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Fifty Shades of Belgian Gray: The Prevalence of BDSM-Related Fantasies and Activities in the General Population


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Background: Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM) is gaining popularity through the mainstream media. Nevertheless, very little is known about the prevalence of BDSM-related fantasies and activities in the general population. Aim: To determine the prevalence of BDSM fantasies and behavioral involvement in four different age groups of the general population in Belgium. Methods: By use of a cross-sectional survey questionnaire, the level of interest in several BDSM-related activities was investigated in a sample representative of the general Belgian population (N = 1,027). The questionnaire evaluated interest in 54 BDSM activities and 14 fetishes. Self-identification as BDSM practitioner, situational context of BDSM practice, age at awareness of these interests, and transparency to others were queried. Outcomes: Individual item scores and summary scores on four BDSM categories were included in the analyses. Results: A high interest in BDSM-related activities in the general population was found because 46.8% of the total sample had ever performed at least one BDSM-related activity and an additional 22% indicated having (had) fantasies about it. Interestingly, 12.5% of the total population indicated performing at least one BDSM-related activity on a regular basis. When asked whether they saw themselves as being interested in BDSM, 26% stated this to be the case and 7.6% self-identified as BDSM practitioners. Interests in dominant and submissive activities were comparable and, remarkably, were highly intercorrelated. BDSM and fetish interests were significantly higher in men than in women. The older group (48-65 years) had significantly lower BDSM scores compared with their younger peers. Of participants with a BDSM interest, 61.4% became aware of it before 25 years of age. Clinical implications: There is a high level of interest in BDSM in the general population, which strongly argues against stigmatization and pathologic characterization of these interests. Strengths and limitations: This is the first thorough study concerning prevalence of interest in and fantasies about a wide range of BDSM-related activities in the general population worldwide. Although our findings tend to argue against it, we cannot completely rule out participation bias introduced by non-interest in the non-completers. In addition, some topics might have been subject to interpretation by the respondents. Conclusion: Interest in BDSM is present in most of the general population. Further research is needed to destigmatize it by confirming BDSM as a leisurely preference rather than a psychiatric affliction. Holvoet L, Huys W, Coppens V, et al. Fifty Shades of Belgian Gray: The Prevalence of BDSM-Related Fantasies and Activities in the General Population. J Sex Med 2017;XX:XXX-XXX.
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Fifty shades of Belgian grey: the prevalence of BDSM-related fantasies and
activities in the general population
Lien Holvoeta, Wim Huysb, Violette Coppensa,c, Jantien Seeuwsd, Kris Goethalsb,c, Manuel
Accepted for publication in Journal of Sexual Medicine
!" University Department of Psychiatry, Campus Duffel, Stationsstraat 22c, B-2570
Duffel, Belgium.
#" University Department of Psychiatry, Campus University Hospital Antwerp (UZA),
Wilrijkstraat 10, B-2610 Antwerp, Belgium.
$" Collaborative Antwerp Psychiatric Research Institute (CAPRI), Faculty of Medicine
and Health Sciences, University of Antwerp (UA), Universiteitsplein 1 , B-2650
Antwerp, Belgium.
%" Ruimte, Tentoonstellingslaan 92, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.
Corresponding author:
Manuel Morrens; University Department of Psychiatry, Campus Duffel, Stationsstraat 22c,
B-2570 Duffel, Belgium.
Background: Bondage and discipline (B/D), dominance and submission (D/S), and
sadism and masochism (S/M), or BDSM, is gaining popularity through the mainstream
media. Nevertheless, very little is known about the prevalence of BDSM related fantasies
and activities in the general population.
Aim: The current study aimed at determining the prevalence of both BDSM fantasies and
behavioral involvement in four different age groups of the general population in Belgium.
Methods: By use of a cross-sectional survey questionnaire, the level of interest in several
BDSM-related activities was investigated in a subject sample representative for the
general Belgian population (n=1027). The questionnaire evaluated interest in 54 BDSM
activities and 14 fetishes. Self-identification as BDSM-practitioner, situational context of
BDSM practice, age of awareness of these interests and transparence to others were
Outcomes: &'%()(%*!+ item scores and summary scores on four BDSM categories were
included in the analyses.
Results: A high interest in BDSM-related activities in the general population was found as
46.8% of the total sample had ever performed at least one BDSM-related activity, and an
additional 22% indicated having (had) fantasies about it. Interestingly, 12.5% of the
total population indicated performing one or more BDSM-related activities on a regular
basis. When asked if they saw themselves as being interested in BDSM, 26% revealed
this to be the case, and 7.6% self-identified as BDSM-practitioner. Interests in dominant
and submissive activities were comparable and, remarkably, were highly intercorrelated.
Both BDSM and fetish interests were present significantly higher in men than in women.
The older age group (48-65y) had significantly lower BDSM-scores compared to their
younger peers. Of the participants with a BDSM interest, 61.4% became aware of it
before the age of 25.
Clinical Implications: There is a high level of interest in BDSM in the general population,
which strongly argues against stigmatization and pathological characterization of these
Strengths & Limitations: This is the first thorough study concerning prevalence of interest
in and fantasies about a wide range of BDSM-related activities in the general population
worldwide. Although our findings tend to argue against, we cannot completely rule out
participation bias introduced by non-interest in the non-completers. In addition, some of
the topics may have been subject to interpretation by the correspondent.
Conclusion: BDSM interest is present within the majority of the general population.
Further research is needed to destigmatize it by confirming BDSM as a leisurely
preference rather than a psychiatric affliction.
BDSM, a combination of the abbreviations B/D (bondage and discipline), D/S (dominance
and submission), and S/M (sadism and masochism), refers to (sexual) experiences
where, in mutual consent, physical restraint, intense sensorial feeling and/or fantasy
about dominance and submission play a key role, often experienced in role play [1, 2]. A
related phenomenon is fetishism, implying the use of a specific non-living object, non-
genital part of the body or a certain act in attaining sexual arousal.
