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“A Different Economy of Bodies and Pleasures”?: Differentiating and Evaluating Sex and Sexual BDSM Experiences

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Abstract

This study examines how BDSM participants understand sexual experiences. Data are drawn from 32 in-depth, semi-structured interviews and discussion board threads from a large BDSM community website. The analysis suggests that many BDSM participants perceive sexual BDSM experiences as not only significantly different from but also better than mainstream or “vanilla” sex. Three primary differentiation mechanisms are identified. First, BDSM participants construct sex as requiring genital contact while framing sexual BDSM as creating sexual fulfillment not requiring normative indicators of sexual experiences (e.g. orgasm). Second, participants construct sexual BDSM as centered around emotional and mental experiences, while perceiving sex as being centered around physical experiences. Third, participants perceive sexual BDSM experiences as facilitating deeper interpersonal connections than those available in sex. Importantly, these mechanisms serve not only a differentiating but also an evaluative function. Most participants in this study report a strong preference for sexual BDSM over sex.

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... LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of sexual violence and consent violation than their cisgender, heterosexual peers both inside and outside of formalized alt-sex communities. LGBTQ+ emerging adults (18)(19)(20)(21)(22)(23)(24)(25) experience sexual violence almost twice as frequently as their cisgender, heterosexual peers (e.g., [8][9][10][11]). Previous research on consent violation among alt-sex practitioners indicates that over 40% of respondents who described their gender identity as genderqueer, transgender, or other (46%, 42%, and 44%, respectively) had been touched nonconsensually during a BDSM event compared to 39% of cisgender women and 18% of cisgender men [2]. ...
... Though pleasure has been under-researched within the domain of sexual health [16][17][18], it is often a motivator for engagement in sexual activity [19][20][21]. Alt-sex experiences may not be confined to sexual acts [22], and pleasure may extend beyond sexual pleasure. We draw upon literature related to sexual pleasure as sexual pleasure shows similarities to other pleasures from rewarding stimuli in its mechanisms [23]. ...
... Connectedness between partners has been shown to be linked to sexual pleasure [15]. The relationship with connectedness of partners in alt-sex contexts and pleasure may be similarly important, or even more so [22]. Findings from this study suggest that pleasure and connectedness may reinforce one another (such as previous consent violations reducing ability to connect with a partner or get into a sub headspace). ...
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Background: Alt-sex practitioners are a diverse group with diverse unconventional sexual behaviors including consensual non-monogamy (CNM), kink, fetishism, and bondage/discipline dominance/submission, sadomasochism (BDSM). Perhaps because of their openness to non-normative sexuality, these communities often comprise a large proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, among others (LGBTQ+) individuals. LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of sexual violence and consent violation than their cisgender, heterosexual peers both inside and outside of formalized alt-sex communities. Pleasure, including but not limited to sexual pleasure, is often a motivator for engaging in sexual and alt-sex activities. This study examines how consent violations influence pleasure among LGBTQ+ alt-sex members. Methods: We conducted an electronic one-time survey of LGBTQ+ alt-sex practitioners (N = 1354). In this study, we analyze open-ended responses for ways pleasure was described in response to questions about consent violations. We use thematic analyses in Dedoose online software. Results: Two subthemes emerged related to the violation itself, (a) pleasure as a motivator for violating consent and (b) pleasure in spite of consent violation. As the second theme that emerged, pleasure was a component of the aftereffects of the violation in two ways: (1) pleasure was reduced or inhibited by consent violations; (2) pleasure was a motivator for healing and advocacy. Conclusions: We discuss practical and research implications based on the complex relationships between violations and pleasure reported by participants.
... Despite the long-held assumption in scholarship on BDSM that BDSM is a sexual interest, identity, or activity, multiple studies over the last decade have challenged that assumption. While some empirical studies show that for some BDSM is a sexual experience (Faccio, Casini, & Cipolletta, 2014;Rehor, 2015), others show that BDSM does not always have a sexual meaning or that it may have a sexual meaning that is secondary to other meanings for participants (Lawrence & Love-Crowell, 2008;Newmahr, 2010Newmahr, , 2011Sagarin, Lee, & Klement, 2015;Simula, 2013Simula, , 2014Simula, , 2019Sloan, 2015). Building on the recognition that BDSM does not always have a sexual meaning for participants, BDSM scholars have expanded understandings of the range of meanings of BDSM. ...
... Sprott and Hadcock find that for these participants, BDSM activities can have many uses, including gender exploration and healing from shame and trauma related to sexual identity/orientation. Simula's (2012) work examines behavioral bisexuality but does not specifically address bisexuality as an identity. While some studies include pansexually-identified participants (Bauer, 2018a;Newmahr, 2010;Simula, 2019), whether and how plurisexual (e.g., bisexual and pansexual) BDSM participants' experiences differ from those of their monosexual (e.g., lesbian, gay, and heterosexual) counterparts is a pressing lacuna in the literature. ...
... In another study of a specialized interest and identity within the broader BDSM umbrella, Wignall and McCormack (2017) explore "puppy play"-role play in which BDSM participants adopt behaviors that mimic those of biological puppies for sexual and/or emotional gratification. They find that while some participants engage in puppy play primarily for sexual satisfaction, others rely on puppy play to achieve emotional fulfillment and relaxation, paralleling findings in studies of the broader BDSM population that show that relaxation and emotional experiences are common motivations for BDSM participation (Simula, 2019). ...
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Since the explosion of social scientific and sociological research on BDSM in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the field has grown exponentially. In this review, I identify three particularly fruitful recent lines of research in sociological and related approaches to BDSM. First, I discuss work that critically analyzes the meaning(s) of BDSM for participants and the role of debates about the sexual and the erotic in relation to BDSM. Second, I discuss work on BDSM identities, including scholarship that examines BDSM identities in relation to other identities. Here, I also discuss emerging lines of scholarship that focus on the ways in which privileges (particularly race/ethnicity and class) shape identification with and access to BDSM communities. Third, I discuss work on BDSM communities, examining the ways that community organization shapes BDSM experiences. I conclude with suggestions for future research in the field including deepening and broadening intersectional analyses of BDSM experiences, exploring specialized roles and identities that exist within the broader BDSM umbrella, and investigating similarities and differences between those who participate in BDSM on a time‐limited basis versus those for whom BDSM is an ongoing, continual core aspect of identity.
... On one hand, kink can be considered a deviation from the everyday life. On the other hand, kink may present as a self-evident, yet an extremely important part of the everyday life defined by intimacy and authenticity (Newmahr 2010a;Harviainen 2015;Simula 2017). In addition, kink can be understood as a sexual identity or a sexual orientation (Simula 2015;Fennell 2018). ...
... Kink often, but not always, transgresses boundaries related to conventional norms and ethics and allows the immersion into spaces which create a potential violation of trust and which would in other situations be avoided (Newmahr 2011, 186). Kink may therefore provide a more intense intimacy and a deeper connection between partners (Simula 2017). For example, Sophia addresses kink as a means of showing affection and intimacy to her partner: ...
... What often is of utmost importance in kink is the mental aspect. The headspace, which is sometimes described as trance, high, or sub-space that can be achieved during play may be more desirable than, for instance, an orgasm (Simula 2017). According to Simula (2017), the physical parts are only a means to achieve the desired headspace and intimacy. ...
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In this article, we discuss the relationship of kink and everyday life and ask how kinky-identified individuals negotiate the relationship between kinkiness and everyday life in a society that stigmatises kink. We address kink as an everyday life experience through discussing authenticity, total power exchange, serious leisure, and escapism. We do not discuss merely kinky acts, such as BDSM play, but are also interested in the more mundane and implicit aspects of kink: those moments where nothing overtly kinky occurs. Our research material consists of 28 autobiographical writings by Finnish kinky-identified individuals. The writings depict various understandings of the ways everyday life and kink are intertwined such as experiencing kink as an authentic way of living, or as a deeper connection to one's partner. Kink envelopes everyday life experiences and offers escape from the mundane. The kink community provides social connections, commitment, and active participation. Different forms of kink may present as crucial aspects in making everyday life enjoyable and meaningful for kinky individuals. Kink, thus, seems to have a multifaceted role in the everyday life of individuals, often enhancing the everyday life experience.
