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ISSN: 0163-9625 (Print) 1521-0456 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/udbh20
Sexual Arousal by Dominance and Submissiveness
in the General Population: How Many, How
Strongly, and Why?
To cite this article: Eva Jozifkova (2018): Sexual Arousal by Dominance and Submissiveness
in the General Population: How Many, How Strongly, and Why?, Deviant Behavior, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2017.1410607
Published online: 06 Feb 2018.
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Sexual Arousal by Dominance and Submissiveness in the General
Population: How Many, How Strongly, and Why?
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, Usti nad Labem, Czech
Sexual arousal by dominance and submissiveness was long considered as
pathology. Surprisingly, approximately half of respondents (n= 673) were
excited by their partner’s submission or their own submission. A strong
preference was found in 8.2% of respondents. Respondents of 6.1% were
not even excited by equality, but only by disparity. The respondents dif-
fered in the type of disparity that they prefer, and how strongly they
preferred this disparity. We suggest that sexual arousal by dominance and
submissiveness is related to a common mating strategy.
Received 21 March 2017
Accepted 7 May 2017
The term “BDSM”refers to consensual sexual activities. The acronym consists of (1) B for bondage
or B&D for bondage and discipline (2) D/s for sexual arousal by dominance and submission, and (3)
SM for sadism and masochism in the strong physical stimuli are involved (Cross and Matheson
2006; Hoff 2006; Kolmes, Stock, and Moser 2006; Richters et al. 2003; Weinberg 2006).
Practitioners of BDSM sex are not classified as suffering from a disorder in the new diagnostic
manuals Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-V (Moran 2013). On the
other hand, Diagnostic manual International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 10 (World Health
Organization 2010) places (even consensual) BDSM in Mental and Behavioral Disorders, subchapter
Disorders of Sexual Preference. However up to the present day, four European states (Denmark
1995, Sweden 2009, Norway 2010, and Finland 2011) have fully respected this minority sexual
preference by removing sadomasochism from their ICD 10 (Revise F65 2009).
Approach to BDSM should be based on three essential facts: (1) how many people are sexually
aroused by such stimuli 2) how strongly these people prefer stimuli which are connected to BDSM, and
(3) why people have such a preference. Powls and Davies (2012) summarized four older studies reporting
that more than 50% of respondents were aroused by fantasies or activities classified as BDSM. On the
other hand, in an Australian study only 1.8% of people (2.2% of men, 1.3% of women), who had had a
sexual partner in a previous year, confessed a BDSM involvement (Richters et al. 2008).
An evolutionary explanation considers the biological base of these preferences. Sexual arousal by
dominance and submissiveness may be a manifestation of a mating strategy which would lead to an
increase in reproductive success (Jozifkova, Bartos, and Flegr 2012; Jozifkova and Konvicka 2009;
Jozifkova, Konvicka, and Flegr 2014). Previous research confirmed the connection between sexual
arousal by a dominant or submissive partner and higher self-reported attractiveness, as well as the
higher number of offspring (Jozifkova and Konvicka 2009). Generally, a higher-ranked individual
provides lower-ranking individual high quality genes and/or resources while a lower-ranked indivi-
dual provides higher ranging individuals a chance to mate (see (Alcock 2013; Davies, Krebs, and
CONTACT Eva Jozifkova firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com dept. Biology, Faculty of Science, J.E. Purkyne
University in Usti nad Labem, Za Valcovnou 1000/8, Usti nad Labem 40096, Czech Republic.
© Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
West 2012) for more). Therefore, the sexual preferences linked to such strategy should be very
Here we discover how many people and how deeply they were involved in sexual arousal by
dominance and submissiveness in respondents from the general population. We hope that such findings
may reveal whether this behavior is rather pathological or rather normal under given conditions.
Respondents were introduced to the research by means of an email survey in The Czech Republic,
European Union. Emails with questionnaires were sent by the email account provider as a part of
our advertising campaign. Data were collected anonymously within a few months in 2013.
The provider guaranteed to send 50,000 emails to each part of The Czech Republic. Out of 903
respondents who started to fill out the questionnaire, 803 people completed it. Only respondents of
two age cohorts (25–34 years and 35–44 years) who were not sexually aroused by the same gender
and/or who did not live with a same gender partner were included in the analysis.
Respondents answered according to their situation and experiences in regard to their former, current
or future partner, number of children, number of siblings and parents’siblings, relationships
between partners and between parents, attractiveness, sexual preference, and socioeconomic status.
Respondents either chose a specific detail (or a range) offered by the choice of answers or they
provided specific details with respect to an answer. Most questions related to attitudes and opinions
and were categorized on a five-level scale.
In the questionnaire, people who were sexually excited when their partner was submissive (answers:
“definitely yes”,“rather yes”) but were not excited by a dominant partner (answers: “definitely not”,
“rather not”,and“neither yes nor no”)weremarkedas“Dom”. Other respondents were excited by their
submission to their partner (answers: “definitely yes”,“rather yes”) but were not excited by their
partner’ssubmission(answers:“definitely not”,“rather not”,and“neither yes nor no”). They were
marked as “Sub”. The group without any sexual preference of this kind was described as “No”. Within
this group, individuals either ranked themselves “neither yes nor no”, or were not excited by these types
of preferences (answers: “rather not”and “definitely not”). People who were excited by both their own
submission and their partner’s submission were included in the group “Both”. Respondents who replied
to one or both answers “Idon’tknow”were excluded from the analysis.
Out of 673 respondents, 4 (0.6%) people had completed elementary education, 51 (7.6%) had
secondary education without graduation, 290 (43.1%) respondents had secondary education followed
by graduation (UK A level), 79 (11.7%) had higher education to Bachelor’s degree level, and 249
(37.0%) had academic education to at least Master’s degree level.
A total of 25 (3.7%) respondents considered their financial situation significantly below average,
83 (12.3%) respondents considered their situation below average, 292 (43.4%) average, 223 (33.1%)
moderately above average, and 50 (7.4%) significantly above average.
A Total of 6 (0.9%) respondents did not agree that they have a good social status, 71 (10.5%)
rather, 250 (37.1%) answered “neither yes nor no”, 306 (45.5%) rather agreed, and 40 (5.9%)
respondents fully agreed.
Data were analyzed with IBM SPSS Statistic 20 and 21. Data normality was assessed using Shapiro–
Wilk’stest and the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test with Lilliefors Significance Correction. We used
Pearson’s chi-squared test (non-parametric test) to analyze the data.
Out of 673 respondents 51.1% of men and 39.4% of women (45.9% of all respondents) were sexually
aroused by dominant or/and submissive partner (Table 1).
Sexual arousal by dominance and submission: Gender differences
A higher number of men than women were excited by their own submission and/or their partner’s
submission (n= 673, χ
= 9.100, d.f.=1,P= 0.003) (Table 1).
When comparing the number of men with the number of women in individual hierarchical groups
(“Sub”,“Dom”,and“Both”), frequencies differed (n= 309, χ
= 140.718, d.f.=2,P= 0.0001). Men were
more excited by their dominance than their submission, but women were excited by their own
submission rather than their partner’s submission (n= 233, χ
= 121.056, d.f.=1,P= 0.0001). Almost
one third of men who got excited by a disparity in hierarchy were sexually aroused by both their own
submission and their partner’s submission. Women were much less excited by both their own submis-
sion and their partner’s submission than men (n= 309, χ
= 14.077; d.f.=1,P= 0.0001). (Table 1)
Sexual arousal by dominance and submission: Age differences
Men aged 25–34 did not differ from men aged 35–44 in their sexual preference for hierarchy
(n= 376, χ
= 1.944, d.f.=1,P= 0.163). Women in the age category of 25–34 years had a tendency
to prefer hierarchy disparity more than women between the ages of 35–44 years (45.6% to 34.9%;
n= 297, χ
= 3.482, d.f.=1,P= 0.062)). (Table 2)
Table 1. Sexual arousal by dominance and submission.