An increasing ambivalence surrounds the general perception of practices and interest in
BDSM-related activities. On one hand, the field is gaining attention in popular media,
literature and art, as evidenced by the huge commercial success of the recent Fifty
Shades of Grey books and movies. On the other, there is a distinct stigma surrounding
the spectrum. Practitioners of BDSM or related behaviors commonly report being
stigmatized and discriminated [3], often resulting in them concealing their BDSM related
preferences, with self-protection or protection of others most often stated as reason for
this concealment [4]. This is mirrored in the fact that BDSM related activities are included
in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) [5], thus labeling
them as potentially deviant (e.g. sexual masochism disorder or sexual sadism disorder).
Including these behaviors in a psychiatric classification system may have societal
consequences of importance, e.g. in context of custody cases [6]. In this light,
comparisons have been made with homosexuality, which was also a DSM diagnosis
before it was removed from the DSM-III in 1973 [7]. Moser and Kleinplatz [8] proposed
the removal of several sexually related disorders from the DSM, including those based on
activities within the BDSM spectrum, because of changing cultural and historical factors
and more importantly, because of the lack of objective data to support their
characterization as a mental disorder.
A lack of knowledge about the nature and prevalence of the BDSM spectrum occupations
within the general population may fuel the above mentioned stigmatization. Up to now,
there is globally no proper investigation on the prevalence of interests, fantasies and
practices on different domains of BDSM. One study based on telephone interviews
questioned about various sexual practices, included a stand-alone question about having
performed BDSM-oriented sex within the last 12 months [9] and found less than 5% of
these respondents to have engaged therein. On the other hand, an older Canadian study
demonstrated that 65% of university students fantasized about being tied up by a sexual
partner [10]. The divergent results of these two studies may reflect inherent population
differences and/or a potential gap between having fantasies and actually playing them
out. A study gauging 184 individuals active in the BDSM community indicated that most
individuals only engage in certain actions but not in others [11]. Thus, interest may be
focused on a limited set of activities in a wider range of possible BDSM-related behaviors.
Other research suggested different preferences in BDSMoriented activities in women
and men [12-14], with potential impact of age. As such, the BDSM spectrum may be a
cluster of very heterogeneous, independent profiles of interest.
To our knowledge however, no study has ever combined exploration of both interest in
and the level of practice of different aspects of a wide spectrum of BDSM related actions
in the general population. The current study therefore aimed at determining the
prevalence of both BDSM fantasies and behavioral involvement in different age groups of
the general population in Belgium.
A cross-sectional survey was carried out from February 2017 to March 2017. A digital
invitation for participation to the survey was e-mailed out to 8041 subjects by iVox, a
market research and polling agency with access to a panel of 150.000 Belgian citizens,
representative for the general population. Data of 1027 residents were collected, divided
over four age groups (see Table 1; group 1: 18-27y; group 2: 28-37y; group 3: 38-47y
and group 4: 48-65y).
The invitation contained the following minimal information: duration of time needed to
complete the survey (15 minutes), potential reward for participation (gift card) and the
mention that the questionnaire topic concerned ‘a special theme’. Invitees opening the
link were categorized as responders, those not opening the link as non-responders. To
minimize participation bias in the non-responders, an explanation of the content of the
study and an informed consent form were presented only after opening the link.
Subsequently, socio-economical status (age, gender, education, occupation) as well as
general information concerning sexuality (sexual orientation, sexual habits) were
requested. Next, a list of 54 BDSM related activities was presented, including items both
from the dominant (e.g. hitting a sexual partner with a whip) and the submissive
perspective (e.g. being hit by a sexual partner with a whip). On each of these items,
participants had to indicate their level of interest: 1) ‘I would never do this’, 2) ‘It doesn’t
seem to interest me, but I’m open to it’, 3) ‘Never thought of it, but I’d like to try’, 4) ‘I
have fantasized about it once, but have never tried it’, 5) ‘I fantasize about it regularly,
but have never tried it’, 6) ‘I have put it into practice, and I didn’t like it’ 7) ‘I have put it
into practice, and I liked it’ 8) ‘I do this regularly’ and finally 9) ‘It is indispensable for
me’. In addition to these individual responses, three response patterns were created for
analysis: 1) ‘No Interest’ 2) having fantasies about the activity, but never having put it
into practice (‘Fantasies’) and 3) having actually carried out the BDSM-related activity in
reality (‘Put Into Practice’).
After these 54 items, interest in 14 fetish-related activities was gauged by use of a 5-
item Likert scale. Finally, participants had to indicate to what extent they identified
themselves as BDSM-interested, and answer 11 questions concerning the situational
conditions where these activities had been performed, when they became aware of their
interests, and whether they had shared these interests with anyone.
Based on a factor analysis of the same questionnaire taken in a sample of 353 members
of the BDSM-community (ten Brink et al., in prep.), 4 BDSM-related categories were
defined: 1) dominance (including 18 items such as ‘blindfolding a partner’, ‘impose rules
to partner’, ‘hitting a partner’), 2) submission (including 23 items such as ‘kneeling
before a partner’, ‘being hit by a partner’, ‘Use a title to address partner’), 3) visual play
(including 7 items like ‘watching people getting hit’, ‘watching people being tied’ or
‘fireplay’) and 4) attributes (including items like ‘use of medical attributes’ and
‘penetration using big objects’). In addition, a fetishism score was calculated (exemplary
fetish categories are ‘shoes’, ‘latex’, ‘nylon’, ‘feet’ and ‘leather’). Corresponding summary
scores were calculated for each of these 5 categories by summation of the item scores
that primarily loaded on each of the factors.