... The term 'kink' can also be used in reference to BDSM, an acronym used to encompass bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism, and various activities that involve the exchange of some form of power, pain or sensory deprivation (Faccio, Casini & Cipolletta, 2014;Pillai-Friedman, Pollitt & Castaldo, 2015;Freeburg & McNaughton, 2017). Whilst BDSM activities may sometimes (and are often assumed to) be located within a sexual context, BDSM practitioners have expressed feelings of fulfilment via emotional and mental experiences (which may or may not be experienced as sexual) rather than genital contact or orgasm being a requirement (Simula, 2019a). This suggests that being kinky does not necessarily equate to either being sexual per se, or engaging in sexual contact. ...
... This was akin to how BDSM practitioners frame their activities as an exploratory experience for both body and mind in a way not always achievable in 'vanilla' sex (Simula, 2019a; Kitten-play is a roleplaying activity that has recently become popular on the gay scene (Wignall & McCormack, 2017). Elune's final line in the extract above mirrored the views of many gay and bisexual 'pups'; pup-play can have a sexual element for some but can equally be non-sexual (Wignall & McCormack, 2017). ...
... This demonstrated the depth and value some of these participants placed on intimate, sensual activities, regardless of whether they were considered sexual. Connecting and bonding with another person (sometimes physically and) emotionally was viewed as highly desirable, a narrative previously reported in research with asexual and allosexual participants Simula, 2019a). Whilst these desires may mirror demisexuality , whereby there is the potential for sexual attraction to develop within the context of emotional intimacy, not all participants who discussed kink in these ways necessarily identified themselves as affiliated with this term. ...
Article
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Prior research has found that asexual people may fantasise or participate in activities typically conceptualised within mainstream society as ‘sexual’. These behaviours may be considered paradoxical when an asexual person is conceptualised as someone who does not experience sexual attraction or desire. This research aimed to explore how kinks and fetishes are conceptualised, experienced, and negotiated by asexual individuals. Forty-eight participants were recruited via the first author’s social media accounts and asexuality forums to take part in an online qualitative survey. The data were thematically analysed and three themes were developed. In “Am I asexual?”: (How) can you be a kinky ace?, we discuss the feelings of doubt or distress that some participants reported in relation to what was seemingly sometimes understood as the paradox between their self-identity as asexual and their exploration of kinks and fetishes, and how this was negotiated by these participants. In the second theme, Between me and me’ and make believe: Kinks and fetishes as solo and imaginary, we report on how kinks, fetishes, and fantasies were often understood in a solitary context and as either undesirable – or impossible – to live out. In the final theme of Kink as a sensual enhancement in relationships, we highlight the ways in which participants positioned their kinks and fetishes as an agent for intimacy. These findings expand our knowledge and understanding of how asexual people negotiate kinks and fetishes and capture the complexities of asexual identities beyond a lack of sexual attraction or desire, particularly in relation to the notion of autochorissexualism.
... For example, what causes pleasure may not be sexual; what is erotic may not involve the erogenous zones. Even where we refer to the BDSM experience as bounded up with sexuality and including the involvement of the genital area, there are several differences with respect to "vanilla" sex (Simula 2017). For greater clarity, we will present the main differences in a list of bullet points: ...
... Each person entrusts the other not only with the secrets for the pursuit of his pleasure, but also with decisions about the choice of the practices to which he is subjected, voluntarily, and delegates the management of his safety in terms of survival. This also involves an emotional intensity amplified by the participants, since fear and pleasure are mixed in a much more impactful way than in less dangerous sexual experiences (Simula 2017). It must also be borne in mind that the meeting increases the participants' knowledge and awareness of themselves: not only of their pain tolerance threshold, but also in terms of the tension felt by the one who inflicts pain and feels responsible for the suffering inflicted on the other (Turley et al. 2018). ...
... For some practitioners, it is possible to talk about "vanilla sex" even in a BDSM framework. As mentioned above, though the term "vanilla sex" is used to mean sexual intercourse that includes the genital areas and the exchange of body fluids, the practice does not necessarily have to start or end with such an exchange, since the focus is still on de-emphasizing the pleasure linked to the genital area (Simula 2017). Attention, in fact, is concentrated on the dynamics of power and the various practices put in place, while being surrounded or accompanied by "vanilla" sexual acts which are regarded as secondary and therefore not characterizing the BDSM session itself. ...
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Research with individuals who practice consensual Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism (BDSM) has shed light on a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. How much this experience relates to sexuality and sexual pleasure is a controversial topic in the literature. This review offers a critical re-conceptualization of the sexual component, comparing BDSM and non-BDSM sexual experiences, and highlighting the importance of the erotic construction of power as a source of pleasure. It also discusses whether the erotic power exchange experience (EPE) reveals a sexual or an erotic orientation. The variety of terms and acronyms used to designate the experience of eroticization of power (BDSM, EPE, S&M sadism and masochism, D/S or sadomasochism, Fetish, kink and kinky sex) reflects the many perspectives that have been taken in observing the phenomenon. Generalizing BDSM as an eminently sexual experience has obscured a more nuanced understanding of the specific meanings relating to the activities promoted by the communities and simplified a variegated geography of experiences. These experiences are difficult to summarize in terms of typifications and can be better described as “finite provinces of meanings”.
... Most scholars operated with the same assumption until Newmahr (2010Newmahr ( , 2011, Williams (2009), and Williams et al. (2016) proposed that BDSM could perhaps be understood better as "serious leisure" activity, meaning that practitioners seek recreation, enjoyment, and satisfaction more than sexual pleasure. Newmahr, whose study focused on a pansexual BDSM community in New York, heavily de-emphasized the sexual aspects of BDSM in favor of this leisure perspective and generated a lively debate among BDSM scholars in the process (Simula, 2012(Simula, , 2019a. Bauer (2014) strongly critiqued Newmahr's perspective, accusing them 1 of trying to "clean up" the public image of BDSM by de-sexualizing it and arguing that Newmahr's sample was biased, and their analytical perspective heteronormatively biased as well (pp. ...
... Sloan (2015) further called into question the sexuality of BDSM by describing the presence and experience of "aces" (asexuals) in the BDSM subculture, who often do not frame their BDSM experiences or desires sexually either. Simula (2019a) treated the sexuality of BDSM as more of a theoretical and empirical question, arguing that rather than simplistically excluding BDSM from "sexual," scholars should perhaps extend their understanding of what "sexual" means to include a much broader range of experiences and desires. Simula argued that by "detaching sexual pleasure from genitally centered experiences" and "decentering orgasm and genital arousal," BDSM practitioners "create [emotional/mental] contexts in which their intent for a set of interactions comes to replace normative indicators of sexual experience" (p. ...
... 230). I wholeheartedly agree with Bauer's critique of Newmahr's sample and perspective, but my results are most in keeping with Simula's (2019a) perspective. My study provides more data to support the proposition that "sex" is not a simple, objective category, and that social context shapes our personal and collective understanding of what constitutes "sexual" experience. ...
Article
Drawing from extensive insider ethnographic work and an internet survey with a convenience sample of 1642 BDSM practitioners, I show that the social context of the BDSM subculture has a profound impact on pansexual BDSM practitioners’ interpretation of the relationship between BDSM and sex. Greater involvement in the public BDSM subculture and participation in feminine Dominance/masculine submission are both strongly associated with less preference for and experience of sexual BDSM. Greater involvement in the BDSM subculture increases participants’ likelihood of viewing their sexuality in terms of BDSM but decreases their likelihood of viewing BDSM in sexual terms. BDSM practitioners who meet new BDSM partners in BDSM subcultural contexts, even ones where sex is allowed, are much less likely to have sex with their partners than practitioners who met anywhere else. I argue that research should focus more on the social factors that influence participants’ experience and interpretation of BDSM, particularly on the influence of the BDSM subculture, and that theorists should think more broadly about the social determinants of “sex” and “sexual experience.”
... Given the roots of puppy play in the wider BDSM/leatherman subculture, we also draw on empirical and theoretical work on BDSM to help frame and inform this study (including Langdridge, 2006;Langdridge and Parchev, 2018;Newmahr, 2011;Parchev and Langdridge, 2018;Simula, 2017;Weinberg, 2016;Weiss, 2011). Of particular significance to the present work is the ethnographic work of Weiss (2011), who studied the Janus community in San Francisco and sought to locate her analysis broadly within a Foucauldian framework, the recent work of Cruz (2016a, 2016b) on black women, BDSM and kink, and the theoretical arguments of Langdridge and Parchev (2018) concerning the political struggle for selfdetermination within BDSM communities. ...
