by my deviation from standard operating procedure. They even seemed uneasy about what I thought was pretty-basic porn talk. And one of them remarked, "You move too much."

Apparently, that kinky shit made me forget I'm supposed to lie still and be quiet. If that's the regular sex I'm ruined for, then color me happily spoiled. recommended