Tag Archives: bdsm

How To Spot A Kinkster In Public

I was at a vanilla wedding the other day, when I noticed some marks on my friend’s arm. Now I met her through the BDSM scene so it didn’t surprise me, but if you’re wondering how you can recognise a kinky person in public, marks like these are a pretty good indication they’re into rope play ;). It’s easy to spot a kinkster in public if you know what you’re looking for!

(Posted with her permission, obviously)

kinkster in public

Why you should learn bondage with Twisted Monk

Good bondage tutorials can be hard to find, so I’m happy I can always feel confident referringTW people to Twisted Monk. Not only is he one of the most popular and well-known sellers of rope (in different colours too, check it out!), his how-to video’s on bondage are really good.

  • Amazing stills. Seriously, pause at any moment and Twisted Monk will have some cool expression or funny gesture. I’ve used his video’s a lot when I was learning bondage and I’ve cried laughing. His wife always looks beautiful and collected though, no idea how she does that.
  • The video’s are easy to follow, well made and as safe for work as bondage videos can be. Just people in clothes and a cool guy explaining how you can tie your babe up so you can do the naughty.
  • All the basics you need to get started. You honestly won’t need much more than the single column tie, double column tie, chest harness and hair tie. Combine them and you can tie almost anything you can think of. If you really want to learn more you can always buy the dvd or visit a bondage class in your area (search Fetlife for events!).

Consent Violations in BDSM scene

In Dutch, "geel" means yellow and "geil" means horny. Which means "yellow" as a safeword can be a bit confusing :P.

In Dutch, “geel” means yellow and “geil” means horny. Which means “yellow” as a safeword can be a bit confusing :P.

Although all kinksters agree BDSM should only be practised with consenting adults, consent violations still happen. In 2013 the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom published a worrying statistic, showing that almost one in three SM-ers had a pre-negotiated limit violated, and 15% even experienced their safeword being ignored. There has been a growing focus on and development of consent culture within the BDSM scene, which has included a tense but fruitful discussion of different types of consent violations. In most simple terms bdsm without consent is simply abuse, but the reality is often more complex and nuanced. Are all consent violations bad?

Reading about the NCSF study I found myself looking back on my own experiences with consent violations. I remember a scene where I gagged my partner and then hurt him. We had the type of relationship where I felt comfortable pushing the boundaries a little, so I went a bit further than I usually did. And then I crossed his boundaries but he couldn’t safeword and I had no idea, because I’d gagged him and forgotten to give him a non-verbal safeword. He was emotional afterwards but not upset with me at all. And I think this exemplary of how consent violations in the scene often happen. I’ve had my own consent violated more than once, but I never considered it a ‘bad consent violation’. Just an honest mistake.

A group of Dutch kinksters decided to find out. They set up a big survey, which over 350 BDSM-ers finished. Their data was analysed by someone who knows what she was doing, so if you’re into statistics go download the paper because it’s good.

A quick look at the characteristics of kinksters
Over half of all subjects were female. This is interesting because there’s still this prevailing myth that perverts are usually men. Over half were submissive, a quarter dominant and another quarter switch (which means they like both roles). As usual they found that men prefer the dominant role and women are more often sub. The age group 18 to 30 was the largest in this sample, though there were kinksters older than 61 as well. People generally had one to ten years of experience, about 10% of people had more than 20 years experience.

Consent violations
Almost 65% of kinky people have experienced some consent violation, often more than once. In this study they asked about pre-negotiated limits being violated, safewords being ignored and scenes that went too far, and all of those things seem to happen regularly. All numbers were higher than in the NCSF study, for example over 20% of Dutch kinksters have had their safeword ignored (compared to 15% in NCSF).

But how bad is it?
One of the great aspects of this study is the nuanced picture it shows of the seriousness of consent violations. They asked respondents about their experiences, how bad they felt it was on a scale from 1 (not bad) to 10 (bad) and their answers were so diverse. There were peaks around 1 to 4, even for the occasions they describe as the worst consent violations. There was another peak at 8 to 10, which shows really horrible consent violations happen.

When asked if they considered the consent violation a form of abuse, the majority of people said they did not. About 15% of all kinky people have ever experienced a ‘bad’ consent violation, and about 20% have had at least one experience they consider abuse. These numbers are, sadly, similar to what we find outside of the BDSM scene. So it seems kinksters are, yet again, not different from non-kinksters.

