The doctor says: BDSM is good for you

Andreas Wismeijer

The guy in the photo, Andreas Wismeijer PhD, is the new hero of whips and bondage enthusiasts worldwide. This Dutch researcher’s latest paper, published in the May issue of theJournal of sexual medicine, is titled ‘Psychological characteristics of BDSM practicioners’ and it basically says that… to be kinky is good for you. Let’s examine it a little better, then.

The research was based on a survey taken by 1,336 participants who compiled four different and lengthy standard psychological questionnaires to profile their personality, sensitivity to rejection, style of attachment in relationships and general well-being. According to common practice during this type of research, they were not informed about what the study was really about: they just knew it was something about “human behavior”.
While the focus was on 902 kinksters recruited through the Netherlands’ largest BDSM online forum, 434 more persons formed three control groups from differently oriented websites: a women’s magazine, an university and a site about personal secrets. Their role was to define the baseline against which BDSM practicioners were compared.

It is worth noting that this was not the first research about people into extreme eroticism. In the last fifteen years there were several such studies, but they were often conducted on very small populations, or focused on especially extreme scenarios (i.e. rape reporting). Previous scientific publications already told us, in a pinch, that outside of the realm of pathological sadomasochism people who engaged in safe, sane and consensual BDSM are a cross-section of society indistinguishable from those who prefer more basic forms of sexuality. In fact, one 2008 research from Richters et al. flatly stated that male practicioners – but not females! – are «significantly less likely to show psychological distress than the general population».

What Wismeijer found was that that those who enjoy BDSM play lead a generally happy life. Dominants score a bit better than submissives, but both of them fare as well or better than the three “vanilla” groups. What’s even more interesting however is that they consistently appear more extroverted and more conscientious than the general population; they display higher levels of well-being, stronger attachment to their partners and a better psychological health in general. The only lower-than-normal scores? For that you have to check the ‘anxiety’ and ‘fear of rejection’ boxes.
Not everyone accepted these admittedly shocking results, however. Critics pointed out that looking for subjects among those practicioners who are adjusted enough to take part in an online community and outspoken enough to take those long surveys selects the best sample already and has thus limited value. I would like to add that the Netherlands is one of the most socially advanced countries, with excellent levels of sex education and an established culture of acceptance. Bringing the same research to different nations would possibly give rather different results due to the social and internalized rejection BDSM-interested people have to face there.

In any case it is hard to disagree with Wismeijer’s observations. «BDSM practicioners tend to be more aware of their sexual needs and desires than vanilla people» he said «which could translate to less frustration in sex and in relationships. Coming to terms with their unusual sexual predilections and choosing to live the domination-submission lifestyle may also take hard psychological work that translates to positive mental health».
The researcher even declared that he doesn’t approve that BDSM is still included in theDiagnostic and statistical manual used by mental health professionals for their diagnoses, even if it was recently declassed from illness to simple paraphilia (love for unusual forms of pleasure). If you wish to make up your mind on the subject, you might enjoy reading my free ebook No shades of grey or my much more detailed essay, BDSM – A guide for explorers of extreme eroticism.

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