Of the 8041 invitees, 2764 participants opened the survey (34.4% responders) of which
1.027 (37.2%) completed it, leaving 1.737 non-completers and 5.277 non-responders.
Profiling the participants concerning their BDSM fantasies and practice
All 1027 participants completed the 54-item BDSM questionnaire, as well as the 14-item
fetish questionnaire, gauging their level of interest in each of the BDSM-related activities
and fetishes respectively.
Table 2 presents the prevalence rates of both BDSM related fantasies and actual
practices from factors dominance, submission, visual play and attributes. Prevalence of
interest in dominance and submission was comparable in men and women, but men
demonstrated higher interest in visual play (p=.001) and attributes (p<.001).
Only 31.2% (n=320) of the completers reported no BDSM-related fantasies or practices
in either BDSM category. Fantasies without putting these into practice were reported by
22% (n=226), whereas 46.8% (n=481) participants indicated they had engaged in one
or more of the BDSM-related activities at least once. When looking at those participants
to engage in BDSM-related activities on a regular basis, 12.5% indicated to do so for at
least one of these activities, 7.5% in at least two different activities, 5.3% in at least
three of them, and 3.3% in at least 4 of these activities.
With regard to the 4 factorial BDSM categories, 9.5% engaged in at least one submissive
act on a regular basis, whereas this was the case in 8% for dominant behavior; for visual
play and attributes this was 2.5% and 1.7% respectively. Note that engaging in one of
the categories does not exclude engagement in any of the other categories.
Figure 1 presents fantasies and practiced activities of the 15 most prevalent BDSM-items
in the general population, both from the dominance and the submission perspective.
When looking at the specific acts, movement restriction (by use of handcuffs, rope,…),
using a blindfold and using ice cubes elicited the highest interest, as these had each been
put into practice by 20-24% of our sample, both in a dominant and a submissive role
(see figure 1). Very few stated they didn’t like the experience (2.1%; 1.4%; 3.9%
respectively). On the other hand, only an equal minority indicated they performed these
activities on a regular basis (2.2%; 2.2%; 1.6%) and for each of these acts, less than
1% found them to be indispensable in their lives.
Submissive kneeling has been experimented with by 9.9% of the subjects, of which most
(78%, i.e. 7.7% of the total sample) stated they enjoyed it and 2.6% of the total sample
indicated to do this often. Hitting a partner in a sexual context was done by 11% of the
respondents in the dominant role, while 15.3% had been hit by a sexual partner. Both
from the acting (i.e. dominant role; 82% of affirmative item responses or 9% of the total
sample) and the receiving perspective (i.e. submissive role; 85% of affirmative item
responses or 13% of total sample), respondents stated they liked it, with 3-4% of the
total sample integrating it in their life on a regular basis. With regard of hitting attributes,
6% had used a whip or flogger on a partner and equally 6% had been hit with a whip or
Profiling fetishism in the participants
Prevalence rates of ,-.(/01('.-2-/./1!/1%-,('-%1#31!1/$42-14,15142161are reported in Table 3.
Prevalence rates of these interests were typically 2- to 3-fold higher in men than in
women. Interests in materials and clothing objects tended to intercorrelate: latex
correlated with leather (Spearman’s coefficient = .579; p<.001), nylon (r=.374;
p<.001), shoes (r=.288; p<.001) and furry costumes (r=.210; p<.001). Similarly, body
part fetishes intercorrelated as interest in buttocks correlated with breasts (r=.504;
p<.001) and to a lesser degree with feet (r=.146; p<.001). Of note, arousal by piercings
did not display any correlations of interest with any of the other fetishes.
Fetishism correlated mildly with BDSM interest: Latex fetishism correlated with all 4
BDSM-categories (range Spearman = 0.22-0.29; all p<.001), as did leather (spearman
range 0.20-0.33; all p<.001) and nylon (0.19-0.30; p<.001). Other categories correlated
as well, albeit more modestly.
Interrelationships between the BDSM domains
Somewhat surprisingly, calculated BDSM-category scores for submission and dominance
scores intercorrelated significantly (r=.816, p<.001), suggesting that respondents with
an interest in performing dominant activities were equally intrigued by experiencing the
submissive role. Submission scores also correlated with Visual scores (r=.706, p<.001)
and the Humiliation scores (r=.718, p<.001) and to a lesser degree with the Fetishism
score (r=.387, p<.001).
BDSM identity and awareness
When asked if subjects judge themselves as having any interest in BDSM, 26% of the
respondents affirmed. Of this subgroup, 29.2% (i.e. 7.6% of the total sample) identify
themselves as actual BDSM practitioners. Most of these practitioners (85.5%) report the
activities being performed at home, whereas the minority state to enjoy their activities
out-of-doors (BDSM-club, hotel,…).
Of the subjects reporting an interest in BDSM, 61.4% became aware of this interest
before the age of 25 and surprisingly, 8% before the age of 15. Less than 5% told a
family member about their interest, whereas 24.6% told a friend. Telling a colleague was
only done by 10 out of 264 subjects (3.8%).
Associations with sex, age and sexual orientation
Age had a significant impact on BDSM category scores. When comparing the four age
groups, the oldest group (48-65y) had significantly lower submission scores compared to
the first (18-27y: p<.001), second (28-37y, p<.001) and third age groups (38-47y,
p=.017) as well as significantly lower dominance scores (all p=.001 or lower). None of
the other category scores (visual, attributes) differed between the eldest and the other
age groups. Male participants systematically had significantly higher summary scores
compared to their female counterparts (dominance: F=44.32, p<.001), submission:
F=10.00, p=.002; visual: F=34.93, p<.001 and attributes: F=59.24, p<.001). These
significant differences remained present after controlling for age.
Participants with a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality had higher scores for
dominance (F=19.1, p<.001), submission (F=33.8; p<.001), visual (F=18.8; p<.001)
and attributes (F=40,5; p<.001) but not for fetishism (F<1).
