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The Psychology of Kink: a Survey Study into the Relationships of Trauma and Attachment Style with BDSM Interests

Abstract

Introduction

BDSM is a prevalent type of sexual expression that refers to Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), and Sadism and Masochism (SM). It has been speculated that a substantial percentage of BDSM practitioners have experienced (sexual) trauma in the past. Attachment style is an additional factor resulting from early life dynamics that has been suggested to potentially influence BDSM interests. This study will investigate to what extent BDSM interests are related to trauma and attachment style, while differentiating between BDSM community practitioners and private practitioners.

Methods

A group of 771 BDSM practitioners and 518 non-practitioners from the general population completed a survey in 2017 assessing BDSM interests as well as the Brief Trauma Questionnaire to gauge traumatic events and the Relationships Questionnaire to assess attachment style.

Results

Community BDSM practitioners and private practitioners reported higher levels of physical abuse in adulthood but no significant differences emerged for other traumatic experiences including childhood physical abuse or unwanted sexual trauma. Surprisingly, BDSM practitioners had more secure and at the same time more anxious-preoccupied attachment styles compared to non-practitioners. Besides, secure attachment style was associated with dominance, whereas the anxious-avoidant attachment style was associated with submissiveness. Intensity of BDSM interest was predicted by secure attachment style, gender, sexual orientation, and living area.

Conclusions

Thus, our findings do not support the hypothesis of BDSM being a maladaptive coping mechanism in response to early life dynamics.

Policy Implications

BDSM practices deserve perception as normal sexual practice free from stigmatization rather than deviant behavior.

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Correspondence to M. Morrens.

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Ten Brink, S., Coppens, V., Huys, W. et al. The Psychology of Kink: a Survey Study into the Relationships of Trauma and Attachment Style with BDSM Interests. Sex Res Soc Policy 18, 1–12 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-020-00438-w

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Keywords

  • Attachment
  • BDSM
  • Kink
  • Sadomasochism
  • Trauma