Although I’ve long since given up on anything serious from Psychology Today, it having become the Cosmo of the social sciences, once in a while I run across a good article. This one is obviously of interest to some of the readers:
The part that struck me was the discussion around BDSM in the DSM-V. First, a definition:
You meet criteria for a diagnosis of sexual masochism disorder or sexual sadism disorder if you
Feel personal distress about your interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval;
Have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.
And here’s where author Todd Kashdan tackles the more basic questions.
How do you parse out the distress of being viewed as deviant by society from the internal generation of distress? After all, part of our identity is the internalization of cultural standards of acceptable behavior. As with all psychiatric diagnoses, we must grapple with the notion of whether a person experiences clinically significant distress and/or impairment. But defining distress/impairment is tricky in the context of sex (with consenting adults); sex is usually regarded as an indicator of healthy psychological functioning that contributes to relationship satisfaction and well-being.
He goes on to list various ways in which distress might be perceived, and touches on the idea that not being — or feeling able to be — “out” about one’s sexual desires is also a form of distress.
As a result, 60% of the 3,000 respondents are not ‘‘out’’ about their BDSM interests; the stress of being closeted and/or coming out promotes distress and impairment in these individuals, similar to that experienced by homosexuals.
I don’t see any TV shows in production which feature a quirky sister-in-law, uncle, or neighbor who is an acknowledged kinkster, and people indulging in masochistic or bottoming activities are still played for laughs. So, don’t look forward to a “Will & Grace” type show that helps to make kinksters look just like the people next door.
Kashdan acknowledges that the lack of societal acceptance can have some grave consequences:
The confusion of variant sexual interests with psychopathology has led to discrimination against all ‘‘paraphiliacs.’’ Individuals have lost jobs, custody of their children, security clearances, become victims of assault, etc., at least partially due to the association of their sexual behavior with psychopathology.
I like how how points out something that many kinksters have been saying for years; you can “punish” your body with exercise or sports, and not only do people not look askance, many times they congratulate you on your determination. But once you associate a sexual component, then you’re a pervert.
He sums up a well-written article on the subject:
From the vantage point of recent research, people who practice BDSM are highly stigmatized by therapists as well as mainstream society. For the majority, it appears as though BDSM serves as a personalized sexual pastime as opposed to a manifestation of psychopathology, and their life problems are likely to be as common as the average single man who has sex 1.7 times per month in a missionary position, is rather quiet and awkward, and lasts for 178 seconds before gasping for air.
While we could have done without the parting shot at the vanillas, Kashdan acknowledges the (too little) research that has gone into trying to understand those with an interest in BDSM, and decries the tendency for the medical profession to associate it with sociopathic behaviors. This is mirrored in the Comments section, which should not come as a surprise to anyone.
I’d recommend anyone interested in both the psychology and the sociology of BDSM to hit the link and read the article.
Wait, was that DSM or BDSM? I get them mixed up…