HUFFPOST: BDSM and Mental Health

In college, I read an article about Russian “whipping therapy.” At first I thought it was a joke—Siberian scientists were promoting flogging and caning as a “cure” for depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts. Yet it still appears in occasional articles as a real, if controversial, treatment: 30 to 60 cane strokes or whip lashes administered to patients’ buttocks to promote serotonin flow. The treatment is not intended to be sexually stimulating for either the patient or the doctor.

When I first became active in the kink scene, I was in the middle of a major depressive episode. I’d known I was kinky long before I started showing symptoms of depression, so it wasn’t that I worried my depression was the result—or the cause—of my BDSM interest. But it made navigating my early years in the scene somewhat difficult.

Like many people with depression, I sometimes have trouble acknowledging that I’ve reached the point where I need help. It becomes hard to remember how my “normal” mind works, so I become convinced that I’ve always felt this way, thought this way, and that it’s a problem with my character, not my chemical makeup. But some part of me usually knows when things are getting bad, even if I don’t want to admit it.

I’m also what’s known in the BDSM world as a “pain slut”—a more affectionate, less DSM-5-y term for a masochist.

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BDSM and Mental Health by J.A. Rock

February 15, 2015, Updated February 15, 2017


AUTOSTRADDLE: Bottoms Up: Holistic Masochism

Three years ago, I was fresh from what was then the worst breakup of my life. I drank a lot, smoked even more and stopped going to school. I spent all day angry and sad and confused. I wanted to feel something else, so I sought out some play partners and had a super rough threesome. We crossed so many of my boundaries; going along with it was easier than saying the pain wasn’t good for me. And maybe, if something hurt more than the pain of my breakup, it would erase it and I could function again. But even though I let my body be used in a way I thought I wanted it to be used, and even though I had bruises for days, I didn’t feel any better. The physical pain was exactly what I wanted, but I also wanted it to erase my emotional pain, and it didn’t.

Last May, I finished a project I’d been working on for a very long time and rewarded myself with hand tattoos. I drafted them with the artist and sat very still as she began. The pain was exquisite: sharp, pointed, endorphin-laced. I left the tattoo parlor with sweet new body art and a clear head. It was like I’d been in a stuffy home heated by a radiator and had stepped outside into crisp winter air. My pain took me exactly where I wanted to go.

Ignoring my limits is different from pushing them. Pushing my limits is a fun challenge; ignoring them can force my play out of the realm of play and into dangerous territory. For me as a masochist, there’s a thin line between (intentional, safe, risk-aware) self-hurt and (risky, non-negotiated) self-harm. Assuming I take care to play with safe tops and dominants, I become the greatest risk to myself if I’m not thinking about masochism holistically.


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Bottoms Up: Holistic Masochism by Al(aina)

December 13, 2016


VIBE: Would You Try BDSM If It Involved Spiritual Healing?

When it comes to the topic of BDSM, the topic is still relatively taboo. BDSM practices as a form of alternative sexuality is often stigmatized as deviant, unhealthy, and sensationalized (particularly with the campy novel and 2015 film release of E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey) instead of being viewed as healing force that improves relationships. In a new insightful piece in Broadly, kinksters share their passion for blending energy work with BDSM practices, offering wonderful benefits for monogamous and vanilla sex lovers.

25-year old Healah Lee, an Aniwodi Cherokee, who has spent over a decade doing healing spiritual work, agrees. “We’re naturally connected to an energy outlet. We come from a source that we have forgotten,” she explains. Energy work and BDSM are naturally compatible, in that “they connect people…to many kinsters, BDSM and energy work seem like a natural pairing.”

“When one is close to climax, you pull the energy from your sacral chakra up to your heart center, then you make the effort to move the energy out from your heart, around your body, up over your head, and encompassing your partner’s crown, third eye and throat chakras, and then back into their heart and down into their sacral and root chakras. This permits one to energetically, on top of physically, share an orgasm.”

Victrix Oracle, who is a self-proclaimed Goddess Witch in Quebec, performs the following process during BDSM activities, which is termed ankhing, an ancient Egyptian principle that helps bring vitality and strength within a relationship. As a reiki master, clairvoyant, empath, and healer, Victrix maintains that BDSM perfectly coincides with spiritual oneness with a partner, and brings enlightenment.


