Posted February 14, Reviewed by Abigail Fagan. The best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the new film of the same name have helped bring an otherwise stigmatised phenomenon into mainstream awareness. However, this book is apparently not a particularly accurate portrayal of how BDSM is practiced in real life for example, see this post by sex researcher Justin Lehmiller. Fortunately, this increased interest in the subject has also been accompanied by some new scientific studies that may help to provide more accurate insight into these practices. In a postI discussed a study that suggests that BDSM practitioners are generally psychologically healthy and that they tend to prefer roles that fit their personalities.
In this post, I discuss a newer study that also examined the personality traits of BDSM practitioners using a somewhat different personality model. Some of the findings were highly similar, although there were some differences as well that may be worth exploring further to shed more light on the psychology of BDSM.
BDSM encompasses a diverse range of activities that include but not are limited to the exercise of power and control by one person over another, physical and psychological restraint, and infliction of pain and humiliation. These activities may or may not occur in a sexual context.
All activities are consensual and practitioners will negotiate beforehand what they consider acceptable.
Personality essential re
Many participants have a preferred role they assume in most or all activities, while some prefer to switch roles as desired. As discussed in my post, there has been some quite interesting research looking into the psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners. The five factors in this model are neuroticismextraversionopenness to experienceagreeablenessand conscientiousness.
These are broad personality characteristics that subsume a larger of narrower more specific traits. According to this study, practitioners in general, including both dominants and submissives, tended to be higher in openness to experience and conscientiousness compared to a comparison sample from the general population.
Additionally, participants who preferred the dominant role tended to be lower in agreeableness and neuroticism compared to submissive participants and to the general population, while, submissives tended to be more extraverted than the general population.
Additionally, dominants tended to have higher subjective well-being and were less sensitive to rejection compared to the general population, suggesting that people drawn to the dominant role may be particularly psychologically well adjusted. The most salient difference between the two models is the addition of a sixth factor called Honesty-Humility which subsumes some characteristics e.
There are also some other subtle differences, e. Self-esteem and satisfaction with life are closely associated with subjective well-being. I was therefore interested to compare the findings from this study with the Dutch one, which also assessed subjective well-being.
Those who liked to switch between roles were not considered to simplify the comparisons. Much like the Dutch study, there were striking gender differences in preferred role orientations, although these were more marked in this case. As can be seen in the graph I have created below, the vast majority of females in the study preferred the submissive role, suggesting that female dominants may be rather uncommon and presumably in high demand.
The majority of males, on the other hand, preferred the dominant role, although quite a substantial proportion was submissive. Regarding personality traits, dominants compared to submissives were lower in emotionality, higher in extraversion, and equal in agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and honesty-humility. Additionally, dominants had higher self-esteem, satisfaction with a life, and a greater desire for control, but did not differ from submissives in empathy or altruism.
However, submissives but not dominants scored higher than the normative data on openness to experience. This is not an ideal comparison sample but will have to do for the time being. I did my own statistical comparisons with the normative data and found that both dominants and submissives had ificantly higher scores in openness to experience compared to the normative data and submissives were ificantly higher in conscientiousness.
Some of these are similar to those of the Dutch study, although there are a few differences.
A recent study provides another glimpse into the world of bdsm.
For example, Wismeijer and van Assen found that BDSM practitioners were high in openness to experience and in conscientiousness compared to the general population which is similar to what was found here. Conscientiousness is associated with self-discipline and a liking for orderliness, and rule-following. These characteristics seem well-suited to people who are into something like BDSM. Extraversion is associated with social assertiveness and willingness to take charge in social situations so it makes sense that dominants might be higher in these characteristics than submissives.
However, Wismeijer and van Assen actually found that submissives had the highest extraversion scores in their sample. Additionally, I have ly argued that it would make sense for dominants to be lower in agreeableness than submissives, which was what Wismeijer and van Assen found, because people low in agreeableness tend to be tough and domineering, and that this would naturally suit them to taking charge during a BDSM scene. The reasons for these differences are not known.
However, there are subtle differences in the measures used to assess extraversion and agreeableness in the two studies, and it is possible that these might be reflected in the. Close examination of the items used to measure extraversion and agreeableness respectively in each of these instruments reveals some noticeable differences in the way these traits are conceived.
Items assessing extraversion in the NEO measure mainly focus on sociability and positive emotions, only one item mentions social assertiveness and none concern social self-esteem. The HEXACO extraversion scale on the other hand has three items relating to social assertiveness and three items assessing social self-esteem. In regards to agreeableness, the NEO agreeableness scale contains items related to tough-mindedness e.
The HEXACO agreeableness scale on the other hand, seems to place more emphasis on forgiveness versus angerand on general kindness. Although there are important similarities between the scales, they seem to subtly emphasise somewhat different qualities that make up extraversion and agreeableness respectively. Regarding extraversion firstly, perhaps dominants differ from submissives in regards to being more willing to take charge in social situations and having a more favourable opinion of themselves rather than in regards to being more sociable as such.
Note that Wismeijer and van Assen also found that dominants were less sensitive to rejection, had a lower need for approval than submissives, and that male dominants were more socially confident than submissives. This seems to fit with the notion that dominants are more sure of themselves in their relations with other people. Self-esteem and satisfaction with life both had large positive correlations with extraversion and with each other in this study.
This suggests that these apparent differences were due to the higher extraversion among dominants. On the other hand, dominants might not differ particularly from submissives in regards to anger or willingness to forgive.
Of course, these conjectures on my part are quite speculative, and it is also possible that dominants and submissives really do not differ that much at all in regards to these traits. More nuanced research using measures of more specific traits such as assertiveness, anger, tough-mindedness, and so on would be needed to determine if these subtle differences are actually present. They expected that dominants and submissives would differ in all of these respects, but the only ificant difference was that dominants expressed a greater desire for control.
However, this does not appear to be the case. Similarly, the authors thought that submissives might be higher on empathy and altruism, because in their qualitative study submissives described themselves as people-pleasers. However, this was also not the case. On the other hand, this suggests that those in the dominant role are not lacking in empathy either.
In fact having empathy might help them to understand and meet the needs of submissives during scenes. Those drawn to the dominant role appear to be self-confident, assertive, and comfortable taking control. Those who are drawn to the submissive role appear to be more introverted and emotional and enjoy surrendering control. Dominants seem to have a better opinion of themselves and to be more satisfied with their lives compared to submissives, which might be ed for due to greater extraversion.
People of both orientations are open to new experiences and are probably self-disciplined and appreciate structure and rules. Hence, it would seem that people drawn to BDSM choose roles that fit their personalities to a certain extent, although questions remain, such as about the role of more specific traits that are subsumed by the broad factors in the Big Five and HEXACO models. Considering the diverse range of practices involved in BDSM, future research might compare and contrast practitioners with diverging interests in order to foster a deeper of this fascinating area of human life.
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The dom sample size was smaller than the sub sample size, so the non-ificant result may be due to low statistical power. Bondage Art - Wikimedia Commons.
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Are Sex and Religion Natural Enemies? Gaither, G. Journal of Personality Assessment, 81 2 An examination of personality characteristics associated with BDSM orientations. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 23 2 Lee, K. Richters, J. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5 7 ,