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Study: Whips + clips + cuffs + collars = wholesome 'recreational leisure'

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A new study has discovered that practitioners of "bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, sadism-masochism (BDSM)" tend to be less neurotic, anxious, and paranoid, and more extroverted, conscientious, and open to new experiences than members of the "vanilla" general public.

BDSM practitioners "either did not differ from the general population and if they differed, they always differed in the more favorable direction," concludes Andreas Wismeijer, coauthor of "Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners", published in the prestigious Journal of Sexual Medicine, reports Live Science.

The good doctor Wismeijer's primary field of research is the psychology of secrets and secrecy, and a "chance meeting with the founder of the Netherlands' largest BDSM Web forum," Live Science reports, got him to thinking that BDSM practitioners might be an interesting set of folks to study the psychology of secret-keeping.

He then put out a call to members of the BDSM community asking for volunteers for a survey; 902 signed on. For his control group, he advertised on a woman's magazine and university websites, plus a "personal secret website" to obtain non-BDSMers; 434 subjects agreed to participate.

Without telling his respondents the aim of his study – he merely told them it was a study on "human behavior" – he then asked them to complete questionnaires designed to measure their personality, rejection sensitivity, relationship-attachment style, and overall sense of well-being.

It is of course reasonable to question the scientific qualifications of Wismeijer and the thoroughness of his methodology. Before you dismiss his findings out of hand, however, this excerpt from the abstract of his paper might shed some light on his qualifications:

Associations were examined using χ2 tests of independence with φ and Cramer's V as effect size measures and eta or Pearson's correlation. Group differences were tested using analysis of covariance, with partial η2 as effect size measure. A priori contrasts were tested using α = 0.01 to correct for multiple testing; for all other tests we used α = 0.05, two tailed.

If you fully comprehend that methodology, you're kinkier than we'll ever be – two tailed, indeed...

After tabulating and analyzing their findings, Wismeijer and coauthor Marcel van Assen came to the following conclusion: "The results mostly suggest favorable psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners compared with the control group; BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, had higher subjective well-being, yet were less agreeable."

Aside from that last bit, a leather-wearing, spiked-collared whip-wielder sounds like a fine chap or chapette with whom to hoist a pint.

Of course, the BDSM community is not homogeneous. Specifically, there are dominants, submissives, and those who enjoy playing both roles – "switches" in the leathery lingo. According to Wismeijer and van Assen, dominants tended to score the highest in all measurements, submissives the lowest, and switches exactly where you'd assume: in the middle.

But don't think that submissives are sniveling self-loathers. On the contrary. "Within the BDSM community," Wismeijer told Live Science, "[submissives] were always perceived as the most vulnerable, but still, there was not one finding in which the submissives scored less favorable than the controls."

Wismeijer is quick to admit that his study is not bulletproof. The self-selecting nature of the participants is one cause for caution, as is the fact that it's possible the BDSM practitioners skewed their answers to make themselves look good. But the fact that none of the participants knew what the study was about lessens that latter concern.

All things considered, he said, "We did not have any findings suggesting that people who practice BDSM have a damaged psychological profile or have some sort of psychopathology or personality disorder."

Or, as the abstract to the paper sums up Wismeijer and van Assen's findings, "We conclude that BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes."

As we publish this story, the weekend opens wide before us, providing ample time for some recreational leisure. ®

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