Kinksters and the police
People how have experienced abuse in a BDSM setting usually do not file charges, even if they did consider doing so. When asked why they did not file charges against their abuser, fear of not being taken seriously by authorities was recurring theme.

Consent at parties
Consent violations usually happened inside someone’s home. Under 10% of consent violations happen at a party. The relationship between severity of the violation and location was not investigated, so we don’t know if consent violations at a party are usually mild or bad.

Around 30% of kinksters have at least once doubted the consent of a scene they saw. Doms report having these doubts most often, subs least often of all. When doubting the consent of a scene nearly all consider intervening, and nearly all do. Most people who worry about a scene notify a DM, which is arguably the best way of intervening since you don’t want people butting in on each others’ scenes the whole time. Many people also talk to the players they’re worried about afterwards. Only 8.7% do absolutely nothing and simply walk away, so there’s no evidence of a massive bystander effect in the scene.

About 60% believe a Party Safeword can help prevent consent violations. Almost nobody has ever needed one, but we believe it might help others. About 44% believe a Party Safeword is very important, and about 28% believe it’s not important at all, so people are quite opinionated about this :).

The study is packed with more facts and figures, so go read it if you’re interested.

Is it normal to like BDSM?

A lot of people who are into BDSM are struggling with this question. “Am I completely insane to enjoy kinky play, am I the only one, or is it normal to like BDSM?” I get a lot of email from people asking for reassurance, because sometimes it can feel as if you’re a freak. The world can feel like a lonely place when you’re alone with your secret.

roleplayThe thing is, a lot of people enjoy some light kink. Many partners play with bondage, enjoy the sensation of nails going down their back, playfully bite or restrain each other or do some role playing. This is something to be encouraged actually, putting some effort and creativity into your sex life and having some sexy adventures can be a bonding experience. Heh, pun not intended. There’s nothing at all abnormal about playing around with sex. But SM-ers often go a bit further than that, sometimes a whole lot further than that. So, statistically, if you’re really into BDSM, you’re not normal.

Then again, normal is of very little value. Kinksters are a big group of people and the worldwide community is ha-huuuuuge, so your chances of finding someone into your particular flavour are quite good. Seriously, you think of it, there’s people into it. Unless you’re really into shitting on dead babies or something then you’re screwed, but other than that, there’s a whole kinky world out there to be explored.

And for what it’s worth: you might not be normal, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Research has shown time and time again that kinky people are fine. Well, we’re as messed up as the rest of the world, but we do have more sex!

Why kinky people are so happy

Wismeijer, A. A. J., & Van Assen, M. A. L. M. (2013). Psychological Characteristics of BDSM practitioners. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10, 1943-1952.

I first met Andreas Wismeijer when we were both invited to speak at an event in Rotterdam, and again when we were both speakers at the 2015 European Society for Sexual Medicine Conference in Copenhagen. I’d heard of his research before that though – everyone in the Dutch BDSM scene had. Because Andreas Wismeijer had researched Dutch kinksters, and turns out we’re one healthy bunch of people!

It wasn’t his original plan to research the psychological well-being of BDSM’ers. Andreas Wismeijer is interested in secrets and its effect on subjective well-being. Kind of funny really – he gets invited to talk about kinky sex all the time now! He’s a good attitude about it though, sharing with a grin how he was just looking for a population with secrets and now he’s an expert on pervs ;). Still, it’s a positive thing when research is done without an agenda, the researcher himself disengaged and results judged in a dispassionate manner. Andreas Wismeijer wasn’t looking to prove anything – he just reports what his research has shown.

So what they did was place a request to fill out their questionnaires on a Dutch BDSM website (and for the control group on a Dutch women’s magazine forum). An overwhelming 1571 kinky people responded – if you’re not a researcher you might not know this but that’s a crazy big sample. Especially when you’re researching a marginalised group. So that was awesome.