Exploring the impact of dropout
A subgroup (n=141; 8.1%) of the non-completers answered at least the first 18 BDSM-
related items before dropping out (partial completers), making them interesting for
further analysis of the participation bias.
When entering all 18 BDSM items in a multivariate GLM analysis comparing completers
versus partial completers (n=114), no significant differences were found (F=1.310;
p=.167). When looking at item-level however, a moderate significant difference was
found in two items: ‘wearing a gag’ (F=5.35; p=.021) and ‘being locked up in a cage’
(F=5.930; p=.015). Interestingly, these scores were higher in the partial completers.
Thus, these findings might argue against the idea of a participation bias leading to
overrepresentation of BDSM-minded subjects. Of note, no differences were found in age,
sex or sexual orientation between completers and partial completers, although the group
of partial completers tended to have more women (60.4% versus 55.4% in the
completers, p=0.062).
A high interest in BDSM-related activities in the general population was found as half of
the total sample had ever performed at least one BDSM-related activity, and an
additional 22% indicated having (had) fantasies about it. When asked if interested in
BDSM, 26% revealed this to be the case, and 7.6% self-identified as BDSM-practitioner.
Interests in dominant and submissive activities were comparable and, remarkably, were
highly intercorrelated. Both BDSM and fetish interests were present significantly higher in
men than in women.
Compared to previous research, these prevalence rates seem high and are in contrast
with the findings of Richters and colleagues [9], who found less than 5% of the general
population to have engaged in BDSM-oriented sex. However, it should be noted that in
this study, only one broad question addressed BDSM interest, leaving ample room for
interpretation, and addressed a limited time period. The lower rate is rather more
comparable with the rate of correspondents from our sample who identify themselves as
BDSM practitioners (i.e. 7,6%), which is also in line with Bakker and Wesenbeeck [15],
who reported 7% of the population in the Netherlands to act upon their SM-desires. The
use of an extensive list of specific BDSM activities (including potentially ‘milder’ activities)
may also explain the higher prevalence percentages in our sample compared to some
In addition to the 46.8% who have practiced BDSM to some extent, another 22% has at
least once fantasized about one or more BDSM related activities. Reynaud and Beyers
[10] found that 65% of college students had ever fantasized about either tying someone
else up or being tied up themselves in a sexual context. Very similarly, the recent study
of Joyal and Carpentier [16], also found that in a large sample of the general population
(n=1040) nearly half (45.6%) had interests in paraphilic behavior (including sadism,
masochism and fetishism). These findings are thus comparable with our cumulative
prevalences for both enactment and fantasizing and indicate that at least some degree of
interest in BDSM is found in about 70% of the population.
Regular BDSM practitioners tend to participate more in submissive and dominant
behavior (9.5% and 8% respectively) rather than in visually stimulating acts (2.5%) or
use of BDSM-related attributes (1.7%). Surprisingly, respondents with an interest in
submissive roles were highly likely to have an interest in a dominant role as well. This is
in contrast with a study within the BDSM community [4, 14], that demonstrated a more
clear-cut preference for either role. These seemingly contrasting findings could result
from the fact that participants from the general population are exploring their interests,
experiment more with BDSM activities, and as a result, are more likely to still have no
well-defined interest or identity within the spectrum. It may also be that within the BDSM
community a more well-defined categorical identity (dominant, submissive or switch) is
expected or sometimes even required. This is in line with the study of Alison [11] that
demonstrated that subjects participating in a certain number of specific BDSM acts
tended to avoid other BDSM activities.
Older participants (i.e. 48-65y) had lower submission and dominance scores compared to
their younger peers, whereas no other age effects were found. This is remarkable, as
these participants had more time to explore their interests. Quite possibly, these
differences reflect cultural and generational differences as older generations may have
experienced a higher amount of stigma. Additionally, access to literature and other
BDSM-related media on the subject may have been more restricted and it might have
been more difficult to connect with peers, ultimately having allowed fewer people to
develop and explore their interests.
The majority (61.4%) of the completers with a self-proclaimed interest in BDSM became
aware of this interest before the age of 25. Bezreh and colleagues [4] demonstrated
awareness at an even younger age (85% before the age of 20) within a small sample of
the BDSM community. Similarly, Floyd and Bakeman [17] demonstrated first awareness
of same-sex attraction was reported around the age of 13.2 years old and self-
identification as being gay/lesbian/bisexual came at an age (19.7y) which is comparable
with our findings concerning BDSM interests.
The majority of participants felt uncomfortable revealing their BDSM interests, more to
family members or colleagues than to friends. Stiles and colleagues [14] found
resembling data as 38% of their research sample completely concealed their interest,
whereas 11-25% only told some close friends or family members. In contrast, talking
about sexuality in general to family members was done by 58-75% of teenagers [18].
This could reflect the stigma and the feelings of shame and guilt associated with BDSM
involvement [19].
When looking at fetish interests, most people who were found to be sexually aroused by
a certain clothing fabric, were likely to be aroused by other materials as well. Comparable
associations were seen for interest in body parts. It should be noted that the survey only
gauged arousal by / interest in a certain fetish domain; it did not verify whether the
objects were per se required to get sexually aroused as is the case for some people with
a specific fetish. Thus, similar to BDSM practice, fetishism could also be categorized as a
spectrum ranging from “some interest in” or “arousal by” an object/body part to
“absolutely indispensable to achieve sexual arousal”.
