50 Shades of Facts, Part 1

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.By Margie Nicols, Ph.D.

There’s good news and bad news, imo, about the success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ The good news is that women’s erotic life is getting a boost…..as in ‘validated’……as is women’s interest in kinky fantasy sex.  The bad news:  Christian Grey’s kinky predilictions are attributed to childhood abuse, thereby reinforcing (incorrect) stereotypes about BDSM..

So this prompt me to start a series of blog posts about kink aka BDSM.  I’m going to start with some definitions and a little truth about what it is – and isn’t.

BDSM is an internet-generated acronym that stands for:

BONDAGE AND DISCIPLINE

DOMINATION AND SUBMISSION

SADISM AND MASOCHISM

Cute, right?  It’s an attempt to put an umbrella over a diverse set of sexual behaviors that have some things in common, one being – fewer people practice them than, say, vaginal intercourse or oral sex.  Usually when we talk about BDSM, or ‘kinky sex,’ we also include:

FETISHES

Fetishes are attractions to ‘unusual’ body parts or objects.  What is considered a fetish is pretty arbitrary – if you like big breasts you aren’t a fetishist, if you like feet you are – but you get the general idea.

One more term – ‘kinksters’ call ‘standard’ sex acts ( to put it crudely,fucking and sucking) ‘vanilla sex.’  As in – vanilla is most common, but we’ve got every flavor you can imagine, and vanilla alone can be boring.

Okay, let’s start with some facts about ‘who does it.’  Most surveys find about 15-20 percent of Americans get kinky at least occasionally.  Unless you count ‘love bites’ —55% like to get or give passionate those, perhaps the source of our obsession with vampires.  And I’ll bet if you asked the number of people who like what is euphemistically called ‘rough sex’ – a little playful force, some scratching, stuff like that- the figures would go through the roof.

But anyway, NOT counting that stuff about 15-20% of us get down with some occasional (or more) BDSM, mostly spanking and bondage.  An Australian study found more people practiced kink in the last year than the number who identified as gay or lesbian.  So we’re talking a significant minority.

About now you might be wondering:  “15-20% ?  Where are they?” If you are, you’ve hit on probably the single biggest thing that keeps kink from being accepted in the mainstream culture.  The visible people in the BDSM world are the tiny, tiny minority – I’m guessing less than 1% – that live a full-out kink lifestyle.  What’s visible are professional dominatrixes, people in 24 by 7 leather and chains, folks who hang out at kink clubs, organizations, conventions….who eat, breathe, and sleep BDSM as a lifestyle.  Those folks are great, terrific people with a lot to teach us  – but they don’t represent most of the people who like kinky sex.  Most kinksters are the couple next door. And they ain’t telling anyone what they do behind closed doors.

Before I tell you about the ‘essence’ of kink, let me tell you what it’s not:

  • It’s not pathological to like kinky sex.  The little bit of research we have shows that kinksters have no more or less screwed up emotionally than everyone else, and no more likely to have abuse or sexual assault in their background.
  • People into BDSM are not lonely, defective, weirdos- they tend to be better educated than the average American, and just as likely to be in a long term relationship
  • They are not sex addicts.  At least, there are no higher rates of sex addiction among kinky people than vanilla ones.
  • They are not narrowly focused just on kink.  On average, people into BDSM have a much BROADER sexual repertoire than vanilla folk – they do all kinds of interesting sexual things, and ALSO do the things vanilla people do.
  • BDSM is not rape or aggression.  The vast majority of kinksters practice consensual sex – just like vanilla people.
  • And kinky people are not angry or violent. In fact, some are a little – nerdy.  You’re more likely to see BDSM’ers at a Renaissance Fair than a gun show.

 

  • So what do the different types of kinky sex have in common:
    • It’s about role playing, and the most common theme is – someone’s the ‘top,’ someone’s the ‘bottom,’ someone’s the dom(dominant) and someone’s the sub (submissive).  Whereas lots of vanilla sex is covertly polarized – one partner is more aggressive or active while the other more passive and willing to follow – BDSM is EXPLICITLY polarized.  By consent, of course
    • But it’s often about other kind of role playing as well.  Kinky sex is fun, playful sex – the kind of sex where you can act out your deepest, darkest fantasies with someone you trust and maybe love.  Teacher/student, cop/criminal, pirate/prisoner.  Once again, lots of people have vanilla sex and just play out these fantasies in their heads – kinky people enact them – and make them fun and super-erotic
    • Sometimes it’s about “pain” – but ‘good’ pain.  As they say in the kink world, even masochists hate to go to the dentist. Our colleague Nan Jacobson Wise, who does research on the brain science of sex, says the pleasure and pain centers are located in the same place in the brain – it’s all a matter of context.    If you like rough sex – if you’ve ever woken up to find hickey’s, scratch marks, some black and blue marks from the night before – you know all about ‘good’ pain.  After that, it’s just a matter of degree
    • Sometimes it’s about playing with sensations, or sensory deprivation – like blindfolds, ice cubes, hot wax.  Kinksters have figured out the links between ALL the sense and eroticism.
    • BDSM often plays upon the darker aspects of sexuality, the things we are afraid of, that we try to push away – like fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, humiliation, aggression.  This deserves a whole blog post or two, so I’ll write more about this another time.  But – think about how ‘hot’ forbidden sex is – and how much the ‘heat’ has to do with fear tinged with guilt.  Think: sky diving, roller coasters- i.e., things that thrill us that objectively speaking should only terrify us.
    • BDSM is very intense, likely to produce ‘peak experiences,’ altered states of consciousness – many people see it as spiritual, incredibly intimate, often romantic – as well as fun and orgasmic.

    And here’s the best kept secret about BDSM – even a little kink, or what I call the ‘kink mindset’ of playfulness, creativity, and adventure – can immeasurably improve your sex life. But more of that another time.

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