BDSM Explained : We Reveal Exactly What It Means

There is only one random sample survey of good quality on the question. It was made in Australia, about ten years ago. Nearly 20,000 people (aged 16 to 59) were interviewed by telephone. To the question “did you practice BD or SM” (which means bondage and discipline, sadomasochism, or domination and submission) 1.8% of men and 1.2% of women surveyed answered in the affirmative. By retaining only sexually active persons, this proportion did not increase much (2% of men and 1.4% of women); 2.2% and 1.3% among those who had sex during the previous year.

Proportions roughly equivalent to those of the homosexual sexually active population, according to similar studies. In the Australian study, the authors state that “less than 2% of men and women” say “had a same-sex partner in the previous year”.

The percentage of people reporting having a homosexual relationship (during their lifetime) was higher: 6% for men, 9% for women; the gap would probably be comparable for BDSM. In the Dutch study, for example, 448 people completed a BDSM questionnaire via a personal secrets website. In the end, 3% of them said “have practiced BDSM”.

Is BDSM a sexual orientation?

In my previous articles, I explained how homosexuality was fixed (that is, sexual orientation) and how BDSM was flexible (a way of life).

The followers of this activity told me that the BDSM was an orientation in itself. But when one studies the available data, the balance is frankly on the side of flexibility. In a survey of Finnish BDSM enthusiasts, 27% of respondents said that “only sadomasochistic sex could satisfy them,” but only 5% said they “no longer have ordinary sex” . In addition, 40% of them had gone from one “preference” or “behavior” to another (to quote the authors of the study) – from sadism to masochism or vice versa. Another study – conducted in southern California – found that “32% of the sample reported practicing BDSM on less than one in two sexual intercourse, and only 11.2% said BDSM was theirs. only form of sexual activity.

Is BDSM dangerous?

It depends on what you do. In the Finnish study, bondage and flogging was commonplace: more than 80% of those surveyed had done so in the last 12 months. Risky practices were much less popular: piercing (21%), iron marking (17%), hypoxyphilia (choking, erotic asphyxia: 17%), electric shocks (15%), knives and razor blades (13%). %).

The same conclusions for the Californian study were that bondage, whipping and spanking were very popular (more than 80% of the participants had practiced them), but the other practices were more rare: “fire games” (20%), ” piercing games’ (20%), lacerations (14%), iron marking (9%) and scarification (5%).

Surprisingly, some potentially dangerous practices were quite common – “electric games” (42%), “staged with knives” (40%), and “asphyxiation games” (27%) – but in many cases, the accessories were probably fake. It seems that only 20% of these amateurs lacerate, burn, electrocute and suffocate each other.

A minority, certainly – which is still somewhat disturbing. In the Finnish sample, the proportion of people who claimed to have been sexually abused -23% of women, 8% of men- is particularly problematic. According to the authors, “participants who were abused were more often treated for injuries received during their sadomasochistic sex than other participants; 11.1% against 1.8% “.

Representatives of the BDSM community stress the importance of “safewords” (pre-set signals) that allow the tied, whipped or dominated person to signal their intent to end the antics. In the Finnish study, 90% of the sample said they used these alert words “in some cases.” But less than half said they use them “without exception.” Here again.

Does BDSM harm mental health?

Overall, no. The results of the studies vary; let’s study them one by one. The Californian study, led by Pamela Connolly (California Graduate Institute) found a “higher level of narcissism” in the sample of BDSM followers than in the general population. Patricia Connolly estimates that 30% of respondents were clinically significant cases.

Theoretically speaking, a high narcissism may betray “a lack of interest in the” giving and giving “of ordinary social relationships,” but Patricia Connolly points out that this narcissism could just as well be characteristic of a “strong personality as a pathological personality “. Of the sample of 132 individuals, only two participants met the criteria for pathological narcissism; Patricia Connolly also emphasizes “the absence of borderline pathology”.

Similarly, the sample “scored relatively high for all tests” to detect dissociative symptoms, suggesting a “high prevalence of dissociative syndrome”. Only one participant met the criteria for identity dissociation disorder.

The sample showed a “much higher level of histrionic characteristics” than the rest of the population, which increases the risk of a “fear of true autonomy”, a “need for repeated signs of acceptance or approval “, and a” constant search for stimulation and affection “. But Connolly adds that these results may have been influenced by geography-to the extent that exhibitionism was then favored and encouraged by the Los Angeles BDSM community.

Patricia Connolly does not report any significant differences in “most evaluations that detect post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression or anxiety.” She points out that “there is no evidence to support the idea that clinical disorders (depression, anxiety, obsession-compulsion) are more common” within the BDSM community.

A Canadian study published the same year (2006) also defended BDSM. “According to our findings, psychological distress and mental instability are not more common in masochists than in other groups,” write the authors; “We have not seen any evidence to support the idea that masochists are more likely to engage in activities aimed at escaping reality, such as drug use.” On the other hand, “the sadomasochists interviewed obtained scores that were equivalent to or lower than the comparison group (non-sadomasochist) on issues relating to authoritarianism.” The authors acknowledge, however, that the small size of their sample (93 people) was a statistical handicap, preventing them from establishing clear differences between the two groups.