... These moves shut down any sense of puppy play as a 'politics of perversion' (Cruz, 2016a(Cruz, , 2016b, in which it might act to subvert or transform normative sex and sexualities. This is not about redefining the boundaries of what is (or is not) sex as we have seen in BDSM (Newmahr, 2011;Simula, 2017) or engaging in some means of sexual subversion concerning erotic power or even a critique of 'speciesism', whether real or fantastical. It is instead about advocacy of a position through a socially acceptable -indeed, even desirable -discourse, of 'innocent' adult play, which may also be 'therapeutic' (Langdridge and Lawson, in review;Wignall and McCormack, 2017). ...
Article
In this article we explore the history, culture and practice of the phenomenon known as ‘puppy play’. Puppy play is a practice in which people take on the persona of a dog (or handler), with participants often wearing specialist gear to further enhance the experience of being a puppy. We argue that puppy play is best understood sociologically as a ‘postmodern-subculture’ (Greener and Hollands, 2006). Additionally, we use Irwin's (1973) model of scene evolution to explore the socio-history of the community. Whilst this practice appears to have its historical roots within the highly sexual gay leatherman subculture, there is a division within this community between sexual and social play, with some participants eschewing the sexual entirely. We explore possible reasons for this split through an analysis using recent political theory concerning technologies of the self, sexual citizenship and BDSM. Through this analysis we contribute valuable empirical evidence to debates and discussion about the development of sexual subcultures and tensions therein concerning claims for rights and the ‘politics of respectability’ (Cruz, 2016a, 2016b).
... They also highlight potential tensions within communities though acknowledging that much BDSM practice happens in private and outside formal community structures. A particularly interesting aspect of community engagement, which is also the cause of some internal tensions, concerns the acceptability of sex within BDSM spaces (see Sagarin, Lee, Erickson, Casey, & Pawirosetiko, 2018) and also whether BDSM is understood as sex at all (Simula, 2019). That is, for many practitioners there is a distinction between sex and BDSM, with the former the label used for "vanilla" sexual practice that is mostly physical (often genitally focused and orgasm based) and the latter describing practices that are more emotional and mental and which are felt to facilitate deeper connections between people (Simula, 2019). ...
... A particularly interesting aspect of community engagement, which is also the cause of some internal tensions, concerns the acceptability of sex within BDSM spaces (see Sagarin, Lee, Erickson, Casey, & Pawirosetiko, 2018) and also whether BDSM is understood as sex at all (Simula, 2019). That is, for many practitioners there is a distinction between sex and BDSM, with the former the label used for "vanilla" sexual practice that is mostly physical (often genitally focused and orgasm based) and the latter describing practices that are more emotional and mental and which are felt to facilitate deeper connections between people (Simula, 2019). ...
Article
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This article presents a phenomenological investigation into the experience of engaging in a sexual practice known as “puppy play,” where participants role-play being puppies or handlers (those that look after or own puppies), often within a dominance/submission sexual context. Only one previous study has been conducted on this phenomenon, and the present study sought to provide new knowledge about the meaning of this practice for participants. We conducted a qualitative analysis of data derived from 68 individual experience descriptions and 25 semi-structured interviews with puppies and handlers. Through the use of a phenomenological methodology focused on experience, we identified the key constituents that comprise this phenomenon and help make sense of peoples’ desire to participate. The five themes include: (1) sexual pleasure; (2) relaxation, therapy, and escape from self; (3) adult play and vibrant physicality; (4) extending and expressing selfhood; and (5) relationships and community. We discuss this practice/identity in the context of enjoyment of the dominant/submissive sexual element, the perceived benefits of a form of mindful adult play, the opportunity to explore aspects of selfhood, and the value of relationships and community membership.
... In addition to describing specific practices, kink play also refers to the active engagement of sexual power dynamics. Power in this sense is about personal control, and the exchange of power describes (consensually) gaining control over someone else or allowing someone to have control over you (Simula, 2019). Jonathan (59, NZ) is an avid kinkster. ...
Article
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This article explores the ways gay and queer men employ the concept of 'play' in relation to sex. Using Judith Butler's theory of performativity to analyse the experiences of 16 individuals from Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia who identified as a gay and/or queer man or a member of the gay community, I present how my participants used 'play' to refer to casual and/or kinky sexual encounters, describe certain safer sex practices, and delineate the difference between queer and straight sexual identities. 'Playing' also involved a range of personally cultivated rules connected to the pursuit of well-being. When these rules were broken, the activity no longer felt 'playful' and became risky for some. 'Play' was ultimately a way for my participants to discuss how risk, pleasure, desire, identity, relationships, and personal well-being related to sexual practices.
... Several studies scrutinized the sexual nature of BDSM and surveyed the role of BDSM in sexual activity of participants. A recent interview-based study 83 showed that a small sample (n ¼ 32) of practitioners indicated that their sexual BDSM experiences were primarily emotional and psychological in nature and that these were preferred over mainstream ("vanilla") sexual interactions. In contrast, Pascoal's small-scale survey study (n ¼ 68) 84 revealed that BDSM and non-BDSM sexual activities were experienced as equally satisfying and that most practitioners did not exclusively engage in BDSM-oriented sexual practices. ...
Article
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Background: BDSM (Bondage and discipline, Dominance and submission, and Sadism and Masochism) increasingly receives attention from the scientific community. Where earlier research efforts mainly focused on epidemiological characteristics, psychological and biological factors driving BDSM preferences have recently gained interest as well. Aim and Methods: The current systematic review brings together all the existing literature on BDSM from a biopsychosocial perspective. Results: Biological factors like gender identity, sex hormone levels and the neurological constitution of the brain’s pain and reward systems influence BDSM orientation. With regard to psychological factors, both personality traits (f.i. higher levels of openness or extraversion) and the presence of a personality disorder have been associated to a heightened BDSM interest, although only limited supporting evidence is available. Additionally, sensation seeking levels and impulsivity seem to contribute, as they presumably guide one’s drive to explore new and/or more intense kinks. As attachment styles impact couple dynamics they also influence willingness to explore limits in a BDSM context. Lastly, education levels impact relational and/or sexual dynamics. Strengths and Limitations: The limitations of the current review reflect those of the topical scientific literature. Although the number of studies focused on all aspects of BDSM is exponentially growing, most of these are only descriptive and very few focus on underlying driving processes. Conclusion: From this biopsychosocial perspective, we offer a dimensional approach while integrating the factors driving the onset and evolution of BDSM interests.
... Second, participants constructed sexual BDSM as centered on emotional and mental experiences, while perceiving sex as being centered on physical experiences. Third, participants perceived sexual BDSM experiences as facilitating deeper interpersonal connections than those available in sex." [37] The benefits of BDSM practice are evident, whether or not these benefits are linked to an active sexuality. ...
Article
Objective BDSM is a overlapping acronym that refers to the practices of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. The American Psychiatric Association “depathologized” kinky sex – including cross-dressing, fetishism, and BDSM –, despite retaining a clinical justification, in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Henceforth, the paraphilias are considered “other sexual interests.” Method We analyze several psycho-sexological studies that treat sadomasochistic practices as psychic case studies. BDSM practices are no longer considered deviant behaviors, but, on the contrary, “common” behaviors that have been adopted by a large number of individuals. These individuals use contractualization in a specific context. Result Rather than considering BDSM practice to be a perversion by assimilating it to homosexuality, current research in gender and psychiatry and in the psychology of subsexualities has moved beyond the analysis of “deviance,” preferring a scientific study of the effects of BDSM practice, particularly of their positive effects on mood, stress, or depression. Discussion The BDSM and Therapy Project is concerned with articulating the possible risks of BDSM play and with clarifying situations where BDSM play is neither safe nor helpful. Members of the BDSM community have expressed the following points: the development of barriers between community members; the risks of alienation and isolation through stigmatization; having one's limits violated during a scene; the potential risk of dehumanization and destruction. Conclusion BDSM therapy, in a therapeutic setting as well as within the community, is based on consent. BDSM can be a form of psychotherapy for the subject. BDSM therapy would consist in the modification of the meaning of physical suffering by transforming it into voluntary pain, through consensual constraint. A functional BDSM therapeutic practice requires at least three conditions: (1) the SM relationship involves a willing dominant and a willing submissive; (2) this erotic duo exists in a codified setting; (3) the dominant is a “therapizer” in her/his display of empathy for the submissive; (4) a two-way flow of reciprocal benefits in terms of post-session well-being.
