THE PSYCHOLOGY OF D/s RELATIONSHIPS
There are people who think that Dominance and submission and BDSM more broadly is abnormal, and to the extent that it is practiced by a minority of people (which it appears to be) it is abnormal. It is not however aberrant.
There are people who think that an interest in D/s behaviour and BDSM more generally is a sign of childhood trauma, and while there is evidence that people practising BDSM may have experienced trauma – the same can be said for those who don’t.
There are people who think that D/s relationships and BDSM have the potential to cause psychological problems in those practising them. The research suggests however suggests that the opposite might be the case.
Following are quotes from the psychological literature on these issues.
- Dominance and submission, and the inner conflict and surrender connected to these are enduring themes in human culture and civilization as well as human sexuality. Human beings share with many other mammals the instinct to look up to certain individuals who become leaders often through strength of will and personality, and to lead or follow, submit or dominate. In human sexuality this has broadened out to include mutual exploration of roles, emotions and activities (such as sensation play, the exploration of intense physical sensation as an end in itself) which would be difficult or impossible to do without a willing partner taking an opposing role.
- Domination and submission (also known as D&s, Ds or D/s) is a set of psychosexual behaviors, customs and rituals relating to the giving and accepting of dominance of one individual over another in an erotic or lifestyle context. D/s is often referred to as the “mental” side of BDSM. Physical contact is not a necessity, and can even be conducted anonymously over telephone, email or (more recently) instant messaging services. In other cases, it can be intensely physical, sometimes traversing into sadomasochism. In D/s, one takes pleasure or erotic enjoyment out of either dominating or being dominated.
- The results mostly suggest favorable psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners compared with the control group; BDSM practitioners were less eurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, had higher subjective well-being, yet were less agreeable. Comparing the four groups, if differences were observed, BDSM scores were generally more favorably for those with a dominant than a submissive role, with least favorable scores for controls.
- According to the researchers, people in the BDSM community often talk about being transported into a state of flow: “the idea that the rest of the world drops away and someone is completely focused on what they’re doing,” says study author Brad Sagarin, professor in the department of psychology at Northern Illinois University. The flow state is familiar to pro athletes, prolific novelists, musicians—anyone who loses themselves in an activity they’re extremely good at.
- All humans appear to possess subcortical circuits for sexual dominance as well as submission. Many alpha males in socially dominant positions experience relief in identifying with a submissive role. Women can experience “relational power” in knowing that they’re erotically cherished and adored—the object of a man’s strongest craving.
- Female submission is often centered around the inherent want to be “irresistible,” or desiring a man to be unable to control himself in the sexual pursuit of the woman. Upon examining this theory and sharing it with the females I had previously talked to, the majority now find female submission to be a form of empowerment.
- The irony of the BDSM dominance fantasy, of using the other person purely for your own enjoyment, is of course that you’re intensely focused on them.
- It is my opinion that belonging to the BDSM community and participation in consensual sado-masochistic acts are not unhealthy decisions. It has been the view of past researchers that BDSM is related to trauma, abuse, lack of control, or even stunted development, but these theories have since been disproven. Today there is more research showing a lack of correlation between psychological issues and BDSM in healthy relationships and actual benefits to being open to exploring different forms of sexual expression.
These quotes clearly suggest that:
- D/s and BDSM are not aberrant.
- D/s and BDSM are rarely a sign of trauma – early childhood or otherwise.
- D/s and BDSM are largely beneficial – at least on a psychological level.
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