Men Women All
No 48.9 (184) 60.6 (180) 54.1 (364)
Dom 28.7 (108) 3.4 (10) 17.4 (118)
Sub 6.1 (23) 31.0 (92) 17.1 (115)
Both 16.2 (61) 5.1 (15) 11.3 (76)
Percentages and number of respondents who were excited by their partner’s submission (Dom), by their own submission (Sub), by
both their partner’s submission and their own submission (Both), and by no such preference (No).
Table 2. Sexual arousal by dominance and submission –age differences.
Age 25–34 Age 35–44 Age 25–34 Age 35–44
No 53.2 (83) 45.9 (101) 54.4 (68) 65.1 (112)
Dom 22.4 (35) 33.2 (73) 5.6 (7) 1.7 (3)
Sub 7.7 (12) 5.0 (11) 34.4 (43) 28.5 (49)
Both 16.7 (26) 15.9 (35) 5.6 (7) 4.7 (8)
Percentages and number of respondents of two age cohorts who were excited by their partner’s submission (Dom), by their own
submission (Sub), by both their partner’s submission and their own submission (Both), and by no such preference (No).
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 3
Women aged 25–34 did not differ from men of the same age (n= 281, χ
= 0.4; d.f.=1,
P= 0.842), while women aged 25–34 less preferred hierarchy disparity than men of the age (34.9–
54.1%; n= 392, χ
= 14.353; d.f.=1,P= 0.0001). (Table 2)
The number of men in the hierarchical groups (Sub, Dom, and Both) did not differ between the
two age categories (n= 192, χ
= 3.943, d.f.=2,P= 0.139). Nor did the number of women (n= 117,
= 1.982, d.f.=2,P= 0.371). (Table 2)
Sexual arousal by dominance and submission: Strength of the preferences
Generally, out of these 673 people, 8.2% (55) people answered “definitely yes”, to the question about
being sexually aroused by their own submission or their partner’s submission. Two respondents
(0.3%) revealed their preference for BDSM sex in open-ended questions “I have another (sexual)
preference”and “Your other notions”.
Generally, out of 673 people, 41 (6.1%) were excited by their submission or their partner’ssubmis-
sion but were not excited by gender equality. Fourteen men in the “Dom”group, six men in the
“Sub”group, one man in the “Both”group, and one man in the “No”group answered “rather not”
excited by equality. Three men chose “Definitely not excited”in the “Dom”group and two men in
the “Both”group. twelve women in the “Sub”group and one woman in the “Both”groups were
“rather not”excited by equality. Two women (“Sub”group and “Dom”group) were “definitely not”
excited by the equal partner. See Table 3 for percentages and number of answers to the question
about being sexually aroused by an equal partner in the “Hierarchy”and “No”group of respondents.
Sexual arousal by dominance and submissiveness was found to be frequent. Out of 673 respondents
51.1% of men and 39.4% of women (45.9% of all respondents) were sexually aroused by dominant
or/and submissive partner (Table 1). The same proportion of men and women interested in
hierarchy disparity unconsciously showed their preference for disparity by clicking on the symbol
(Jozifkova and Flegr 2006)(Table 4).
As such a frequent occurrence suggests sexual arousal by dominance and submission may
represent an important mechanism of the mating strategy in humans. In accordance with common
reproductive strategy, markers for improved reproductive success, which are related to increased
social dominance, were found in humans. For example, in the past, high-ranking Mormons used to
have multiple wives because a wife was given to them with every increase in rank (Mealey 1985).
Table 3. Sexual arousal by equality.
Definitely yes 30.4 (94) 51.9 (189)
Rather yes 35.3 (109) 30.2 (110)
Neither yes nor no 20.7 (64) 17.3 (63)
Rather not 11.0 (34) 0.3 (1)
Definitely not 2.3 (7) 0
Not sure 0.3 (1) 0.3 (1)
Percentages and number of answers to the question about being sexually aroused by an equal partner in
“Hierarchy”and “No”group of respondents. “Hierarchy”group consists of respondents who were excited by
their partner’s submission (Dom), by their own submission (Sub), by both their partner’s submission and their
own submission (Both). “No”group of respondents shows no such preference.
