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Sadomasochism without Sex? Exploring the Parallels between BDSM and Extreme Rituals

Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 1, November 2015
© 2015 Journal of Positive Sexuality-Center for Positive Sexuality
Sadomasochism without Sex?
Exploring the Parallels between
BDSM and Extreme Rituals1
Brad J. Sagarin, Ellen M. Lee, and Kathryn
R. Klement
Northern Illinois University
BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance
& Submission, Sadism & Masochism) is
often defined solely as kinky sex. BDSM
practitioners recognize, however, that
BDSM can encompass more than just
sexuality. In SM 101, for example, Jay
includes both sexual and non-sexual
The knowing use of psychological
dominance and submission, and/or
physical bondage, and/or pain,
and/or related practices in a safe,
legal, consensual manner in order for
the participants to experience erotic
arousal and/or personal growth. (p.
Researchers have also begun recognizing
non-sexual aspects of BDSM, with
Newmahr (2010) conceptualizing BDSM as
1 We thank the leadership and members of
the Arizona Power Exchange and the
leadership and attendees of the Southwest
Leather Conference, the Leather Levi
Weekend, and Thunder in the Mountains for
making these studies possible. These studies
were generously supported by grants from
Butchmanns, Inc., CLAW Corp., the
Community-Academic Consortium for
Research on Alternative Sexualities
(CARAS), and the Society for the Scientific
Study of Sexuality (SSSS).
serious leisure (akin to mountain climbing
and other activities that require investment,
skill, and dedication to perform), Baumeister
(1997) theorizing that masochism provides a
method of temporarily escaping the burdens
of selfhood, and Pitagora and Ophelian (in
press) identifying therapeutic benefits of
BDSM. Likewise, Hutson (2014) reviewed
research on why we pursue unpleasant
experiences, drawing parallels between the
motivations for masochism and the
motivations for a number of non-sexual
activities such as eating chili peppers and
riding roller coasters (Rozin et al., 2013),
and climbing mountains (Loewenstein,
1999). Hutson also notes that sometimes we
choose unpleasant activities over pleasant
alternatives (e.g., an ice hotel versus a
Marriot) in order to build our experiential
CV (Keinan & Kivetz, 2011). We should
note that many of these ideas, although
compelling, still need empirical validation.
These non-sexual conceptualizations of
BDSM suggest parallels with another type
of intense physical activity: extreme rituals.
Extreme rituals (e.g., body piercing,
firewalking) have been documented
historically (Catlin, 1867) and are widely
practiced today (Fischer et al., 2014). As
with BDSM, extreme rituals require skill
and dedication to perform safely. Also as
with BDSM, extreme rituals likely facilitate
escape from the self, given the trances that
some rituals are reported to produce (Pfaff
& Simons, 1973; Xygalatas, 2014). Finally,
it seems likely that some people participate
in extreme rituals such as firewalking for the
social and psychological benefits they get
from being able to tell others (and
themselves) that they have done so. Thus,
people appear to pursue BDSM and extreme
rituals, in part, for similar reasons, and they
appear to anticipate similar benefits from
Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 1, November 2015
© 2015 Journal of Positive Sexuality-Center for Positive Sexuality
Parallels between BDSM and Extreme
Over the past several years, our research
team has investigated the physiological and
psychological effects of consensual BDSM
activities and extreme rituals (see Table 1).
Across these studies, certain patterns have
begun to emerge. These patterns suggest that
the parallels between BDSM and extreme
rituals extend beyond the motivations and
anticipated benefits of the activities to the
role-specific effects of the activities. In this
paper, we explore these parallels. Of
necessity, we only briefly summarize the
specifics of each study. Readers interested in
the details are referred to the papers cited in
Appendix 1.
The first parallel involves stress, particularly
the disconnect between physiological and
psychological stress observed in BDSM
bottoms and in pierced ritual participants.
We measured physiological stress using the
hormone cortisol (assessed via saliva
sample). Not surprisingly, given the physical
pain and lack of control often involved, both
BDSM bottoms and pierced ritual
participants showed increases in cortisol
from before to during the activities. At the
same time, however, BDSM bottoms and
pierced ritual participants reported decreases
in the psychological experience of stress.
