Can Bondage Relieve Stress And Promote Well-Being?

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Since the 50 Shades of Grey novel series debuted in 2011, a lot of public interest has been sparked into this type of sexual activity. While many people put it down as nothing more than a “perversion”, one study found that nearly 65% of women fantasize about being dominated sexually. While it’s not a common sexual practice, clearly it’s far less “taboo” than we once believed.

But what if a bit of bondage play could actually do more than just spice up your sex life? What if it could have real, tangible benefits for your health? According to one study, that’s precisely the case.

 

Bondage Promotes Well-Being

A team of psychologists from the Department of Clinical Psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands set out to study what, if any, effects BDSM (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, sadism-masochism) had on the psychology of its practitioners. Specifically, they were interested in learning whether it truly was linked to some form of psychopathology, or if it could be part of a psychologically “healthy” person’s life.

More than 1,300 participants were recruited for the study. More than 430 of them served as the “control” group, which meant they engaged in no BDSM or sexually “abnormal” behavior. An additional 900 BDSM practitioners were also recruited as the experimental group to determine what effects their sexual practices had on their psychological health.

All of the participants filled out online questionnaires, using a number of psychological health tests, including:

  • NEO Five-Factor Inventory
  • Attachment Styles Questionnaire
  • Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire
  • World Health Organization-Five Well-being Index

These tests measured things like their responses to being rejected, their personality types, their attachment styles, and their subjective well-being.

Interestingly enough, the tests indicated that BDSM practitioners were psychologically healthy when compared to their non-BDSM counterparts. In fact, though they were less agreeable overall, it turned out they were actually healthier in a number of ways:

  • They were more open to new experiences
  • They were less sensitive to rejection
  • They were less neurotic
  • They were more extraverted
  • They were more conscientious
  • They had higher subjective well-being

The BDSM practitioners in the dominant roles scored highest on the well-being tests, followed by those in submissive roles, then finally the control group ranked lowest. According to this study, “BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes.” Simply put, BDSM practice could help to improve your psychological well-being, and it may not be linked to any mental abnormalities.

 

BDSM and Stress

A second study from 2009 looked at the physiological effects of bondage play, specifically how it could affect the production of the stress hormone cortisol and the male sex hormone testosterone (which has been linked to dominance). The study also looked at the psychological effects sadomasochistic practices had on the relationships of its practitioners.

58 sadomasochistic (SM) practitioners participated in the study, and they agreed to provide saliva before, during, and after their activities for the researchers to measure hormone levels. They also responded to questions meant to determine the psychological effects of their play.

During the SM activity (called “scenes” in the study), the subjects that were bound, being stimulated, and following commands recorded a spike in cortisol level. This is to be expected, given the stressful nature of the pain-inducing SM activities. Testosterone levels rose both in men and women who were bound, receiving stimulation, and following orders.

But after the SM activity was done, the researchers noticed a drastic decrease in cortisol levels among those who enjoy their SM activities. These participants also felt closer to their partner, and their displays of caring and affection were increased.

What this study proves is that SM activities, if performed consensually, has the potential to not only reduce anxiety and stress but also lead to increased intimacy and relationship closeness between consensual partners.

 

Is BDSM Deviant or Dangerous?

Many people with conservative beliefs will maintain that BDSM is and always has been a sign of psychopathology, and that only deviants or “perverts” practice it. However, as the science has proven, this sort of bondage play can lead to improved psychological well-being, reduced stress levels, and even an enhanced feeling of closeness to your partner. Perhaps it’s time to put aside the traditionally-held beliefs that BDSM is dangerous or deviant and consider it an interesting new type of intimacy for mature, adult couples to consider.

While it may be unusual, BDSM isn’t anything new or scandalous. It is one of the oldest types of fetish activity, dating back thousands of years to the ancient Sumerians, and was practiced in Sparta, Rome, Pompeii, ancient India, and medieval Europe. As the above studies indicate, it could have visible benefits to your health if engaged in safely, properly, and with the consent of both adults. Though not everyone will want to participate in this type of activity, for those who are interested, it could offer an intriguing to way to improve both your physical and psychological well-being.