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Would You Try BDSM If It Involved Spiritual Healing? by Shanna Collins

September 21, 2016

Image source: Getty Images

iNEWS: How BDSM helps me with anxiety and low self-esteem

Hearing the phrase “BDSM” sends people’s minds in one of two directions. Mention Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism and they’ll think of intimidating sex shops where you press a buzzer and a guy in rubber pants opens the door, or of charity shop shelves heaving with wrinkled copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. Stripped of all pop culture and paraphernalia, it generally boils down to dominance and submission between consenting parties, often, but not always, for sexual gratification.

I’m a practising dominant. In BDSM one may be the dominant/top, and the other the submissive/bottom (as with all subcultures, it comes complete with its own language and terminology). Within a pre-agreed timeframe and pre-agreed parameters, the dominant is in charge, and free to exert their dominance as they see fit. It may be something as subtle as verbal instructions – “sit at my feet and pass me my drink” – or as explicit as tying their sub down and inflicting pain. It’s a way of playing with power dynamics, transgression, pain and pleasure.

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How BDSM Helps Me with Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem by Alex Roberts

September 8, 2016

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY: The Neurobiology of BDSM Sexual Practice

By now, everyone’s got an opinion about 50 Shades of Grey: It's trash—it’s fun fantasy-fodder—it’s misogynist—it’s empowering for women—it’s silly.  While the 50 Shades media saturation has grown tiresome, one must admit that it’s compelled a societal discussion of sexual practices involving bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) that are otherwise not broadly considered.  Leaders of the BDSM community are quick to point out that 50 Shades is not an accurate representation of BDSM sexual practice where “safe, sane and consensual” are the watchwords and that the term “BDSM” is broad, like the term “sports.”  It includes people with highly divergent sexual desires and personae—just because you like to be flogged, doesn’t mean that you necessarily like to be humiliated as well.

For those outside of this group, a failure to understand the appeal of BDSM practice usually comes down to this: How can one experience pain, either the physical pain of a smack on the tush or the emotional pain of humiliation, as pleasurable?  Aren’t pain and pleasure diametrically opposed?

You don’t have to be a masochistic sexenthusiast to know that pleasure and pain can be felt simultaneously: think of the pleasures of a delicious meal laden with spicy chili peppers or the blissful ache following a long-distance run. In the lexicon of cognitive neuroscience, both pleasure and pain indicate salience, that is, experience that is potentially important and thereby deserving of attention. Emotion is the currency of salience, and both positive emotions like euphoria and love and negative emotions like fear and disgust signal events that we must not ignore.

How is salience built into neural pathways?  We have an evolutionarily ancient and and highly interconnected pleasure circuit in our brains.  When neurons in a brain region called the ventral tegmental area become electrically active, thereby triggering the release of dopamine in a structure called the nucleus accumbens, this evokes the feeling of pleasure from both our vices (eating food when hungry, having an orgasm, drinking alcohol) and our virtues (meditation, learning, giving to charity).


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The Neurobiology of BDSM Sexual Practice by David J. Linden, Ph.D.

March 20, 2015

MEDICAL DAILY: Kinky Sex: 6 Science-Backed Benefits Of BDSM

 It’s no secret the trilogy and impending release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey has sparked our curiosity of the taboo 6-for-4 deal acronym: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism, also known as BDSM or S&M. Kinky sex has been defined not by what it is but by what it’s not, and unfortunately, that means others' misconceptions about couples who follow this lifestyle. BDSM is not only a gateway for sexual experimentation that steers away from “vanilla” sex; it can also lead to physical and mental health benefits.

Americans have been feeding their sexual appetite with BDSM far more than the rest of the world. Thirty-six percent of adults in the U.S. use masks, blindfolds, and bondage tools during sex, according to a survey by Durex, compared to only 20 percent worldwide. Although the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) considers the elusive fiefdom practice a disorder if it causes people stress or dysfunction in their lives, it can actually enhance overall well-being.