These Mormons also had more children (Fieder et al. 2005), just like contemporary male university
employees in leading positions (Mealey 1985). Striking results were found in modern populations
where the number of offspring may be influenced by contraceptive use. In Montréal, Quebec, men of
high social status had increased copulation frequency, equaling to a higher potential fertility (Perusse
1993). “Women reported more frequent and earlier-timed orgasms when mated to masculine and
dominant men”(Puts et al. 2012). Thus the sexual arousal by dominance and submissiveness may
have a biological base.
Theoretically, there might be also an effect of social equality in an egalitarian society where disparities
are not strengthened. The conflict between mating strategy and modern ethics might drive the need for a
symbolic emphasis of dominance and submission between sexual partners. In highly developed areas,
educated personas (for more see (Connolly 2006; Sandnabba et al. 2002; Wismeijer and van Assen 2013))
may seek a safe and harmless expression of mating strategy via ritualized sexual fantasy.
Connolly (2006) reported that the “majority of males fell along the dominant end of the spectrum
whereas the majority of females fell along the submissive end of the spectrum”. Similar results were found
in this study. Men were more excited by their dominance than their submission, but women were excited
by their own submission rather than their partner’s submission. On the other hand, the study provides
evidence of women who were aroused by male submission, and men who were aroused by female
dominance. The higher proportion of sexually dominant men and sexually submissive women corre-
sponds with the above-mentioned mating strategy. Interestingly, we find increased reproductive success
in a parental pair of dominant men and submissive women as well as in pairs consisting of dominant
women and submissive men in westernized urban populations (Jozifkova, Konvicka, and Flegr 2014). It
seems that sexual arousal by dominance or submissiveness may help its bearer independently of his or
her gender. Nevertheless, sexual arousal by dominance or submissiveness may help its bearer only if he or
she can find a matching partner.
The earlier research was conducted using an internet trap in Czech respondents (Jozifkova and
Flegr 2006)(Table 4). Within the trap, respondents chose between several web pages which were
accessed by clicking on the symbol of couples displayed on “entrance doors”. Considering hier-
archical disparity (preference for dominance and submissiveness), the results of this earlier research
correspond with our current study. However, in contrast to men, women responded to the schemes
Dom × Sub (dominance or submissiveness) in the trap differently from how they responded in the
questionnaire in the current study.
The sum of respondents who were excited by sexual hierarchical disparity did not differ between
men and women aged 25–34 (45.6–46.8%). Surprisingly, women aged 35–44 preferred their own
submission and/or their partner’s submission less than men of that age (34.9–54.1%)(Table 2).
Table 4. Comparison with an internet trap study (Jozifkova and Flegr 2006).
Questionnaire Symbol (Jozifkova and Flegr 2006) Questionnaire Symbol (Jozifkova and Flegr 2006)
No 48.9 49.6 60.6 59.7
Dom + Sub + Both 51.1 50.4 39.4 40.3
Dom 28.7 36.6 3.4 19.8
Sub 6.1 13.8 31.0 20.5
Both 16.2 5.1
Comparison of the percentages of respondents who were excited by their partner’s submission (Dom), by their own submission
(Sub), by both their partner’s submission and their own submission (Both), and by no such preference (No) with earlier research
done by clicking on the symbols on the Internet (Jozifkova and Flegr 2006). The percentage of questioned respondents who
were sexually excited by hierarchy disparity (Dom + Sub + Both) and who had no such preference (No) did not differ from trap
study based on symbols (data were analyzed for both genders independently: men: n=745, χ
= 0.032, d.f.=1, P=0.858;
women: n=686, χ
= 0.636, d.f.=1,P=0.425). However, the trap did not permit a choice of both the dominant and the
submissive partner. Since we have performed the recent survey, we can calculate the percentage of men preferring both if we
sum the differences between the percentages in the former study (Internet trap) and the current study (questionnaire): (13.8–
6.1) + (36.6–28.7) = 15.6. This result is similar to the percentage of these men found in our current study (16.2%).
