Receiving praise, I’d thought, was something universally enjoyable, one of the shared pleasures of existence like bonding with friends or enjoying food. Eating a slice of pizza feels good, but I wouldn’t say it’s my kink. Yet, just as liking pizza has become something of a personality trait for many, the concept of having a “praise kink” has garnered traction. Particularly on TikTok, the label has become part of mainstream conversation. But what exactly qualifies something so instinctively normal as a kink?
On the app, many praise kink-related videos are situated between the praise kink hashtag, which has 5.9 million views, and a soundbite currently titled “stop using this for your disgusting fetish vids” that’s used in hundreds of videos. In the soundbite, a woman is pretending to speak to a therapist, saying, “Sometimes I genuinely feel like if I don’t get praise, I will die.” The pretend therapist, voiced by the same woman, says, “Well, it’s really good that you can recognize that.” The original speaker then replies in a soft, expectant voice, “It’s really good? I did really good?”
While it’s unclear if the most popular videos using this sound are what the creator would describe as “disgusting fetish vids,” many of them do indeed orient them as a fetish by using the sound to discuss praise kink, either via hashtag or by switching the relationship portrayed from therapist and client to dominant and submissive. In videos using the soundclip or hashtag, creators (who are almost exclusively women or femmes) describe their enjoyment of being called a “good girl” or complimented for their sexual skills.
Prior to becoming a topic on TikTok, essays and blogs on the kink attempt to establish it as part of a BDSM dynamic. In an April 2020 essay from writer Emma Austin, titled “I Have a Praise Kink,” Austin similarly describes how much she loves being called a “good girl” and that physical acts of body worship fulfill the desire, too. “When my husband treats my ass like he could spend the rest of his life grabbing, licking and spanking it, it feels like praise. When he squeezes my sides while going down on me, that feels like him expressing his desire and appreciation for me through his hands,” she writes.
Of course, Austin acknowledges that most people enjoy praise without a sexual component, but that in the right context, it feels like a kink because of how strongly she reacts to it. Nevertheless, in the broadest definition of kink as something sexually “unconventional,” I’m uncertain whether this fits the bill. Perhaps if one actually gets aroused at the mention of their therapist telling them they’re making progress, then sure. But enjoying your partner’s own enjoyment of your body and pleasure is, I hope, an entirely conventional sexual experience.
Some of the TikToks on the topic situate it within even narrower sexual categories. One creator, @catieosaurus, has developed a series devoted to what a partner should do with their “burnt-out gifted and talented submissive brat with a praise kink.” The specificity of that alone speaks to its oddity — somehow, being an overworked adult who may once have been assigned a reading level above their peers in elementary school is the defining component of one’s sexual interests.
Am I kinkshaming? No, because that would mean enjoying praise is a kink in itself. While surely these labels are useful for some in identifying uncertain desires and finding others compatible with them, it feels driven by the need to diagnose and compartmentalize sexuality into neat boxes. There is nothing unconventional about enjoying being complimented, particularly in bed. Please, indulge in the pleasure of being called a good girl or boy as much as you’d like — I’ll even do the same — but what exactly do we gain in giving that pleasure a name?