Introduction: People with sexual interests in bondage and discipline, "sadomasochism" or dominance and submission (BDSM) have been seen by many professionals as damaged or dangerous.
Aim: To examine sexual behavior correlates of involvement in BDSM and test the hypothesis that BDSM is practiced by people with a history of sexual coercion, sexual difficulties, and/or psychological problems.
Methods: In Australia in 2001-2002, a representative sample of 19,307 respondents aged 16-59 years was interviewed by telephone. Weighted data analysis used univariate logistic regression.
Main outcome measures: Self-reported demographic and psychosocial factors; sexual behavior and identity; sexual difficulties.
Results: In total, 1.8% of sexually active people (2.2% of men, 1.3% of women) said they had been involved in BDSM in the previous year. This was more common among gay/lesbian and bisexual people. People who had engaged in BDSM were more likely to have experienced oral sex and/or anal sex, to have had more than one partner in the past year, to have had sex with someone other than their regular partner, and to have: taken part in phone sex, visited an Internet sex site, viewed an X-rated (pornographic) film or video, used a sex toy, had group sex, or taken part in manual stimulation of the anus, fisting or rimming. However, they 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. Engagement in BDSM was not significantly related to any sexual difficulties.
Conclusion: Our findings support the idea that BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority, and for most participants not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with "normal" sex.