The inclination for people to understand the unknown is often fueled by an immense inability to tolerate discomfort. If we look back throughout history, when folks have been presented with unfamiliar concepts, desires, or identities, there are a few ways in which they have typically responded. The first group is a subset of people who see differences and acknowledge their existence but let them continue to exist in the world without much of an opinion, understanding that those differences have little to no impact on their own lives. They do not approach these individuals with judgment; rather, they continue to live in a space of neutrality.

We then have people who attempt to understand differences, who value and embrace the beauty of diversity, and who put energy into learning about those who are different from themselves. These folks may not only approach others with acceptance, but sometimes they will fight to bring to light the problematic nature of discrimination and stereotyping.

Lastly, there is a category of folks who immediately dismiss anyone whose identities or desires are outside of their perceived conventional understanding of “normal.” Further, they seek to change those folks in an attempt to mold them into inauthentic, silenced, and truly false versions of themselves in order for them to fit within the constructs that society has deemed acceptable. It is this category of individuals who continue to perpetuate hate, shame, and deep pain that so many folks have to deal with on a daily basis.

The problematic response of immediately expressing negative judgments towards individuals whose differences are unfamiliar or inconsistent with one’s own way of living is unquestionably something that needs to be targeted on a global scale. However, within the mental health community, specifically the sex therapy community, it is our ethical responsibility to make sure that this discrimination is not being perpetuated within our own field, and it is painful to reveal that it is. While advancements are indeed occurring in all realms of psychotherapy, the blatant harm that is being done to the kink community as they attempt to seek mental health resources indicates a significant need for advanced training in the realms of kink.

In a study released in 2012, researchers found that in a sample of 766 clinicians, 25 percent automatically pathologized kink. While this number is damaging in and of itself, what is both startling and appalling is that 30 percent of those clinicians agreed that kink should be eliminated by therapy (Kelsey et. all, 2012). We cannot dismiss the fact that eight years have passed since this research was conducted, and it would be beneficial to see how these numbers look today. However, mental health clinicians pathologizing the kink community is not an issue that has been entirely eliminated, and it must continue to be addressed.

The pathologizing of kinky desires has existed for centuries, and as mentioned in past articles, was exacerbated by Freud and Kraft-Ebbing’s works in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the time, there was little to no understanding of kink; it was commonly dismissed first as insanity and later rebranded as existing as a result of psychological conflict. The psychopathological theory, influenced by Freud’s beliefs that psychological disease must be occurring if someone has BDSM desires has since been thoroughly examined by researchers.

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Kink Education Is an Ethical Obligation by Elyssa Helfer

Jan 8, 2021