This study examines how BDSM participants understand sexual experiences. Data are drawn from 32 in-depth, semistructured interviews and discussion-board threads from a large BDSM community Web site. The analysis suggests that many BDSM participants perceive sexual BDSM experiences as not only significantly different from but also better than mainstream or "vanilla" sex. Three primary differentiation mechanisms are identified. First, BDSM participants constructed sex as requiring genital contact, while framing sexual BDSM as creating sexual fulfillment not requiring normative indicators of sexual experiences (e.g., orgasm). Second, participants constructed sexual BDSM as centered on emotional and mental experiences, while perceiving sex as being centered on physical experiences. Third, participants perceived sexual BDSM experiences as facilitating deeper interpersonal connections than those available in sex. Importantly, these mechanisms serve not only a differentiating but also an evaluative function. Most participants in this study reported a strong preference for sexual BDSM over sex.
Keywords: BDSM; Foucault; kink; orgasm; qualitative methodology; sadomasochism; sexual meaning; social construction.