Engaging in BDSM behavior has oft been touted as one of the most vehement forms of erotic and societal deviance. Popular culture purports a monochromatic dichotomy between it and “vanilla” sexual preferences with regards to psychological health. Various mediums have been popularized in recent years, such as 50 Shades of Gray, which brought the erotic culture of BDSM to the forefront, crafting a fresh curiosity within the general public. This notion of erotic behavior has become popularized because relatively normal people exploited these behaviors, rather than the preconceived notion society had on proponents of BDSM, who were seen as eccentric and rather unconventional. Despite the notion that their sexual preferences are listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as potentially problematic, individuals who choose to become a bit more adventurous in the bedroom may actually be more psychologically healthy than those who do not partake.
In a new study, conducted by Andreas Wismeijer, a psychologist at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, it was found that practitioners of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (or more aptly, BDSM) score better on a variety of personality and psychological measures than “vanilla” participants who did not engage in unusual sex acts. The study itself gathered 902 BDSM and 434 control participants, who were instructed to completely fill out a battery of online personality questionnaires and subsequently compared against each other. According to the study, BDSM practitioners “either did not differ from the general population and if they differed, they always differed in the more favorable direction” (Wismeijer & van Assen, 2013).
The results mostly suggest favorable psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners compared with the vanilla group: BDSM practitioners were seen as “less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, had higher subjective well-being, yet were less agreeable” (Wismeijer & van Assen, 2013). When comparing the four groups (BDSM dominant and submissive as well as vanilla dominant and submissive), BDSM scores were generally more favorably for those with a dominant than a submissive role, with the least favorable scores for both vanilla groups.
The study exemplified the notion that BDSM participants are characterized by a set of “balanced, autonomous, and beneficial personality characteristics and a higher level of subjective well-being” when compared with non-BDSM participants (Wismeijer & van Assen, 2013). Inherently, the view that BDSM practitioners are psychologically disturbed or characterized by maladaptive psychological processes is highly misrepresentative of the BDSM culture. BDSM, rather than being an expression of psychopathology (as flogged within popular media) can instead be thought of as a recreational leisure. A healthy one at that.