Is Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism Recreational Leisure? A Descriptive Exploratory Investigation

J Sex Med. 2016 Jul;13(7):1091-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.05.001. Epub 2016 May 24.


Introduction: Recent studies have suggested that, in contrast to traditional psychopathologic explanations, bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) could be understood as recreational leisure. However, the theoretical framing of BDSM as potential leisure has not been empirically explored.

Aim: To conduct an initial empirical exploration to determine whether BDSM experience fits established characteristics of recreational leisure.

Methods: A convenience sample of BDSM participants (N = 935) completed an online survey (9 demographic questions and 17 leisure questions) that assessed BDSM experience according to important attributes of leisure. Responses also were assessed and statistically compared as being primarily casual or serious leisure according to general BDSM identities (ie, dominants vs submissives vs switches).

Main outcome measures: BDSM experiences were assessed as a form of potential leisure.

Results: Most BDSM experiences met leisure criteria. Participants reported that "most of the time or nearly always" BDSM was associated with a sense of personal freedom (89.7% of participants), pleasure or enjoyment (98.5%), sense of adventure (90.7%), use of personal skills (90.8%), relaxation or decreased stress (91.4%), self-expression or exploration (90.6%), and positive emotions (96.6%). BDSM seemed to function as primarily serious, rather than casual, leisure, but important statistical differences were observed based on specific BDSM identities.

Conclusion: A leisure science perspective could be valuable to researchers and clinicians in reinterpreting the wide range of diverse BDSM motivations and practices.

Keywords: Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism; Identity; Leisure; Recreation; Sadomasochism; Sexuality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Masochism / psychology*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Recreation / psychology*
  • Sadism / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult