How to reduce stigma and become educated on the kink community.
BDSM, is an acronym to represent a few different power exchange play practices including:
- Bondage and Discipline
- Dominance and Submission
- Sadism and Masochism
BDSM has long been misunderstood both by the general public and mental health professionals. This blog will dispel the top 5 of the more common myths about BDSM and Kink.
Myth 1: BDSM and Kink Activities are the same
The terms kink and BDSM are frequently used interchangeably meaning that if one is seen as being kinky or into kink, they are assumed to be into the practice of BDSM.
However, for some people who identify as kinky, their particular erotic/sexual interest might not have anything to do with power exchange, humiliation, or strong sensation/pain. While if someone identifies as being into BDSM, there clearly is power exchange included in their sexual practices.
For some kinky folx, their erotic trigger has more to do with fantasies and behaviors like:
- getting aroused by shoes or another non-human object like leather or latex .
- urinating without humiliation (sometimes referred to as golden showers or water sports)
- Enjoyment of semi-public sex
- The desire for a third or more (group sex)
- Restricted mobility (wearing a mask to increase focus on sensations)
- Rough sex or gentle sex (Tantra)
- eroticizing intense sensations or strong stimuli practices like spanking, or being spanked
- consensual voyeurism in which one person watches a partner self-pleasuring
- Cuckolding; in which a partner gets turned on hearing about or watching their primary partner have sex with someone else.
So one can think of kink as a larger umbrella category and BDSM is just one of the experiences within it.
How many people actually participate in BDSM experiences?
In 2015, Indiana University published a representative survey using a sample of 2,021 American adults . Many said they had tried elements of BDSM including:
- spanking (30 percent)
- dominant/submissive role-playing (22 percent)
- restraint (20 percent)
- flogging (13 percent)
Kink, BDSM, and fetishes are sexual interests and/or behaviors that are atypical, meaning the people who are into it are a smaller proportion of the general public. Sex therapists tend to explain these terms using similar language to researchers and discuss sexual behaviors as they are listed on a bell curve with their clients. By discussing the range of less common behaviors plotted out on the legs of the bell curve while the largest groups of behaviors which are positioned across the top of the curve, these behaviors are viewed in more of a scientific, neutral and non-shaming way. Because there is a negative stigma, taboo and explicit shame expressed in the mainstream culture associated with less common sexual practices, it is incumbent upon sex therapists to offer clients a safe place to share what their authentic desires and practices are.
The difference between a fetish and a kink is that a person with a fetish requires to have their interest integrated into the erotic experience in order to be turned on and to get aroused while for a kinky person, they don’t absolutely need it included to be turned on.
It’s important to note that some people with fetishes seek relationship counseling or individual therapy for reasons that have nothing to do with the fetish which gives them the utmost pleasure and enjoyment.
Myth 2: Submissives or Bottoms have little to no power
Often, views on sexual positions are constructed within a heteronormative and racialized framework. People often assume someone’s position (i.e. top, bottom, power bottom, etc.) based on their gender, race, appearance, etc. It’s significant to understand that the position one takes in a sexual experience is not associated with who is leading or has power in that moment and may or may not include aggression. People can even lead from the bottom colloquially called ‘power bottoms’, which hold elements of both tops and bottoms. Lastly, some folks identifying as LGBTQ+ also identify as kinky or belonging to a BDSM community.
Contrary to popular belief, the submissive partner in any BDSM scene is actually the person who holds the majority of the power because they have the power to stop any scene through the use of their safe word. The bottom, or sub, submits and gives their initial power to the top, or person in charge after consensually agreeing to what the ‘scene’ will include, and then they also have power throughout by ending the BDSM scene at any moment they want.
Myth 3: People who enjoy BDSM are victims of childhood sexual abuse or sexual violence
A 2008 survey (that didn’t include folks who have non-binary gender identities) found that neither men’s nor women’s engagement in BDSM practices was associated with having been coerced in the past. A 2016 survey on National Kink Health found that 9.6% of participants had high ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Events). However, in a 2018 study, 15.8% of Americans were found to have high ACE scores, a much highter percentage. Therefore, there is very little evidence that supports the belief held by many in the general public and in the mental health field that kink/BDSM interests are related to or in response to past trauma or sexual violence.
Myth 4: BDSM is Non-Consensual and Abusive
The main mantras of the BDSM/Kink community are: Safe, Sane, and Consensual, and in fact folx discuss the scene they’re going to play in before, during, and after the scene is over (this is referred to as debriefing). Many practices have been adopted in order to keep BDSM interactions safe and consensual. Some of these practices include:
- negotiation and discussion of limits
- and aftercare by any means necessary.
In BDSM consent is an ongoing and evolving process. Similarly, there is sometimes an identification of soft and hard limits, which outlines what someone is and is not willing to do as well as what they might be open to under certain circumstances. In fact, most people report that any violence they experienced occurred outside of the kink community, not within it.
Myth 5: BDSM is about dominating women
A 2008 survey on BDSM found that 2.2% of men and 1.3% of women had been involved in BDSM in the past year. BDSM engagement has also been found to be higher among people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual in this same survey. A 2015 survey found that 38% of the female sample reported that they were generally a sub, which as already stated gives them the most power in any engagement. Dr. Francesca Tripodi, in her 2017 research, reported that women are empowered and encouraged to embrace their desires in this community. Furthermore Tripodi also found that submissives and bottoms felt that “the act of submission increases sexual agency and empowerment through intimacy.”
Many kink and BDSM players experience high rates of intimacy, trust and sexual and erotic pleasure in their sex lives. They are wary of sharing their experiences with mental health professionals who are not kink-aware for fear that their sexual practices will be misunderstood, pathologized and potentially reported as a crime. It is therefore, critically important that more mental health and medical professionals become kink aware or to refer their clients to sex therapists who are.