We suspect this disconnect between the
physiological and the psychological might
be indicative of an altered state of
consciousness achieved by BDSM bottoms
and pierced ritual participants (see
Xygalatas et al., 2013, for a similar
disconnect regarding measured and
experienced heart rate among firewalkers).
BDSM tops and non-pierced ritual
participants (ritual leaders, drummers,
piercers, observers, etc.), in contrast,
typically showed no change in cortisol and
reported decreases in psychological stress.
This reduction in psychological stress in
BDSM tops and non-pierced ritual
participants suggests that it may not be
necessary for all participants to experience
the same level of pain or intensity as
bottoms or pierced individuals to
psychologically benefit from the activity.
The second parallel involves altered states of
consciousness. Anecdotally, both BDSM
practitioners and ritual participants report
that the activities sometimes induce altered
states of consciousness (e.g., topspace and
subspace in BDSM tops and bottoms;
trances in ritual participants). We assessed
two altered states: flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
1991) and transient hypofrontality (Dietrich,
2003), which we believed might be the
states described as topspace and subspace,
respectively. Flow is a highly pleasurable
and satisfying mental state involving intense
absorption and optimal performance on an
activity such as sports or music. In our
studies, BDSM tops, ritual piercers, and
those supporting a specific pierced ritual
participant reported the highest levels of
flow, particularly on the optimal
performance facets of flow. Likewise,
BDSM bottoms and non-piercer ritual
participants (pierced participants, ritual
leaders, drummers, observers, etc., but not
piercers) showed decrements in performance
on the cognitive Stroop test (MacLeod,
1991), suggesting temporary impairment of
consistent with subspace/transient
hypofrontality. It is notable that BDSM tops
and ritual piercers showed no evidence of
cognitive impairment, suggesting that they
retained the cognitive capability to perform
the technically precise actions required for
their roles.
Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 1, November 2015
© 2015 Journal of Positive Sexuality-Center for Positive Sexuality
These results have important implications
for safety within BDSM scenes and extreme
rituals. In particular, the temporary cognitive
impairment shown by BDSM bottoms and
non-piercer ritual participants suggests that
the altered state of consciousness achieved
by these individuals might make recognizing
personal limits more difficult. Fortunately,
evidence from BDSM tops and ritual
piercers suggests that these individuals
retained the concentration and focus
necessary to perform their roles and to
monitor the well-being of their scene
partners and fellow ritual participants.
Furthermore, our data suggest that BDSM
scenes and extreme rituals might represent
multiple routes to achieving the same altered
states of consciousness in essence,
different paths to the same place.
Baumeister (1988) explored a similar
question when he linked masochism to other
methods of escaping the self:
The question of why someone comes
to prefer masochism over mountain
climbing may be comparable to the
question of why someone comes to
prefer skydiving over mountain
climbing; accidents of habit,
opportunity, and association may
play key causal roles. (p. 54)
The third parallel involves intimacy. We
measured intimacy using the Inclusion of
Other in Self Scale (Aron et al., 1992), in
which respondents indicate their relationship
with another person (their scene partner;
their fellow ritual participants) by selecting
one of seven pairs of increasingly
overlapping circles, one label
and across roles, BDSM practitioners and
ritual participants reported increases in self-
other overlap from before to after their
activities. BDSM scenes and extreme rituals
both appear to foster intimacy between
participants. As with psychological stress,
these findings suggest that experiencing pain
during these activities may not be necessary
to reap personal benefits.
The primary area of distinction we observed
tion of the
activities. After the activities were over, we
asked participants how sexual, how
sadomasochistic, and how spiritual they
found the activities. For BDSM scenes, tops
perceived the scenes as highest in sexuality,
and bottoms perceived the scenes as highest
in sadomasochism. In contrast, ritual
participants perceived the ritual as highest in
spirituality. Future work should investigate
which elements of these activities contribute
to these different conceptualizations.
