Psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners

J Sex Med. 2013 Aug;10(8):1943-52. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12192. Epub 2013 May 16.


Introduction: It has been generally thought that the practice of bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, sadism-masochism (BDSM) is in some form associated with psychopathology. However, several more recent studies suggest a relative good psychological health of BDSM practitioners.

Aim: The aim of this study was to compare scores of BDSM practitioners and a control group on various fundamental psychological characteristics.

Methods: For this aim, 902 BDSM and 434 control participants completely filled out online questionnaires. Associations were examined using χ(2) tests of independence with φ and Cramer's V as effect size measures and eta or Pearson's correlation. Group differences were tested using analysis of covariance, with partial η(2) as effect size measure. A priori contrasts were tested using α = 0.01 to correct for multiple testing; for all other tests we used α = 0.05, two tailed.

Main outcome measures: The study used Big Five personality dimensions (NEO Five-Factor Inventory), attachment styles (Attachment Styles Questionnaire), rejection sensitivity (Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire), and subjective well-being (World Health Organization-Five Well-being Index).

Results: The results mostly suggest favorable psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners compared with the control group; BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, had higher subjective well-being, yet were less agreeable. Comparing the four groups, if differences were observed, BDSM scores were generally more favorably for those with a dominant than a submissive role, with least favorable scores for controls.

Conclusion: We conclude that BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes.

Keywords: Attachment; BDSM; Paraphilia; Personality; Recreational Leisure; SM; Subjective Well-Being.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masochism / psychology*
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Recreation / psychology*
  • Sadism / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires