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BDSM practitioners aren't mentally ill: study

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Some good news for people who enjoy restraints, riding crops and floggers in the bedroom: A new study says you probably don't have a mental disorder.

The results "seem contradictory to what the general public and professionals believe," said Andreas Wismeijer of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who published the study along with Marcel van Assen.

Previous studies had suggested that BDSM activities were linked to mental disorders and vulnerability to abuse, according to the researchers, who published their results in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

But in the new study, researchers found people who like BDSM, which stands for bondage-discipline, dominance-submission and sadism-masochism, were well adjusted and reported slightly better wellbeing than people who don't take part in those activities.

"We do have a lot of academic literature that's finding these positive things and not finding harmful characteristics," said Dr. Beverly Stiles, who has studied BDSMers but was not involved with the new research.

"The people that identify as being part of the (BDSM) subculture, this is who they see themselves as in their core," said Stiles, chair of sociology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"There have been a number of studies in Finland and other places that basically concluded that there was no more or less psychopathology (or mental illnesses) among those who practice BDSM compared to control groups," said Dr. Richard Krueger, who researches sexual behavior but wasn't involved in the new study.

"They were fairly well adjusted or better functioning," said Krueger, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.

The authors recruited 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 people who don't take part in BDSM activities through advertisements to take surveys.

The questionnaire asked about BDSMers' personality, wellbeing and how they handle attachment and rejection.

Overall, BDSMers performed just as well as those who didn't report any involvement in BDSM activities. In fact, they scored slightly better on questions that measure neuroticism, openness, adventurism, wellbeing, awareness and sensitivity to rejection than the comparison group.

Stiles cautioned, however, that the study's participants volunteered, which means they may not be representative of the general population.

FIFTY SHADES EFFECT

Rachel Venning, co-founder of the Babeland chain of adult stores in New York and Seattle, said this was the first time that she had heard that past research connected BDSM and mental illness.

"We have the section that's got the blindfolds, cuffs and floggers and people don't see it and go ‘that's psycho!'" Venning told Reuters Health.

In fact, Babeland stores saw a jump in sales of BDSM items mentioned in E.L. James's popular 2011 romance novel "Fifty Shades of Grey."

"Every person on every airplane and every beach chair was reading a copy of that book. That gave people a little more permission to explore that stuff without making them feel like a freak or weirdo," Venning said.

Stiles told Reuters Health that BDSM practitioners include doctors, nurses and lawyers.

Some diagnostic criteria manuals, in certain European countries, have removed references to BDSM, Krueger said. However, the new edition of the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) still considers sexual masochism a disorder if it causes people stress or dysfunction in their lives.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/14eYiKc The Journal of Sexual Medicine, online May 16, 2013.

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