The topics of BDSM and extreme rituals are
disproportionately understudied within the
scholarly literature and widely
misunderstood by the general public. It is
our hope that this research can help
illuminate the reasons why people choose to
engage in these types of activities and that
this understanding might lead to greater
acceptance. As noted above, people appear
to pursue BDSM and extreme rituals, in
part, for similar reasons, and they appear to
anticipate similar benefits from both. And as
the results of our studies illustrate, BDSM
scenes and extreme rituals appear to have
similar effects on participants. Indeed, even
the primary area of distinction we
observed the conceptualization of the
activities might not represent a universal
difference. As Easton and Hardy (2001)
Today we are also seeing the
emergence of S/M- often referred to
in this context as "Sex Magic"- as a
spiritual practice. The combination
Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 1, November 2015
© 2015 Journal of Positive Sexuality-Center for Positive Sexuality
of ritual with S/M, and the use of
strong sensation and sometimes
opening the skin to achieve
transcendent states, have led to a
potent combination of S/M practice
with spiritual seeking. (Easton &
Hardy, 2001, p. 8; see also Easton &
Radical Ecstasy, 2004)
Ambler, J. K., Lee, E. M., Klement, K., R., Loewald,
T., Comber, E., Hanson, S. A., Cutler, B.,
Cutler, N. & Sagarin, B. J. (2015).
Consensual BDSM causes role-specific
altered states of consciousness. Manuscript
submitted for publication.
Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992).
Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the
structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 63,
Baumeister, R. F. (1988). Masochism as escape from
self. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 28-59.
Baumeister, R. F. (1997). The enigmatic appeal of
sexual masochism: Why people desire pain,
bondage, and humiliation in sex. Journal of
Social and Clinical Psychology, 16, 133-
Catlin, G. (1867). O-Kee-Pa, a religious ceremony;
and other customs of the Mandans.
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The psychology
of optimal experience. New York: Harper
Dietrich, A. (2003). Functional neuroanatomy of
altered states of consciousness: The transient
hypofrontality hypothesis. Consciousness
and Cognition, 12, 231-256.
Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2001). The new
bottoming book. Emeryville, CA: Greenery
Easton, D., & Hardy, J.W. (2004). Radical Ecstasy.
Oakland, CA: Greenery Press.
Fischer, R., Xygalatas, D., Mitkidis, P., Reddish, P.,
Tok, P., Konvalinka, I., & Bulbulia, J.
(2014). The fire-
physiological responses in an extreme
collective ritual. PloS one, 9, e88355.
Hutson, M. (2014). Why we enjoy chili peppers,
S&M, gruesome movies, and other
unpleasant experiences. Retrieved August
21, 2015 from
Keinan, A., & Kivetz, R. (2011). Productivity
orientation and the consumption of
collectable experiences. Journal of
Consumer Research, 37, 935-950.
Klement, K. R., Lee, E. M., Ambler, J. K., Hanson,
S. A., Comber, E., Wietting, D., . . . Sagarin,
B. J. (2015). Extreme rituals in a BDSM
context: The physiological and
. Manuscript submitted for
Lee, E. M., Ambler, J. K., & Sagarin, B. J., (2014,
May). Hooked together: Investigating a
hook-pull in a BDSM context. Paper
presented at the Midwestern Psychological
Lee, E. M., Klement, K., R., Ambler, J. K., Loewald,
T., Comber, E., Hanson, S. A., Pruitt, B., &
Sagarin, B. J. (2015). Altered states of
consciousness during an extreme ritual.
Manuscript submitted for publication.
Loewenstein, G. (1999). Because it is there: The
Theory. Kyklos, 52, 315-344.
MacLeod, C. M. (1991). Half a century of research
on the Stroop effect: An integrative review.
Psychological Bulletin, 109, 163-203.
Newmahr, S. (2010). Rethinking kink:
Sadomasochism as serious leisure.
Qualitative Sociology, 33, 313-331.
Pfaff, G. (Producer), & Simons, R. (Consultant).