Dr. Sandra LaMorgese, a sexpert, professional dominatrix, fetishist, and a holistic practitioner in mind, body, and spiritual holistic living in New York City, N.Y., believes BDSM can help couples bond and feel at ease. “During BDSM sessions, clients often experience a release of dopamine and serotonin, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. These two chemicals are associated with feelings of happiness, tranquility, joy, self-confidence, emotional well-being, and motivation. In addition, the release of the chemical vasopressin compels people toward feeling bonded to one another,” LaMorgese told Medical Daily in an email.

Here are six other reasons why it may be time to take a pass on vanilla sex.

1. Improves Communication

Couples who practice BDSM tend to fare better than non-kinky couples when it comes to communication. This is because couples are more aware and communicative about their sexual desires that they know the importance of having a discussion. The utility of tools like “safe words” and making a distinction between “play” and otherwise typical relationship interaction is what contributes to the excellent communication between partners.

“BDSM friendly couples require impeccable communication whereas many mainstream relationships communicate about their sexuality as a result of 'inflammation' or challenges that arise. For a BDSM relationship to thrive, it must rely on a foundation of transparency and effective interaction,” Dr. Jeffrey Sumber, a psychotherapist in Chicago, Ill., told Medical Daily in an email.


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Kinky Sex: 6 Science-Backed Benefits of BDSM by Lizette Borreli

February 10, 2015

Image source: shutterstock


Asking your partner to tie you to the bedpost, telling them to slap you hard in the throes of lovemaking, dressing like a woman if you are a man, admitting a fetish for feet: Just a few years ago, any of these acts could be used against you in family court.

This was the case until 2010, when the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would be changing the diagnostic codes for BDSM, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism (a variant of cross-dressing) in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in 2013. The new definitions marked a distinction between behavior—for example, playing rough—and actual pathology. Consenting adults were no longer deemed mentally ill for choosing sexual behavior outside the mainstream.

The change was the result of a massive effort from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997 “to advance the rights of and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities.” At the time, these types of sexual behavior, by virtue of their inclusion in the DSM, were considered markers of mental illness—and, as a result, were heavily stigmatized, often with legal repercussions. In family court, an interest in BDSM was used as justification to remove people’s children from their custody.

“A sexual sadist practices on non-consenting people,” explains NCSF founder Susan Wright, while “someone who is kinky is having consensual enthusiastically desired sex.” The problem with the earlier DSM: It didn’t draw a distinction between the two. A 1998 survey from the NCSF found that “36 percent of S&M practitioners have been victims of harassment, and 30 percent have been victims of discrimination.” As a result, the organization’s website says, “24 percent [have lost] a job or a contract, 17 percent [have lost] a promotion, and 3 percent [have lost] custody of a child.”

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BDSM Versus the DSM by Merissa Nathan Gerson

January 13, 2015

ECOSALON: Beyond ‘Fifty Shades’- What’s the Real Deal with BDSM? Sexual Healing

 The entire universe knows that the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer was released last week, so if you don’t – where on Earth have you been?

I chatted with Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor of “The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales,” about kink, BDSM, and how we can go beyond “Fifty Shades”. You know you want to.

Stefanie Weiss: What’s your quick and dirty definition of BDSM?

Rachel Kramer Bussel: I usually just define the acronym – bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism, which can involve eroticizing power and control as well as eroticizing the giving and receiving of pain, pleasure, and other kinks. It’s such a wide term that it can be hard to define.

SW: How and why can it be liberating for women — especially those who have only been exposed to “vanilla” sex?

RKB: I don’t think BDSM is for everyone, but for many women, it’s a way to explicitly play with power in ways we can’t always do in our daily lives, whether because we are expected to be “good girls” or are simply bound (no pun intended) by societal and workplace rules. There are also rules in BDSM, but once you’ve agreed on those, it can be anything goes in terms of exploring and possibly pushing your own limits, by choice. For example, you can be “bad” and get a spanking or other “punishment,” but you’re playing by rules you’ve agreed to, and very possibly fantasized about.

SW: I’m loving your new book “The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales. The characters are in all positions (literal and figurative) in the submission/dom context. Women are dommes, subs, and everything in between. How is your vision different than the standard “Fifty Shades of Grey” narrative? (Which I will admit now I could never bring myself to read.)

