Current Sexual Health Reports

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 75–79 | Cite as

Is BDSM a Sexual Orientation or Serious Leisure?

  • Richard A. SprottEmail author
  • D J Williams
Current Controversies (P Kleinplatz and C Moser, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Current Controversies


Purpose of Review

This review summarizes recent empirical and theoretical scholarship pertaining to two primary ways that BDSM is conceptualized, specifically as a unique sexual orientation or as a form of leisure experience. This review helps clinicians understand how BDSM is currently positioned by scholars and by some within the BDSM community.

Recent Findings

Recent studies have found strong support for both the sexual orientation and leisure perspectives, distinctly. The sexual orientation approach currently focuses on a somewhat narrow segment of highly invested BDSM participants, while the leisure approach accounts for a broad range of diverse participation and experience.


BDSM can be understood as both an orientation and as leisure for many but not all participants. Both perspectives share the same underlying multidisciplinary substrate. Although the emphases of the orientation and leisure approaches are different to some degree, the sexual orientation perspective (OP) and the serious leisure perspective (SLP) seem to account equally well for sexual identity centered on BDSM. Understanding both perspectives provides a more complete understanding of the variation and complexity of BDSM.


BDSM Leisure Serious leisure perspective Sexual configurations theory Sexual orientation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Women’s StudiesCalifornia State University, East BayHaywardUSA
  2. 2.Sociology, Social Work, & CriminologyIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA

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