... As we describe below, BDSM practitioners share many characteristics with participants in other collective sex environments, and BDSM parties, events, and conventions have many characteristics that fit the definition of collective sex environments. Such expansion would challenge the label "collective sex environments," as many BDSM scenes do not include activities typically thought of as sex and many BDSM practitioners conceptualize their activities as not constituting sex (Simula, 2017). Nevertheless, we believe that accommodating BDSM would not require a fundamental change to the construct but, rather, an expansion of the definitions of sexual partners and sexual activities and a consideration of a broader range of motivations for such activities. ...
... BDSM practitioners fall within normative ranges for honesty-humility, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (as well as emotionality and extraversion; Hébert & Weaver, 2014). BDSM is more than 'hot' sex: BDSM practitioners consider sex and BDSM to be separate from one another, with the amount of overlap between the two varying considerably on an individual basis (Simula, 2019a;Sprott et al., 2020). ...
Article
Research has begun to investigate subclinical levels of sadism including “everyday sadism:” an enjoyment of cruelty in normal, everyday situations. Thus far, subclinical sadism has been conceptualized as inherently antisocial, as with Internet trolls. We examined a potentially prosocial manifestation of sadism: self-identified sadists in the BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism) community who cause pain only to consenting partners. A total of 532 BDSM practitioners and non-practitioners completed measures of everyday sadism with consent explicit, non-consent explicit, or consent ambiguous, and known correlates of everyday sadism (empathy, HEXACO traits, and Dark Triad traits). Across both samples and all conditions, everyday sadism correlated negatively with affective empathy, agreeableness, and honesty-humility, and positively with Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. These results support the validity of the measure of everyday sadism among BDSM practitioners. Psychopathy uniquely predicted everyday sadism among BDSM practitioners when non-consent was explicit. BDSM sadists differed significantly from non-sadistic BDSM tops only on the physical subscale of everyday sadism and only when consent was explicit. These findings suggest that most BDSM sadists are not everyday sadists, and that BDSM sadism might represent a prosocial manifestation of subclinical sadism, but that BDSM sadists with high levels of psychopathy might be everyday sadists.
... They also argued it should be understood as a leisure activity, mirroring how the leisure framework has been applied to other kink activities (e.g., Newmahr, 2010;Prior & Williams, 2015;Williams et al., 2016). Wignall and McCormack also argued pup play could be both a sexual and social activity, depending on the setting and context in which it is practiced (see also Simula, 2019b). They emphasized the relaxed rules in how one can engage pup play, highlighting the personal and playful nature of pup play, and the sharp contrast to the more traditional ways of engaging in kink subcultures (see Rubin, 1991). ...
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This study presents findings from a community survey on pup play. Pup play is a kink activity and a form of role play that is growing in popularity internationally, and gaining increasing attention in sexology, yet prior research on pup play has almost entirely employed qualitative methods and primarily involved gay and bisexual men. Using survey data of 733 pup play participants primarily from the US, but also internationally, this study reports on the demographics of participants, how they engage in pup play, its social and sexual elements, and how it relates to social identity and mental health. Unique pup names and identifying with breeds of dogs were used to foster a sense of individuality within pup play, while the majority of participants owned and wore gear when engaging in pup play. We also found significant associations between being younger and identifying as a pup. Most participants reported that pup play improved their mental health. Binary logistic regression analyses indicated that having a mental health diagnosis was associated with identifying with a more social style of pup play and self-reporting the mental health benefits of pup play. We find that the conceptualization of pup play in the existing literature to be accurate to this international sample and highlight areas where further research is needed, alongside limitations of the study.
... Experiences with discrimination, minority stress, and differences in TSS adherence may result in SGD groups conceptualizing and experiencing sexual communication in different ways. Indeed, there is evidence that differences in sexual scripts and definitions of 'good sex' may vary by gender/sex and sexual orientation [116] and other demographic variables (e.g., kink [117]; relationship constellation [118]). Accordingly, it is feasible that differences in conceptualizations may also emerge for sexual communication. ...
Article
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Purpose of Review The purpose of this review is to summarize the current knowledge on sexual communication among sexual and gender/sex diverse (SGD) groups. Complementing an existing review of the literature on safer-sex communication with SGD individuals (Parrillo & Brown, 2021), we focus on sexual communication related to promoting sexual satisfaction. Recent Findings The two-pathways model of sexual communication has yet to be generalized with SGD samples. Research comparing SGD with non-SGD individuals has varied in whether there are differences between groups. There is some evidence of differences between gender diverse and non-gender diverse groups in sexual communication. Emerging evidence of the unique strengths and challenges of sexual communication among gender/sex diverse groups highlights the importance of deepening gender/sex diverse-specific sexual communications research. Summary A lack of literature regarding sexual communication in SGD groups is reported. Results on whether there are differences between and/or within groups are mixed and confounded by inconsistent methodologies for measurement of demographic and sexual communication variables. Clearly, further research is needed to increase our understanding of sexual communication in SGD groups. As such, we provide recommendations for future research, specifically regarding inclusive demographic and analytical considerations.
... Another aspect of kink identity and sexuality relevant to relationships, in particular the kink and CNM intersection, is the complicated relation between kink and sex (Bauer, 2014;Simula, 2019b;Sprott et al., 2020). For some kink-identified people, kink and sex are separate activities. ...
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People who engage in both kink and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) have received little attention in research. The present article reports on the characteristics, relationship experiences, and unique motivations for engaging in CNM of kinky and consensually non-monogamous individuals using data from two U.S. samples—one large, national (N = 690) quantitative survey, and one qualitative study (N = 70) of adults in Northern California. The results describe the prevalence of universal (e.g., jealousy, sexual desire discrepancy) and population-specific relationship experiences (e.g., kink interest discrepancy, “coming out” about relationship structure). Findings indicate that discrepancies in desire for kink are a common relationship experience for kink–CNM individuals and that managing kink interests is an important motivation for CNM in this particular population. Implications for future research and clinical practice with kinky and consensually non-monogamous individuals are discussed.
... In this line, a survey of Fetlife participants conducted by our group in 2017 (n=364) indicated that 87% of the respondents experience BDSM as being erotic and that 70% combined BDSM with sex at least regularly (unpublished data). This is corroborated by an interview-based study in which practitioners elaborate upon the sexual nature of their BDSM experiences [15]. ...
Article
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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.
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This groundbreaking text interrogates the constructed boundary between therapy and violence, by examining therapeutic practice and discourse through the lens of a psychologist and a survivor of sexual abuse. It asks, what happens when those we approach for help cause further harm? Can we identify coercive practices and stop sexual abuse in psychology, psychiatry, and medicine? Tosh explores these questions and more to illustrate that many of the therapies considered fundamental to clinical practice are deeply problematic when issues of consent and sexual abuse are considered. The book examines a range of situations where medical power and authority produces a context where the refusals and non-consent of oppressed groups are denied, dismissed, or ignored. Arguing that key concepts and discourses have resulted in the production and standardisation of a therapeutic rape culture in the helping professions. Tosh uses critical intersectionality theory and discourse analysis to expertly highlight the complex interrelationships between race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in our understanding of abuse and how we define survivors. Drawing on a wide range of comprehensive examples, including experiences and perspectives from cisgender and transgender men and women, as well as nonbinary and intersex people, this is essential reading for students and researchers of critical and queer psychology, gender studies, as well as mental health practitioners and social workers.
