Can You Learn How To Have Better Sex From A Box? I Tried It
Kelly Gonsalves is the sex and relationships editor at mindbodygreen. Her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
It comes in the mail just like any other package.
When you open up the outer shipping box, inside it is the actual box: simple, glistening black, about the size of the kind a new pair of shoes comes in. Mine has a single word printed across the top in bright green letters: TEASE. And across one the side, a single instruction: OPEN ME.
It's called a KinkKit, and it's designed to be sex education in a box. Launched earlier this year, the subscription service sends you a themed kit every quarter with curated items and a menu of guided sexual games. According to their website, each kit is backed by "over 50 studies on cognitive neuroscience, linguistic theory, relationship psychology, education pedagogy, and studies on sexual arousal." Each box promises to teach couples how to put all that research into practice in the bedroom, leading to way better sex. Because, you know, science.
Does it work? Listen, if I'm being honest, my partner and I already have pretty great sex. But let me tell you: Just one night with this box definitely opened up some doors for us.
What better way to open up communication about intimacy and sex than with laughter and with games?
Every box comes with a bunch of different sex toys and props. The Tease kit I'd picked out came with a whip made with tassels, two nipple clamps, pheromone perfumes, two packets of "G-spot stimulating serums," some envelopes and colored pencils, and a set of wrist and ankle restraints.
But the KinkKit is not just a subscription box for trying out new sex toys. And in fact, the toys are actually sort of secondary acts to the real star of each kit: the "Sexperiential Learning Games," which come in the form of a set of colorful instruction cards that guide you through sexual activities, games, and conversations. Some are sexy and flirtatious; others are vulnerable, deep, and emotional. These exercises are geared toward helping couples learn effective sexual communication, teach each other their own sexual preferences, and explore different aspects of their sexuality together.
"Kinky" isn't what you think it is.
Despite its name, exploring new forms of kinky sex is actually not the core purpose of these kits at all. Instead, according to its co-founder Candice Smith, M.S., the main goal is to walk couples through getting past the awkwardness of expressing your sexual interests and preferences to your partner, practicing enthusiastic consent, communicating boundaries, and putting the science of sexual arousal and pleasure into practice. So, everything you should've been learning in your sex ed classroom.
Smith does admit that she picked up a lot of these skills not from sex ed classes or movies or even her Harvard education in gender and sexuality; instead, she learned a lot of it as an adult exploring kinky sex for the first time with her partner. We associate kink with being something for the wild ones among us, the particularly adventurous or perhaps deviant. But the truth is, kink communities tend to be some of the warmest, safest spaces to explore and express sexuality, where there's a strong, open emphasis on boundaries, emotional care, and communication.
"The experience of giving enthusiastic consent and negotiating what I actually wanted was something that I'd never done in a 'vanilla' context," Smith tells me. "That's why I gave it that name—the KinkKit—because even though you aren't necessarily doing things that are kinky, the kink part of it is the communication and the games."
The KinkKit comes at a time when Americans are badly in need of better sex education. As of this writing, less than half of all states even require sex ed to be taught in schools, and just 13 require sex ed to be medically accurate. Even in schools where it's taught, sex ed usually leaves out any real discussion of sexual pleasure and seldom spends time teaching young people how to talk about their sexual needs. That's why so many adults today still don't really know how to make people with vaginas reach orgasm, feel like it's easier to go along with what you've been doing than bring up issues or requests, or feel pressured to "perform" in a certain way during sex instead of doing what actually feels good or asking what their partner really wants.
Research consistently shows that couples who can communicate openly about sex tend to have better sex—and happier and more successful relationships overall. Renowned psychologist and relationships researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., found that, among couples who don't feel comfortable talking openly about sex, just 9% say they've got a satisfying sex life. Talking is pivotal. The Gottman Institute teaches that talking about sex might even be more pivotal than actually having it.
Testing out the box.
First of all, there's something to be said about the novelty of trying something like this. When the box first arrived, we briefly opened it up to take a peek at the contents but then decided to set it aside for now so we could dedicate a whole evening to it. Fast-forward to a Friday morning a few weeks later, and as we were getting ready for work, we remembered the box and agreed we'd try it out that night. Throughout the workday, I found myself sort of subconsciously thinking about it in the back of my head. A date night! We hardly ever have date nights. I showered, did my makeup all nice, and actually put on a bra for once. That anticipation itself was already a welcome change of pace—I work from home and don't often have a reason to get dressed up, and I don't usually think too hard about looking attractive around the house for my partner either. But it felt good to be getting into a sexy mindset even before we saw each other. When we later sat down together in our underwear on our bed with the box, there was a little bit of electricity already fluttering between us.
We kicked off our session by making use of those cute little letter-writing set (yes, we were initially more drawn to the colored pencils than the whips and nipple clamps…we're both writers, OK?!). The point of this game was simply to write out short, sexy notes to each other, seal them up in a small envelope, and then leave them somewhere the other person would find them later when they're not expecting it. We prepped our notes and then planned to hide them later when the other person wasn't around. This was a fun little appetite whetter, but what's really great about this activity is that it keeps us both thinking about this sexual experiment we're doing—even after our session was over, I had to think for the following days about a good time and good place to slip the note into his bag before work. Just like that, a little playful, sexual energy is nicely tucked into our days to come.
The other games we tried followed a similar pattern: One, called "Ruleplay Roleplay," involved us creating rules for each other to follow for the next three days. If someone broke a rule, we created a designated "punishment" (or a "funishment," as our kit described it). If someone followed all their rules appropriately, there was a reward waiting for them. As you can imagine, a lot of the rules and consequences are intended to be sexual in nature—but we had fun mixing the sex and goofiness. For example, one of our rules was that I had to masturbate every day and let him know when I was doing it; another one was that I had to record a video of me singing a full love song to our cats each day.