The following questionnaires were filled in by the respondents:

  • Attachment Style Questionnaire. Attachment describes the dynamics of people’s relationships. So you can have a secure attachment, which basically means that you trust yourself in your relationships and you trust others. Or you can have a more unhealthy attachment style, like anxious or avoiding attachment styles. Attachment correlates with personality, disorders, trauma and other things related to mental health. Secure attachment is the thing you want :).
  • Personality was measured with the NEO Five Factor Inventory. It’s a measure for the Big Five personality traits, one of the more respected ways of measuring personality in psychology. Lots of research has been done to support it. Anyway, the 5 are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.
  • The Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire measured anxious expectations of rejection.
  • Subjective well-being was measured with World Health Organization-Five Well-being Index (WHO-5)

So all together, with all these people who filled out the questionnaires and all those questionnaires they collected an amazing amount of data. Extra statistical tests were done to see how reliable the measures were, and that was all good, so what they found in these measures is very probably a good indicator of what kinky people are really like. I’m going to skip over the data analysis and results a bit, because it’s unreadable for people who don’t know too much about statistics (you can read them in the article though) and jump straight to what those finding actually mean.

  • Kinky people show favourable personality characteristics! They’re less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences and more conscientious. They’re less agreeable though, which means the have less general concern for social harmony. This has been found to be an indicator of good self-esteem, but it can also indicate they place self-interest above getting along with others.
  • BDSM’ers show lower sensitivity for rejection, which is a very healthy thing. Female BDSM participants had more confidence in their relationships, had a lower need for approval, and were less anxiously attached than non-kinky women.
  • Subjective well-being of kinky people is higher than non-kinky people.
  • Researchers conclude: “these findings suggest that BDSM practitioners are characterized by greater psychological and interpersonal strength and autonomy”.

Although the findings were significant (which means that we’re pretty sure it wasn’t just a random finding, but rather shows actual differences between the groups), the effect sizes were small. In plain English: there’s hardly any difference between kinky people and non-kinky people, difference is super small, but we’re quite sure that super small difference really exists.

We showed that the psychological profile of BDSM participants is characterized by a set of balanced, autonomous, and beneficial personality characteristics and a higher level of subjective well-being compared with non-BDSM participants.

So yeah, I love this study. If you ever have a chance to see Andreas Wismeijer talk about his research go do it, ’cause he’s a good speaker and will tell you so much more about everything they found. His other research is super interesting too!

Wismeijer, A. A. J., & Van Assen, M. A. L. M. (2013). Psychological Characteristics of BDSM practitioners. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10, 1943-1952.

I Loved 50 Shades of Grey

50shadesWhen you go to the cinema in the Netherlands there’s usually an intermission halfway through the movie. As we were standing in the queue to get some popcorn and soft drinks I realised that up till then, Ana and Christian had done almost nothing except negotiate about consent. Half of the movie was about making sure the other person was okay with doing what they were going to do!

I loved this movie.

I’m not saying 50 Shades of Grey is an exquisite piece of art or an intelligent critique of some cultural relevant whatever. It was just a sweet movie, the standard romantic plot where the powerful man falls for the average girl, mixed with some sexy kink. I loved the fuzzy hairs on her legs, the details of her biting her lip or playing with her coffee cup, how awkward and non-perfect their communication was. The part where they had their ‘business meeting’ about the BDSM contract was lovely. It really showed how much fun negotiation often is, that talking about sex is sexy, how power dynamics (she was in charge) can be electric.

People call it 50 shades of abuse, and I get that. He puts pressure on her, prevents her from talking about their relationship with other people, is jealous and possessive, tends to overstep boundaries, gives her gifts when she tells him not to. People oppose 50 shades because they believe it normalises unhealthy behaviour. But I actually think that consent is relatively well negotiated in this movie. Have you ever noticed how Rick and Shane treat Lori in The Walking Dead? How, in fact, women are treated by their partners in almost every movie and television show? In 50 Shades, consent is continually checked, verbalised, negotiated, so much better than in any other mainstream movie.

The only part that I considered almost-abusive and that actually upset me a little was at the end (spoiler alert). In the BDSM culture, aftercare is a big thing. After a session you can feel a little raw, you’ve been completely vulnerable with each other and can need some emotional support from your partner. So Anastasia asks Christian to show her what it really is that he desires, that she needs to experience it so that she can understand, to punish her as he wants. He ties her down, tells her exactly what he intends to do, he hits her six times, shares that part of himself that he keeps hidden from almost everyone, and then she freaks the fuck out. Because it was more than she wanted, but she didn’t safeword, and he didn’t know (could not know) he went too far.