Article
Résumé Objectifs Le BDSM est un acronyme imbriqué faisant référence aux pratiques de bondage et de discipline, de domination et de soumission, de sadisme et de masochisme. L’American Psychiatric Association a « dépathologisé », après le DSM-IV, malgré sa justification clinique, le kinky sex — y compris le cross-dressing, les fétiches et le BDSM — dans le Manuel diagnostique et statistique des troubles mentaux, cinquième édition (DSM-5). Désormais, les paraphilies sont considérées comme des « intérêts sexuels inhabituels ». Méthodes Plusieurs études psycho-sexologiques, que nous analysons ici, utilisent les pratiques sadomasochistes, dites BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Soumission, Sadomasochisme) comme des études de cas psychiques, non plus comme comportements déviants, mais bien au contraire en termes de conduites « communes », car adoptées par un grand nombre d’individus. Ces individus utilisent la contractualisation consentie dans un cadre précis, qui peut être un apport considérable dans l’accueil thérapeutique. Résultats Plutôt que de les considérer comme une perversion, les études actuelles sur la psychiatrie du BDSM et la psychologie des subsexualities ont renversé l’analyse déviante en une étude scientifique des effets des pratiques BDSM notamment sur leurs bénéfices sur l’humeur, sur le stress ou sur la dépression. Discussion Le projet BDSM et thérapie est soucieux d’articuler les risques possibles du jeu BDSM et de clarifier les situations limites où le jeu BDSM n’est pas sain ou utile. La thérapie BDSM a-t-elle pour objectif de régulariser les pratiques BDSM et de les calibrer ? Certains membres de la communauté BDSM ont exprimé les points suivants : Des barrières sociales peuvent se développer entre soi et les amateur(e)s ; Aliénation et isolement par la stigmatisation qui peut produire des stéréotypes négatifs intériorisés ; Risques liés à des limites poussées trop loin (mal identifiées en amont) dans une scène ; Potentiel de déshumanisation et de destruction du BDSM dans certaines situations unsafe du BDSM. Conclusion La thérapie BDSM, tant dans la clinique que dans la pratique communautaire, repose sur le consentement et le respect des limites de chacun(e) (safe et secure). Le SM peut être une psychothérapie pour le/la soumis(e) mais aussi pour le/la dominant(e). La thérapie BDSM consisterait, par la contrainte, à modifier le sens de la souffrance corporelle pour transformer celle-ci : le BDSM n’implique pas nécessairement de douleur (fluctuant par exemple dans les pratiques de bondage ou de domination psychologique ; par ailleurs la dimension sexuelle y est très variée, parfois non génitale, voire absente). Pour fonctionner, le processus thérapeutique BDSM exige au moins trois conditions : (1) la relation BDSM engage un(e) dominant(e) et un(e) dominé(e) (volontaires) ; (2) ce binôme érotique fonctionne dans un cadre strictement codifié ; (3) le/la dominant(e) est « thérapeutisant(e) » en ce qu’il fait preuve d’empathie envers le/la dominé(e) ; le/la dominé(e) respecte les limites du/de la dominant(e) ; (4) le flux est à double sens avec les « souminatrices » par exemple, qui sont des soumises résistantes et désobéissantes, explorant leurs propres limites au contact du/de la dominant(e).
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Sexual choking, which is a form of strangulation, can lead to various health consequences, including death. Recent surveys suggest that sexual choking is prevalent among young U.S. adults, a demographic also likely to view pornography. Pornography professionals, social commentators, and scholars have noted that mixed-gender choking is normative in contemporary pornography. Further, the pornographic portrayal of sexual choking is gendered; men choke women more often than women choke men. Guided by the sexual script acquisition, activation, application model (3AM) of mediated sexual socialization, the present campus-representative probability study explored associations between heterosexual-identified women's pornography exposure and sexual choking behavior. The more frequently women viewed pornography, the more often they were exposed to pornographic depictions of sexual choking. Exposure to sexual choking, in turn, was associated with being choked by men, but not choking men. The link between choking exposure and being choked was mediated by the eroticization of choking (rather than reduced agency to stop rough sex) and became stronger the more women perceived themselves as similar to actors in pornography. These results suggest that women's experience of sexual choking is influenced by their use of pornography, but in an active and willing, rather than a passive and unwilling, manner.
Thesis
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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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Objective: We explored college students' sexual pleasure using a new self-report measure, the Body, Emotions, Sensations, Touch/Trust (B.E.S.T.) Scale of Sexual Pleasure. Participants: Data were from 3997 randomly sampled students with a partnered sexual experience. Methods: Students completed an online survey about their most recent partnered sexual experience. Data was collected in January 2020. Results: Students find the nonphysical aspects of partnered sex (e.g., emotions, trust, connection with partners) as pleasurable as physical aspects (e.g., behaviors engaged and received, bodily sensations). Self-reported arousal, wantedness, and emotional intimacy were the strongest correlates of male, female, and transgender/gender non-binary students' sexual pleasure. Few sexual behaviors were associated with sexual pleasure and only one - cuddling for women - was associated with greater sexual pleasure. Conclusions: Students find their partnered sexual experiences pleasurable. Students' sex may be more pleasurable when they feel ready for sex, desire sex, and feel close to their partners.
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Gay and queer men tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues, STIs/HIV, suicide, substance dependency, and poor well-being than other demographics. Despite sustained public health efforts internationally, many of these issues continue to disproportionately affect members of the gay community. This thesis presents a new approach to the health issues gay and queer men face. It examines how 'risky' health-related practices including condomless sex and the use of illicit drugs might be legitimate ways of performing self-care and pursuing well-being. In order to address this aim, I conducted 16 interviews over a 12-month period in New Zealand and Australia using a constructionist grounded theory approach and a theoretical framework that draws upon the work of Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Michel Foucault, Homi Bhabha, Kane Race, Nikolas Rose, and Pierre Bourdieu. My participants and I explore a wide range of topics including the performative nature of sex and the notion of 'play', how pleasure and the emotional significance of sex might be related to self-care, the ways in which space might influence sexual practices and experiences, and to what extent having sex outside the home might be a form of self-care. I also cover safer sex practices and the experience of disease, how PrEP has radically changed the way gay men approach sex, the way drugs are bound up in self-care practices, and the relationships between self-care and community. The concept of 'wild self-care' emerged from these interviews and describes how practices or behaviours which appear risky, dangerous, or unhealthy can also be seen as legitimate ways of caring for the body and the self. I demonstrate how my participants used creative, unexpected, ii and alternative methods of caring for themselves using substances or 'risky' forms of sex and describe the way self-care is communal nature rather than a solitary practice. I also present the notion of health-as-process. This concept allows researchers to approach health as an ongoing process rather than a state of being that might be achieved. This speaks to the emotional and personal way that risk is constructed and experienced. All these facets come together to articulate the deeply complicated ways that people care for themselves.
Chapter
Our knowledge of things about and around us involve identifying differences by creating categories and binaries. Differences can be powerful if we use them consciously and through multiple perspectives. Yet more often than not, distinctions oppose and contrast conceptualisations to an extent to which they become antagonistic. This chapter is about differences, opposites, dichotomies, and binaries—the general conceptualisations in our minds in which we organise a concept along a line of two opposing points. Instead of emphasising only the ends of the line, the actual line in between which is connecting both points, is the important aspect in this binary dynamic. As a consequence, looking at binary conceptualisations is going to become a question of similarities, connections, and relations. New materialist philosophy embraces questioning our current notions about differences and our anthropocentric assumptions. This allows us to acknowledge the multifacetedness of things because our understanding of some concepts relies on much too rigid, constricting definitions. Sexuality is a highly complex experience comprising a range of emotions, bodily reactions, social interactions, and a multiplicity of thoughts and fantasies. It cannot be approached with rigidness if we want to acknowledge its diversity. Thus, my ambition is to illustrate that new materialism and in particular, Karen Barad’s quantum perspective can facilitate new understandings in the field of sex research when engaging with the complexity of phenomena on the sexual continuum. Furthermore, it inspires new ways of doing research and interact, or rather intra-act, with our tools for knowledge production, which is particularly crucial when it comes to the entanglements of matter and discourse in phenomena like sexuality.
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Background 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. Although pain is an evolutionary protection mechanism to prevent individuals from further exposing themselves to damage, afflicting or receiving pain is a core element of BDSM play. Aim To shed light upon the rewarding biological mechanisms associated with BDSM interactions. Methods Dominant and submissive counterparts of 35 BDSM couples were recruited through Fetlife, a BDSM-themed internet forum, and by word-of-mouth within the Belgian BDSM community. In order to control for social evening interaction effects, non-BDSM interested controls (n=27) were recruited at the bar of a local sports club and by word-of-mouth. Main outcome measures We compared the evolution of the stress and reward hormone levels of cortisol, beta-endorphins and endocannabinoids (2AG and AEA) in a group of BDSM practitioners before and after an active BDSM interaction with the levels in control individuals. Results We showed that submissives showed increases in cortisol levels due to BDSM interactions. Endocannabinoid levels in submissives increased during the play compared to the control group, but no such increase was observed in dominants. However, when taking play type into account, dominants showed a significant increase in endocannabinoids associated with power play but not with pain play. Conclusion Even though this is one of the first studies of its kind, we can conclude that there is a clear indication for increased pleasure in submissives when looking at biological effects of a BDSM interaction, which was related to the increases in experienced stress.
