Hormonal Changes and Couple Bonding in Consensual Sadomasochistic Activity
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In two studies, 58 sadomasochistic (SM) practitioners provided physiological measures of salivary cortisol and testosterone (hormones associated with stress and dominance, respectively) and psychological measures of relationship closeness before and after participating in SM activities. Observed activities included bondage, sensory deprivation, a variety of painful and pleasurable stimulation, verbal and non-verbal communication, and expressions of caring and affection. During the scenes, cortisol rose significantly for participants who were bound, receiving stimulation, and following orders, but not for participants who were providing stimulation, orders, or structure. Female participants who were bound, receiving stimulation, and following orders also showed increases in testosterone during the scenes. Thereafter, participants who reported that their SM activities went well showed reductions in physiological stress (cortisol) and increases in relationship closeness. Among participants who reported that their SM activities went poorly, some showed decreases in relationship closeness whereas others showed increases. The increases in relationship closeness combined with the displays of caring and affection observed as part of the SM activities offer support for the modern view that SM, when performed consensually, has the potential to increase intimacy between participants.
KeywordsSadomasochism Cortisol Testosterone Sexuality
Some of the findings reported here were presented at the May 2002 meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association in Chicago, Illinois and the February 2003 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Los Angeles, California. We thank the Board of Directors and Membership of the Arizona Power Exchange, and the Director, Staff, and Attendees of Thunder in the Mountains for their invaluable help in running the studies. We also thank the Board of Directors and Membership of the Leather Rose and the Membership of Kinky by Association for providing comments and feedback on the studies and pilot samples for the assay procedure used in Study 2. Finally, we thank Doug Granger and Jeremy Trexel for their advice regarding the physiological measures, and Evelyn Comber, Rich Dockter, and Doug Henderson for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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