Fifty Shades of Grey has shaped a whole culture’s view of BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism). In that fictional world, a powerful man plays out his sadistic fantasies as a powerless woman indulges her masochistic ones. This narrative demonstrates what’s called the "playing out" hypothesis of sadomasochism: In sexual fantasies we re-create our daily power roles. A new paper, however, presents an alternative hypothesis and some surprising findings, including that, all else being equal, high-ranking executives are more turned on by fantasies involving sexual submission than are their underlings.
Joris Lammers and Roland Imhoff report on their "disinhibition" hypothesis in an upcoming issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science. They base their predictions on extensive research showing that social power — having control over others’ outcomes — reduces inhibition. In one 2003 study, for example, participants primed to feel more versus less powerful were more likely to reposition an annoying fan blowing on them. Other work finds that wealthy people are more likely to commit selfishly unethical acts than are poor people, by virtue of their feeling more powerful — and therefore less accountable and vulnerable.
Many people have sadomasochistic impulses — one meta-analysis reported that between 31 percent and 57 percent of women have rape fantasies — but such impulses go against social norms that separate sex from violence, affection from domination. Therefore, the thinking goes, many people inhibit them. And because traditional gender roles prescribe men to be active and women passive in many social domains, men should be especially likely to bury fantasies of submission and women fantasies of domination. But the disinhibition hypothesis predicts that power frees people to let their freak flags fly, increasing sadomasochistic thoughts in everyone and especially masochistic thoughts in men and sadistic thoughts in women.
To test their predictions, the researchers invited readers of a science website and a lifestyle website in the Netherlands to complete an online questionnaire, compiling data from 14,306 anonymous respondents. As a measure of power, people rated their professional position, from unemployed to top-level management. They then rated their agreement with items such as “It sexually arouses me to fantasize about torturing a consenting person” and “It sexually arouses me to fantasize about being tortured by a person on my own demand.” People also rated their desire for social dominance in everyday life, by evaluating statements such as “I like to give orders and get things going.” (The study could only measure correlations, but given the known psychological effects of power, a case for its causal influence on disinhibition in the bedroom can be made.)
Overall, men were more into fantasies of sadism than women were, likely in part because of socialized gender roles. Yet while real-world power increased women’s attraction to sadism (controlling for age and social dominance), the picture for men was split. Among those with an especially strong impulse to dominate others, more power was associated with finding greater appeal in sadism, but among men who shied from dominance, power decreased their interest in sadism. This pattern suggests the men felt free to take on the role that suited them personally — not the one that suited the masculine ideal.
Women, on the other hand, were more into masochistic fantasies than men were. Women with more versus less power were slightly more aroused by thoughts of masochism (meaning power increased their interest in both ends of the sadomasochistic spectrum), but power increased men’s appetite for masochism nearly twice as much as women’s. This is where the findings most strongly support the disinhibition hypothesis and challenge the "playing out" hypothesis: Powerful men are not enacting their typical roles of domination, but tapping into a buried interest in submission that clashes with societal expectations. ...
The wildly varied world of BDSM can provide a safe space to communicate, play, and release the pressures of everyday life.
At pre-dawn on a Monday morning more than 20 years ago, two friends and I sped towards a four-hour cleaning job that had to be finished before our uni classes started. We’d been out. Mr Bungle was blaring from the stereo, the chainsaw guitar and rapid percussion accompanied by Mike Patton’s uniquely tuneful bellow, It’s not funny, my ass is on fire. The three of us screamed along, because it was true. I couldn’t sit down through my classes all that day, and I took the next day off.
My introduction to BDSM was a public spanking at a Melbourne kink club back in 1993. It was prearranged by a friend as a Buck’s Night ’gift’, and I gave explicit consent; I just didn’t know what I was consenting to.
Three chairs lined the stage, and the spankers took their places. We were a clichéd trio of The Blonde, The Brunette and myself, The Redhead. We laid across laps and I faced The Blonde, and as my underwear was gathered up to expose my cheeks, I took her hand. A slap rang out, and I flinched, even though I hadn’t been touched. When I was, there was no doubt.
The initial spanks were pure shock. I felt fight-or-flight kick in, and cursed myself for getting into this position. A hail of slaps hit home, and a sobbed gasp in my ear confirmed I was not alone in my struggle. I reassured The Blonde with emphatic hushes, and the hotness of my arse became secondary to controlling my breathing enough to check in with my friend.
The next thing I knew, the slaps had stopped and a hand caressed me gently, a voice in my ear asking how I was. I found I was more than fine.
This experience fascinated me. The strength I felt was powerful; the connection sparked with my fellow spankees almost magical; and, later, watching my arse turn from maroons and blues to reds and yellows was an aesthetic and sensual pleasure. With hindsight, it’s certainly not an introduction I would ever recommend. Personally, I suggest having an idea of how hard the play may get before engaging, and a ‘safe word’, in case things get too much.