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Few studies have systematically examined the relationship between kink behaviors and sexual behaviors, yet even these preliminary studies indicate that the relationship is complex and that there is a notable diversity in how people construct the boundaries of sex and kink and the relationship between them. As part of a grounded theory study of kink identity, the current study examined how 70 kink-identified participants from Northern California discussed their experience and understanding of the relationship between kink and sex in interviews conducted in 2014 and 2015. Findings indicated seven themes: kink flowing into sex, kink as spice for sexual interactions, kink and sex as connection and intimacy, kink and sex as an expression of erotic energy, kink and sex as an expression of power exchange, kink as spiritual, and kink as freedom. Findings indicated that sexual orientation and gender identity may influence how people understand and experience the relationship between kink and sex.
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Traditional concepts of sexuality and intimacy contain normative assumptions that limit the fluidity and creativity with which individuals’ relational, gender, and affectional identities can be expressed. This theoretical article applies the seven axioms of Hammack and colleagues’ (2019) paradigm of queer intimacy to a case study of a client who identifies as queer, kinky, poly, transmasculine, and neurodivergent. The resulting conceptualization illustrates ways in which kink and BDSM can contribute to identity development, congruence, and self-actualization. Implications for counseling are provided along with humanistic themes found within the case study. Humanistic counselors can connect more authentically with queer, kinky, polyamorous clients by acknowledging the diversities of clients' identities and behaviors and increasing counselor competencies related to queer, kink, and poly cultures and practices.
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Rope bondage subculture is a social world positioned underneath the broader umbrella of pansexual BDSM subculture. It is characterized by its own norms, spaces, words, practices, art, career opportunities, events, identities, and more. The status of rope as a sub-subculture spread across and between locations renders it mostly invisible to outsiders. As such, although there are a few studies on rope bondage, its discrete social world has rarely been recognized in academic research, and never as the primary focus. Through my insider status I investigate the shape of the rope bondage world and the experiences of some of the people within it. I draw on 23 qualitative interviews with people who practice rope bondage in Canada and the United States to investigate peoples’ experiences of rope bondage practice and subculture. My analysis is supported by a theoretical foundation informed by symbolic interactionism, feminism, critical disability studies, and critical race theory. I explore the theoretical and methodological intricacies of conducting qualitative research on rope bondage from the inside, while prioritizing and theorizing ethical participant-centered methods informed by select kinky etiquette and practices. My findings suggest that rope bondage subculture is characterized by almost indescribable experiences of pleasure, belonging, and joy, along with experiences of conflict and discrimination at personal and structural levels. It is both a vibrant social world and a subculture informed by (and reflective of) the racism, ableism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and classism that plague wider society. The accounts of disabled and racialized rope bondage practitioners are crucial to understanding both oppression and resistance in this world. I build upon Weiss’ (2006) concept of unintelligibility to argue that kinky pleasure that is not strictly, normatively sexual appears to be unintelligible to most BDSM researchers. Further, in some respects, kinky pleasure is unintelligible—or at least ineffable—to some of the practitioners themselves. My findings show that understanding the texture of rope bondage’s pleasure requires listening to how rope bondage practitioners theorize their own desires, pleasures, and lives. This work offers theoretical, conceptual, and practical tools to understand rope bondage practitioners, complex sexualities, BDSM, and participant-centered research on deviantized demographics.
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Definitions of sexual behavior display a robust hierarchy of agreement regarding whether or not acts should be classed as, for example, sex or virginity loss. The current research offers a theoretical explanation for this hierarchy, proposing that sexual definitions display graded categorical structure, arising from goodness of membership judgments. Moderation of this graded structure is also predicted, with the focus here on how sexual orientation identity affects sexual definitions. A total of 300 18- to 30-year-old participants completed an online survey, rating 18 behaviors for how far each constitutes having “had sex” and virginity loss. Participants fell into one of four groups: heterosexual male or female, gay male or lesbian. The predicted ratings hierarchy emerged, in which bidirectional genital acts were rated significantly higher than unidirectional or nonpenetrative contact, which was in turn rated significantly higher than acts involving no genital contact. Moderation of graded structure was also in line with predictions. Compared to the other groups, the lesbian group significantly upgraded ratings of genital contact that was either unidirectional or nonpenetrative. There was also evidence of upgrading by the gay male sample of anal intercourse ratings. These effects are theorized to reflect group-level variation in experience, contextual perspective, and identity-management. The implications of the findings in relation to previous research are discussed. It is suggested that a graded structure approach can greatly benefit future research into sexual definitions, by permitting variable definitions to be predicted and explained, rather than merely identified.
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Previous literature has explored the behaviors individuals assign to definitions such as “having sex,” “maintaining virginity,” and “being abstinent.” Known as “sexual definitions,” research in this area has shown considerable variability among university students for these terms; however, few extant studies have examined these three definitions together. A large sample of university students completed a cross-sectional survey to assess how they defined 14 sexual behaviors. Descriptive statistics were used to examine overall patterns in participants' responses. In order to examine gender differences, chi-square analyses were performed on each specific behavior, while Mann–Whitney U analyses were performed on each of the three definitions as a whole. While most participants believed penile-vaginal and penile-anal intercourse constitute having sex, do not maintain virginity, and are not abstinent activities, there was still considerable disagreement about the status of other behaviors. Furthermore, there were apparent discrepancies in how participants defined the term “abstinence” when compared to the terms “having sex” and “virginity.” Men were more likely than women to consider behaviors as being abstinent activities. These results suggest that clarity is essential for sex educators, clinicians, and health professionals when informing others on the potential risks of sexual behaviors.
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Existing studies of women’s sexual happiness and pleasure most often centre on sexual satisfaction, orgasm, and sexual dysfunction, largely failing to allow women to narrate their own experiences. With the recent release of the first drug to ‘treat’ women’s waning libidos a qualitative examination of women’s notion of ‘good sex’ is more pressing and urgent than ever. We need to extend feminist critiques of power, control, patriarchy and agency to the study of women’s sexuality and sexual happiness. Using semi-structured interviews with 20 women from a 2014 community sample collected in a large southwestern US city, we analyse women’s descriptions of and definitions of ‘good sex’ (as defined by respondents), as well as their experiences of sexual encounters that felt joyous and happy. Analysis revealed four themes in women’s descriptions of good, happy and joyous sex: (1) Physical pleasure, wanting and orgasm; (2) Emotional connection and relationship satisfaction; (3) Comfort and naturalness; (4) Control over sexual scripts. Ultimately, our findings suggest that women prioritized relational components of sexuality – particularly reciprocity, bonding, focus, attentiveness and flexibility of sexual scripts – over the more physical, orgasm-based, ‘release’ aspects of sexual encounters. We discuss the implications of the gendered study of happiness as framed within patriarchal and male-dominant definitions and in the clinical treatment of sexual dysfunction.
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Solitary and partnered sexuality are typically depicted as fundamentally similar, but empirical evidence suggests they differ in important ways. We investigated how women's definitions of sexual pleasure overlapped and diverged when considering solitary versus partnered sexuality. Based on an interdisciplinary literature, we explored whether solitary pleasure would be characterized by eroticism (e.g., genital pleasure, orgasm) and partnered pleasure by nurturance (e.g., closeness). Via focus groups with a sexually diverse sample of women aged 18-64 (N = 73), we found that women defined solitary and partnered pleasure in both convergent and divergent ways that supported expectations. Autonomy was central to definitions of solitary pleasure, whereas trust, giving pleasure, and closeness were important elements of partnered pleasure. Both solitary and partnered pleasure involved exploration for self-discovery or for growing a partnered relationship. Definitions of pleasure were largely similar across age and sexual identity; however, relative to queer women, heterosexual women (especially younger heterosexual women) expressed greater ambivalence toward solitary masturbation and partnered orgasm. Results have implications for women's sexual well-being across multiple sexual identities and ages, and for understanding solitary and partnered sexuality as overlapping but distinct constructs.
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Since the, 1990s, asexuality has gained prominence as an identity adopted by individuals who do not experience sexual attraction. Paradoxically, many asexual individuals form relationships through Bondage and Discipline, Domination and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) - acts conventionally assumed to involve sexual desire and pleasure. I interviewed 15 asexual individuals to illuminate why they participate in interactions where sexual attraction is often expected and expressed. I propose that BDSM helps these practitioners form non-sexual relationships by providing tools for navigating sexual expectations and redefining their behaviors as indicative of affections that do not stem from sexual desire.
