Fetishists happier than 'vanilla' sex people

14:30 AEST Thu May 30 2013
Kimberly Gillan
50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, thrust fetishism into the spotlight

Fetishists who use whips and chains in the bedroom appear to be more psychologically stable than those who prefer their sex "vanilla".

Bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) is a sexual practice that revolves around those four fetishes and is listed as an unusual sexual fixation in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

But Dutch psychologist Andreas Wismeijer wanted to find out if practitioners are more likely to be mentally unstable, so compared the mental health of 902 BDSM practitioners with 434 non-BDSM practitioners.

They all filled out questionnaires about their wellbeing, personality, sensitivity to rejection and style of attachment in relationships –– none of the participants knew what the study was about.

Wismeijer found that the BDSM practitioners might actually be healthier mentally than the control group. Not only were they more extroverted, more open to new experiences and less neurotic, they were also less concerned about other people disliking them.

The BDSM practitioners who reported being dominant – 48 percent of the men and eight percent of the women – tended to score highest.

The BDSM practitioners who reported being submissive – 33 percent of the men and 75 percent of the women – scored lowest for mental health amongst the BDSM practitioners, but still scored higher than the conventional sex group.

"Within the BDSM community, submissives were always perceived as the most vulnerable, but still, there was not one finding in which the submissives scored less favourable than the controls," Wismeijer told LiveScience. "We did not have any findings suggesting that people who practice BDSM have a damaged psychological profile or have some sort of psychopathology or personality disorder."

Pamela Supple, a sex and relationships therapist told MSN that BDSM is a healthy sexual expression, as long as both parties are consenting.

"It has to be in a controlled environment and you have a safe word," she said.

Supple said anyone considering engaging in BDSM should do a lot of research and speak to a sex therapist to ensure they're safe.

"Make sure that you are educated about this and if at any stage you don't feel safe, then leave," she said.

Supple rejected the idea of people practicing bondage and discipline automatically being labelled as mentally unstable.

"My clients who do this usually work and hold down jobs and are stable people within the community," she said.

"It's often a release of pressure and tension. You might have a high-pressure day job, but then if you're the submissive one, it might be a release. This sort of playing is very much a mental experience. It's not about sex per se."

The study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.


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