spank me baby, it’ll bring us closer

BDSM was considered a pathology for many years. A recent study proves otherwise.

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So a chemist, a film and television expert, and a psychologist walk into an S&M club to watch couples play a little rough… No, that’s not the beginning of a joke but an actual, honest to goodness study about the relationships of couples which practice a variety of sadomasochistic activities. And as it turns out, bondage and domination can bring couples closer together provided that both partners enjoyed themselves. This sounds like a no brainer at first, but we have to consider how S&M play was originally perceived by psychology.

Until the late 1980s, sadomasochism was always viewed as a psychosexual disorder and doctors saw all relationships which included bondage, domination, consensual pain and power exchange as pathological. The third edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, or the DSM III, labeled pretty much all kinds of sadomasochistic activities as proof that the patient had a sexual dysfunction to be treated. But a number of research projects started finding that relationships in which S&M play was a form of intimacy, weren’t actually as uncommon or as rough as most early treatises on sexual health had assumed and that sadomasochism was enjoyed by many people in stable partnerships, with good education and perfectly normal childhoods. As the researchers try to politely note, the original ideas of BDSM in general were based more on the societal opinions of the enthusiasts than factual evidence.

Now, just watching S&M enthusiasts enjoying themselves is more of a fun Friday night than an actual research project which is why the researchers analyzed the production of testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol in those who engaged in bondage, spanking, power exchange and pain and pleasure routines. Their findings were a little surprising. Instead of both partners reacting to the stress of the activities with extra testosterone and cortisol, only the submissive men and women registered a hormonal reaction. The dominant partners maintained the same baseline levels before and after their S&M play. On the psychological end of the study, the men and women who said that their experience that night went well, reported that they felt closer to their partners and were happier with the relationship than those who were left unsatisfied. So in other words, a good night of consensual masochism brings a couple closer together says the study’s conclusion. And the survey data seems to support this idea.

But I wonder if that’s really so. Usually, the main component in S&M play is the trust. Couples in the lifestyle have a lot of faith in their partners and for that to happen, they generally need to be close and have a good baseline level of relationship happiness before experimenting with S&M, bondage or power exchanges. If the experience is a letdown, it’s a disappointment for both the dominant partner (the top) and the submissive (the bottom) and can be seen as a breach of the trust that got them to agree to the experiment or even suggest it in the first place. But even though it’s disappointing, it doesn’t mean that it leaves a permanent mark on the relationship. The disappointment might last a day or two and closeness can come from other activities both partners enjoy. Provided that this study was a convenience sample of 58 people over one night and recorded their impressions for that one night only, you might not want to rush to the S&M club nearest to you in hopes of repairing wounded relationships with a little rough play just yet. Unless your partner suggests it of course, and you’re into the idea…

See: Sagarin, B., et al. (2008). Hormonal Changes and Bonding in Consensual Sadomasochistic Activity Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38 (2), 186–200 DOI: 10.1007/s10508–008–9374–5

# sex // bdsm / intimacy / mental health / relationships


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