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR 5
Women aged 35–44 seemed to have a much less marked preference for hierarchical disparity in their
sexual life or they might have been too shy to report their preferences linked to sexual deviation.
We compared our results with a study by another research group that also investigated sexual
preferences for hierarchical disparity. Wismeijer and van Assen (2013) recruited their respondents
on BDSM web forum in The Netherlands. The division of preferred hierarchical disparity was
similar to the division of these preferences in Dutch respondents interested in BDSM sex in
women but there were statistical differences in men (Table 5). However, this difference might be a
result of a bias, because submissive men, who have difficulties in finding a partner in the general
population, might be present among BDSM respondents with a higher frequency. Surprisingly, no
such phenomenon was found in dominant women. This finding suggests that the factors that
influence gathering in BDSM communities are different for men and women.
A total of 8.2% (55) people answered “definitely yes”, to the question about being sexually aroused
by their own submission or their partner’s submission, which may reflect the size of the minority with
a strong preference for hierarchical disparity between sexual partners. Surprisingly, only 6.1% (41) of
respondents were excited by hierarchical disparity but not by equality. This observation supports the
idea of Bezreh, Weinberg, and Eedgar (2012), which suggests that the general population should be
educated about this sexual preference in the same way that it is educated about homosexuality.
We can conclude that 8.2% of respondents displayed a strong preference for dominance and
submission. Among these respondents, such a preference may be fundamental for 6.1% of people.
Later, some of these people may learn that this preference is classified as BDSM and practitioners are
called BDSMers. In our study, two (0.3%) of our respondents openly confessed to BDSM practices.
These respondents revealed their BDSM preference in open-ended questions. We did not ask them
about their BDSM sexual preference directly (see Method for more).
This study shows that almost half of people consider as arousing those sexual activities which
are related to hierarchical disparity between partners. Thus, sexual arousal by dominance and
submission is likely to represent an important mechanism in human mating strategy; this fact
indicates a biological basis for these sexual preferences. People differed in the type of disparity
that they preferred, and how strongly they preferred this disparity. A strong preference was
found in 8.2% of respondents. Respondents of 6.1% were not even excited by equality, but only
by disparity. Therefore, rather than being a characteristic of a minority, this preference
represents an intensity scale that is differently expressed in as many as almost half of the
Table 5. Comparison with Dutch respondents interested in BDSM sex (Wismeijer and van Assen 2013).
General population % BDSM respondents (Wismeijer and van Assen 2013)%
Men* Dom 56.2 48.3
Sub 12.0 33.4
Both 31.8 18.3
Women Dom 8.5 8
Sub 78.6 75.6
Both 12.8 16.4
Percentages of the Czech general population respondents who were excited by their dominance, their submission and both
dominance and submission compared to Wismeijer and van Assen (2013) findings in Dutch respondents interested in BDSM sex
(464 men, age m = 45.5, SD = 11.12; 438 women, age m = 37.1, SD = 10.8). Respondents with the preference for hierarchy were
excited either by their partner’s submission (Dom) or by their own submission (Sub); but there were also respondent who were
excited by both preferences (Both). Respondents are separated according their gender and age. The Czech population sample
differed from Dutch BDSM respondents in the portion of respondents with specific preferences in men but they did not differ in
women (men n=656, χ
=35.724, d.f.=2, P=0.0001; women: n=555, χ
= 0.920, d.f.=2,P=0.631).
Help with English provided by Stephen and Drahomíra Gell, Martina Kolackova, and Mark Omwansa is gratefully
acknowledged. We thank to Professor J. Cihlar from the J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem for statistical
The study was supported by grants from the Czech Science Foundation GACR P407/12/P616, and GACR 16-01845S.
Notes on contributor
EVA JOZIFKOVA is Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem,
Czech Republic. She has focused on behavior in the fields of anthropology, psychology, and zoology. Jozifkova has
published articles about possible evolutionary causation of BDSM and fetish preferences, mating strategies, social
hierarchy, and partner violence.
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