(1973). Floating in the air, followed by the
wind [Motion picture]. United States:
Michigan State University and University of
Pitagora, D. & Ophelian, A. (in press). Therapeutic
benefits of subspace. Electronic Journal of
Human Sexuality.
Rozin, P., Guillot, L., Fincher, K., Rozin, A., &
Tsukayama, E. (2013). Glad to be sad, and
other examples of benign masochism.
Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 439-447.
Sagarin, B. J., Cutler, B., Cutler, N., Lawler-Sagarin,
K. A., & Matuszewich, L. (2009). Hormonal
changes and couple bonding in consensual
sadomasochistic activity. Archives of Sexual
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Journal of Positive Sexuality, Vol. 1, November 2015
© 2015 Journal of Positive Sexuality-Center for Positive Sexuality
Wiseman, J. (1996). SM 101: A Realistic
Introduction. San Francisco, CA: Greenery
Xygalatas, D. (2014). Trial by fire: From fire-
walking to the ice-bucket challenge, ritual
pain and suffering forge intense social
bonds. Aeon. Retrieved October 23, 2014
Xygalatas, D., Schjoedt, U., Bulbulia, J., Konvalinka,
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Appendix 1
Studies of BDSM Scenes and Extreme Rituals
Study Summary Host Measures
Ambler et al.
(under review)
14 BDSM practitioners
randomly assigned to the
top or bottom role for a
Arizona Power
Cortisol, testosterone,
IOS, PANAS, self-
reported stress, self-
reported sexual arousal,
Stroop, flow
Klement et al.
(under review)
67 participants in the
pull/ball dance ritual
2012 Southwest
Leather Conference
Cortisol, IOS, PANAS,
self-reported stress, self-
reported sexual arousal
Lee et al.
(under review)
83 participants in the
pull/ball dance ritual
2014 Southwest
Leather Conference
Cortisol, IOS, PANAS,
self-reported stress, self-
reported sexual arousal,
Stroop, flow
Lee et al.
22 participants in a hook-
2013 Leather Levi
IOS, PANAS, self-
reported stress, self-
reported sexual arousal,
Sagarin et al.
(2009) Study 1
13 BDSM practitioners
participating in a scene
Arizona Power
Cortisol, testosterone,
Sagarin et al.
(2009) Study 2
45 BDSM practitioners
participating in a scene
2002 Thunder in
the Mountains
Cortisol, testosterone,
Note. The Arizona Power Exchange is a Phoenix-based BDSM organization. The Southwest Leather Conference is
an annual BDSM/Leather conference held in Phoenix, AZ. The Leather Levi Weekend is an annual weekend event
held in Northern California. Thunder in the Mountains is an annual BDSM/Leather conference held in Denver, CO.
Cortisol and testosterone are hormones measured via saliva sampling. The IOS is the Inclusion of Other in Self
Scale (Aron et al., 1992), a measure of intimacy or relationship closeness. The PANAS is the Positive and Negative
Affect Schedule (Watson et al., 1988), a measure of positive emotions (e.g., interested, alert) and negative emotions
(e.g., distressed, upset).
... The colloquial term BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, Masochism) describes a wide range of consensual behaviors designed to facilitate a power exchange between partners. Despite the stigma often attached to BDSM practices (Stiles & Clark, 2011;Wright, 2006), one study estimated roughly 5 million people in the USA and Canada engage in BDSM on a regular or semi-regular basis (Newmahr, 2010;Rubinsky, 2020;Sagarin et al., 2015), and a Belgian study found almost 47% of a general sample previously engaged in at least one BDSM act, with 22% fantasizing about BDSM (Holvoet et al., 2017). In this mixed-methods exploratory study, we examine pathways and patterns of entrance into BDSM fantasies and practices among selfidentified BDSM practitioners, revealing how individuals become involved in this stigmatized sexual activity, and the extent to which social-environmental factors can affect this entrance. ...