The study has some limitations. A market research and polling agency collected the data
to ensure a study sample representative for the general population, but due to our study
design only participants between the age of 18 and 65 with internet access entered the
study. Nevertheless, apart from those limitations, we feel our sample is indeed
representative. Although 37.2% invitees knowledgeable about the study topic completed
the survey and while we did not find significant lower BDSM interest in non-completers
versus completers, we cannot completely rule out participation bias introduced by non-
interest in the non-completers. Also, although the survey was anonymous, the fear of
being exposed in some way may have contributed to dropout during completion of the
survey. In addition, some of the topics may be subject to interpretation by the
correspondent (e.g. categorizing an object or body part as sexually stimulating). Finally,
no specific information was requested on timing of specific acts. As a result, no
distinction can be made between a subject referring to an act performed recently versus
decades ago; thereby potentially impacting age group-related correlations.
To conclude, there is a high level of interest in BDSM in the general population, which
strongly argues against pathological characterization and stigmatization of these
interests. Further research is needed to confirm BDSM as a leisurely preference rather
than psychiatric affliction to destigmatize it within the population. This quest might
benefit from exploring comparisons between BDSM profiles from the general population
and those from the BDSM community.
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... To define BDSM with precision is difficult, because of the wide variety and variability of practices, but the power exchange aspect is usually involved (Brown et al., 2019;Hebert & Weaver, 2014). Enjoyment of physical and psychological control and pain (Hebert & Weaver, 2014), and physical restraint and intense sensory experiences (Holvoet et al., 2017) are also highlighted as key concepts. In addition, those who practice BDSM can be divided into two broad groups: those who want to be in control, and those who want to give up control (Hebert & Weaver, 2014). ...
... Not much is known about the psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners, but earlier research indicates that practitioners do not differ in a meaningful way from the general population (Hebert & Weaver, 2014;Wismeijer & van Assen, 2013). There is still a lack of understanding regarding the nature and prevalence of BDSM activities and this contributes to stigmatization of the phenomenon (Holvoet et al., 2017). Information regarding prevalence helps to address cultural differences seen in interest and practice and more knowledge of prevalence may help to reduce stigma, by making it visible that interest and practice in BDSM is not negligible. ...
... This may be due to the fact that BDSM has a more strict connotation than individual specific acts that go under the term BDSM (De Neef et al., 2019). Holvoet et al. (2017) also found support for this notion, as almost half of their sample had taken part in BDSM-like activities, but only 8% actually identified as BDSM practitioners. ...
According to previous research, interest in BDSM (Bondage-Discipline, Dominance-Submission and Sadomasochism) activities is high in several European countries and various BDSM practices are not uncommon. There is a limited amount of research on the personalities of BDSM practitioners, but in previous research practitioners have been found to have better overall well-being and to be more educated than the general population. The current study explored the prevalence of BDSM interest and practice in a Finnish sample (n = 8,137, age range 18–60, M = 30.14, SD = 8.08) and investigated the association between BDSM interest and personality measured with the six-factor personality measure HEXACO. A total of 38% of the sample was interested in BDSM sex and non-heterosexual individuals displayed almost twice as much interest and at most 83% more participation in BDSM than heterosexual individuals. Younger participants (18–28 years old) displayed almost three times as much interest than older participants. There were some associations between BDSM interest and personality factors, but the effect sizes of these associations were modest. The study shows that BDSM interest is quite common among the Finnish population.
... 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. ...
... Age at BDSM practice onset follows similar patterns, with older research on male BDSM practitioners finding 26% reported first face-to-face experience at age 16 or under (Moser & Levitt, 1987) and half reported awareness of interest by age 14, with interest typically developing by their twenties (Breslow et al., 1985); around 9% of male patrons of a Finland S&M club reported interest prior to age 10 (Sandnabba et al., 2002). In newer studies including both men and women BDSM practitioners (but not presenting differences in age at onset by gender), the majority of a Belgian sample reported awareness of interest prior to age 25 (Holvoet et al., 2017), and all 20 participants in another study reported interest by age 15 (Bezreh et al., 2012). Interest can precede participation by years; one study found participants waited an average 6 years to act on BDSM interests (Pascoal et al., 2015). ...
... Past research found BDSM engagement varied by gender, sexual orientation, and education; age at entry into fantasies and practice may also vary by these factors. Men reported higher interest in BDSM than women, and sexual minorities reported higher involvement in BDSM compared to heterosexuals (Holvoet et al., 2017;Richters et al., 2008). Sexual double standards in society where women are viewed more negatively when engaging in casual sexual activity (Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009) may explain this pattern and increase the reluctance of women to engage in sexual practices that face stigma, such as BDSM, delaying or reducing entry into this practice. ...
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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.
... A not insignificant minority of the population practices BDSM, though to varying degrees; for example, as many as 46.8% of Belgians have performed at least one BDSM activity (Holvoet et al., 2017). A recent nationally representative survey of U.S. participants found that the prevalence of role playing (> 22%) and tying/being tied up (> 20%) is higher than lifetime practice of attending BDSM parties or classes (< 8%; Herbenick et al., 2017). ...
... A recent nationally representative survey of U.S. participants found that the prevalence of role playing (> 22%) and tying/being tied up (> 20%) is higher than lifetime practice of attending BDSM parties or classes (< 8%; Herbenick et al., 2017). Research suggests that a large percentage of the general population have entertained BDSM-related fantasies, with some estimates as high as 68% (Holvoet et al., 2017;Powls & Davies, 2012). However, factors such as difficulty defining BDSM, providing inconsistent information about BDSM to survey participants, and anticipated stigmatization make exact prevalence rates difficult to determine (Brown et al., 2019). ...
