While kink has become more mainstream since EL James’s popular Fifty Shades of Grey, people have been exploring unconventional corners of the sexual universe since the beginning of bonking. But what exactly is kink? The number-one rule is that it must be safe, sane and consensual. But what else have we learned about our kinkier sexual urges?
Nobody is normal.
Psychology researchers used to describe kinky sexual activity as ‘deviant’ or ‘abnormal’. This idea came from the assumption that any divergence from idealised, ‘normal’ parameters of sexual interest was evidence of mental illness. An enormous amount of work has been done to reset these archaic attitudes and to recognise that healthy adults exhibit a broad range of sexual inclination. Kink exists on a spectrum stretching from more conservative ‘vanilla’ interests through to more extreme practices (and every point in between). While kinks and paraphilias (the preferred term for ‘fetishes’) may not form the statistical majority of sexual tendencies, they aren’t bad for you, either.
Kinksters are psychologically healthier.
There’s a growing body of research to suggest that kinky people have better mental health than their vanilla counterparts. The Journal of Sexual Medicine reported a study in which 902 members of the BDSM community in the Netherlands were compared to a control group of 434 other people who had never experienced BDSM. The BDSM group were found to be more extroverted and less neurotic, with higher levels of personal well-being and better overall psychological health. The study concluded that “BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes”.
S&M could be used to beat addiction.
While many people find S&M (sadism and masochism) to be relaxing and therapeutic, doctors in Siberia have also found it useful for treating chronic drug addiction. Dr German Pilipenko and Professor Marina Chukhrova use corporal punishment to literally beat the addiction out of their subjects. Their claim is that heroin addicts suffer from a lack of endorphins – also known as ‘happiness hormones’. The acute pain of being caned on the backside stimulates the brain to release extra endorphins – purportedly causing the patients to feel happier, less helpless and more motivated to overcome their addictions. It’s definitely a fringe practice and hasn’t been the subject of research, but it still points to kink being healthy rather than harmful.
More people are into it than you think.
According to a recent Canadian survey, what people consider ‘unusual’ sexual fantasies are so common you can’t consider them unusual at all. Of the 55 sexual fantasies surveyed, only two could be considered statistically rare. Even if not everybody wants to enact their fantasies, it’s good to know we’re all a bit wild at heart.
Don’t believe the nasty stereotypes.
The idea that people into BDSM and other kinky practices must have a history of sexual abuse or trauma is still a popular one. An Australian study conducted in 2008 debunks that idea. From a sample size of 19,307 people, they concluded that having BDSM as a sexual interest is “not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with ‘normal’ sex”.