Our kit promised to teach us the art of teasing, and it honestly delivered. Our games lasted several days each, keeping a sexual energy around us day after day without necessarily making it all about having more sex or kinkier sex. In fact, to our surprise, one of the most satisfying parts of the experience was all the conversations and introspection that came with it: thinking through whether a particular type of stimulation would be enticing or overwhelming, wonderfully jittery explanations of what felt good and what didn't, and just making space to hear each other and be heard.
Yes, part of the point of the KinkKit is introducing you to types of sex you haven't tried yet. (We had sex with nipple clamps for the first time, and those will definitely be reappearing in our bedroom in the future.) Some of the other kit themes include Restraint (an intro to bondage), Presence (for learning how to have tantra-inspired slow and mindful sex), and Oral (take a guess). Their latest kit, Spank, just dropped this month. But beyond trying new things, these boxes are really about teaching couples how to be comfortable talking to each other about sex and making those conversations feel fun, light, and accessible.
"I expect it to be awkward, and I hope that it is because intimate communication is supposed to be awkward, and there's a little plateau that you hit," Smith tells me. "When you hit that wall, when you hit that 'ooh, this is kind of awkward!'—like yeah, it is! Go with it! See what happens. I want people to find those awkward moments and find that tension because that's a teachable moment right there. That's the moment when people say, 'Ooh, I do like this,' or 'Ooh, I don't like this.'"
Gamifying sex ed.
The KinkKit isn't the only sex-related subscription box out there—What's In Your Box? is geared toward body exploration and empowerment, model and body-positivity activist Amber Rose's Slutbox includes feminist beauty and wellness picks alongside its intimate products, and there are plenty of others as well. But the KinkKit is unique in its mission: not just exploration but education.
While designing each box, the KinkKit team parses through the scientific literature on a particular subject and pulls out key lessons about how to maximize connection, pleasure, and satisfaction. Then they reach out to sex experts and ask how they teach couples about that subject in their own practice. "Through that, we begin to build out an arc, like an overall arc for what the experience will look like," Smith explains. "Then we say, all right, how do we make it fun? How do we make it sexy?"
Before founding the KinkKit with her partner earlier this year, Smith was an English teacher working through Teach for America and then later started an education tech company geared around the idea of experiential learning, which is a teaching method that focuses on hands-on activities and real-world experience to teach core concepts. Multidisciplinary research has long told us experiential education increases students' success in school and postgrad success in the workplace. So somewhere around the height of the #MeToo era in early 2018, when conversations around consent and sexual boundaries hit a peak, Smith had an idea: "What if we could marry experiential learning with adult sex ed?"
That's how she came to develop her trademark "sexperiential learning" method, which is all about learning sexual concepts by practicing them in real life with a partner. The method, which combines experiential learning with gamification, is the foundation of the KinkKit.
"Gamification is just a concept where you take something that you wanna learn, and you turn it into a game. And I used that often when I was in the classroom. I would gamify and incentivize in order for my students to learn," she explains. "What better way to open up communication about intimacy and sex than with laughter and with games? You make it competitive, you make it something fun to explore, and it takes away the awkwardness of communicating about something intimate."
In just doing a quick temperature check—hey, how was that for you? Did you like that? Did you not like that?—it becomes a habit. You’re starting to build a habit of open communication.
You might think the idea of gamifying sex might take away some of its emotional value, authenticity, or carnal allure. But Smith asserts the method doesn't make the components of sex less serious—obviously, consent is a very serious thing—but rather just makes learning about these things easier, talking about them more accessible and comfortable, and doing them more enjoyable and habitual.
Take, for example, the concept of aftercare—a practice in the kink communities in which, after having sex that involves any kind of rough play or power play, the couple spends time together cuddling and comforting each other to make sure both people feel good about what happened and still feel connected and cared for. All of the KinkKit games' last step involves aftercare. According to Smith, the idea is to teach couples to make this form of loving communication and care into a consistent ritual—even if you had the most vanilla sex ever.
"Any time that you've opened up and been vulnerable, you want to make sure that you and your partner are both feeling supported afterward. In just checking in and doing a quick temperature check—hey, how was that for you? Did you like that? Did you not like that?—it becomes a habit. You're starting to build a habit of open communication and honesty and trust with each other that may not have been there before," Smith explains. "It's so easy to just avoid the elephant in the room, but if you start building up that as a habit and as an expectation in your relationship when you share intimacy, it becomes that much easier to talk about the difficult things."
The bottom line.
Not everything about the kits are perfect—quality might be an issue for some of the sets (our whip fell apart after three snaps, for example), and some games worked better for us than others. Some couples will likely stumble upon activities that are just way too outside their comfort zone just as we did, and that's OK. In some ways that's part of the point. Overall, it's really just the experience of moving through the sexperiential learning method that really makes these boxes so valuable.
After our first evening with the KinkKit, my partner couldn't stop bringing it up for the whole following week. He kept saying how he felt so emotionally opened up and so much closer to me. Plus, it was the first time he authentically enjoyed the experience of introducing props and role-play into our sex life—in the past, he'd sometimes felt them to be a bit gimmicky or a little silly, but the KinkKit did such a good job getting us into an open mindset that incorporating these things into sex felt much more seamless and authentic to us.
If your sex life could use a little boost in any way—better communication, more variety, more intimacy, or just a little more fuel—this simple little box might just work wonders.
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