Rethinking the taboo of BDSM
The world of BDSM is usually talked about in hushed tones. Whips, chains, leather jumpsuits and other staples aren’t quite acceptable in today’s world of “vanilla” sex.
BDSM serves as an overlapping abbreviation for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. It is often criticized because of its sadomasochist characteristics; the idea of receiving or giving pain for pleasure strikes most as being twisted or psychologically disturbed, creating a social stigma for this unorthodox practice. Yet within this sexual world of punishment and submission, evidence supports that certain BDSM practices may actually be beneficial to our health.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands asked subjects to complete a series of questionnaires to rate their level of confidence in relationships, discomfort with closeness and need for approval. Of the 902 participants who engage in BDSM, responses suggested that there was no significant difference between their psychological well-being compared to those in the control group. In fact, what little difference they found showed that those involved with the BDSM lifestyle had slightly better mental health on average.
The study concluded that those who practiced BDSM were less neurotic and had a higher subjective well-being than those in the control group, reporting that those who enjoy a little kink in the bedroom essentially lead healthier and happier lifestyles than those who don’t. BDSM, when practiced appropriately, was also found to alter blood flow in the brain, allowing for a similar sensation to a “runner’s high.” This is due to the rush of endorphins, a group of hormones secreted within the brain that activate the body’s opiate receptors, creating a high comparable to morphine and heroin. The effects of BDSM, as a result, could potentially be compared to those of yoga or running a mile.
Despite so many of these physical and psychological benefits, the stigma behind BDSM still lingers in the background. The connection between violence and bondage, as promoted by the media, could be the reason why people are still hesitant to go into “50 Shades of Grey” mode.
Master P, a self-proclaimed dominant who has been involved with the BDSM community for over 15 years, agrees that this lifestyle is not fairly represented by the media.
“BDSM is a way of life that follows certain rules, where the roles between the top and the bottom are distinguished, where both have to dedicate their life and time to each other and responsibilities are equally allocated to each other,” he said. “Unfortunately, the media fails to show this side of the lifestyle. What they bring forward is what the porn industry represents as BDSM and many times they focus on some sick individuals who do some really crazy stuff out there.”
The purpose of BDSM has been skewed within pop culture, making the general masses believe that its intention is to hurt other people. Much like homosexuality was once connected to mental illness, the desire to be involved with BDSM is viewed as being perverted and psychologically disturbed.
Bianca Jarvis, representative for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, agrees that BDSM should not be viewed as unhealthy.
“It’s a sexual preference like any other,” she said. “I don’t think the desire itself is unhealthy, as long as people express it in ways that are relatively safe.”
BDSM, in fact, is an art solely based on trust. The submissive partner is in a complete state of vulnerability, which allows the dominant to be in total control of how and when the submissive receives pain or pleasure.
“I think often with marginalized sexual groups there is a tendency to say that they do this thing that is perceived as deviant because they were abused or something bad happened and it caused them to become this way,” Jarvis said. “I think people do it less because of a history of abuse or mental illness and more because it’s fun and sexually pleasurable and it gives them a sense of community.”
The role of violence within BDSM is ultimately non-existent. Within pop culture, misogynistic images of women being tied up and abused may scare us away from this secret world, but in reality the practice of BDSM is filled with rules and guidelines to ensure that every type of play is safe and consensual. Plus, the fact that getting a little kinky could be used as a stress reliever isn’t so bad at all.
Cecilia Morales is a freshman journalism major who says that sticks and stones may break her bones, but AP Style excites her. E-mail her at cmorales1[at]ithaca.edu.