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Vanilla sex

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A close-up of a two-scoop vanilla ice cream cone
The term for "vanilla sex" comes from vanilla ice cream being a standard flavor

Vanilla sex (or conventional sex) is what a culture regards as standard or conventional sexual behaviour. Different cultures, subcultures and individuals have different ideas about what constitutes this type of sex. Often, it is interpreted as sex which does not involve such elements as BDSM, kink, or fetish activities.


Among heterosexual couples in the Western world, vanilla sex often refers to the missionary position. It can also be used to describe insertive sex without any element of BDSM or any fetish. The British Medical Journal defines vanilla sex between homosexual couples as "sex that does not extend beyond affection, mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex."[1] In addition to mutual masturbation, penetrative sexual activity among same-sex pairings is contrasted by non-insertive acts such as intercrural sex, frot and tribadism, although tribadism has been cited as a common but rarely discussed sexual practice among lesbians.[2][3]

The term vanilla derives from the use of vanilla extract as the basic flavoring for ice cream, and by extension, meaning plain or conventional. In relationships where only one partner enjoys less conventional forms of sexual expression, the partner who does not enjoy such activities is often referred to as the vanilla partner. As such, it is easy for them to be branded unadventurous and dull in sexual matters.[4] Through exploration with their partner, it is possible for a more vanilla-minded person to discover new facets of their sexuality. For others, such exploration is not a positive experience, and they may find the practices they are comfortable with are sufficient for their satisfaction.


  1. ^ Bell, Robin (13 February 1999). "Homosexual men and women". BMJ 318 (7181): 452–5. doi:10.1136/bmj.318.7181.452. PMC 1114912. PMID 9974466. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Carroll, Janell L. (2009). Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity (Third ed.). Belmont, Calif.: Cengage Learning. p. 629. ISBN 0495602744. OCLC 426044136. ISBN 978-0-495-60274-3. Retrieved 2010-12-19. 
  3. ^ Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female Masculinity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. p. 61. ISBN 0822322439. OCLC 39235591. ISBN 978-0-8223-2243-6. Retrieved 2010-12-19. 
  4. ^ Nichols, Margaret (2006). "Psychotherapeutic Issues With 'Kinky' Clients: Clinical Problems, Yours and Theirs". In Kleinplatz, Peggy J.; Moser, Charles. Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. New York: Harrington Park Press. pp. 281–300. ISBN 1560236396. OCLC 61758612. ISBN 1-56023-640-X. Retrieved 9 November 2011.  Paper on the difficulties facing "vanilla partners". Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures, p. 281, at Google Books.