RKB: With an erotica anthology, especially one with 69 stories, there’s much more room for variety. I wanted to give readers a range of entertainment as well as possibilities for reasons characters may enter into BDSM relationships and what they get out of them. I think something we as a culture don’t tend to think about as much are the doms; when someone wants, say, to be tied up, it’s expected that the other person, especially if they are a man, will want to. Not all kinky men are dominant, nor are all kinky women submissive, so I wanted that to come across in the book. I wanted there to be playful as well as more intense examples of kink, and show the mental as well as physical side, which is why my story is called “Reverse Psychology.” The narrator is devoted to his domme and does things to please her, not because he’s inherently into delivering pain.

SW: What myths about BDSM have been inspired by “Fifty Shades”?


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Beyond Fifty Shades: What's the Real Deal with BDSM? Sexual Healing by Stefanie Iris Weiss

August 2, 2014

MEDICAL DAILY: S&M May Be The New Yoga: BDSM Causes Blood Flow In Brain To Alter State Of Consciousness


Skin tight leather-clad outfits, whips, and chains are all part of what is considered to be the subtle yet pervasive bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) culture. The act of sexually enjoying giving and receiving pain — sadomasochism (S&M) — once thought to be a pathological practice is now viewed as some type of meditation. According to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas, the practice of S&M alters blood flow in the brain, which leads to an altered state of consciousness similar to a “runner's high” or yoga.

Currently, consensual sexual behaviors like BDSM, are listed as a paraphilia, or unusual sexual fixation, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, kinky sex is only considered to be a paraphilic disorder if it deliberately causes harm to the person committing the act or others. “A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention,” according to the DSM-5. The shift of being viewed as a mental illness, to an unusual sexual interest, has promoted researchers to delve into what exactly makes partners engage in these painful sexual behaviors.

The practice of S&M and other erotic practices may actually reap benefits for partners that are that similar to meditation. James Amber, graduate student in psychology at Northern Illinois University, conducted a small study to evaluate how S&M can lead to feelings of peacefulness and living “in the here and now” that mimic those felt during a meditative experience. Fourteen participants, both male and female, were recruited for the study to test whether pain from sexual experiences may cause blood flow to alter the region of the brain responsible for control and working memory.

The researchers first randomly assigned the participants to either “receiving pain” or “giving pain” by the roll of a dice. In addition, they had to complete a cognitive test called the Strook task, which matches words and colors, and questionnaires before and after the sexual tests to examine their brain function.



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S&M May Be The New Yoga: BDSM Causes Bloodflow In Brain To Alter States Of Consciousness by Lizette Borelli

February 21, 2014

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY: The Pleasure of Pain

Bind my ankles with your white cotton rope so I cannot walk. Bind my wrists so I cannot push you away. Place me on the bed and wrap your rope tighter around my skin so it grips my flesh. Now I know that struggle is useless, that I must lie here and submit to your mouth and tongue and teeth, your hands and words and whims. I exist only as your object. Exposed.

Of every 10 people who reads these words, one or more has experimented with sadomasochism (S & M), which is most popular among educated, middle- and upper-middle-class men and women, according to psychologists and ethnographers who have studied the phenomenon. Charles Moser, Ph.D., M.D., of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, has researched S & M to learn the motivation behind it--to understand why in the world people would ask to be bound, whipped and flogged. The reasons are as surprising as they are varied.

For James, the desire became apparent when he was a child playing war games--he always hoped to be captured. "I was frightened that I was sick," he says. But now, he adds, as a well-seasoned player on the scene, "I thank the leather gods I found this community."

At first the scene found him. When he was at a party in college, a professor chose him. She brought him home and tied him up, told him how bad he was for having these desires, even as she fulfilled them. For the first time he felt what he had only imagined, what he had read about in every S & M book he could find.

James, a father and manager, has a Type A personality--in-control, hard-working, intelligent, demanding. His intensity is evident on his face, in his posture, in his voice. But when he plays, his eyes drift and a peaceful energy flows through him as though he had injected heroin. With each addition of pain or restraint, he stiffens slightly, then falls into a deeper calm, a deeper peace, waiting to obey his mistress. "Some people have to be tied up to be free," he says.


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The Pleasure of Pain by Marianne Apostolides

September 1, 1999