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Despite a recent increase in academic attention, little is known about how the general population perceives BDSM practitioners. Though the gay/lesbian community has undergone de-medicalization and de-stigmatization over time, the same process for BDSM practitioners is in its infancy. Past research suggests that BDSM practitioners do expect to be stigmatized by others, especially in the healthcare system; however, little is known about how the general population currently perceives and stigmatizes the BDSM community. In the current study, we found that the general population (N = 257) does stigmatize BDSM practitioners more than the gay/lesbian population, and both are stigmatized more than a low-stigma comparison group (people in romantic relationships), F(2, 253) = 21.70, p < .001, η2\documentclass[12pt]{minimal} \usepackage{amsmath} \usepackage{wasysym} \usepackage{amsfonts} \usepackage{amssymb} \usepackage{amsbsy} \usepackage{mathrsfs} \usepackage{upgreek} \setlength{\oddsidemargin}{-69pt} \begin{document}$${\eta }^{2}$$\end{document} = 0.15. These findings help to inform mental healthcare providers and the general population about BDSM practitioners, with the goal of inspiring additional research and activism aimed at combating misinformation and reducing stigma toward this population.
... The modal finding of prevalence studies is approximately 50% of men and 40% women regularly engage in or are aroused by one or more paraphilias (Castellini et al., 2018;Dawson et al., 2016;Pocknell and King, 2020). The prevalence of sadomasochism, the sexual theme examined in this report, is 61% (Donnelly and Fraser, 1998) reported being aroused by it and 46.8% have practiced it at least once (Holvoet et al., 2017). ...
... The finding that each sadomasochistic preference was uncommon with the oldest group is not surprising-a meta-analysis found that most sadomasochism practitioners fall within the youngest age group of the current study (Brown et al., 2020). The prevalence of knowledge of and exposure to sadomasochistic practices in modern times (Holvoet et al., 2017), and the fact that libido tends to decrease with age (Lehmiller, 2018) may have also played a hand in these findings. Concordant with some previous studies (Abrams and Stefan, 2012) women tended to experience greater degrees of masochism with sexual abuse. ...
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Objective The development of sexuality begins in early childhood and is vital to a normative sexual development over the lifespan. Unfortunately, this developmental process can be disrupted by many traumatic events. Of these, childhood abuse may be the most damaging: it has been shown to disrupt the natural development of sexuality, one of the manifestations being increased tendencies towards sexual paraphilias, especially sexual masochism and sadism, which can be particularly harmful in their more extreme forms. The current study sought to investigate links between three types of childhood abuse: psychological, physical, and sexual–and the genesis of adult sadomasochistic sexual tendencies, and how the relationship between child abuse and sadomasochism differs by gender. Method An online survey was conducted on a sample of 1219 participants who were queried regarding childhood psychological, sexual, and physical abuse. Based on the results of life history items, the participants were separated into the categories “abused” and “non-abused”. Both groups were then given a Masochism and Sadism survey with items adapted from Fisher et al. (2011). For analysis, sadistic and masochistic orientations were partitioned into severity levels of light and heavy masochism, and light, heavy, and passive sadism. Results The results confirmed that childhood abuse, especially sexual, increases sadomasochistic tendencies. These increases varied by gender such that abused males exhibited more sadistic preferences and females more masochistic. Levels of sadism and masochism varied with history of abuse and gender. The analyses also resulted in triple interactions for both masochism and sadism, as well as in several simple effects. There were no gender differences for heavy masochism and passive sadism, however, light masochism was more prominent in females, and heavy and light sadism was found more commonly in males. Additionally, the presence of any form of abuse was connected with significantly higher heavy, light and passive masochism and sadism. Conclusion Differing types of childhood abuse, as well as gender, affect sadomasochistic preferences in adulthood, and the magnitude of these preferences.
... Similarly, Measham (2019) found community members more likely than non-community participants to report engaging in certain kink activities that are perceived to carry more risk. Yet, recruiting participants for kink research from the general population remains rare (see Holvoet et al., 2017 andRichters et al., 2008 as exceptions), furthering the bias toward hearing narratives of people who are members of kink communities. This is an issue that is found in sexualities research beyond kink, for example with evidence about the impact of pornography consumption being deeply influenced by the sample of the study (see . ...
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Little is known about the other leisure activities of people who engage in kink, including sexual practices and the use of alcohol and other drugs. This article examines the drinking, illicit drug use and sexual practices of people who engage in kink from a novel sample of attendees at an English festival. Of 966 respondents, 64 reported having engaged in kink within the past 12 months. We provide evidence of these respondents’ self-reported demographic characteristics, alcohol and other drug use in their lifetime and within the past 12 months, as well as other sexual practices they engaged in. This study illustrates the value of accessing participants through in situ festival fieldwork to understand kink practices, and helps us move beyond notions of clustered risky activities toward a leisure studies approach to understanding the practices of people who engage in kink.
... Fantasies about being dominated, tied up, or forced to have sex showed prevalence rates between 28% and 53% for men and between 29% and 65% for women (Joyal, 2015;Noorishad et al., 2019). Other studies from western countries showed comparable or lower prevalence rates between 8 and 14% among men and between 3 and 11% among women for sadomasochistic fantasies and fantasies about sexual assault in a Czech sample (Bártová et al., 2021) and of 21% among men and of 19% among women for dominance-related fantasies in a Belgian sample (Holvoet et al., 2017). ...
Aggression-related sexual fantasies (ASF) have been related to various forms of harmful sexual behavior in both sex offender and community samples. However, more research is needed to fully understand this relation, particularly whether ASF is associated with harmful sexual behavior beyond hostile sexism against women and a sexual preference for violence and sexual violence. In the present study, N = 428 participants (61.9% women) between 18 and 83 years of age (M = 28.17, SD = 9.7) reported their ASF and hostile sexism. They rated their sexual arousal by erotic, violent, and sexually violent pictures as a direct measure of sexual preference. Response latencies between stimulus presentation and arousal ratings were used as an indirect measure of sexual preference. ASF and the directly and indirectly assessed sexual preference for violent and sexually violent stimuli were positively correlated. They were unrelated to hostile sexism against women. ASF showed the strongest associations with self-reported sexually sadistic behavior and presumably non-consensual sexual sadism beyond these preferences and hostile sexism in the total group and separately among men and women. The findings indicate that ASF and sexual preference are not equivalent constructs and further underscore the potential relevance of ASF for harmful sexual behavior.