“Is this really how you want to see me?!” she cries and my heart just breaks for him. Of course that’s not what he wants, he doesn’t desire her stepping over her hard limits! She shuts him out completely, tells him to go away and dumps him the next day. That was just so horrible, so unkind. Not safewording when you should is something that can happen, and it’s emotionally upsetting, but own your emotions and don’t dump them on him. It’s fine if you find out your tastes are incompatible and you need to break up, but not like that. Not after explicitly asking someone to do something, and then freaking out because they do what you ask them to do. I missed support, some understanding and kindness. She was just horrible to him and that was not okay.

But even feel-good movies need some drama, and all in all I loved this sweet, kinky story.

Consent

Mara is from the United States and it’s interesting to compare her ‘culture of origin’ with the Dutch, because there are so many differences. The way we deal with racism for example. But there’s another thing that I thought was interesting, and it’s something that I’ve noticed when I visited San Francisco and when I read books or articles by American kinksters: we deal with consent differently. I read a writing a while back about ‘consent violations’ at BDSM parties in the USA and how somebody touched her arm or her back without her consent. People were outraged, apparently it’s not considered acceptable behaviour in the United States to make physical contact with another person’s body without their explicit consent. That was weird to me, and I thought it was completely inappropriate to call unwanted touching ‘consent violation’. I think it has something to do with cultural differences. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t go around touching people without their consent in the Netherlands. But I think us Dutch people feel more like our bodies exist in interaction with other people’s bodies, and other people have (to some extent) the right to touch us. I also feel like Dutch people see consent as more of a complex and interactive thing, where certain levels of consent are assumed and everybody tries to be sensitive to other people’s boundaries. We don’t have the same affirmative consent hype here and I’m so glad. When meeting someone new in a non-professional setting it’s quite normal to kiss each other on the cheek (three times!) while resting a hand on their waist. I’ve had sexual stuff happen that I did not want, so I said I did not want it and that was that. I don’t consider that consent violation, I consider that an erroneous interpretation followed by effective communication – success! My colleagues feel free to touch my leg, give me a playful hug or get close to my body. If you tell a person to stop and they don’t that’s consent violation, and there’s a limit to what kind of touching can be assumed to be okay (you can’t grab a breast and then check for consent), but generally speaking, it seems to me Dutch people tolerate touching far more than (some?) Americans do.

At the same time, there’s a lot of awareness about consent and I feel like things are actually still changing for the better. Especially among kinky people consent is considered important even for light touching. But I think it would be an even bigger improvement if we stopped regarding consent as a black-white thing and instead focussed more on the well intentioned, complex and interactive issue of figuring out what everyone feels happy doing. Consent is not simple, consent is not a ‘yes’ and consent certainly isn’t an emotion or performance where you’re constantly expressing enthusiastic consent in a pre-defined way. And I think understanding, kindness, forgiveness and flexibility will get us further than consent-policing.

Why Kinksters are Awesome Clients

On April 24th 2014 I gave a lecture on BDSM in sexual care and health care to over a hundred doctors, psychologists, sexologists and psychiatrists. This lecture was part of a conference on practical aspects of sexual care and health care, a conference which I organised with the Sexology Practice in Tilburg, in collaboration with the Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg. The conference was accredited by the NVVS (Nederlandse Wetenschappelijke Vereniging voor Seksuologie), the Dutch sexology organisation. This text is a rough summary of my lecture on BDSM.

As a psychologist I have specialised in working with sexual minorities, including SMers. Not only have I personally been involved in the BDSM scene for close to a decade, I’ve studied scientific research on the subject and worked with dozens of kinksters. When other professionals contact me with questions about BDSM they often seem a bit concerned or unsure of what to do. My message today is: BDSMers are great clients and it’s an advantage if your client turns out to be kinky!

We’re talking about a large group. It is estimated one in ten people have an interest in BDSM, and around 3 to 4 % identify as SMer. The BDSM population consists of about as many women as men. Of women, 65% prefer the submissive role and 30% identify as dominant. Men are usually dominant (60%) and 30% call themselves submissive. An interesting finding is that around 50% of both men and women enjoy both roles.

Kinksters might engage in bondage, sensory play, humiliation, roleplay (including Master/slave), painplay and many other activities. Note the use of the word ‘play’ – for many kinksters it is precisely that, a form of play. BDSM is fun, brings excitement and happiness into their lives and feels like a healthy part of who they are and what they do. For example, two friends of mine have a continuous D/s relationship. One of the rules in their relationship is that she cannot have any crisps without his permission. So there she is, holding her hand just above a bowl of crisps, not touching them and there’s a huge grin on her face. He tries to look stern “I said no, girl. You don’t want to get into trouble, trust me”. Her hand hovers there for a bit, then she grabs hold of one of the crisps, pushes it into her mouth and runs, laughing and protesting. BDSM can bring excitement and fun to everyday situations.