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Research has traditionally cited pleasure and reproduction as the primary reasons to engage in sex. However, recent research suggests that there are many psychosocial reasons that women engage in sex and that relational factors such as relationship duration may also influence why women engage in sex. Few studies have examined reasons for sex among sexual minority women, although research has suggested that reasons may be similar to and different from those of heterosexual women. Using the YSEX? survey measure, the current study examined reasons for having sex among 229 lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning women, aged 18–59 currently in a romantic relationship. The most frequent reasons women reported for engaging in sex were reasons related to pleasure and love/commitment. Contrary to theories of love and attachment, women in the current study did not report significantly different reasons for engaging in sex depending upon the duration of the relationship. Women in earlier stages of their relationship were just as likely to report engaging in sex to feel close to their partner, as were women in later stages of their relationship. In addition, women in later stages of their relationship were just as likely to report engaging in sex out of a physical desire for their partner as were women in earlier stages of their relationship. The strengths and limitations of the study, along with implications of the results are discussed.
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Abstract This pilot study explores the specificity of twelve Dutch trans people's experience of sexuality in order to provide new hypotheses and perspectives for future research. Emerging themes include the interconnection of sexual development with coming out and transition processes, the way incongruence between gender identity, gendered embodiment, and social perception of gender affected participants' experience of sexuality, and changes in physical sexual functioning after hormone therapy and/or various types of surgery. Our research design allowed for subjective accounts of trans people's experience of sexuality and detailed descriptions of changes in sexuality that occurred over time and throughout the coming out and transitioning processes.
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Sexual satisfaction is an important indicator of sexual health and is strongly associated with relationship satisfaction. However, research exploring lay definitions of sexual satisfaction has been scarce. We present thematic analysis of written responses of 449 women and 311 men to the question "How would you define sexual satisfaction?" The participants were heterosexual individuals with a mean age of 36.05 years (SD = 8.34) involved in a committed exclusive relationship. In this exploratory study, two main themes were identified: personal sexual well-being and dyadic processes. The first theme focuses on the positive aspects of individual sexual experience, such as pleasure, positive feelings, arousal, sexual openness, and orgasm. The second theme emphasizes relational dimensions, such as mutuality, romance, expression of feelings, creativity, acting out desires, and frequency of sexual activity. Our results highlight that mutual pleasure is a crucial component of sexual satisfaction and that sexual satisfaction derives from positive sexual experiences and not from the absence of conflict or dysfunction. The findings support definitions and models of sexual satisfaction that focus on positive sexual outcomes and the use of measures that incorporate items linked to personal and dyadic sexual rewards for both men and women.
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This article reports a feminist analysis of interview data with 10 British women, in which they discuss sex and affection in their heterosexual relationships. We explore the popular cultural notion that women lack sexual desire and are more concerned with love and affection. Feminist research has highlighted how in mainstream cultural discourses, men's sexuality has been positioned as superior to women's. Women's (lack of) desire is viewed as problematic and men's (active) ‘need’ for sex contrasts sharply with the construction of women as (passive) recipients of men's desire. The women in this research reported a lack of sexual desire, but positioned themselves as wanting to want sex, or ‘desiring desire’. They expected penis-in-vagina intercourse to be an inherent part of (hetero)sex, and some participated in unwanted (consensual) sex in order to satisfy what they perceived as men's inherent ‘need’ for sex. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for feminist research and practice.
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In everyday life, people negotiate complex terrain—and that is radically true of sexual experience. We potentially come to terms with sexuality most anywhere and at any given moment. We confront sexualities in bedrooms which, as Murray Davis (1983) aptly observes, “is the only major room in the house named after a piece of furniture instead of its central activity, probably because what takes place there (besides sleeping) has been unmentionable” (p. 23). We confront sexualities in doctors’ offices, which are carefully and dramaturgically fashioned to eliminate or neutralize sexual interactions, meanings, and emotions (Smith and Kleinman 1989)—that is certainly the case of the pelvic exam (Henslin and Biggs 1971) and, although we are unaware of any empirical studies, we safely assume that most men do not conclude their prostate exam by asking the doctor “was it good for you?” We confront sexualities in our email, even when we don’t want it....
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Traditional conceptions of sadomasochism are misleading. This is because they are not based on close examination of what the majority of SM participants actually do and how they interpret their own behaviors. Over a period of eight years, we interviewed a variety of SM participants and observed their behavior in many different settings. We found that sadomasochism was constituted by five social features: dominance and submission, role playing, consensuality, a sexual context, and mutual definition. These features formed the basis for the interpretation of behaviors and experiences as SM by participants. This focus permits a sociological model of the phenomena which avoids the limitations of more traditional conceptions.
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This book deconstructs the pathologizing category of 'sadomasochism' in order to account for the 'lived realities' of consensual 'SM' play, emphasizing the connection between the corporeal and the political in contemporary consumer cultures. It discusses the homogenization of desire and ownership and use of 'body' and 'sexual ethics'.
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Prior research has examined how heterosexual individuals define sex; however, these studies have rarely focused on sexual minority individuals or included a full range of applicable sexual behaviors. Participants were recruited from a local Pride Festival across two years. Study 1 (N = 329) was primarily descriptive and examined which physically intimate behaviors lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) participants included in their definitions of sex and the behaviors in which they had previously engaged. Study 2 (N = 393) utilized a between-subjects design to assess differences in definitions of sex when judging one’s own behavior compared with that of a partner outside of the relationship. The behaviors in which participants were most likely to have engaged were manual-genital (82%) and oral-genital stimulation (79%). Regarding definitions of sex, a clear “gold standard” emerged for men, with 90% endorsing penile-anal intercourse as sex. No equally clear standard existed for women. Participants who were asked to consider their partner’s behavior outside of their relationship were more likely to endorse the behavior as “having sex” than participants asked to consider their own behavior. This study addressed a major limitation of prior research by investigating definitions of sex among a community sample of LGB adults, with implications for provision of health care and sexual agreements between same-sex couples.
Article
Sexual satisfaction is commonly defined and discussed in physiological terms of arousal and orgasm. Yet this narrow discourse does not accommodate the complex, multidimensional, and interpersonal aspects of sexual experience. To broaden and deepen our understanding of sexual satisfaction, we employed McClelland’s (2014) holistic four-factor framework of sexual satisfaction in a theoretical thematic analysis of 39 behaviorally bisexual women’s descriptions of their “best” partnered sexual experiences from the past year. We found women’s accounts mapped on to four elements: emotional attunement, emotional gratification, partner gratification, and sensory gratification. Relational and emotional dynamics, including emotional security, quality of interpersonal interaction during and after a sexual encounter, mutuality, intimacy, partner skill, novelty, and communication, were key to participants’ best sex experiences. Our findings support a multifaceted model of women’s sexual satisfaction that accounts for emotional, relational, and embodied experiences and the diverse relationships and behaviors these might involve.
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The purpose of this qualitative case study research was to explore how adults with mild intellectual disabilities (ID) live out their social-sexual lives. Findings revealed the importance of both physical and emotional pleasure to five adults with ID. Research and educational efforts with this population have focused largely on reproduction and abuse prevention, emphasizing safety over the possibilities of human connectedness. Data sources included observations and a series of interviews. Findings in five areas – sensuality, intimacy, sexual experience, sexual attitudes, and sexual self-identity – demonstrate the richness of data that can be obtained with this population using qualitative research. Participants’ own words about their social-sexual lives are poignant, mirroring core social work pillars: self-determination and strengths perspective. Discussion includes recommendations for ways that social workers, as well as, sexuality and disability professionals can support individuals’ quality of life by addressing sexual pleasure as a key component of sexual health services.
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This paper uses findings from research diaries to explore the use of practices of intimacy among asexual people. While much of the literature to date has focused on the supposedly transformative and political nature of uniquely asexual practices of intimacy, our findings suggest something different. Rather than seeking to transform the nature of intimate relationships, asexual people make pragmatic adjustments and engage in negotiations to achieve the forms of physical and emotional intimacy they seek. We discuss this in relation to three areas: friendships, sex as a practice of intimacy, and exclusion from intimacy. Our findings suggest the importance of not only considering the social context in which asexual people practise intimacy, but also how the practices in which they engage may be shared with non-asexual people.