... Activities range "from mild to extreme, where the mild version may not even be identified as BDSM" by the participants themselves (Kimberly et al., 2018, p. 120). While BDSM is often practiced concurrently with sexual activity, some practitioners do not consider these activities sexual, nor practice them as a prelude to sexual activity (Dancer et al., 2006;Sagarin et al., 2015;Weiss, 2006). A range of roles exist for practitioners to enact and identify with (e.g., dominant, submissive, master/mistress, slave, top, bottom, sadist, masochist, switch). ...
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Prior limited research on entrance into BDSM divided paths of entry into external or internal factors (Yosta & Hunter, 2012), while research on age at entry into BDSM has not considered variation by BDSM role identity, gender, sexual orientation, and other demographic differences. In this mixed-methods exploratory study, we contribute to this literature by collecting and analyzing qualitative interviews with 96 self-described practitioners of BDSM to more fully describe distinct pathways into BDSM, adding nuance to prior descriptions of entry. We also collected and analyzed surveys with 2,017 self-described practitioners of BDSM to examine patterns of age at entry into BDSM practices and fantasies, and selection into older or younger age at practice and age at fantasy by BDSM role identity, gender, sexual orientation, and other demographic characteristics. Interview respondents told “constructionist sexual stories” describing introductions to BDSM via popular culture including pornography and other media, the Internet, or a sexual partner that awaked an inherent interest, along with “essentialist sexual stories” which described self-discovery solely attributed to an inherent personality characteristic. Survey data revealed that age at fantasy and onset of behavior varied by social–environmental factors. Pathways and patterns into BDSM behavior and fantasies therefore reflect a combination of idiosyncratic interests, exposure to ideas via the media or partners, and stratified social norms and opportunities related to sexual behavior.
... The feeling at the time and for at least a short (up to a few hours later) time post scene is often called 'subspace' (Sagarin et al., 2015). This state is sought after by some participants and might be described as an altered state of consciousness (Rinella, 2013), or a transition from a state of constant compulsive thought to one of a liberating sense of single mindedness (Newmahr, 2008). ...
Corporal punishment (CP) is one aspect of BDSM play. While enjoyed by many at a low level, some players indulge in heavier play, with the potential for skin and tissue damage. This paper presents the results of an exploratory quasi-ethnographic study into CP, examining the motivations and potential benefits and risks of playing in this way, with the aim of increasing understanding of why individuals engage in heavy CP. Data were gathered from scene observations and semi-structured interviews with participants, including three professional Dominatrices with a reputation internationally for CP. Thematic Analysis was used to assess the data. While sexual arousal was a motivator for some participants, it was not the motivator for the majority. The importance of the marks left on the body was a common theme, as was challenging oneself to increase the amount of CP received or given. This was either to demonstrate a progression along a journey of increasing severity, or to enhance the experience either sexually, bruises / marks wise, or psychologically. Despite allusions by participants to addiction, psychological benefits in mood and mental health were reported by all participants. The main negative aspect of participation was fear of stigma and the perceived inability to be open with others about their interests. Participation in CP is a positive experience for those involved. The importance of bodily marks is a new finding, as is the positive impact on mental health.
... This can be explained somewhat through comparing two popular kink SSNS aimed at the two populations: FetLife predominantly caters to straight kink communities and emphasizes the importance of interactions through forums and organizing munches (regularly non-sexual events for members to meet offline and socialize); while Recon, a kink SSNS for gay and bisexual men, tends to focus more on the individual interactions between its members. For gay and bisexual men, kink may predominantly be about the sex and the activities (Wignall & McCormack, 2017, while for straight kink practitioners, kink could be framed as a ritual which encompasses the pre-activity discussions as part of the kink session (see Sagarin et al., 2015). ...