It appears to be impossible to distinguish kinksters from non-kinksters, except for the fact that kinksters are kinky. Contrary to what early psychologists believed, BDSM is not correlated with any Axis I classifications (depression/trauma/etc), any Axis II classification (personality disorders) or anything negative or pathological at all. Quite the opposite, actually. Some research has shown significantly higher levels of education and income than in the general population, show that kinksters are more involved in community service and a recent study in Tilburg show favourable psychological characteristics in BDSMers.bloopers_sept2014

So, if these kinksters are all so happy and healthy, why are they looking for help from psychologists, doctors and other professionals? Well, for the same reason non-kinky people need help… and a few other kink-specific problems. It’s important to remember that BDSM is not always part of the problem. A depression can just be a depression, no matter how perverted your client is. But kinksters can present some pretty kink-specific problems that can be puzzling to non-kinky professionals. For example, many couples experience that all the ‘workload’ is on the Dominant partner’s shoulders. The sub wants more D/s, the sub wants more play, but the Dominant has to do it, organise it. I discuss a couple where the sub is the active type, if she wants something done she’ll do it, and the Dom is more the laid-back type. Both partners want more BDSM in their lives, but after a long day of getting the kids to school, working all day, coming home, doing the housework, getting dinner ready, putting the kids to bed and finally landing their behinds on the couch in the evening, playing feels like “another item on my to-do list” for the Dominant, whereas the submissive would love to wind down with some kink. I ask the audience what they would advise, and we discuss the option of putting more of the ‘workload’ for play on the submissive. Subs can be ‘Rupsje Nooitgenoeg’ (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) so being realistic about the amount of time and energy that is available for kink seems important.

I was once contacted by a social work organisation that offered assisted-living housing. One of their clients came out as kinky and had started to attend BDSM parties and munches. They were quite alarmed and wondered if they would one day find their client dead in the gutter after one of these parties, they imagined the BDSM scene was a very violent place. They were also concerned their client was too obsessed with BDSM, as she had started wearing a BDSM symbol around her neck and had BDSM-themed art on her walls. I explained ‘BDSM puberty’. When people find out they’re kinky (or gay) they can go through a phase where it’s all they can think or talk about. Visit ALL the gay bars, be active in ALL the gay rights movements, wear ALL the rainbows! Or, in the case of a kinkster, visit ALL the events, wear ALL the outfits, have ALL the play! I was able to reassure the professionals in this organisation that there was no problem.

shibari_on_the_rocks_by_shibaridojo-d964jkcBut BDSM can be risky, although not in the way a non-kinkster might think. I showed the audience two pictures of BDSM, one with a quite serene and artsy bondage scene and one with a black and blue behind. Bruises and welts might seem scary but are in reality usually harmless, it’s actually the bondage scene that poses more risks. Heavy psychological play might seem intimidating. But kinksters do not display above average symptoms of PTSS (post-traumatic stress disorder), trauma or distress. Accidents, however, do happen. A worrying finding is that kinksters do not usually feel comfortable seeking medical or psychological help, as they are afraid of judgement and discrimination. Sadly, this fear is often justified. SM participants lose custody of children, security clearances, inheritances, jobs, are disowned, assaulted and are victims of persecution and prosecutions. In my own kinky social circle I know of three parents who were reported to Child Services exclusively because of their kink. BDSM can be risky because the non-kinky world makes it risky.

People who don’t deviate from sexual norms usually don’t really have to talk about what they do. There’s a script that can be followed: first kissing, touching breasts, stimulating genitals with hands or mouth and finally penetration. This script can be harmful and does cause sexual problems, but it alleviates you from the responsibility of talking about your desires. When you start to deviate from that heterosexual vanilla norm however, the scripts become useless and you have to communicate your wants and needs. Or else you might show up with diapers while your partner was getting ready for a suspension-scene! In practice this means your kinky clients are used to talking about sex, consent, boundaries and fantasies. They use things like safewords, activity-lists and soft and hard boundaries. Their experience in open communication is a great advantage in therapy sessions. I’ve noticed kinky clients are very willing to do their homework and are creative and playful. Kinky clients are fun clients. And honestly, they often have ‘fun’ problems. I recently saw a couple who wanted help because, when she was being cheeky, he didn’t give her a big smack across the face!