Iceland is the only Nordic country that still lists BDSM as a mental illness. A clear example of thoughtlessness, says the chairman of the Icelandic BDSM association. Members want the government to acknowledge BDSM as normal sexual behaviour. Not categorize it as a sickness.
“Its not easy to realize your sexual desires are categorized by your government as a mental illness, it’s actually really difficult. Categorizing BDSM as a mental disorder only makes it harder for people to come in terms with their sexual identity,” says Magnús Hákonarson, chairman of the Icelandic BDSM association which has formally requested the Director of Health for Iceland to remove BDSM from its list of mental illnesses. BDSM in this instance referring to “Dual-role transvestism, Fetishism, Fetishistic transvestism, and sado-masochism”.
In its letter to the director, dated September 3rd, the association claims there is nothing indicating that these tendencies are in any way a sickness. But stating the opposite can have severe and negative consequences.
“As I say the fact that BDSM is categorized as a mental illness has a negative affect on a person’s sexual identity,” Magnús points out. “It’s also makes people more vulnerable to prejudice – their own and from others – and discrimination. And because of that they become afraid of living out their BDSM side, even hiding it as they’re afraid of negative effects on their lives and their job security. This can inhibit them finding a partner, building a healthy self-image and, ironically, good mental health. Because hiding in the closet can really damage your health.”
Magnús adds that the stigma surrounding such classification can even prevent BDSM people from seeking police assistance or medical support, such as going to the emergency room, if needed. And for good reasons.
“I know rape victims who’ve been discouraged by the justice system to prosecute their attackers. Just because they had in good faith allowed the perpetrator to tie them down before the assault occurred. The victims were basically told by the system that it was their own fault. It’s the same argument rape victims get when they are told that they were attacked because ‘their skirt was too short’. And when put in that context, you can see how absurd it is.”
He admits that because of the stigma the public has a rather negative image of BDSM. The problem being the connection people make with violence.
“When speaking about BDSM, people tend to stereotype, thinking of black leather, someone being spanked and bondage. People are thinking specifics. But in reality BDSM is about so much more,” he explains. “It’s about the general frame, that we are working with communication, trust, what is allowed and what is not allowed, that this is an alternative form of communication.”
He goes on to say that the BDSM group consists of very different individuals. “The only thing we have in common is that we call ourselves BDSM. For some BDSM is a sexual identity where as for others it’s only to spice up their sex. What we get out of it varies greatly but mutual respect is the key, it’s the main thing.” ...
I was once a little girl too with little girl dreams. I wasn't always a sex-positive, independent diva of the highest order. I just happened to have some divergent imprinting at an early age that suggested that the traditional family dynamic (married to a dude with 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence) wasn't quite the path for me.
You see, straight missionary has never worked for yours truly. I wanted it to. Heaven help me, I did. I wanted to believe that one person would ring my bell forever and ever amen, but it quite literally hasn't happened yet.
And at age 35, after a great amount of living, I don't expect it to.
Whenever I attempt to deviate from my normal (being engaged in an open relationship, swinging, and polyamory, with space for kink and fetish play) the associated people pleasing and ignoring my own needs backfires in my face. I don't represent authentically. My writing suffers. My livingness is forfeited. I have to shut down parts of myself that rallied for visibility and were ultimately victorious already. I wind up fighting old wars and that's just plain-old boring.
I've always been a bit of a rebel with a healthy respect for authority. A bit of a dichotomy. I believe that you need to know what you're up against before you defy it. You need to understand its psychology.
So I gave vanilla it's shot at age 30. You can't be an out-of-the-box freak, was my thinking.
I went back to all of the things I was taught growing up in the Midwest. I sought to digest some concepts perpetuated by the media, the church, and state. I returned to my roots just to see what would happen if I played by the rules and did what was suggested.
I was living the suburban dream. I had married the love of my life, had given birth twice, and had a decent vanilla job making 70K a year, and yet I was suffering visibly. My early imprinting came knocking — the joyously open sexual experiences with other girls that comprised my adolescence, the free-range f*ckfests of my undergrad years, the BDSM explorations with a fellow kinkster who opened me up to the wide range of possibility at my fingertips, the literal partying with rock stars who adhered to no one's code but their own and were praised for it.
You don't just forget experiences like that in an effort to blend in or to more fully grasp the vanilla experience. I started to feel the vital parts of me dying.
As a bona fide sexual freak, all I required was a like-minded community to sign off on my authenticity. When that happened, I began to appreciate myself a bit more. I gave myself the credit I deserved as someone who had figured out what worked for them and didn't seek to oppress or harm others with my thinking.
