Is enjoying S&M a way for victims of physical and sexual abuses to overcome past traumas or is it an alternative healthy sexual practice for some of us?
December 6, 2020
In his book, “A billion wicked thoughts,” Ogi Ogas wrote that “The sexual brain is guaranteed to upset the politically correct, the socially conservative, and just about everybody in between.” And I believe that it is because we always have assumed that as social beings, we were supposed to thrive among our own kind, and that in the same manner, society has certain expectancy of what our behaviors were supposed to be, even in our own intimacy. That same societal expectance refuses to accept that a man/woman can be attracted to the same sex; that a man/woman can embrace a different gender, and thus seeking a sado-masochist sexual relationship is inevitably deemed abnormal and deviant. However, I believe that we were conditioned to think that we are social beings and thus, we are to behave accordingly to our societal norms. That is why, once in a while, among our flock come singularities who are born geniuses and saviors such as Siddhartha the Buddha, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, George Frideric Handel, or Albert Einstein. Hence, maybe it is time we accept that the definition of gender and of sexual relationship could be just as fluid and that our sexual desires are just as much singularly individual and different.
In some cases of sexual battery, there are survivors who have sought emotional and psychological release by engaging themselves in BDSM practices. Nicole Lane, in her Yahoo! life article, “How I use BDSM to cope with the trauma from my sexual assault,” wrote that she began experimenting with kinks and BDSM, meaning “whipping and slapping, dominance and submissiveness, power and control,” as types of therapy for herself. Thus, “incorporating BDSM in her sexual experience,” became a means to a particular need or a “scratch” as she put it. However, she also stated that even though her recovery began once she decided to be dominant, her “experimentation with BDSM” was not, solely, in response to her trauma, for the sexual practice became revolutionary for her mind and body. As Dr. Justin Lehmiller explains in his “Sex & Psychology” segment, “Being dominant during sex can cause altered states of consciousness that include heightened concentration and communication, better decision-making processes, and boosted self-confidence, all of which can help you excel in the workplace even days after your sexual experience,” Bell.
As a victim of abuses, harassment and sexual assault, myself, one day, I decided to reject every part of me that was weak and vulnerable as I embraced a new myself that was more powerful, dominant and calculative. I always have fantasized of becoming sexually dominant and of inflicting pain to men, but just like Lane mentioned, once you find yourself on top of a man, penetrating him and flogging him, it completely flips something in you. Because now, you are in control and in a position of power over the supposed stronger sex and as Henry Kissinger once stated, power then becomes an ultimate aphrodisiac. “Power is a reflection of a man’s rank in the dominance hierarchy,” Ogas (pg. 95). Just like Lilith rejected the idea of laying under Adam, I no longer saw myself as a woman subjected to societal rules, but as an alpha female. It was like a part of my brain that was dormant was now awakened and I could no longer recognize my level of intelligence anymore because everything seemed so much clearer; I could distinctly see the variables in everything, and I then no longer wanted to conform to anything. I create my own rules for now on.
Dr. Andreas Wismeijer and his colleagues found in their research that subjects who engaged in the practice scored better on a variety of personality and psychological tests. 902 BDSM practitioners and 434 non-BDSM participants filled out questionnaires on personality, sensitivity to rejection, style of attachment in relationships, and happiness. And the results showed that BDSM practitioners were more outgoing, more open to new experiences and more conscientious than less adventurous participants (Reilly). The subjects were less neurotic, and they scored lower on rejection sensitivity than the general public, they had higher levels of happiness and they felt more secure in their relationships (Reilly). Hence, we may assume that seeking to inflict pain or to enjoy pain is not an abusive practice as society is quick to call it but simply another healthy expression of intimacy, a distinctive sexual pleasure that feels normal to some of us. The research showed also that the role a person played when engaging in BDSM seemed linked to their psychological profile. Meaning, the dominant subjects tended to be the most balanced as the submissive tended to be the least. Although, the subs never scored lower than the general population on mental health and tend to score higher (Reilly).
