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.

6 thoughts on “Why kinky people are so happy

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  3. pimpelpanter

    xcuse me, but I find the title not covering the blog. This is proving *that* BDSM people are happier, but not *why*.

    there is a correlation, but is there a cause and effect ?

  4. Marijke Vonk Post author

    They are happy because they have such excellent personality characteristics ;).

  5. pimpelpanter

    oh but i’m just an A#-hole and i’m kinky – so how do you explain that? :p

    now not kidding, i can imagine a lot of things, but really this was not discussed in length nor proven.

    I imagine that because kinksters are in general more open to new experiences and (hence?) less afraid to fail and be hurt, this already are indicators for happier people. As happyness is limited by fear and pain.

    but that’s just a ignorant guess.

  6. Marijke Vonk Post author

    Obviously no single study is going to find all the answers. And as for you being an asshole.. well.. there are always outliers :P.

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