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Kink practitioners have adopted phrases, like “safe, sane and consensual” (SSC), to describe a non-pathological approach in considering risk and harm in kink practices. However, little is known about how risk and consent are negotiated online, particularly when the kink activities occur in private rather than the public or semi-public spaces of kink community venues or events. Drawing on 30 in-depth interviews with self-identified kinky gay and bisexual men, this article examines how risk and consent are discussed when organizing kink sessions through online platforms. Most participants were unaware of SSC or alternatives. Instead, participants employed diverse methods of negotiating consent and risk which predominantly involved indepth communication online. Interestingly, participants were more concerned with the risks associated with meeting others online, such as catfishing, than the risks involved with kink. Finally, some participants described a laissez-faire approach to their kink sessions through not planning or discussing risk and consent beforehand
... Sagarin and colleagues (2015) also found that, similar to bottoms, BDSM tops reported low psychological stress during BDSM activities; however, tops did not show increases in cortisol levels during BDSM play. Despite potential differences in actual physiological stress, BDSM participants across roles likely experience reduced psychological stress due to personally meaningful leisure experiences wherein there is an optimal balance of skill and challenge, or flow (see Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) and possibly altered states of consciousness (i.e., subspace) (Pitagora, 2017;Sagarin, et al., 2015). ...
... In our investigation of feeding practices, we did not examine the pleasure derived from non-feeding BDSM, which may or may not be primarily sexually motivated (Sagarin, et al. 2015;. Interest in BDSM is associated with power exchange, psychological factors, and a spiritual practice called "Sex Magic" involving play with cutting. ...
... No doubt there are sexuality-sadism links in two unique variants: criminal sexuality (Mokros, Schilling, Weiss, Nitschke, & Eher, 2014) and BDSM participants (Sagarin, Lee, & Klement, 2015). However, individuals with unrestricted sexuality abound in normal samples (Kastner & Sellbom, 2012;Simpson & Gangestad, 1991). ...
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To date, no studies have examined a range of structural models of the interpersonally aversive traits tapped by the Short Dark Tetrad (SD4; narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, sadism), in conjunction with their measurement invariance (males vs. females) and how the models each predict external correlates. Using a large sample of young adults ( N = 3,975), four latent variable models were compared in terms of fit, measurement invariance, and prediction of intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. The models tested were as follows: (Model A) confirmatory factor analytic, (Model B) bifactor, (Model C) exploratory structural equation model, and (Model D) a reduced-item confirmatory factor analytic that maximized item information. All models accounted for item covariance with good precision, although differed in incremental fit. Strong invariance held for all models, and each accounted similarly for the external correlates, highlighting differential predictive effects of the SD4 factors. The results provide support for four theoretically distinct but overlapping dark personality domains.
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Although research tends to focus on the sexual and/or erotic aspects of consensual BDSM participation, there are many non-erotic and nonsexual beneficial outcomes arising from participating in BDSM. This research aims to elucidate those other meaningful aspects of BDSM that reach beyond the sexual in order to highlight their salience for BDSM practitioners and to ensure that these non-erotic aspects of BDSM participation are not overlooked. Eleven regular practitioners of consensual BDSM took part in customized in-depth, face to face interviews conducted within an interpretive phenomenological perspective that focused on the lived experiences of consensual BDSM. The template analysis method was used to analyse the data. Findings illustrated that various non-erotic and non-sexual aspects of BDSM are important to practitioners. These elements are necessary and significant to participants’ lived experiences of BDSM and will be discussed in this paper in terms of transformative experiences and demonstrate that BDSM should be studied from a holistic perspective.
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Bondage/Discipline/Dominance/submission/Sadism/Masochism (BDSM) is most frequently conceptualized as only non-normative, 'kinky' sex. In this dissertation, I combine feminist ethnographic accounts of women's experiences as BDSM practitioners alongside theoretical frameworks of gendered embodiment to propose a reading of some BDSM practices as other-than-sex. Rather than narrowing the definition of sex, I instead take up Foucault's expression of the possibilities of bodies and pleasures to explore how alternative relationality is formed between practitioners with some types of BDSM play with pain and power. In doing so, there is an expanded potential for women's queer pleasure and a real possibility of disrupting patriarchal social structure with practitioners' altered being-in-the-world. This analysis is centred on accounts from eighteen women participants in Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who were active BDSM practitioners. Participants in this project challenged traditional understandings of pain and masochism to produce new understandings of both. They accounted for safety and risk considerations in practices that help formulate a more robust consideration of the complications of consent in other-than-sex practices than is typically allowed for in either mainstream or BDSM-specific frameworks of consent. Lastly, they expressed conceptions of the strategic eroticization of power that accounted for it in play without eliminating the social power that some bodies exercise more flexibly than others. The alternative relationality that is fostered by other-than-sex BDSM practices is powerfully intimate and based on the radical vulnerability and bodily access between practitioners.