And with kinky clients, as a professional you can really make a difference, which makes working with this population all the more rewarding. I’ve spoken with numerous kinksters who have been told they were sick, they weren’t capable of intimacy, who have received treatment to get rid of the kink. By simply listening, helping them with their actual problems instead of making a problem out of BDSM, by offering some psycho-education on sexuality and diversity, you can make such a difference in a kinkster’s life.

Working with kinky clients can be a learning experience for professionals. Be aware of your own preconceptions, not everything you’ve heard or seen on tv is necessarily true. Be responsible for your own education, too often professionals bring their ignorance and curiosity into their working relationship and use their client’s time to ask questions when they should’ve done their own homework. There are many books and websites on BDSM, including my own (marijkespraktijken.nl). Learn to differentiate between your own emotional reaction and another person’s experience. When you’re a heterosexual man, imagining sex with another man might evoke some pretty negative emotions, but this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with homosexual sex. By the same token, some things in BDSM might repulse or frighten you, but this does not automatically mean there’s anything wrong. Be sensitive to the difference between your intuition as a professional, and your emotional ‘squick’ reaction to something that’s not for you.

Sex is intimacy, pleasure, connection, and in BDSM people try to be honest about their fantasies, they’re vulnerable, they bring their guards down, trusting that they will be accepted and loved. And whether we’re kinky or not, I think that’s something we’re all into.

BDSM – What We Know

The following is a summary of what we know about BDSM from research in the social sciences. It is a snippet of the Kinky Science lecture I present in The Netherlands. If you’re interested in hearing me talk, feel free to contact me.

“Sadomasochists are the type of people who eat baby corpses” a psychiatrist once told my kinky friend. A teacher at my university informed me that “sadomasochists are not very nice people”. Historically, BDSM has been viewed as evidence of underlying psychopathology, and even today many people believe sadomasochistic feelings and behaviours are the result of childhood trauma, personality deficits, sexual dysfunction and an underdeveloped sense of morality. It’s easy (and lazy) to simply fabricate theories on why people behave differently from what is considered the norm, since actual research requires an investment in time, resources and money. Thankfully, in recent years, proper research has been conducted and we’ve come to find out a whole lot about sadomasochism.

In this text I will use the terms SM, BDSM and kink/SMer, sadomasochist and kinkster interchangeably.

For the tl;dr folk: Nothing wrong with kinksters. Yay!

The average kinkster.
It is estimated that about 10% of the general population is involved in SM, although this is very hard to research and estimates vary greatly. The BDSM population consists of about as many women as men. About 65% of women prefer the submissive role, and 30% identify as dominant. Men on the other hand are usually dominant (60%) and 30% call themselves submissive. An interesting finding is that in 50% of the cases, people enjoy the other role as well, although they seem to usually have a preference for either the submissive or dominant role.

Kinksters generally become aware of their sadomasochistic interests in their teens and early twenties. For some people this discovery comes as a great shock, and they try to suppress their desires and live without acting on these feelings. However, on average, people are in their late twenties when they start engaging in BDSM-activities. They’re usually quite happy with their kinky preference and consider it a great addition to their life.Picture from SeriousImages.com

Sadomasochists seem to function well socially. Some research has shown significantly higher levels of education and income than in the general population, in the case of both submissive and dominant kinksters. Well over half of SMers are found to be involved in community service, kinksters seem to be quite the active bunch. It has to be noted though that much of this research has been done in BDSM organisations. We know from research outside of the scene that people involved in volunteer organisations and other social groups are significantly higher educated and are usually involved in volunteer work and other forms of community service. So it might be the case that kinksters just aren’t different in that respect.

Another interesting finding is that SMers hold more feminist views than the general population, contrary to the ideas some feminist theorists that BDSM might be the result of internalised misogyny. There is more awareness and sensitivity to issues of gender and orientation in the BDSM scene, and some people actually use BDSM to explore and challenge stereotypical gender roles.

About 70% of SMers are in a committed relationship, 30% of kinksters are non-monogamous and 30% of kinksters are not exclusively heterosexual.

