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Bondage Aficionados Are Better Adjusted Than Most

• May 29, 2013 • 8:00 AM

(PHOTO: CRISTIAN SABAU/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research from the Netherlands finds that the psychological profile of people who enjoy certain non-mainstream sex games is surprisingly positive.

Is everyone you know unhappy or neurotic? Perhaps it’s time to find a new crowd—a group of open-minded individuals who are happier and better adjusted than most.

That is to say, people whose sexual preferences lean toward bondage and sadomasochism.

According to new research from the Netherlands, the psychological profile of people who participate in these types of erotic games “is characterized by a set of balanced, autonomous, and beneficial personality characteristics.” Compared to those who engage in more mainstream sexual behavior, such aficionados report “a higher level of subjective well-being.”

“We conclude that (these activities) may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes,” psychologist Andreas Wismeijer of Nyenrode Business University writes in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

“Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable.”

Wismeijer notes that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, both public opinion and the psychological establishment tend to equate BDSM activities (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, or sadism-masochism) with some form of psychological damage. “BDSM is to some degree still pathologized in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM,” he notes.

Along with statistician Marcel van Assen, he conducted a study at Tilburg University to determine whether there is truth behind this belief.

Wismeijer created a detailed survey designed to reveal respondents’ personality traits and attachment style: how secure they feel when bonding with others and how they deal with their insecurities. In addition, the respondents rated their subjective level of well-being over the previous two weeks.

The participants were 902 people who “responded to a call posted on the largest BDSM Web forum in the Netherlands,” and another 434 contacted through a popular Dutch women’s magazine. The control group was 70 percent female; the group of people interested in BDSM was roughly half men and half women. (Those in the latter group were also asked if they preferred playing a dominant or submissive role, or regularly switched.)

The results will certainly produce intense feelings, although whether they are painful or pleasurable largely depends on the person.

“Our findings suggests that BDSM participants as a group are, compared with non-BDSM participants, less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, yet less agreeable,” the researchers write. They add that females in the BDSM group had “more confidence in their relationships” and “a lower need for approval” than those in the mainstream sample.

“Finally, the subjective well-being of BDSM participants was higher than that of the control group. Together, these findings suggest that BDSM practitioners are characterized by greater psychological and interpersonal strength and autonomy.”

Why might this be? Wismeijer notes that “BDSM play requires the explicit consent of the players regarding the type of actions to be performed, their duration and intensity, and therefore involves careful scrutiny and communication of one’s own sexual desires and needs.”

In other words, it requires thought, awareness, and communication—all of which lead to happier relationships, both in and outside of the bedroom.

Like sadomasochistic sex itself, these results shouldn’t be taken too far; the differences between the groups were, for the most part, not huge. And there were some differences among members of the BDSM community: “Scores were generally more favorable for those with a dominant than a submissive role.”

Nevertheless, “Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable,” Wismeijer concludes.

This may be hard for some to accept. But think of it this way: Old prejudices are not something you want to be handcuffed to.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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