My husband and I began swinging in September of 2014 by pure accident. My Playboy Radio show did a promotion at the local sex club here in Columbus, OH, and had a blast doing so. The people were so laid-back, honest, and surprisingly hot. Everything I had heard about swingers to date was inaccurate (that they were old, overweight, and uneducated). The people we interacted with were lawyers and dentists, ex-Marines and venture capitalists; they were high achievers with about 10 percent body fat, who approached sex in a much more adventurous, lighthearted manner.
When I shared my dissatisfaction with all things vanilla, the Ohio swingers were responsive and kind. We were very much welcomed with open arms and began attending local events — parties, hotel takeovers, and other happenings. We met up regularly with like-minded couples and I engaged in a great deal of action with other women while my husband sat back, had drinks with the male counterparts, and spectated. We joined a website that catered to swingers and helped link us to other individuals in different geographic areas. Things picked up for us in a big way. Our experiences were illuminating and proved that the paradigm we had stuck to our first few years of marriage — to adhere to one another like rubber cement and to be everything to each other, no matter what — that this paradigm was exhausting to other people too and could be transformed into something more sustainable.
My friend, Dr. Zoe, has a way of framing monogamy that makes sense to me. She defines monogamy as something that exists on a spectrum. Everyone is at a different point on the scale from totally monogamous to entirely nonmonogamous. I tend to gravitate toward the nonmonogamous side of things, as does my partner. Dr. Zoe's assertion is that the more successful relationships in the world are predicated on an honest assessment of where you are at on this spectrum and partnering with someone at a similar place. When truly monogamous people partner with those who are fundamentally nonmonogamous, trouble brews. Both partners are unsatisfied. Issues like dishonesty and people pleasing crop up and people start to get pissed off and act out.This is when people start cheating, start withholding sex, have emotional affairs and "work husbands," and wind up sleeping in separate bedrooms. ...
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom launched the Consent Violations Survey in 2014 to gather details about consent violations in a BDSM context. We asked about: the severity of the violations, who is being violated, where they were violated, the relationship and intent of those involved, the power dynamic at the time of the violation, as well as information about false accusations and from people who have committed consent violations. This survey was intended to expand on the info gathered through the first NCSF Consent Counts Survey in 2012 that gauged attitudes about consent in a power exchange context.
A total of 1,307 people (29% of 4,503 respondents) reported that their pre-negotiated limits and/or their safeword have been violated. Among those who reported why they thought it had happened, approximately 1 in 3 involved manipulation or coercion (345 people/8% of 4,503 respondents), and another 1 in 4 said they were attacked by a predator (245 people/5% of 4,503 respondents). Nearly 1 in 3 said the consent violation was caused by an accident, miscommunication, or a lack of skills or knowledge (310 people/7% of the respondents). 71 people said it was part of their dynamic and they were ultimately okay with it (1.5% of the respondents), while 27 people said it was a result of alcohol.
The majority, 70% of the people who said their consent was violated (775/1098), reported their first violation occurred before or within the first three years of their participation in the BDSM community. In all, one-fourth of the people whose pre-negotiated limits were violated said it happened before they started to participate on BDSM websites or attended a BDSM meeting, club, munch, party or event.
As for what happened, the largest percentage of participants said that they were nonconsensually penetrated in the vagina by a penis, finger or dildo (29%). One-fourth said they were touched nonconsensually in a way that violated their pre-negotiated limits, while one in five said they were touched on the genitals or breasts, penetrated in the ass by a penis/finger or dildo, punched or humiliated.
Twenty-nine people (2.7% of the 1,041 people who answered the question) say that they reported the consent violation to the police. 96 people experienced an injury that required medical attention (2% of the total survey respondents and 7% of the number of people who reported a safeword or limit violation). One-half of one percent (0.5%) of the survey respondents (23 people) reported receiving a serious physical injury that was life-threatening or serious enough to cause dysfunction in an organ or limb.
In addition, nearly 36% of the respondents reported being touched without permission at a BDSM meeting, club, munch, party or event.
Out of 4,578 respondents, only 7 people reported they had been falsely accused and reported to the police (0.1% of the sample). Just over 3% of the respondents (140) say they have been falsely accused within the BDSM community of touching someone without permission at an event or party. Just over 3% (137 people) reported they’ve been falsely accused of violating someone’s pre-negotiated limits in a BDSM scene.
For the complete analysis, go to: https://ncsfreedom.org/images/stories/2015_Survey_PDFs_ETC/Consent%20Violations%20Survey%20analysis.pdf
The survey questions were created by Susan Wright, M.A., Co-Principal Investigator, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, and Russell J. Stambaugh, Ph.D., Co-Principal Investigator. Derrell Cox, M.A., Department of Anthropology, Center for Applied Social Research at University of Oklahoma, assisted in the analysis and is the statistician. This project has been reviewed and endorsed by a community advisory board of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS), a community-based research support organization which includes members of alternative sexualities communities.
