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Potential Benefits of Engaging in Kink: Communication Skills, Authenticity and Well-Being


In the first blog in this series, I went over the history of kink being pathologized in the mental health field. In this part of the series, I will be looking at research that supports the potential benefits of kink. Many studies, as this blog will discuss, show that practitioners of BDSM do not have worse mental health outcomes than non-practitioners of BDSM, and may even have certain advantages. One of the studies shows that people often wait 6 years from when they first develop an interest in kink until they feel comfortable trying it. Part of this delay is likely due to stigma, as well as a lack of information about how to safely engage. The more unbiased information that exists about kink, the more people can engage in a safe and informed way.  


Clinical Research

 De-pathologizing BDSM

There have been many studies that speak to the need to de-pathologize BDSM within the mental health field. In 2013, Andreas A.J. Wismeijer and Marcel A.L.M. van Assen conducted a study to determine the psychological characteristics of those who practice BDSM. Although it had generally been thought of as a form of psychopathology, more recent results have shown that practitioners have relatively good psychological health. For this study, they used 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 control participants to fill out online questionnaires. The survey focused on four major psychological indicators: a five-factor model of personality, rejection sensitivity, attachment style, and subjective well-being. The overall results indicate that there are favorable psychological characteristics of practitioners compared to the control. The BDSM practitioners were shown to be less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, and had higher subjective well-being. The highest scoring groups were those who identified as Doms, followed by Subs, and the lowest scoring group was the non-practitioners. Wismeijer and Assen concluded that these results could help BDSM be thought of more as recreational leisure rather than the expression of psychopathology.

Researchers in Australia performed a study in 2008 to look at the demographic and psychosocial elements of BDSM practitioners. They interviewed 19,307 respondents ranging from 16-59 years of age. Out of this sample, only 1.8% reported being involved in BDSM within the past year. The practice of BDSM was more common amongst those who also identified with a sexuality other than heterosexual. People who engaged in BDSM were also more likely to have had more than one partner in the past year, to have had sex with someone other than their primary partner, to partake in phone sex, to use sex toys, and several other practices that would previously have been considered as "sexually deviant" (return to the previous blog for more information on that). However, they were not more likely to be coerced into sexual activity, nor were they more likely to be unhappy or anxious. Men who engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological distress than other men. These researchers reached a similar conclusion to Wismeijer and van Assen that BDSM is a sexual interest or subculture rather than a “pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with ‘normal’ sex.”

Sexual Satisfaction

A 2015 study did a comparison of sexual satisfaction and distress among BDSM practitioners and non-practitioners. The researchers wanted to describe the sociodemographic characteristics and BDSM practices to compare sexual outcomes. They had 68 respondents complete an online survey. They use self-reporting factors such as the age at which they note becoming interested in BDSM, and what their favorite and most frequent BDSM activities are. They also used the Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction, which looks at sexual distress, low desire, arousal, maintaining arousal, premature orgasm, and anorgasmia. The average age of participants was 33.15. On average, participants waited about six years after they first became interested in BDSM to start trying it out. They found that sexual distress scores were statistically the same for BDSM practitioners and non-practitioners among women. However, in men, they found that distress in sexual functioning was significantly lower in practitioners. There were no differences between men and women in sexual satisfaction.

Common Themes of SpirItual Experiences and BDSM

In 2016, Baker conducted a study to look at the intersection of BDSM and spiritual experiences. The study compared the sexual satisfaction of BDSM participants vs. non-BDSM participants. 30 of the participants identified as bottoms, and 16 reported being tops. The researchers found several themes in common with BDSM and spiritual experiences. Such themes included ‘ordeal’, surrender, visionary experience, the embodied sense of an energetic force, and self-surrender. Both BDSM and spiritual experiences compel people to experience the 'ordeal' of opening themselves emotionally, physically, and psychologically to the next level beyond their comfort zone. The second theme of surrendering does not necessarily require submission; it is surrendering as an internal phenomenon to the experience or something larger than one's self, rather than to another person. The third theme, visionary experiences, describes the notion of adding visionary language where a spiritual experience cannot be fully explained or requires symbolism.

The fourth theme, the embodied sense of an energetic force, suggests a sort of "energy" that goes beyond the emotional and psychological forms of "seeing." The final theme identified, the self-surrendered/transcended state of consciousness describes what is known as "subspace" and "domspace" which are mental states people report when in an erotically altered consciousness. The sub-space includes diminished ego awareness, less active cognitive behavior, and surrendering of one's will. Top space is comprised of intense focus, clarity of thought, and an extreme sense of power and energy. Overall, these results seem to show that BDSM is a spiritual experience for practitioners and can therefore be beneficial.


De-pathologizing BDSM is important to work towards promoting greater understanding and acceptance of BDSM practices and communities. By challenging the pathologizing of BDSM, we can consider the potential benefits of people engaging with their desires. When done safely, this can lead to people further developing communication skills, getting more in touch with their authentic selves, and even feeling a greater sense of overall well-being. In part 3, I will get into how to foster kink-affirming practices in therapeutic spaces.





  • Baker, A. C. (2016). Sacred kink: finding psychological meaning at the intersection of BDSM and spiritual experience.Sexual and Relationship Therapy,1-14. doi:10.1080/14681994.2016.1205185
  • Moser, C., & Levitt, E. E. (1987). An exploratory-descriptive study of a sadomasochistically oriented sample. Journal of Sex Research, 23, 322–337.
  • Newmahr, S. (2010). Rethinking kink: Sadomasochism as serious leisure. Qualitative Sociology, 33(3), 313–331.
  • Pascoal, P. M., Cardoso, D., & Henriques, R. (2015). Sexual Satisfaction and Distress in Sexual Functioning in a Sample of the BDSM Community: A Comparison Study Between BDSM and Non-BDSM Contexts.The Journal of Sexual Medicine,12(4), 1052-1061. doi:10.1111/jsm.12835
  • Richters, J., Visser, R. O., Rissel, C. E., Grulich, A. E., & Smith, A. M. (2008). Demographic and Psychosocial Features of Participants in Bondage and Discipline, “Sadomasochism” or Dominance and Submission (BDSM): Data from a National Survey.The Journal of  Sexual Medicine,5(7), 1660-1668. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00795.x
  • Sagarin, B., Lee, E., & Klement, K. (2009). Sadomasochism without sex? exploring the parallels between BDSM and extreme rituals. Journal of Pfositive Sexuality, 1(3), 50–55.
  • Wismeijer, A. A., & Assen, M. A. (2013). Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners.The Journal of Sexual Medicine,10(8), 1943-1952. doi:10.1111/jsm.12192