How Many People Have Experimented With BDSM Before?

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BDSM has long been deemed a paraphilia—meaning an unusual sexual interest—by psychologists and psychiatrists. The classification of BDSM as a paraphilia implies that it’s likely to be a pretty rare sexual practice in the overall population. But is that really the case? Just how many people have ever had a BDSM experience before?

This question has been difficult to answer with any degree of certainty because, historically, nationally representative sex surveys haven’t routinely inquired about BDSM. As a result, we’ve had to base most of our knowledge on the results of convenience samples, which aren’t representative of the population and therefore don’t tell us as much about actual prevalence rates. However, a recent national US sex survey offers useful insight.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, explored Americans' interest in and experiences with various BDSM acts. Here’s a brief summary of what they found:

  • 21% of women and 22% of men said they have tied up a partner or been tied up during sex before.

  • 14% of women and 16% of men said they have playfully whipped a partner or been playfully whipped as a part of sex play.

  • 34% of women and 30% of men said they have spanked a partner or been spanked during sex before.

  • 3% of women and 4% of men said they have been to a BDSM party or dungeon before.

Even more Americans expressed interest in bondage, whipping, and attending BDSM parties than had engaged in these behaviors previously. In other words, BDSM interest appears to be quite a bit more common than BDSM behavior.

When you consider that one-third of Americans from a nationally representative survey report having engaged in spanking and, further, that spanking is just one of many different forms of BDSM, this tells us that BDSM is far from a rare or unusual sexual interest or behavior.

If anything, this survey probably underestimates the popularity of BDSM because it did not inquire about a wide range of BDSM behaviors. For example, inquiring about dominance-submission play would have likely yielded higher numbers, especially considering that dominance and submission are among the most popular sexual fantasies.

More research would clearly be useful, especially research with national samples that inquires about the full spectrum of BDSM behaviors. That said, the current results are important because they suggest that BDSM is a far more common sexual interest and behavior than previously assumed.

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To learn more about this research, see: Herbenick, D., Bowling, J., Fu, T. C. J., Dodge, B., Guerra-Reyes, L., & Sanders, S. (2017). Sexual diversity in the United States: Results from a nationally representative probability sample of adult women and men. PLoS ONE, 12(7), e0181198.

Image Source: iStockphoto

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