The Dutch study, which interviewed hundreds of BDSM followers on an online forum, found that sex eccentrics actually had a better psychological balance than the control group (traditional sex followers).

“The BDSM group performed better than the control group in the categories Extraversion, Aperture to Experience and Application, and lower scores in the categories Neurosis and Amenity,” explain the authors. The BDSM group was also less susceptible to rejection (even submission proponents did not score lower than the control group on this point), and the three subsets of BDSM (dominant, submitted, and versatile “) outperformed the control group in the” subjective well-being “category (the difference was notable only among the dominant).

Tests to measure balanced attachment “yielded the same types of results; in case of different scores, it was the control group that got the lowest results, followed by the submissive, the versatile and the dominant, who got the best scores. What is most obvious is the difference between the dominant and the rest of the participants: better results in subjective well-being, lower results in emotional attachment anxiety, sensitivity to rejection and in need of approval.

It is still appropriate to take all these studies with tweezers. Their samples of BDSM followers came from a handful of clubs and forums, were not really comparable to the control groups (eg BDSM samples had more men, were older and more educated) and did not were perhaps not representative of the entire eccentric sex community.

It is enough to read these studies to understand that their authors were sympathetic to the BDSM community and that they interpreted the data accordingly. But the Australian study, which opted for a more reliable method (random sample), corroborates their conclusions.

“There is no indication that the practice of BDSM is accompanied by a greater psychological distress (feeling of sadness, nervousness, despair …),” the researchers write. “In fact, among men practicing BDSM, the distress was much less important. In women, it was obviously more important, but this difference was not statistically significant. For women in the Australian study, “the practice of BDSM was often linked to a period of imprisonment in the last fifteen years”. This was not the case in men.

Is BDSM a form of exploitation?

In the Dutch sample, a majority of men claimed to be dominant (48%, compared to 33% of respondents), while a large majority of women said they were subject (76%, compared with 8% of female dominants). In the California sample, 61% of men said they were exclusively or predominantly dominant (compared to 26% of exclusively or mainly submissive men); 69% of subjects and 30% of dominant (mainly or exclusively) women. In the smaller Canadian sample, none of these differences were observed, and the authors state that nothing in their results “indicates that the sadomasochists are anti-feminist”. But the subject of the gap between men and women deserves further study. If it is found in other studies, it will raise difficult questions about the subordination of women – by culture as well as by nature.

What can we learn from all this research? Here are some preliminary ideas. First, BDSM is not just a single practice or community. It is an amalgam of people and fetishes varied. The followers of the spanking are different from the lovers of the marking with iron. Most people who like to wear a collar hate erotic asphyxiation. The populations constituting the samples from the existing studies were rather “soft”: thus, the Canadian study made contact with its participants via sites such as alt.personal.spanking (devoted to spanking) and alt.sex.bondage. Despite this bias, studies are likely to remain representative of the BDSM community as a whole; however, it is difficult to know whether the more extreme behaviors pose a threat to the psychological balance and health of the people involved.

Then, it is perhaps the sexual appetite and not their fetishes which constitutes the main common point of this “soft” majority of the eccentrics of the bedroom. In the Australian study, “there was a strong correlation between the practice of BDSM and a large number of indicators of sexual activity related to sexual activity and a greater interest in sex”. The authors of the Canadian study corroborate this observation:

“The sadomasochists surveyed in this study reported more sexual partners and are more likely to have had non-heterosexual experiences. Compared to non-sadomasochists, they were also more likely to be sexually active. In light of these observations, one might ask whether sadomasochists are simply people who attach great importance – in the sense of speaking – to sex and sexuality. One could also wonder if one should consider the SM as a game practiced by adventurous and refined sex lovers (…) ยป

Finally, it is the self-awareness, communication and rules that allow most BDSM practitioners to practice it without putting themselves in danger -psychologically or physically. As the Dutch study explains, being aware of “your sexual identity and desires” and having the ability “to inform your sexual partners in an explicit and adequate way reinforces subjective well-being. BDSM can not be practiced without the explicit consent of the partners as to the types of actions to be carried out, their duration and their intensity; each partner must therefore have a thorough knowledge of his desires and must be able to explain them clearly. This could explain the link between BDSM practice and subjective well-being. The community also contributes: according to the Finnish study, “social well-being seems to be associated with the degree of integration into sadomasochistic subcultures”.

In the end, BDSM is very similar to other practices and other communities. It works well when it is well supervised and when community members are well trained. When they lack training, and when the rules are poorly defined, the dangerous aspects of this culture – domination, exploitation, violence – can have serious consequences. In the Finnish study, the authors explain that eccentrics who had been sexually abused “consulted more often to seek treatment for injuries received during sadomasochistic antics. It could be inferred that they have more difficulty in setting reasonable limits. The researchers conclude that “a small subset of SM followers seem psychologically and socially unsuitable”.

For these people, BDSM is a pathology. But for most fans, it’s a simple game. There must be one. It is up to us to make sure of this – by encouraging (and allowing) self-regulation within this community.