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Participation in extreme rituals (e.g., fire-walking, body-piercing) has been documented throughout history. Motivations for such physically intense activities include religious devotion, sensation-seeking and social bonding. The present study aims to explore an extreme ritual within the context of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism (BDSM): the ‘Dance of Souls’, a 160-person ritual involving temporary piercings with weights or hooks attached and dancing to music provided by drummers. Through hormonal assays, behavioural observations and questionnaires administered before, during and after the Dance, we examine the physiological and psychological effects of the Dance, and the themes of spirituality, connectedness, transformation, release and community reported by dancers. From before to during the Dance, participants showed increases in physiological stress (measured by the hormone cortisol), self-reported sexual arousal, self-other overlap and decreases in psychological stress and negative affect. Results suggest that this group of BDSM practitioners engage in the Dance for a variety of reasons, including experiencing spirituality, deepening interpersonal connections, reducing stress and achieving altered states of consciousness.
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Extreme rituals (body-piercing, fire-walking, etc.) are anecdotally associated with altered states of consciousness-subjective alterations of ordinary mental functioning (Ward, 1984)-but empirical evidence of altered states using both direct and indirect measures during extreme rituals in naturalistic settings is limited. Participants in the "Dance of Souls", a 3.5-hour event during which participants received temporary piercings with hooks or weights attached to the piercings and danced to music provided by drummers, responded to measures of two altered states of consciousness. Participants also completed measures of positive and negative affect, salivary cortisol (a hormone associated with stress), self-reported stress, sexual arousal, and intimacy. Both pierced participants (pierced dancers) and non-pierced participants (piercers, piercing assistants, observers, drummers, and event leaders) showed evidence of altered states aligned with transient hypofrontality (Dietrich, 2003; measured with a Stroop test) and flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; measured with the Flow State Scale). Both pierced and non-pierced participants also reported decreases in negative affect and psychological stress and increases in intimacy from before to after the ritual. Pierced and non-pierced participants showed different physiological reactions, however, with pierced participants showing increases in cortisol and non-pierced participants showing decreases from before to during the ritual. Overall, the ritual appeared to induce different physiological effects but similar psychological effects in focal ritual participants (i.e., pierced dancers) and in participants adopting other roles.
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We provide systematic evidence for the range and importance of hedonic reversals as a major source of pleasure, and incorporate these findings into the theory of benign masochism. Twenty-nine different initially aversive activities are shown to produce pleasure (hedonic reversals) in substantial numbers of individuals from both college student and Mechanical Turk samples. Hedonic reversals group, by factor analysis, into sadness, oral irritation, fear, physical activity/exhaustion, pain, strong alcohol-related tastes, bitter tastes, and disgust. Liking for sad experiences (music, novels, movies, paintings) forms a coherent entity, and is related to enjoyment of crying in response to sad movies. For fear and oral irritation, individuals also enjoy the body's defensive reactions. Enjoyment of sadness is higher in females across domains. We explain these findings in terms of benign masochism, enjoyment of negative bodily reactions and feelings in the context of feeling safe, or pleasure at "mind over body". In accordance with benign masochism, for many people, the favored level of initially negative experiences is just below the level that cannot be tolerated.
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How do people feel during extreme collective rituals? Despite longstanding speculation, few studies have attempted to quantify ritual experiences. Using a novel pre/post design, we quantified physiological fluctuations (heart rates) and self-reported affective states from a collective fire-walking ritual in a Mauritian Hindu community. Specifically, we compared changes in levels of happiness, fatigue, and heart rate reactivity among high-ordeal participants (fire-walkers), low-ordeal participants (non-fire-walking participants with familial bonds to fire-walkers) and spectators (unrelated/unknown to the fire-walkers). We observed that fire-walkers experienced the highest increase in heart rate and reported greater happiness post-ritual compared to low-ordeal participants and spectators. Low-ordeal participants reported increased fatigue after the ritual compared to both fire-walkers and spectators, suggesting empathetic identification effects. Thus, witnessing the ritualistic suffering of loved ones may be more exhausting than experiencing suffering oneself. The findings demonstrate that the level of ritual involvement is important for shaping affective responses to collective rituals. Enduring a ritual ordeal is associated with greater happiness, whereas observing a loved-one endure a ritual ordeal is associated with greater fatigue post-ritual.
