Is BDSM a Sexual Orientation or Serious Leisure?


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.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Sprott.

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Sprott, R.A., Williams, D.J. Is BDSM a Sexual Orientation or Serious Leisure?. Curr Sex Health Rep 11, 75–79 (2019).

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  • BDSM
  • Leisure
  • Serious leisure perspective
  • Sexual configurations theory
  • Sexual orientation