Forbidden games: the construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM 'players'

Cult Health Sex. 2014;16(7):752-64. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.909531. Epub 2014 May 14.


This study aims to explore personal meanings related to the constructs 'sexuality' and 'sexual pleasure' in people who choose to write in forums and blogs about their own experience with Bondage and Discipline, dominance and submission, and Sadism and Masochism (BDSM). We carried out semi-structured online interviews with 343 people, of whom 50 (24 women and 26 men) claimed to practise or to have practised BDSM, in order to investigate participants' definitions of their sexual experiences and the construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure from their personal point of view and from the perspective of the opposite sex. Data were analysed according to Grounded Theory methodology. Questions concerning the 'normality' or the 'deviance' of participants' sexual practices were reflected in the answers of the majority of BDSM practitioners. Sexuality was construed as a 'game' with specific rules, and 'pleasure' was associated with extremely intense experiences. The relationship between the partners was considered fundamental, as it gave meaning to the sexual practice. Both dominant and dominated roles were found to be tightly linked to the possession and management of power between partners, which either confirms or reverses the social construction of traditional male and female roles.

Keywords: BDSM; pleasure; power; privilege; understandings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Masochism / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraphilic Disorders / psychology*
  • Sadism / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Young Adult