What sadomasochists do.
It seems BDSM is usually (although not always) about power exchange. Earlier theories assumed sadomasochism was all about giving and receiving pain, but recent research has shown that BDSM in fact consists of a wide range of activities, feelings, relationships and identities. People might engage in bondage, sensory play, humiliation, roleplay (including Master/slave), painplay and many other activities. Note the use of the word ‘play’ – for many SMers, BDSM is precisely that, a form of play.

BDSM preference is not correlated with personality. Outside of BDSM, dominants are not more dominating, cruel or bossy than non-dominants. Outside of BDSM, submissives are not more passive or submissive than non-submissives.

Kink and disorder.
Although early researchers assumed something had to be wrong with these kinky people, research has shown just the opposite. It appears to be impossible to distinguish kinksters from non-kinksters, except for the fact that kinksters are kinky. SM is not correlated with physical abuse, sexual abuse, childhood trauma, symptoms of PTSS, personality disorder, sexual disorder, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or, well, anything really. We’re as healthy (or ill) as the rest of the population.

However, there’s thing that sets kinksters apart: they usually love sex. SMers have more sex-partners, masturbate more frequently, own more sex toys and participate in activities such as group sex than non-kinksters. Fewer than 5% of kinksters no longer engage in non-SM sex, although a good portion of kinksters do feel they need SM in their lives to feel fulfilled.

The BDSM community
In every subculture, there are norms that serve to define members’ expectations and to control their interaction. In the BDSM subculture, these norms consist of safety, trust and consent. There are discussions on what these norms entail, there are workshops on how to engage in BDSM activities safely and community members who do not abide the norms risk rejection from the community. Many kinksters use safe words to ensure nothing non-consensual will take place, and those who do not use safe words find other ways of making sure their partner is happy with the interaction.

There are multiple subcultures within the BDSM community. For instance, there are heterosexual, gay and lesbian subcultures. There are specialised subcultures devoted to bondage, Master/slave relationships, body modification and age-play.

People get involved in the BDSM scene for various reasons. Around 70% of kinksters indicate they find social support in the BDSM scene, 85% find friendships, 43% find partners and 85% are in the scene to get educated. BDSM organisations function as a place for kinksters to meet, feel accepted, understood and have fun. Often, information is provided on BDSM in the form of websites, lectures, workshops and discussion night. Some BDSM organisations provide support to people who run into problems because of their orientation.

Problems kinksters run into.
SM participants lose custody of children, security clearances, inheritances, jobs, are disowned, assaulted and are victims of persecution and prosecutions. The degree to which kinksters are victims to these things varies from country to country, but it seems to be present to some degree in all western countries. GLBT groups and other organisations have sometimes refused to work with kink organisations because of the stigma and prejudice associated with BDSM. Sadomasochism is still considered a disorder in both the DSM and ICD-10.

Conclusion
Kinksters are generally emotionally and psychologically well-balanced, comfortable with their orientation and socially well-functioning. However, they face discrimination. This could be considered a human rights issue.

“Many individuals want others to be mind-readers so as to evade responsibility for their own desires. [..] [BDSM] is choosing to reveal one’s inner self so openly, without pretense or guile, that here is no going back. This means a willingness to go beyond truthfulness or even honesty to authenticity and transparency, to allowing oneself to be so vulnerable and naked [..], to allow one’s deepest desires, fears, hopes and sources of joy to be touched, explored in the trust that they will be handled with care.” – Peggy Kleinplatz, 2007

References:
Cross PA, Matheson K. (2006) Understanding sadomasochism: an empirical examination of four perspectives. J Homosex. 2006;50(2-3):133-66.
Kleinplatz PJ. (2006) Learning from extraordinary lovers: lessons from the edge. J Homosex. 2006;50(2-3):325-48.
Moser C, Kleinplatz PJ. (2006) Introduction: the state of our knowledge on SM. J Homosex. 2006;50(2-3):1-15.
Richters J, de Visser RO, Rissel CE, Grulich AE, Smith AM. (2008) Demographic and psychosocial features of participants in bondage and discipline, “sadomasochism” or dominance and submission (BDSM): data from a national survey. J Sex Med. 2008 Jul;5(7):1660-8.
Weinberg TS. (2006) Sadomasochism and the social sciences: a review of the sociological and social psychological literature. J Homosex. 2006;50(2-3):17-40. Review.