How the Practice of BDSM is Linked to Relationship Satisfaction

People who are into bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism (or BDSM for short) experience a lot of stigma. For one thing, they are often seen as psychologically disturbed, despite research showing that BDSM practitioners appear to be just as psychologically healthy as everyone else. For another, many people—including a lot of mental health professionals—question whether you can practice BDSM and still have a healthy relationship. In fact, in one survey of therapists, fully one-third of them reported being unsure of whether someone into BDSM could carry on a functional relationship [1].

As it turns out, surprisingly little research has addressed the relationship quality of persons who engage in BDSM; however, a new study published in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy offers some insight. In this study, 163 people who are into consensual BDSM and were currently involved in a committed romantic relationship were recruited online through websites catering to the BDSM community (e.g., FetLife).

Most participants were heterosexual (53%) or bisexual (31%), most were in some type of consensually non-monogamous relationship (32% were polyamorous, 21% were in open relationships), and most reported frequent participation in BDSM. The most common BDSM identities were submissive (32.5%), dominant (29%), and “switch” (20%).

To assess relationship quality, participants completed the Dyadic Adjustment Scale—a widely used scale for distinguishing between distressed and non-distressed couples. The key finding was that BDSM practitioners reported an average score on this scale that put them squarely in the non-distressed category. Further the scores of male- and female-identified participants did not differ, nor did those of participants who identified as having a dominant/top versus submissive/bottom role.

The researchers also explored the subscales of the Dyadic Adjustment Scale and found that BDSM practitioners scored closer to the non-distressed range than the distressed range for both relationship satisfaction (how satisfied people are with their relationships) and relationship cohesion (the degree to which couple members participate in activities together).

These findings help to dispel the common stereotype that BDSM isn’t conducive to a healthy relationship. Consensual BDSM doesn’t necessarily impair relationship functioning or undermine relationship happiness.

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[1] Kelsey, K., Stiles, B. L., Spiller, L., & Diekhoff, G. M. (2013). Assessment of therapists’ attitudes towards BDSM. Psychology & Sexuality, 4, 255–267.

[2] Rogak, H. M., & Connor, J. J. (2018). Practice of consensual BDSM and relationship satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy.

Image Source: 123RF/stockbymh

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