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Clinical expectations that trans people will be so filled with self-loathing that sexual interactions will be limited if possible at all fail to take into account the heterogeneous ways trans people experience their own bodies and sexualities. In this essay, I extend recent work in science and technology studies (STS) that attends to material practices by examining the work of narrative and argue for a new paradigm in situating trans sexualities. I analyse trans men's autobiographical stories to show some of the many ways that trans men make sense of themselves (and enact maleness) as sexual subjects. By focusing on how sex-gender is enacted and hangs together in narrative-practices, we can more fully understand and appreciate the realities of trans lives and the inadequacies of clinical diagnosis.
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"[A]n important new book." -Psychology Today.
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In this chapter I critically engage with existing work on asexuality and develop an account of the ethical, theoretical and methodological issues inherent in asexuality research. I utilise the work of the social theorist Margaret Archer to explicitly articulate a theoretical model within which the experience of asexual individuals can be understood. I draw upon the findings of recently conducted fieldwork into the lives and experiences of individuals within the asexual community, focusing on three domains of experience in particular: friends, families and relationships. Through the practical application of the theoretical and methodological approach expounded upon earlier, I analyse the experiences reported by participants in terms of the situations they face and how they negotiate them through reflexive deliberation. In doing so, I attempt to illuminate some of the wider issues raised by investigating asexual experience in this way.
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Cultural studies scholars are investigating everyday practices that deny sexual pleasure and create barriers to wellbeing and health. Human rights violations regularly happen at the level of sexuality, which has prompted discussion about formal sexual rights by feminist and disability scholars. People with disabilities often negotiate medical settings that make sexual autonomy challenging. Cultural expectations surrounding sexual pleasure contribute to oppression. Based on the professional values of social work, social workers need to consider the importance of sexual pleasure to wellbeing and advocate against cultural barriers. This analysis will use mixed method by investigating a variety of popular and professional discourses about the cultural expectations surrounding sexual pleasure that create barriers to access. Medical education discourse about approaches to training professionals about sex will be synthesized as potential models for social work education. Autoethnography will be used to support the analysis by highlighting the experience of the author in critical care, graduate education and professional training roles that include integration of sexual pleasure into social work practice. Medical educators have been dealing with reluctance and avoidance of health care professionals to discussions of sexual pleasure for decades. Health care providers, in large numbers, do not feel prepared to integrate sexual pleasure into general care and consumers of health care report insensitivity on the part of professions when pursuing assistance with sexual concerns. This paper will explore ways that social work educators can increase knowledge about sexual pleasure as a complex concept, encourage client-centered attitudes, and build communications skills.
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Representations of consensual sadomasochism range from the dark, seedy undergrounds of crime thrillers to the fetishized pornographic images of sitcoms and erotica. In this pathbreaking book, ethnographer Staci Newmahr delves into the social space of a public, pansexual SM community to understand sadomasochism from the inside out. Based on four years of in-depth and immersive participant observation, she juxtaposes her experiences in the field with the life stories of community members, providing a richly detailed portrait of SM as a social space in which experiences of "violence" intersect with experiences of the erotic. She shows that SM is a recreational and deeply gendered risk-taking endeavor, through which participants negotiate boundaries between chaos and order. Playing on the Edge challenges our assumptions about sadomasochism, sexuality, eroticism, and emotional experience, exploring what we mean by intimacy, and how, exactly, we achieve it..
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While the gender reliant binary hetero/homo sexual orientation model shapes our social understanding of sex and desire, there is often a disjuncture between individuals’ self-described sexual orientations and the gender(s) of their sexual partners. This article examines the complex relationships between individuals’ sexual orientations, sexual experiences, and choices of sexual and intimate partners. Using qualitative data gathered from samples of two sexual subcultures, this article explores new ways of conceptualizing sexual selves, desires, and relationships outside of the traditional categories of heterosexual and homosexual. We explore resistance to heterosexual identification, conventional heterodoxies, and heteronormativity and provide a framework for a rethinking of the concept of sexual orientation to move beyond the current gender-centric model.
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philosophers. It chronicles every stage of Foucault's personal and professional odyssey, from his early interest in dreams to his final preoccupation with sexuality and the nature of personal identity.
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Sociological debate has dealt with love in a number of different ways. For some, love offers a unique opportunity; it is a path to salvation (Jackson, 1993; Langford, 1999). Others, however, take a more sceptical approach to love in modern society: for Beck and Beck‐Gernsheim (1995) love represents the path to extreme individualization, for Illouz (1997) it is ultimately underpinned by consumerism, and perhaps most extreme, for Bauman (2003) love has been destroyed. Giddens offers a slightly different (and more hopeful) perspective and suggests that with growing choice and freedom, love has become ‘confluent’ and temporary subject to individuals' needs (Giddens, 1992). When adult women were asked about love and how they have experienced love in their own lives, however, few of these themes emerged. Instead many women found it difficult to talk about their feelings generally and love in particular. There was an absence of falling in love stories and rather, women explained that they ‘drifted’ into relationships, or they ‘just happened’. The discourses and languages that these women used to explain love and their relationships will be explored in this paper. Love was simultaneously loudly absent and quietly present.
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Abstract In this article, Schilt & Windsor consider how trans men's decisions about physical body modifications impact their sense of themselves as gendered and sexual actors. Based on interviews with 74 trans men, the authors explore how their embodiment, gender identity, erotic ideation, lifetime of sexual practices and domain of potential partners-what the authors term "sexual habitus"-can be affirmed, transformed, or challenged as their embodiment changes. These changes underscore the dynamic relationship between gender and sexuality, and illustrate how bodies matter in sexual trajectories across the life course.
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The impact of Foucault's work can still be felt across a range of academic disciplines. It is nevertheless important to remember that, for him, theoretical activity was intimately related to the concrete practices of self-transformation; as he acknowledged: `I write in order to change myself.'1 This avowal is especially pertinent when considering Foucault's work on the relationship between sex and power. For Foucault not only theorized about this topic; he was also actively involved in the S&M subculture of the 1970s. Although his explicit discussions of S&M are somewhat piecemeal, in this article I will show how they provide a useful point of access into his broader conception of power relations. Having first reconstructed Foucault's quasi-Sartrean account of creative self-transformation — specifically through one's sexuality — I will then explain why his defence of S&M (as embodying `strategic' power) is insufficiently sensitive to the inherent ambiguities of this `game'.
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Based on a four-year ethnographic study of an SM community, this article blends analytic and interpretative approaches to ethnographic writing, in order to illustrate the value of incorporating subjectivity into traditional ethnographic analysis. I juxtapose field notes about my own participation in SM with stories of outsiderness among members of the community. I argue that analytical attention to my own experience of “becoming” a member of this community illuminated for me some of the discursive, psychological, and carnal processes through which SM comes to be a central and fulfilling part of participants' lives. This elucidates the intellectual reciprocity between ethnographic introspection and ethnographic understanding, and offers additional insight into an understudied community.
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Ambiguity surrounds virginity loss as defined and interpreted by young people in the contemporary United States. Drawing on in‐depth case studies of 61 women and men of various sexual orientations, ages 18 to 35, I explore the influence of that ambiguity on conduct and identity. Although uniformly agreeing that virginity loss could occur through first coitus, most respondents claimed that other kinds of genital sex could also sometimes result in virginity loss. Many argued that virginity could not be lost through rape. Respondents offered three primary interpretations of virginity—as a gift, stigma, or part of a process—which were associated with distinctive presentations of self, choices of virginity‐loss partner, and contraceptive practices. Different definitions and interpretations of virginity loss gave distinctive shape to individuals ‘ choices about the transitions from virgin to nonvirgin identity. Understandings of virginity loss were further patterned by gender and sexual orientation.
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In the last several years, a new body of sociological literature on sadomasochism (S&M) has begun to appear. The perspective of this corpus of work is quite different from that of more traditional approaches. Although differing within its own discipline in theoretical orientation and research methods, the sociological approach nevertheless shares a common ground: the idea that S&M is dependent upon meanings, which are culturally produced, learned, and reinforced in S&M subcultures. In the present paper I assess the contributions of this new literature by providing: (a) a brief review of the most important sociological contributions in terms of temporal priority, theoretical issues raised, and implications for larger issues; (b) a discussion and assessment of what is now known about a number of sociological issues and an attempt to resolve some definitional problems in the study of S&M; and (c) suggestions for additional directions for future research on S&M.