By Lizette Borreli
Skin tight leather-clad outfits, whips, and chains are all part of what is considered to be the subtle yet pervasive bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) culture. The act of sexually enjoying giving and receiving pain — sadomasochism (S&M) — once thought to be a pathological practice is now viewed as some type of meditation. According to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas, the practice of S&M alters blood flow in the brain, which leads to an altered state of consciousness similar to a “runner's high” or yoga.
Currently, consensual sexual behaviors like BDSM, are listed as a paraphilia, or unusual sexual fixation, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, kinky sex is only considered to be a paraphilic disorder if it deliberately causes harm to the person committing the act or others. “A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention,” according to the DSM-5. The shift of being viewed as a mental illness, to an unusual sexual interest, has promoted researchers to delve into what exactly makes partners engage in these painful sexual behaviors.
The practice of S&M and other erotic practices may actually reap benefits for partners that are that similar to meditation. James Amber, graduate student in psychology at Northern Illinois University, conducted a small study to evaluate how S&M can lead to feelings of peacefulness and living “in the here and now” that mimic those felt during a meditative experience. Fourteen participants, both male and female, were recruited for the study to test whether pain from sexual experiences may cause blood flow to alter the region of the brain responsible for control and working memory.
The researchers first randomly assigned the participants to either “receiving pain” or “giving pain” by the roll of a dice. In addition, they had to complete a cognitive test called the Strook task, which matches words and colors, and questionnaires before and after the sexual tests to examine their brain function. ...