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Anthropological theories have discussed the efffects of participation in high-arousal rituals in the formation of autobiographical memory; however, precise measurements for such efffects are lacking. In this study, we examined episodic recall among participants in a highly arousing fire- walking ritual. To assess arousal, we used heart rate measurements. To assess the dynamics of episodic memories, we obtained reports immediately after the event and two months later. We evaluated memory accuracy from video footage. Immediately after the event, participants’ reports revealed limited recall, low confijidence and high accuracy. Two months later we found more inaccurate memories and higher confijidence. Whereas cognitive theories of ritual have predicted flashbulb memories for highly arousing rituals, we found that memories were strongly suppressed immediately after the event and only later evolved confijidence and detail. Physiological measurements revealed a spectacular discrepancy between actual heart rates and self-reported arousal. This dissociation between subjective reports and objective measurements of arousal is consistent with a cognitive resource depletion model. We argue that expressive suppression may provide a link between individual memories and cultural understandings of high-arousal rituals.
Masochism involves the desire for and enjoyment of sexual experiences involving pain, loss of control, and humiliation. Empirical findings about masochism are reviewed, and an integrative theory is proposed based on the notion that masochism fosters an escape from the stressful awareness of one's ordinary identity.
Recent theoretical advances from social psychology, especially self‐awareness theory and action identification theory, are here applied to masochism. It is possible to consider mashochism as neither a form of self‐destruction nor a derivative of sadism. Instead, masochism may be a means of escaping from high‐level awareness of self as a symbolically mediated, temporally extended identity. Such awareness is replaced by focus on the immediate present and on bodily sensations, and sometimes by a low‐level awareness of self as an object. Evidence is reviewed indicating that the principal features of masochism (pain, bondage, and humiliation) help accomplish this hypothesized escape from high‐level self‐awareness. Historical evidence suggests that sexual masochism proliferated when Western culture became highly individualistic. This could mean that cultural emphasis on the autonomous, individual self increased the burdensome pressure of selfhood, leading to greater desires to escape from self masochistically.
In recent studies of the structure of affect, positive and negative affect have consistently emerged as two dominant and relatively independent dimensions. A number of mood scales have been created to measure these factors; however, many existing measures are inadequate, showing low reliability or poor convergent or discriminant validity. To fill the need for reliable and valid Positive Affect and Negative Affect scales that are also brief and easy to administer, we developed two 10-item mood scales that comprise the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The scales are shown to be highly internally consistent, largely uncorrelated, and stable at appropriate levels over a 2-month time period. Normative data and factorial and external evidence of convergent and discriminant validity for the scales are also presented. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
In 2 studies, the Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS) Scale, a single-item, pictorial measure of closeness, demonstrated alternate-form and test–retest reliability; convergent validity with the Relationship Closeness Inventory (E. Berscheid et al, 1989), the R. J. Sternberg (1988) Intimacy Scale, and other measures; discriminant validity; minimal social desirability correlations; and predictive validity for whether romantic relationships were intact 3 mo later. Also identified and cross-validated were (1) a 2-factor closeness model (Feeling Close and Behaving Close) and (2) longevity–closeness correlations that were small for women vs moderately positive for men. Five supplementary studies showed convergent and construct validity with marital satisfaction and commitment and with a reaction-time (RT)-based cognitive measure of closeness in married couples; and with intimacy and attraction measures in stranger dyads following laboratory closeness-generating tasks. In 3 final studies most Ss interpreted IOS Scale diagrams as depicting interconnectedness. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)