Thursday, June 15, 2017

Can body-based rituals cause altered states of consciousness?

The Science of BDSM research team is collaborating on a new study with Primal Edgewalkers, a group that practices body-based rituals such as hook pulls, hook suspensions, firewalks, sweat lodges, and more.  I have recently returned from my second Edgewalkers event.  Before attending my first event, I asked the organizers what the primary reason for people attending was.  I was surprised at the answer I received—community and bonding. But it didn’t take me long to realize that this was indeed the case.  Over both weekends, I observed catharsis, rejuvenation, and a purging of pent up emotions. Throughout all of this, I saw strong bonds created with those who were new to the community and strong bonds reaffirmed with those who have attended before. 

In past studies, our research team found evidence of altered states of consciousness, such as flow and transient hypofrontality, during BDSM scenes and hook pulls (you can read the published articles here and here).  Our new study is designed to test whether the same types of altered states of consciousness can be found across various body-based rituals.  To this end, we plan to measure a range of physiological and psychological variables on ritual participants, those who are there in a supportive role, observers, and event leaders.  The first round of data collection will take place in Vancouver, British Colombia, this summer.  We are excited about the opportunity to expand current knowledge about altered states of consciousness and body-based rituals, and we can’t wait to begin our work with Edgewalkers! - Jen

A note from the head of the Science of BDSM Research Team: Funding for research on alternative sexuality and alternative spiritual practices is difficult to obtain through the usual funding channels such as federal granting agencies, and we are very grateful to the organizations and individuals whose generous contributions have made this research possible. For the current study, travel to the field site was made possible by a grant from Butchmanns, Inc.

People often ask us how they can contribute to our research.  We are currently seeking sponsors who would like to help fund another aspect of the Edgewalkers study: our analysis of the hormones cortisol and oxytocin.

Cortisol, a hormone associated with physiological stress, provided our first clues regarding altered states of consciousness in our studies of BDSM scenes and hook pulls. Starting with this study, we will also analyze changes in oxytocin.  Colloquially known as the love hormone, oxytocin helps to facilitate bonding and feelings of closeness. We want to see if changes in oxytocin levels are associated with the increases in bonding sometimes produced by these rituals. Cortisol and oxytocin analyses for the Vancouver Edgewalkers study will cost approximately $2500 (with the exact cost based on the number of participants).

If you would like to help sponsor this study, please visit our donate page for information on how to give a tax-free donation. - Brad