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Americans Are More Into BDSM Than The Rest of the World

Not only is BDSM far more common than you might think, it’s also far less of a red-flag when it comes to health and psychology

smithsonian.com

Would you let somebody you were in a relationship with tie you up? If you said yes, you’re not nearly as unusual as you might think.

It turns out that Americans are actually far more into BDSM than the rest of the world seems to be. According to a 2005 survey by Durex, 36 percent of adults in the United States use masks, blindfolds and bondage tools during sex. Worldwide that number is only 20 percent. Melanie Berliet at Pacific Standard reports that the trend isn’t new, either — a study from 1953 found that 55 percent of women and 50 percent of men liked being bitten, and a 1999 study said that 65 percent of university students dream about being tied up.

Although these preferences are relatively common, people still feel the need to hide them, Beliet reports:

But in spite of the evidence that BDSM is commonplace—normal, even—those who openly adhere to the lifestyle are frequently marginalized. Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, has written at length about the risks of disclosing one’s affiliation with BDSM, including discrimination, violence, job loss, and legal obstacles surrounding child custody. It seems not even the famously progressive Girls creator, Lena Dunham, is immune to stigma’s reach. When discussing 50 Shades in the January 2014 issue of The Believer, Dunham said, “I don’t have an elicit [sic], confused relationship to my sexuality, so I don’t need a book like that right now in my life….”

The idea that people into BDSM are somehow depraved, damaged or dangerous, is also unsubstantiated by the science. A 2008 study looked at nearly 20,000 Australians, and found that “[e]ngagement in BDSM was not significantly related to any sexual difficulties.” Not only that, but men who engaged in BDSM “were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity, and were not significantly more likely to be unhappy or anxious—indeed, men who had engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological distress than other men.” A study from 2006 gave 32 self identified BDSM practitioners seven different psychometric tests for things like anxiety, depression, sadism, masochism and PTSD. The people in the study appeared to have the same rates of psychopathology as the rest of the population. 

So not only is BDSM far more common than you might think, it’s also far less of a red-flag when it comes to health and psychology. Not that books like 50 Shades of Grey are doing anything to help shake BDSM’s reputation for being full of mentally unstable people. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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