When asked about the uptick in reporting on polyamory, Kari Collins of West Philly tells me that she is “ambivalent.”
It’s exciting to not have to explain what polyamory means over and over again, but the representations are really limited.
“A lot of times it still seems like ‘this couple is poly’ or ‘these three people are poly’ and it doesn’t go beyond that," she says. "It’s as close to a monogamous family as we can get. It’s presented like this wild thing they do on Saturday nights. But there are so many forms that poly is taking."
Kari (who is genderqueer and identifies alternately using “he” and “she”), for instance, currently only has one partner, but his partner currently has four other relationships, and several more people with whom they share an undefined friendship-romance. Those folks, in turn, have their own network of significant others.
The web forms a polyamorous community of metamours, and nearly all of them hang out together, often playing board games. “It’s like the #1 poly hobby… It’s an easy group activity.”
For Phil Weber of Bensalem and Mae Esposito of Fishtown, board games were a major activity at a recent poly network camping trip.
This group took up four cabins – a crew of about 14 metamours and friends, hiking, making meals, and playing games. A month prior, Phil had seven partners, but one moved away and two “stepped back” – a much healthier way to describe amicable separation than “broke up” or “dumped."
He now has four partners scattered around the Philadelphia area, including Mae, with whom he’s been serious since Halloween.
“I don’t really do casual,” he says, mentioning that one of his most informal experiences was a “two-week stand.” He came to polyamory when he and his longest-term partner (with whom he’s been committed for six years) decided to open up their relationship.
For some, open relationships are something into which they stumble. For others, relationship anarchy is a conscious choice to reject a system that has proven to be untenable. And for many, polyamory is as intrinsic to their sexual orientation as their preference for men or women.
Mae explains she’d “never been great friends with monogamy.” Whether through her “fault or someone else’s” it always ended poorly, without equal agency and choice for both parties. She notes that past boyfriends might, for instance, be looking for the “next best thing” and ditch her after finding what they considered an upgrade. ...
“A Taste of Kink”, an evening of interactive kink demonstrations and discussions, recently allowed over 100 sexual health professionals from across the country to see, and perhaps experience firsthand, the dynamics and feelings associated with kink and BDSM practices.
The evening was part of the 47th annual conference of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). The conference, held June 3–7 in Minneapolis, featured over 50 workshops providing continuing education credits for sexual health professionals.
Workshop topics at the conference included GLBTQ youth, transgender health issues, gender roles, working with non-monogamous couples, and sex-positive Christianity. The conference also included a performance by Wicked Wenches Cabaret, a Twin Cities burlesque troupe.
The “Taste of Kink” event on Saturday, June 6, was co-produced by AASECT’s AltSex SIG (Special Interest Group) and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), with help from Twin Cities volunteers and groups including MSDB, Knights of Leather, MinKY (Minnesota Kinky Youth), and The Electrical Group. The event took place at Patrick’s Cabaret in Minneapolis.
The purpose of the evening was to explain the dynamics of kink and BDSM scenes, and to show non-kinky professionals how kink feels. One of the organizers explained, “We are doing this to become more professionally and culturally sensitive to the needs of the BDSM community.” Another organizer commented, “As therapists we need to be prepared to deal with this, especially with 50 Shades of Gray out there.”
The event started with a one-hour “munch” — food, nonalcoholic beverages and conversation. Local community volunteers and demonstrators wore “Ask me about . . .” name tags listing their kink interests and inviting questions from AASECT conference attendees.
After the munch, the demonstrations began. Six demo areas offered concurrent demonstrations of flogging, whipping, and impact play; foot worship; punching; spanking; sensation play; bondage and suspension; and electrical play with a violet wand.
The demonstrations showed not just technique, but also the processes of negotiation, consent and aftercare (checking in with a partner afterward to make sure everyone is okay). Demonstrators also talked about what they felt as they were involved in the activity, why they liked to do the activity they were demonstrating, and what appealed to them about it.
AASECT members then had the opportunity to try, or “taste,” the practices being demonstrated if they wished, and many of them did. Their tastes gave them firsthand experience not only with one or more BDSM practices, but also with the processes of negotiation, consent and aftercare — and with the use of safewords. As someone commented, “This isn’t just PowerPoints or slideshows; this is experiential learning.”
For your humble columnist, a nonprofessional spectator, the evening was a series of amazing moments. It was interesting to see the slightly startled expression on someone’s face as they felt the electric charge of a violet wand for the first time, or the blissful expression on someone else’s face as they were having their feet worshipped. ...