... In recent years, attention has shifted from the idea of BDSM as a pathological and tabooed niche practice towards viewing BDSM as a healthy form of intimacy [5]. BDSM has shown to be quite prevalent in society, with a large-scale survey study conducted by our group indicating that 46.8% of the Flemish population had engaged in a BDSM-related activity at least once [6]. ...
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Introduction BDSM is an abbreviation used to reference the concepts of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism, enacted by power exchanges between consensual partners. In recent years, attention has shifted from the idea of BDSM as a pathological and tabooed niche practice towards viewing BDSM as a healthy form of intimacy. Aim This systematic review brings together all existing literature on the biology of BDSM and places it in a broader biological context. Method A systematic search was conducted on Pubmed, Web of Science and PsycARTICLES, of which ten articles are included and discussed in this systematic review. Results There is evidence for cortisol changes in submissives as a result of a BDSM interaction, suggesting involvement of the physiological stress system. Endocannabinoid changes implicate the pleasure and reward system. In dominants, this biologically measured pleasure seemed to be dependent on power play rather than pain play. Testosterone and oxytocin are also implicated in BDSM, though their role is less evident. Research into brain region activity patterns related to BDSM interest suggests a role for the parietal operculum and ventral striatum in the context of the pleasure and reward system, the primary and secondary somatosensory cortex in the context of pain perception, empathy-related circuits such as the anterior insula (AI), anterior midcingulate cortex (ACC) and sensorimotor cortex and the left frontal cortex in the context of social and sexual interactions. Pain thresholds are shown to be higher in submissive individuals and a BDSM interaction may cause pain thresholds to rise in submissives as well. Conclusion BDSM interactions are complex and influenced by several psychological, social and biological processes. Though research is limited, there is emerging evidence for an interaction between several biological systems involved in these types of interests and activities. This means there is an important role for future research to replicate and supplement current results.
... Nine parameters (of 11) of the SSSS were existent. Sexual sadism is recognized as a medical diagnosis (ICD-10 F65.52, DSM-5 302.84 [6,7]) and should not be confused with the term BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism), which is a widely accepted variety of sexual behaviors [8]. ...
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A case of a sadistically motivated homicide with extraordinary injuries is reported. A 32-year-old woman was naked with signs of severe blunt trauma and oral, vaginal and anal penetration. At the crime scene, the intestine lay next to the woman without connection to the body. During the trial before the criminal court, the perpetrator admitted fisting and inserting several objects into the vagina, anus and oral cavity. Moreover, after anal and vaginal insertion of the hands, large parts of the intestine were torn and pulled out through the anus and the vagina. The results of the forensic pathological examination and additional investigation are discussed and compared with the pertinent literature. This extraordinary case of a sadistically motivated homicide ended with a final judgment that is extremely rare in German jurisdiction.
Dominant/submissive role-play (D/s) is associated with specialized roles including Mistress, Master, Slave, Switch, Sadist, and Masochist. The current study uses cluster analysis to provide empirical evidence that no binary opposition or single spectrum constitutes a workable typology of individuals based on their affinities for these roles. The optimality of a particular choice of clustering scheme, including the number of clusters, is established using a replication technique which is presented in detail. A large number (n = 236,353) of individualized results (profiles) generated by the BDSM Test, a popular anonymous web survey, were analyzed. We hypothesize a two-dimensional typology of D/s profiles as the inferential result of our cluster analyses.
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Abstract Paraphilic sexual interests are defined as unusual or anomalous, but their actual occurrence in non-clinical samples is still unknown. This study looks at desire for and experience of paraphilic behaviors in a sample of adult men and women in the general population. A secondary goal is to compare the results of two survey modes – traditional land-line telephone versus online. A total of 1,040 persons classified according to age, gender, education, ethnic background, religious beliefs, and area of residency and corresponding to the norm for the province of Québec were interviewed. Nearly half of this sample expressed interest in at least one paraphilic category and approximately a third had had experience with such a practice at least once. Voyeurism, fetishism, frotteurism, and masochism interested both male and female respondents at levels above what is usually considered to be statistically unusual (15.9%). Interestingly, levels of interest in fetishism and masochism were not significantly different for men and women. Masochism was significantly linked with higher satisfaction with one's own sexual life. As expected, the online mode generated more acknowledgment of paraphilic interest than the telephone mode. These results call into question the current definition of normal (normophilic) vs. anomalous (paraphilic) sexual behaviors.
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Despite the fact that some individuals appraise their sexual cognitions negatively and/or experience negative affect in association with their sexual fantasies, sexuality researchers have not differentiated between positively and negatively experienced sexual cognitions. As part of a larger study, we investigated the frequency, diversity, and content of positive and negative sexual cognitions. Two-hundred and ninety-two (148 women and 144 men) heterosexual undergraduate students completed a sexual cognition checklist requiring them to report the frequency with which they experienced each of 56 sexual cognitions as positive and as negative. Results revealed that overall, respondents reported more frequent and more diverse positive sexual cognitions than negative sexual cognitions. However, men reported both more frequent and more diverse positive and negative sexual cognitions than did women. Although there was a significant relationship between the contents of positive and negative sexual cognitions, the most commonly reported positive sexual cognitions differed from the most commonly reported negative sexual cognitions. Men and women also differed in the frequencies with which they reported specific positive and negative sexual cognitions. These results are discussed within the context of the utility of differentiating between positive and negative sexual cognitions.
