Can A Switch in Leadership Influence a Switch in BDSM Roles?

 

By: Stephanie Codd
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

 

BDSM is a three term acronym: Bondage and Discipline (B &D), domination/submissive, and sadomasochism (S&M) (Weiss, 2006).  At the most basic level, individuals who participate in the BDSM community take a dominant or submissive role.  (Moser & Kleinplatz, 2007, p 36). There are many other characteristics of BDSM, however the purpose of this inquiry is focusing on, if the function of switching roles is contingent on the individual’s leadership role in the workforce.  Switching is when an individual does not identify with one particular role, or have been knows to partake in both dominant and submissive roles (Moser & Kleinplatz, 2007, p 36). There is little to no research on the function of switching in BDSM.

 

One study found that switching roles is not uncommon in the BDSM community (Cutler, 2003).  Cutler’s (2003) study researched the power dynamics of the relationships of individuals that were in a committed relationship and were active participants in the BDSM community.  It was reported that one of the biggest issues they faced was gaining more role time for the submissive.  This was explained by speculation of the dominant role taking charge and initiative, while the submissive was able to escape from daily pressures.  This study was based on the participants’ self-report in the form of interviews.

 

Wismeijer and van Assen (2013) looked at the psychological characteristics of individuals who engage in BDSM roles.  The method they used was administering an online questionnaire for both 902 BDSM participants and 434 control participants.  The main measures used were the Big Five personality dimensions (NEO five factor inventory), attachment styles (attachment styles questionnaire), rejection sensitivity (rejection sensitivity questionnaire), and subjective well being (World Health Organization-Five Well being Index).

 

The results showed that individuals who engaged in BDSM were overall more comfortable with themselves; they were less neurotic, more open to new experiences, less rejection sensitive, and demonstrated higher subjective well being than those outside of the BDSM community.  One limitation of this study though was that because this was an online questionnaire, there was no way to know for sure that the people who identified themselves within the BDSM community were actually participating.

 

Prior and Williams (2015) conducted a study on the psychopathology of people who participate in BDSM roles suggesting that there may be psychological benefits for people who engage in BDSM roles.  Prior and Williams report on a study that found males who regularly participated in BDSM roles showing significantly lower psychological distress than men who did not engage in BDSM roles.  This study was also conducted via self-report.

 

A cutting-edge experiment was conducted by Sagarin, Cutler, Cutler, Lawler-Sagarin and Matuszewich (2009).  This study measured the salivary cortisol and testosterone levels of participants before and after they participated in their BDSM scene.  The researchers also observed the BDSM scenes, and did not rely on self-report.  The results show that the cortisol levels rose for the participants who were submissive, but not for that participants who were dominant.  Testosterone levels also increased in female participants who were acting as the submissives.

 

There are no identified distinct individual characteristics that identify a dominant from a submissive in the BDSM community.  Additionally, there is no indication or a distinct characteristic as to why an individual will switch from a dominant to a submissive.  I think it would be interesting if there could be a study where experimenters can measure day-to-day leadership roles and then observe if there are any effects to the sexual behavior of the individual’s BDSM role.  For example if an individual who typically has a leadership role at their place of employment (i.e. CEO’s, business owners, people with a lot of responsibility, etc.), would participate in a weekend seminar where they take on a more passive role, or vice versa, if that would effect their BDSM role. This is one possible way to establish a functional relation between an organism’s leadership role in their work environment and their BDSM role.

 

References

Cutler, B. (2003). Partner selection, power dynamics, and sexual bargaining in self-defined BDSM couples. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco.

Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism, 35-54.

Prior, E. E., & Williams, D. J. (2015). Does BDSM Power Exchange Among Women Reflect Casual Leisure? An Exploratory Qualitative Study. Journal of Positive Sexuality1.

Sagarin, B. J., Cutler, B., Cutler, N., Lawler-Sagarin K. A., & Matuszewich, L. (2009). Hormonal changes and couple bonding in consetual sadomasochistic activity. Archive of Sexual Behavior, 38:186-200

Weiss, M. D. (2006). Working at play: BDSM sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anthropologica, 229-245.

Wismeijer, A. A., & Assen, M. A. (2013). Psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners. The journal of sexual medicine10(8), 1943-1952.

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