Study: Kinky sex better for mental health than “vanilla”

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WEB-Kinky-Vaikunthe Banerjee

 

According to a new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, using the blindfold and furry handcuffs stashed in your closet may contribute to better mental health than that of lovers keeping it boring and simple between the sheets.

This study comes with the release of the DSM-5, the go-to handbook for psychiatrists evaluating and diagnosing mental disorders. The new version categorises BDSM (short for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) as unusual behaviour; this elevates to mental disorder status when activities harm the practitioner or other individuals.

“We define sadism and masochism at this current historical moment as activity on the outer edges of what we find acceptable. We see those people as pushing up against that particular boundary,” says SFU associate professor Elise Chenier. “At the same time, there are other types of sexual expression that we don’t all see as positive in a mental health perspective.”

For this sex and mental health study, researchers recruited 902 BDSM practitioners from a sex forum and 434 “vanilla” practitioners from a women’s magazine website, a university website, and a personal secret website. Each volunteer filled out a series of surveys with the understanding that the study was examining human behaviour.

Survey types included personality dimensions, rejection sensitivity, attachment styles, and subjective well-being questionnaires. The answers were then statistically analyzed and group differences were evaluated.

From these tests, the kinkier group was found to either show no difference from the general population or to exhibit more favourable results than the “vanilla” control group, including being more conscientious, open to new ideas, less neurotic, and less concerned about others’ opinions.

They also reported feeling more happiness in the past two weeks and higher stability in their relationships than their less adventurous counterparts.
These findings may come as a surprise to some since they are contrary to both restricted views of BDSM activity in the past and the idea of sadism or masochism as an indicator of mental instability or illness.

“Historically, mental health research has been used as a school of oppression against sexual minority groups. Now, you have sexual minority groups using the same tools to try and argue the opposite thing,” says Chenier. “We need to see the research article as a piece of political work, not a piece of objective science because it’s arguing for the validity of sexual practices that are marginalized and oppressed.”

The study also reported that 33 per cent of BDSM men respondents were submissive, while 48 per cent were dominant, and 18 per cent switch between being dominant and submissive in bed. Women BDSM participants were 75 per cent submissive, 8 per cent dominant, and 16 per cent switch. Dominant sex partners scored higher on the study’s mental health surveys, while — as you might expect — switchers scored in the middle, and submissive partners scored the lowest, though never below any of the control group “vanilla” practitioners.

Study researcher Andreas Wismeijer doesn’t offer much explanation for his findings, and only suggests possibilities. In comparison with controls, BDSM practitioners may have a better grasp of their erotic needs and desires, translating to more peaceful relationships both in bed and in other aspects of couples’ lives. It was also suggested that associating with the BDSM community — a niche in the grander scheme of sexual practices — may involve psychological work that could inadvertently produce better mental health.

“For me, at the end of the day, it’s dangerous to make arguments that people should not be [sexually] oppressed because engaging in these practices brings better mental health,” says Chenier. “What this research is suggesting is that if you want to be happier, you should dominate in an S&M relationship. Well, what about submissive roles in those relationships?”

She concluded, “I think, instead, people should be as they are or as they discover themselves to be.”