Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wait Wait!

I got a call from my sister this morning. She was listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” on NPR when they asked a question about a study out of Northern Illinois University. Turns out that study was ours! The question referred to our recent paper on altered states of consciousness in BDSM practitioners. We ran the study at the Arizona Power Exchange in 2013 with financial support from CLAW Corp. and CARAS. Our goal was to look for evidence of the altered states of consciousness that BDSM practitioners refer to as “subspace” and “topspace”. Here’s the summary from the paper:

Researchers studying consensual bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) have theorized that individuals pursue BDSM activities, in part, due to the pleasant altered states of consciousness these activities produce. However, to date, no research has tested whether BDSM activities actually facilitate altered states. To this end, we randomly assigned 14 experienced BDSM practitioners to the bottom role (the person who is bound, receiving stimulation, or following orders) or the top role (the person providing stimulation, orders, or structure) for a BDSM scene. Results suggest that topping was associated with an altered state aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) flow (measured with the Flow State Scale), and bottoming was associated with an altered state aligned with Dietrich’s (2003) transient hypofrontality (measured with a Stroop test) as well as some facets of flow. Additional results suggest that BDSM activities were associated with reductions in psychological stress and negative affect, and increases in sexual arousal.

The segment on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” (which you can hear at 1:47 into “Panel Round Two” on the November 12th episode) described the research as showing that BDSM can make people more creative. This is a bit of a leap from what we found. We found evidence that tops entered into the state of “flow.” As an academic, I don’t usually quote Wikipedia, but I like their definition of flow:

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

So, tops were in a state of flow, and we suspect the flow enhanced their effectiveness as tops. It’s an interesting question whether this also made them more creative, but more research would be needed to figure this out.

For more information:
  • Here’s our paper on altered states of consciousness in BDSM practitioners.
  • Here’s another paper on altered states of consciousness. This one examines altered states in participants of an extreme ritual called the Dance of Souls.
  • Here’s a third paper that compares the physiological and psychological reactions of BDSM practitioners and extreme ritual participants.
#npr #waitwait #bdsm #scienceofbdsm

Monday, August 22, 2016

Do We Support Teaching BDSM in Schools? Not Quite, But…

Our paper on the differences in rape-supportive beliefs among BDSM practitioners, online adults, and college students has started to pick up traction in the media. We are really excited about the coverage of our research, and we hope that it will add something substantive to the conversation about sexuality and sexual education.

Our paper covered by The Young Turks.

That said, a lot of talk around our research is that in it, we advocate for teaching BDSM to kids in sex ed.  We’d like to clarify that while sex ed is incredibly important, the lessons we’d like to see added to it are regarding affirmative consent.  We think that teaching kids age-appropriate concepts throughout their school years will have positive effects.        

For example, teaching kids in kindergarten that no one should be able to touch their bodies without their permission will help them to establish boundaries and learn about bodily autonomy.  Teaching kids in middle school about what healthy relationships look like, and how to spot the signs of emotional and other kinds of subtle abuse will help them to make better choices for themselves and for their friends.  Teaching kids in high school that they should ask their partner(s) before engaging in sexual activity would then build on the lessons they learned earlier in life.

Establishing norms of affirmative consent when it comes to sexual behavior has the potential to do a lot of good.  In our study, we found that BDSM practitioners reported the lowest levels of rape myth acceptance, victim blaming, and benevolent sexism.  If affirmative consent and negotiation about sexual activity was normative in the general population, it’s possible that we could see a global reduction of problematic rape-supportive beliefs. 

Head over to our website to check out the media coverage, and to read our new research:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Meeting BDSM Community Members Closer to Home

On February 13th, members from the Science of BDSM Research Team headed to downtown Chicago to present "The Science of BDSM" at the Galleria Domain 2.  As much as we love traveling elsewhere to present our work, we thought it was time to get to know the BDSM community in our own backyard.
The presentation began with what Sigmund Freud and other early psychiatrists believed about sadism and masochism (***Spoiler Alert*** Sadistic and Masochistic activities were considered solely pathological).  From there more recent research into the BDSM community was discussed. This newer research didn’t depict BDSM activities as pathological. Instead, it focused on the demographics and personality traits of BDSM practitioners.  From here, the presentation discussed the roots of our research team.
            What began as a conversation discussing how hormones respond differently to sex and sports turned into a series of studies looking into the physiological and psychological effects of consensual BDSM.  Among other things, these studies found that bottoms had a rise in physiological stress during their scenes, but at the same time they reported reductions in psychological stress.  We thought that this disconnect between what the body is experiencing and what the mind is experiencing might be evidence of an altered state of consciousness. One of our most recent studies found further evidence of altered states of consciousness that BDSM scenes sometimes produce, with tops entering an altered state known as flow and bottoms entering an altered state known as transient hypofrontality. 
            We would like to thank Jerith and Wilson from Galleria Domain 2 for giving us the opportunity to present. We were thrilled with the community’s positive response and sheer excitement to help with research (with many people asking what they could do immediately to help).  If you would like more information about our research, please visit us at, and if you would like to participate in one of our studies, please visit our Participate page at