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Ten Questions and Answers About BDSM
By Hans Meijer
1. What is BDSM?
Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) is any situation where people - of their own free will and choice - magnify the personal power elements between them and act this out for their pleasure. This may be sexual pleasure, but it does not always have to be.
2. Are there different forms of BDSM?
Yes there are many different forms of BDSM. The two main forms are these:
  • Lifestyle BDSM - This is the form where partners embed BDSM elements in their relationship in some way.
  • Kink or fetish BDSM - This is the form where people, occasionally, seek to use power elements, predominantly for their sexual pleasure, without turning it into a lifestyle.

One is not more important, or more real, than the other. The two forms are just different. Quite often people grow from "kink" to "lifestyle"

3. Is BDSM abnormal?
There are power elements in all forms of human behavior: at work, at home, in politics, in sports and in (sexual) relationships. Magnifying the power element in your relationship is not abnormal. The current opinion among professionals (laid down in various diagnostic manuals, such as the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) is that consensual power exchange between informed and well-adjusted adults is normal and harmless (sexual) behavior.
4. What "causes" BDSM feelings?
It is not entirely clear to science, why some people are attracted to BDSM and others are not. It appears that genetic encoding may have something to do with this and it may also be that upbringing, social environment and education may have an influence. Fact of the matter is that the jury is still out on this one and that we simply do not know the answer. Based on research by for example the Kinsey Institute, Cosmopolitan, Time Magazine and several European universities and other sources it is estimated that between 15 and 30 percent of the adult Western population nurtures some form of BDSM emotions.
5. Why is there such a social stygma on BDSM?
A significant part of the general public opinion on BDSM is based on very outdated information, such the over 100 years old "Psychopatia Sexualis" (written by R. von Kraft-Ebing at the end of the 19th century) and research by S. Freud in the early 20th century. Also, xenophobia (fear of the unknown) plays an important role when it comes to the general opinion about BDSM and so does ill-informed coverage of the subject by excess-oriented media. Lack of reliable, dilligent scientific research on the subject also plays a part in this. Most research was done by therapists, seeking to promote themselves or their "therapy" rather than thoroughly researching the phenomena as such.
6. I hear people who are very dominant in real life are actually submissive in bed. Is this true?
The fairy tale about high profile politicians or managers seeking to be submissive in bed originates from prostitutes ("commercial mistresses") trying to promote their services. Fact of the matter is that there is no proven connection between general social behavior and sexual behavior. Sexual behavior is a very individual thing, hence very different for individual people.
7. Are people with a BDSM-inclination not actually all victims of childhood trauma or abuse?
Scientific research has taught us that the number of people with a (juvenile or other) traumatic background is not greater nor smaller than it is in any other social group. One will find trauma victims in every social group. Having said that, the general level of tolerance within the "BDSM group" allows for more discussion about such subjects and the "BDSM community" is one of the very few social groups that actually and actively sets up help and support facilities for such cases. There is no reason why people with a trauma history should not enter into BDSM-activity, provided they seek professional help and - on a personal level - deal with the trauma FIRST and OUTSIDE a BDSM-situation.
8. At what age do BDSM-emotions emerge?
About 25 percent of the "BDSM population" (according to research by the POWERotics Foundation) has nurtured BDSM-like emotions from a very young age. Often, this group can remember being fascinated by power situations before the age of 12. Many others however "discover" their BDSM-preference at a much later stage, most often after dramatic events in their personal life, such as a divorce. The reason for this probably is in the fact that such events causes people to think about themselves, their personalities, preferences and needs.
9. Why are many people so secretive about their BDSM emotions?
Regardless the subject: it is not easy to have to tell the world you are "different". This is true for everyone, who nurtures emotions, feelings or ideals that do not coinside with their social environment. People, brought up in a business-environment, will often have a hard time telling their parents and friends they would rather be a painter or an actress, for example. Gay people face a similar problem and so do democrats who came from a traditional republican nest. The phenomena is known as "coming out (of the closet)" (telling your environment you are different) and that is a difficult process that requires a lot of juggling between defending and explaining yourself to a probably unwilling audience. People with a BDSM-inclination face the same problem. Quite often this even leads to a situation where people - regretfully - are too scared to even tell their partner about their emotions.
10. If so many people nurture these feelings at young age, why is there so little information available for them?
Much - unfortunately - depends on the country you were born in. Fact is that in most countries sexual education in general leaves much to be desired. World wide research has shown that as much as 70 percent of the population picks up their sexual information "from the street" (i.e. friends, pornography, excess-oriented media, etcetera) and are not or very poorly educated by their parents or school. The current political climate - with very superficial and ill-informed opinions about sexuality - makes it hard for organisations to set up proper information programs in many countries. The other problem is that not everyone, who (temporarily) may nurture BDSM-like emotions during puberty and adolescence, eventually develops a persistent interest in BDSM, since much of this has to do with the more general sexual experimental phase, everyone goes through at young age. It is very important youngsters follow their own path, without too many outside influences. This forms a dilemma for organisations, seeking to provide information.

Hans Meijer, a Dutch former journalist and government spokesmen, is the chairman for the Powerotics Foundation. This organisation is dedicated to provide quality information about alternative lifestyles.

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