A Peek Inside The BDSM Bedroom

·Senior Editor
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Curious about kink? Here’s what a confidential survey reveals. (Photo: Stocksy/Lumina)

By now, it’s (thankfully) common knowledge that 50 Shades of Gray isn’t exactly representative of the sexual activities of most BDSM practitioners. But … what is? A new study from Portugal offers some insight.

The study, published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, includes details from extensive online interviews with more than 60 Portuguese adults in the BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) community.

The online questionnaire explored a number of topics, from how long it took BDSM practitioners to act on their interests, to the most preferred sexual acts, to measures of sexual well-being. Here are some of the key findings:

1. Most BDSM practitioners wait six years to act on their interest in BDSM. 

On average, the subjects became aware of their preferences at age 22 — notably, most likely after their first sexual encounters. But it took them about six years to move from interest to actual involvement, the study discovered.

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People may wait to act on their curiosity because of shame and discrimination, both from internal and external sources, explains study author Patricia M. Pascoal, PhD, a psychology researcher at the University of Porto. “It might be harder for the person to come to terms with their own desires, or to be able to voice them, for fear of being stigmatized,” she tells Yahoo Health.

There are also practical barriers, such as finding like-minded individuals or lack of access to resources or the BDSM community, Pascoal explains.

2. Most BDSM sex happens at home.

More than 80 percent of BDSM scenarios take place at home, the study found. This shows that kink is an integrated, normalized part of everyday life for most practitioners, “rather than something that occurs elsewhere, outside of a private and comfortable space,” the study says.

Plus, the study points out, home practice allows for time to prepare the necessary equipment and set the stage.

3. Many BDSM practitioners are in monogamous relationships.

Of the people surveyed, half were in monogamous relationships, and their sexual activities included BDSM and non-BDSM practice. About half had different partners for their BDSM activities and non-BDSM activities. Non-monogamy may be one way to cope with a mismatch in BDSM interest between partners, the researchers write.

4. BDSM enthusiasts have non-BDSM sex, too.

In general, the subjects didn’t report any significant differences in sexual satisfaction between BDSM sex and non-BDSM sex. “This means that, for people who are interested in both BDSM and non-BDSM sexuality, there is no ‘superior’ way of experiencing sex and sexuality, and that BDSM and non-BDSM sexuality can be interpreted as being different — rather than better or worse — in terms of obtaining satisfaction,” Pascoal says.

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5. The activities people are most interested in aren’t the ones they practice most often.

The survey revealed a wide variety of particular interests and fetishes, even among the small sample of BDSM practitioners. But interestingly, the ones people said they enjoyed the most weren’t necessarily at the top of the list of most frequently practiced activities. This may because of differences between partners, or lack of implements, the researchers say.

6. Sexual problems are generally less important during BDSM sex.

For men, sexual distress (such as inability to maintain an erection) was lower during BDSM sex. “For some people, BDSM can function as a way to engage in less distressing practices,” Pascoal says. “Or even if sexual functioning issues present themselves, they are seen as being less important or their emotional impact as lower.” (Sexual distress scores were similar in both BDSM and non-BDSM contexts for women.)

This may be because BDSM sex is less genitally oriented, Pascoal says, or because functioning issues can be integrated into kinky play. “It also may highlight that BDSM works as a pleasurable safe sexual event for those who experience distress in non-BDSM contexts,” she says.

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