BDSM Disclosure and Stigma Management: Identifying Opportunities for Sex Education

Am J Sex Educ. 2012 Jan;7(1):37-61. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2012.650984. Epub 2012 Mar 12.


While participation in the activities like bondage, domination, submission/sadism, masochism that fall under the umbrella term BDSM is widespread, stigma surrounding BDSM poses risks to practitioners who wish to disclose their interest. We examined risk factors involved with disclosure to posit how sex education might diffuse stigma and warn of risks. Semi-structured interviews asked 20 adults reporting an interest in BDSM about their disclosure experiences. Most respondents reported their BDSM interests starting before age 15, sometimes creating a phase of anxiety and shame in the absence of reassuring information. As adults, respondents often considered BDSM central to their sexuality, thus disclosure was integral to dating. Disclosure decisions in nondating situations were often complex considerations balancing desire for appropriateness with a desire for connection and honesty. Some respondents wondered whether their interests being found out would jeopardize their jobs. Experiences with stigma varied widely.