As I was experimenting with BDSM, I discovered that all men are curious about discovering their submissive side. All men fantasize of letting go and having a woman take control. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be switches and find it satisfactory on either side of the prism. The difference between their submission is that men, when they relinquish control, it has to still on their terms. And the research by James Ambler proves what I am saying: in it (Consensual BDSM Facilitates Role-Specific Altered States of Consciousness: A Preliminary Study), random participants were assigned sexual roles of giving or receiving pain. And the results of the study showed that the participants who received pain scored lower for the Stroop Task test (Stroop Task is a state of focus and enjoyment people feel when immersed in a specific task). However, in a second study by Brad Sagarin, (Extreme rituals in a BDSM context: the physiological and psychological effects of the ‘Dance of Souls’), subjects would volunteered to the “Dance of Souls” experiment where they would have their skin enduring temporarily piercings that would be pulled by a rope. And the researchers found out that the subjects were less stressed during the exit cognitive interviews. The difference between the two experiments is that in the second one, the subjects willingly participated. Which means that my assumption was right. People enjoy submission if it is only on their own terms.
Rather they are submissive or dominant, practitioners of BDSM understand that the dynamic with their partners has to be “mutually cooperative and mutually gratifying,” meaning the sub willingly relinquishes power to the dom. The sub trusts the dom who understands and knows the subs limits. Communication, in this instance, is key. It has to be consensual and not coercive. If not, this is no longer foreplay but in fact battery. So, the next question is, are there incidents where victims of physical and sexual assault were revictimized by a dominant partner who coerced them into BDSM foreplay? Most likely yes. I was not able to find the statistics of those incidences. However, I found a study done by Sorenson in 1991 where among 433 sexually assaulted participants, two-thirds of them reported being revictimized. A woman, once victim of sexual assault, is 35 times more likely to be revictimized (Mohammed). Are there instants where the victims become abusers themselves instead of sexually dominant? Most likely yes as well. It is unfortunate that we cannot find those statistics as well. And more than likely, they won’t be reported because the victims would be too embarrassed to admit that their BDSM partner abused them physically and sexually.
The statistics that I found showed that, in Canada, among 1,717 male perpetrators, 23% of them were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood, and they became perpetuators themselves in their adulthood. In the United Kingdom, one in 10 male victims of child sex abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves. However, all those incidents combined cannot outweigh the 652,676 women being raped in the United States alone. Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted based on the statistics of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). 40% of women in the U.S. have encountered sexual violence and 20% of men have been victims as well. My point is, on either side of the spectrum (BDSM versus non-BDSM), you will always find an abuser. But a sexual abuser is not practicing S&M but is instead brutally exercising their power over their victims who have no say and may get seriously or fatally hurt.
Personally, I didn’t become a dominant woman because I was sexually abused but simply because I wanted to be in control for once in my life. I wanted to be in a position where I say what should happen and when it should happen. And for the first time, I get to enjoy rejecting men with cruelty when they are not up to my standards. There is a feeling of a rush for either the dom to exercise power or for the sub to relinquish control. For either of them, it is aphrodisiac because one gets to explore all their sexual desires on their partner as the other one is excited to submit to those desires. Myself, I don’t feel that I became happier, but I became less worried of what others think of me and more conscious of my self-image for myself. I became more extravagant in my appearance and more assertive of what I want to express.
Baril, Karine, “Sexual abuse in the childhood of perpetrators,” Institut National de Sante Publique du Quebec, November 2012
Bell, Jaimee, “Being dominant in the bedroom can boost your work ethic,” Big Think, March 11, 2020
Bodenner, Chris, “The line between BDSM and emotional abuse,” Reporter’s Notebook, The Atlantic, November 29, 2016
Boyles, Salynn, “Do Sexually Abused Kids Become Abusers?” WebMD, February 6, 2003
Lane, S. Nicole, “How I use BDSM to cope with the trauma from my sexual assault,” Yahoo! Life, April 25, 2017
McGreal, Scott, “Sexual satisfaction in BDSM,” May 29, 2019
Mohammed, Farahnaz, “The Repetition Compulsion: Why Rape Victims Are More Likely To Be Assaulted Again,” Girls Globe, August 4, 2015
Ogas, Ogi, et al, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us about Sexual Relationships,”, Penguin Random House USA, May 29, 2012
RAINN, “Victims of sexual violence: Statistics,” 2020
Reilly, Rachel, “Could bondage be good for you? S&M enthusiasts are ‘healthier and less neurotic’ than those with a tamer sex life,” Daily Mail, May 30, 2013
Vuleta, Branka, “32 Disheartening Sexual Assault Statistics for 2020,” Legal Job Site, February 16, 2020