By Andrew Porterfield
Whips and chains, handcuffs and other forms of bondage are usually considered a sign of impaired mental health. In fact, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the so-called "psychiatrist's bible," lists BDSM (bondage, dominance and sadomasochism) as an unusual fixation--and a disorder if it inflicts personal harm.
But a team led by a Dutch researcher has found that instead, people who practice these behaviors in the bedroom (at least) are actually quite psychologically healthy. Reporting in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Andreas Wismeijer and Marcel van Assen, psychologists at Tilburg University, found that practitioners of BDSM were not only psychologically healthy, they were less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less sensitive to rejection, and more self-assured than people with "normal" sex lives. All these are signs of psychological health.
The researchers studied 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 control participants, who all filled out online questionnaires about their sexual practices and psychological moods and feelings. The researchers searched for a number of psychological characteristics, including personality types, ways in which they formed social attachments, sensitivity to rejection, and well-being.
Of the BDSM practitioners, those who claimed playing mainly dominant roles scored the highest on the psychological tests, followed by those playing submissive roles. The "normal" control groups, however, scored the lowest on these tests.
While the release of the DSM-5 has started a debate about (among other areas) whether or not sexual practices belong in a manual of mental disorders, Wismeijer and van Assen assert that "BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes."
Removing BDSM from the DSM's lists of "paraphilias" would not mark the first editing of this section. In the 1970s, homosexuality was removed from the paraphilias list.
Wismeijer, who usually studies the psychology of secrets, became interested in the psychology of BDSM practitioners after meeting the founder of a Dutch BDSM online forum. He thought that the secrecy under which much BDSM behavior is conducted merited extra research on how secrets are kept, or shared.
Wismeijer AAJ and van Assen MALM. Psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners. J Sex Med http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsm.12192/abstract