There are a lot of roles and labels tossed around in the kink world: top, bottom, dominant, submissive, switch, slave, master, puppy, girl, boy.
Most of them tend to be pretty clear in what they signify, and like all labels they should always be the start of a conversation, not the end of one. But one label that is becoming more and more popular on personal profiles is not quite as self-evident.
What does it mean when someone has “Primal” as their identity? It doesn’t say anything about who’s doing what to whom, it doesn’t give any hint as to what kinds of activities they like, what kinds of protocols they observe (except perhaps to suggest “none” – but what does that look like, exactly?).
When trying to interpret what “primal” means, it’s important to get one thing straight: like any other kink label, it means whatever the person wants it to mean. It’s important to keep from making snap judgements or assumptions. “Primal” is a synonym for “basic” or “first”, and that’s about as close as you can get to a common characteristic of primals: they enjoy exploring the basic instincts and urges of the human animal. As “CarrotStick”, a self-identified primal put it: “…the Primal recognizes ‘the Beast within’ as his own and embraces it.”
It is very easy to delve into psychological and sociological theories about how the Primal self expresses itself in society – the Jungian “shadow”, Freud’s “Id”, and so forth. How does the primal actually play within the kink world, though?
As one Kink Academy member expressed it, everyone starts out “primal” as children. Part of the job of parenting and education is to teach how to control those appetites to enable a person to function in society. The unhealthy way is to repress or deny that those urges exist – but a person who enjoys primal play has found a way to express them pleasurably, often through kink activities.
One of the common misconceptions of “primal” is that it is animal play such as MinxGrrl’s “puppy” persona or pony play as described by Ms. Nikki and Sherifox. However, primals aren’t taking on a role or even embracing a totemic “animal” within – unless that “animal” is human.
Primal play can resemble this kind of animal play, with lots of sniffing each other, tasting skin and touching in playful or challenging ways. It’s a way to channel essential identity directly into the primal senses – not knowing another by their name or title but by their aroma, the feel of their skin, the movement of their body and the sound of their breath and grunts and moans as primal play happens.
This sensuality is often expressed in ways that formal kinksters will recognize – spanking, punching, or rough body play in general. There is an entire series on rough body play on Kink Academy that can be useful, but often in primal play the power exchange is much more dynamic rather than pre-arranged.
Put another way, primals might start a scene with a “fight for top” scene where they let the activities flow more instinctively from their wrestling, biting, and general rough housing.
In practice, this can make “primal” scenes confusing to people who are used to the dichotomy of top and bottom. One moment a person might be relaxing into the sharp teeth on her neck, and the next minute she’s howling as she drives her fist into her partner’s glutes over and over. Seconds later both may be giggling uncontrollably as they tickle each other, rolling around like otters. Who’s dominant? Who’s submissive? Often, the answer from primal kinksters is “Who cares? We’re having fun!”
There are also primals who do adopt a social structure, often called a “pack”, with members designated with “alpha” status or some other social hierarchy. Some even combine it with other forms of power exchange structures – “alpha slaves”, for example. Dakadom’s series on the “shadow side” of dominant and submissive natures has a lot of relevance to the psychological theory of expressing instinctual power dynamics.
Often times a “primal” nature can be expressed as a deliberate counter to more “civilized” forms of play – such as the dominant who stripped naked before starting a scene with his submissive who was wearing a business power suit. Even something as ritualistic as cigar play can have primal elements – fire and smoke and the slap of ash across skin taking a person out of the sterile safety of civilization and into a more base sensual experience.
It could be argued that all of the motivations for kink come down to “primal” desires, to whatever makes the fight-flight-freeze-or-fuck neurochemical reaction take place. Whether that’s the sight of a man in full leathers or a naked Dionysian romp through the woods by moonlight, there is something about kink that speaks to a visceral need. Exploring the primal nature of kinky play can give a whole new basic toolset to use in a scene – the rough growl in an ear as one is seated at a formal dinner, or that moment when the complex rope harness is left half-undone because the desire to fuck is more important than any OCD.
Best of all, the primal is a part of every human. The only question is: do you have the desire and courage to find it inside your own kink?