Sociologists Reclassify BDSM As “Leisure Activity” In Bid To Remove Stigma

BDSM stock images are exactly how you would imagine. Victor Moussa/Shutterstock

In a bid to remove the stigma surrounding BDSM sexual practice, sociologists are attempting to reclassify it as a “leisure activity” akin to golf. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m playing golf wrong.

The researchers, led by Idaho State University, wanted to build on recent studies that suggested instead of a traditional psychopathologic explanation, BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) could be understood as a potential leisure activity.

Since this framing of attitudes had not been scientifically or empirically explored yet, the researchers decided this was just what they would set out to do.

“Historically, BDSM has long been understood from a psychopathological perspective,” lead author Dr DJ Williams wrote in a previous study published in the Journal of Positive Sexuality. But as this research showed that many people don’t consider BDSM as a sexual interaction, rather as a means of forming intimate relationships, among other things, this was considered a limited approach.

“In considering the many academic and nonacademic accounts of BDSM, our focus is to suggest that a broad leisure perspective currently offers the best theoretical approach to begin making sense of BDSM,” he wrote.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr Williams and colleagues surveyed 935 BDSM participants who answered questions about BDSM experiences according to the attributes considered important for leisure activities.

The researchers suggest the results show that BDSM could easily be reclassified as a leisure activity due to the similarities between both like developing personal skills, creating a sense of adventure, and reducing stress.

If it isn't similar to leisure pursuits, why does it include words such as “play” and “games”, they posited.

Of the participants, whose ages ranged from 18 to 78, 90 percent said that BDSM gave them a sense of personal freedom, 99 percent said it gave them pleasure and enjoyment, 90 percent said they used personal skills, 90 percent said it was associated with self-expression, 91 percent said it reduced stress, and 97 percent said it involved positive emotions.

“Our findings show, overwhelmingly, that BDSM fits properties of common leisure experience, similar to people who enjoy golf, swimming and attending cultural events,” Dr Williams said

The researchers suggested that reclassification was important because if BDSM was understood and recognized as a “legitimate leisure experience with important personal benefits, similar to engaging in skiing, hiking, photography, or painting,” it could remove the stigma associated with so-called sexual deviance.

While we're not entirely sold on the idea of BDSM as a leisure activity akin to, say, your local darts team, we'll always be pro the removal of unnecessary stigmatization. This study at least opens up a conversation, and we'd rather not have to credit Fifty Shades of Gray for that. 

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