After years of clinical study and practice (both professional and personal), years of listening, followed by aimlessly staring out into the universe with a flavored coffee of some sort (hazelnut), as a team we realized the lead in question that we receive most during online therapy sessions is, “What is wrong with me?”. Many of the internal conflicts of intimacy and sexuality are simply stated as “why am I this way’, ” why do I enjoy being spanked” or “am I the only one who finds this erotic”…. When these questions are asked, we sit back and realize that these answers to these questions lead you home.  Transparency and sex don’t always go hand and hand. It’s one of the reasons we feel we have the best jobs on the planet!

Questions on infidelity , loss of trust, self esteem, etc. can be somewhat uncomplicated. Shame is typically defined as  the failure to protect yourself or someone close to you and you hate yourself for it. If the world had no shame it would have no therapists. Not that every encounter doesn’t bring a new challenge but the fact of the matter is traditional sex roles and intimacy have been a part of relationship therapy for over a century. Shame and Guilt in regards to relationship health are topics therapists encounter all the time. We offer clinical sounding interpretations of these instances that are usually widely accepted by the mainstream treatment community and applauded for doing so until kink was widely introduced and accepted and societal role in sexual shame was discussed. Being completely honest, until recent years the psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners was defined as “maladaptive.” That’s as shameful of a word as could be thrown out at the time. It certainly didn’t convey acceptance.

Giving a little history: Until 2010 the American Psychiatric Association changed its diagnostic codes for BDSM in the DSM-III (published in 2013) which is pretty much the “bible’ that our field adheres to. Consenting adults were no longer deemed mentally ill for choosing sexual behavior outside the mainstream.

This view stemmed from the psychopathology/medical-model contention at the end of the 19th century and is still predominant in some contexts. For instance, BDSM is to some degree still pathologized in the upcoming fifth edition of the American Psychological Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual because it will consider sexual masochism and sexual sadism as paraphilias, and as paraphilic disorders if they cause distress or impairment to self or others.

Yes. The 19th Century!

To add more insult to the characterization in psychological study on BDSM lends its focus on PTSD or early childhood trauma. The preoccupation with compartmentalizing these desires as maladaptive or something of the sort ignores the basic facts of human sexuality: Arousal is not just about physical stimulation and physical reactions don’t confine themselves to psychologically comfortable circumstances.

One common misconception when it comes to BDSM or “kink” is that it is a “weird fetish” practiced by few, if any, people you may know. These types of practices have been around centuries as means to evolve, develop and enlighten. Present in American Indian traditions, Sufi and Hindu practices and even in Christianity. These practices are referred to as the “ordeal path” and involve acts of devotion, surrender, sacrifice, and, in many instances, community involvement through prayer, care giving and preparation. Some can experience an altered state of consciousness and spiritual experience.  Similar experiences are described in the practice of BDSM. Feelings of intense love, devotion, gratitude and ego surrender are frequently reported by SM practitioners. In this way, this can be a spiritual path.

In a recently published study by the University of Quebec in Canada by Drs. Christian Joyal and Julie Carpentier, they found that close to half of the people surveyed reported at least one kink interest (that is, an atypical sexual interest — they range from transvestism (or cross-dressing) to urophilia, which is a sexual interest in urine,)to cuckolding/partner sharing and about one-third had engaged in this behavior at least once. The most common paraphilias were voyeurism, fetishism, and exhibitionism with a partner (that is, having sex while at risk of being seen). This sample has been reinforced by many studies across the globe. It’s not just the Canadians who have discovered the kink party!

So…. What is BDSM?

The Department of Clinical Psychology describes BDSM as: a sexual practice characterized by suppression, physical restriction, practicing role playing games, power exchange, and sometimes even the administration of pain. BDSM is an acronym for bondage-discipline, dominance submission, sadism-masochism, and encompasses a broad range of sexual behaviors. The interests of BDSM participants also diverge: some are only attracted to a limited range of BDSM activities (such as bondage), while others may have broad and more flexible BDSM preferences

“Broad” is an understatement to say the least. BDSM is VAST but in its simplest definition we find it be an extreme unequal authority imbalance predominantly acted out in a relationship dynamic between two or more consenting adults.

On the issue of consent…One question that we ask clients engaged in any relationship during their initial consultation is, “Do you feel this is helping or hurting” and what to them defines healthy sexuality. In the context of sexual identity and desire, expression is key. The next questions we ask, we feel everyone should keep in their daily inventory, is how does this expression impact you and does this behavior prevent you from having deep, intimate relationships with others or impair your life in any way.

Being secure in your sexual identity before entering into a relationship or contract is key. This is something as unique as your fingerprint and not easily changed.  This identity may not be widely accepted within your closest relationship circles, but it is important to point out that it is far more constructive to obtain introspective awareness of your sex and sexuality, and who you are in it, than the myth of unconditional family love.

Dr. Firestone writes,” The precept of unconditional family/parental love is a fundamental part of society’s morality and the core of family life. It leads to considerable guilt feelings in parents and children alike.” This structure leads to many religious ideologies that are in themselves immoral. A philosophy of self-sacrifice and loss of identity and self-denial. The suppression of human nature and the concept, in our opinion, has been distorted with the concept of “the original sin”. That we are somehow born bad bred from impulses and that the naked body is somehow sinful and dirty. In traditional families, children can grow up feeling considerable guilt about their bodies, desires, and bodily functions. Feelings of nontraditional sexuality can cause a conflicted internal relationship with self. The problem with this relationship is it doesn’t account for the science of blood flow, and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline that result in a chemical high that effects the body whether we would like to suppress it or not even if, “born this way.”

As therapists we are quick not to minimize sexual identity to be merely effected by the science of birth but do know the origins of your sexuality are bred and birthed by YOU. There are many factors that may effect sexual identity, arousal, imprinting, etc.. It’s beautiful and complex much like our personal experience with BDSM has been as well. We will discuss more of the components of the mosaic between kink and sensuality specifically in later articles. Until then, feel  free to become part of our mailing list, get a free online consult, or schedule a session. The DSM-III gave us power in 2013, we intend to use it. You do the same!