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Unconventional sensual, erotic, and sexual behaviors (herein referred to as kink behaviors) investigated by academia are based largely on clinical and criminal cases, and most published, peer-reviewed, quantitative research on these behaviors is based almost exclusively on male participants. For this study, information was collected and analyzed from 1580 female participants recruited from the kink community, using a non-clinical and non-criminal sample. We explored and described the preferences and diversity of more than 126 sensual, erotic, and sexual behaviors found among these participants, along with recommendations for continued research. Gaining a better understanding of the breadth and depth of activities engaged in by female kink practitioners could benefit educators, counselors, therapists, medical doctors, and other professionals when interacting with members of the kink community.
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This brief report examined teenagers’ sexuality communication with their parents and extended families. It compared who teens of early parents (those who had children when they were adolescents) and teens of later parents (those who were adults when they had children) talk to about sex. Eighth grade students (N = 1281) in 24 schools completed survey items about their communication about sex. Structural equation modeling was used to predict communication profiles, while adjusting for the nesting of students within schools. After controlling for teens’ age, gender, race/ethnicity, grades, parent/guardian closeness, and social desirability of survey responses, as well as family status and median family income, results showed that teens of early (teen) parents were more likely than teens of later (adult) parents to talk with both parents and extended family about sex and less likely than later parents to talk only with parents. These findings indicate that realities of teen sexuality communication for teens of early parents may extend beyond a parent-teen model to include extended family. Extended family involvement in educational outreach is a potential untapped resource to support sexual health for teens of early parents.
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This is a qualitative investigation of 73 individuals in the Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sado-Masochism subculture. There is tremendous stigma attached to this subculture, and while the academic community may be increasingly accepting, the general public is not as accepting or knowledgeable. Fear of negative consequences means that many engage in secrecy and concealment strategies as protective measures. Although there is much literature on the possible consequences and the reasons for concealment, there remain gaps. Our findings reveal how many conceal to cover up or to hide what outsiders may consider immoral or otherwise unacceptable behavior. Others conceal as a means to create a distinction for themselves as part of a secret subculture. Whatever their reasons, those in this subculture engage in a variety of strategies to manage their identity and to minimize their vulnerability.
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While participation in the activities like bondage, domination, submission/sadism, masochism that fall under the umbrella term BDSM is widespread, stigma surrounding BDSM poses risks to practitioners who wish to disclose their interest. We examined risk factors involved with disclosure to posit how sex education might diffuse stigma and warn of risks. Semi-structured interviews asked 20 adults reporting an interest in BDSM about their disclosure experiences. Most respondents reported their BDSM interests starting before age 15, sometimes creating a phase of anxiety and shame in the absence of reassuring information. As adults, respondents often considered BDSM central to their sexuality, thus disclosure was integral to dating. Disclosure decisions in nondating situations were often complex considerations balancing desire for appropriateness with a desire for connection and honesty. Some respondents wondered whether their interests being found out would jeopardize their jobs. Experiences with stigma varied widely.
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The true prevalence of sexual sadism (and its variants) is unknown. However, all clinicians will knowingly or unknowingly encounter patients with this disorder. Regretfully, few programs offer adequate education in normal sexuality and even less provide training in the assessment and treatment of pathologic sexual interests. This review synthesizes current theories about possible etiologies of criminal sexual sadism and the resulting implications for diagnosis and treatment of this sexual disorder. Included is a review of theories of criminally sadistic sexual motivations, response patterns, and physiology, including possible neurophysiologic factors and more complex interactions. This review focuses primarily on published English-language scientific studies of sexual sadism. It should be noted that my use of the term sadism refers to nonconsensual sexual aggression.
The practice of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM) sometimes is associated with giving and receiving pain. It remains unresolved how BDSM practitioners perceive the pain of other people. This study investigated whether and how the BDSM experience affects human empathy. Experiment 1 measured trait empathy and subjective empathic responses in BDSM practitioners and control respondents. The results revealed lower trait empathy scores and subjective pain intensity ratings in the female submissive group (Subs) compared to controls. Experiment 2 measured participants’ neural responses to others’ suffering by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) from female Subs and controls while viewing painful and neutral expressions. We found that the differential amplitudes between painful and neutral expressions in the frontal N1 (92–112 ms), frontal P2 (132–172 ms) and central late LPP (700–1000 ms) were reduced in the submissive group versus the control group. These findings suggest that being in the submissive role during BDSM practice weakens female individuals’ empathic responses to others’ suffering at both the behavioral and neural levels.
To date, no study has examined rates of suicide ideation or theory-based risk factors for suicide ideation among bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) practitioners. Participants were 321 adults that endorsed BDSM involvement. Thirty-seven percent of the sample indicated a nonzero level of suicide ideation. Thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness (PB) were positively associated with suicide ideation and their interactive effect predicted additional variance in suicide ideation after adjusting for depressive symptoms. Overall, shame and guilt were positively associated with suicide ideation and these relations were mediated by thwarted belongingness and PB in parallel adjusting for depressive symptoms; however, there were some differences between demographic subgroups. Among BDSM practitioners, stigma-related internalized feelings (i.e., shame and guilt) may be associated with increased thwarted belongingness and PB, which are associated with suicide ideation.
Given that paraphilic disorders are diagnosed largely in forensic settings, virtually every significant change in the criteria has forensic implications. Several controversial changes were considered during the DSM-5 revision process, but most were ultimately not included in the published text. However, any changes that make it easier to assign a paraphilic disorder diagnosis to an individual must be considered with caution. Criterion A for paraphilic disorders has been changed to reduce one potential risk that could result in false-positive diagnoses (i.e., allowing evaluators to diagnose a paraphilic disorder based entirely on the presence of sexual acts). In contrast, many of the other changes including some of those in the text, make it easier to diagnose a specific paraphilia and thus increase the risk of false-positive diagnoses. Since the assignment of a paraphilic disorder diagnosis can result in adverse legal consequences, the actual forensic impact of the changes will depend on how the legal system incorporates these new definitions into statutes and case law.