My Twitter and Facebook feeds were a’buzz this week with news that BDSM practitioners may–shockingly!–actually have better mental health than our ‘vanilla’ counterparts.
Be sure to play the video on that article. The two goofballs can barely say B, D, S, and M without giggling. #eyeroll.
Okay, so this is good news. Not because the study is conclusive (it isn’t) or even good science, but because it’s about time the scientific community starts tackling BDSM in a mainstream way.
Depending on which survey, 5-25% of Americans are in some way interested in BDSM. Even on the low end of that estimate, that’s more than enough to make ‘kinky’ something that isn’t abnormal. Being kinky isn’t wrong. It’s not even unusual.
I live a bit of an isolated life. I don’t surround myself with bigots, or judgmental people. Most of my friends are sex-positive, lots of them are kinky, and all of them are open-minded. So, I forget that we’re still, as a society, working on lots of phobias and ‘isms’: Racism, sexism, and homophobia are huge issues.
Yet even in my circles of friends, while racism, sexism, and homophobia are taboo, looking down on BDSM practitioners or labeling them as freaks is still socially okay.
A few things happened recently, reminding me we’ve still got some work to do. More studies will help. More talking. More education. More of us, when we’re able, should come out of the closet with our kinks.
I’m privileged, because I don’t have a job to risk if I’m ‘out’ as a kinkster. I have open-minded friends who, on hearing that I’m kinky, kind of shrug and move on, unless they’re super curious, and then we talk and it’s fine. I’m able to say, “Shush, I’m kinky, it’s not a big deal. Yeah, that’s right, I don’t wear leather, I appear completely normal, but in the bedroom? I love getting tied up, beaten, and called a dirty slut.”
I’m able to do this because the potential negative consequences for me are so minimal, it’s just not an issue at all.
We don’t all have that freedom. A lot of kinksters must keep their proclivities a secret, or risk getting fired, being ostracized by their friends, or getting disowned by their families/losing their kids. In some countries, it’s illegal, which is…well, it’s silly. And sad.
Some anecdotes from my own experiences ‘coming out’:
Some thoughts on mainstream media and science-y stuff:
- In the 1980s, the American Psychiatric Association stopped labeling BDSM as a mental illness. However, it wasn’t until the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that us kinksters got completely off the hook. Now, it’s only a disorder if you’re unhappy about your interest. So…that’s good-ish.
- Fifty Shades! As much as many people hate the book for the poor writing, lack of editing, and lack of a decent storyline, Fifty Shades has been a mostly-good thing for the BDSM community. Not because E.L. James went to any lengths to make sure her characters weren’t practicing BDSM as a result of mental health issues–they were–but because Fifty Shades gave people an excuse to try kinky sex. It pushed kink into mainstream. That’s a good thing.
- But! Mainstream media’s portrayal of BDSM, more often than not, includes characters who are suffering from mental health problems. I watched Secretary last night with a friend of mine. I’d forgotten just how messed up Lee and Mr. Grey were.
Let me be very clear here: Creating media (books, movies, etc) does not come with a condition that one must be fair, portray certain people in a positive light, or take on any moral agenda.
Creators of fiction have no inherent obligation to take on these issues or fight for human rights, anti-bigotry, or anything else. Fiction is fiction, a story is a story.
Every time I hear a critique of E.L. James for her nasty portrayal of kink, I get defensive. By sitting down and writing a book, Ms. James wasn’t also signing on to address any issue that you or I might care about. She just wrote a book, and it did well, and now we can deal with and address the consequences in a rational way.
That said, to counter the mainstream media’s ugly shadow over kinksters, it’s fantastic to see the scientific community reaching out and publishing studies that show BDSM isn’t a disease and that lots of us kinksters are mentally sound–perhaps even moreso, generally, than our vanilla friends.
I think BDSM is fascinating. I’m curious about the evolutionary psychology of kink, about what makes us tick the way we tick, and why some of us are more likely to develop kinky interests than others.
Being kinky isn’t bad or good. It’s just what it is. For some of us, it’s a choice. For others, it’s ingrained, part of our psyche, part of who we’ve always been.
So, onward, science! Onward, to kinksters coming out!
Apologies for the long and rambling post.
P.S. Under His Roof, a domestic discipline novella, is free through Monday!