Just the Facts Mam…

A breakthrough study of BDSM at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada was published in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality this past August. The researchers, Ali Hébert and Angela Weaver, looked at the differences between dominants and submissives.

For those of us in the community, their results were not very surprising, but the results were a surprise to the academic researchers. In almost every measure of psychological health and personality traits, both dominants and submissive are well within the general normal range of society. (See, I knew we weren’t freaks.)

While dominants scored higher on “desire for control” and “extroversion” than submissives, these scores were still well within overall social norms. Conversely, submissives, scored higher on “emotionality” than dominants, but again, all scores were within social norms.

On key traits, such as empathy and willingness to compromise, dominants and submissives are the same, to the surprise of the researchers. (Clearly, they have never negotiated a scene or participated in aftercare.) In discussing their results, the authors came to the realization that BDSM is about people playing with the fantasy of control, “rather than something people with abnormal levels of desire for control feel compelled to do.”

The study also had a host of interesting demographics, shown below.

 Unsurprisingly, submissives make up over half of the BDSM community, with dominants being less than a quarter, and about a fifth being switches.

Unsurprisingly, submissives make up over half of the BDSM community, with dominants being less than a quarter, and about a fifth being switches.

 We are more monogamous homebodies than is generally perceived. Although nearly a third of us do play with multiple people, that almost always involves our romantic partner as well. It is also encouraging to see that almost everyone in the community has found a romantic partner who shares their interest.

We are more monogamous homebodies than is generally perceived. Although nearly a third of us do play with multiple people, that almost always involves our romantic partner as well. It is also encouraging to see that almost everyone in the community has found a romantic partner who shares their interest.

 This graph is very telling. Well over half of people within BDSM believe that  real  power is shared equally during a scene. The remainder of people are evenly split between dom or sub, which implies that on the whole, everyone in the community sees a scene as something that happens between equals.

This graph is very telling. Well over half of people within BDSM believe that real power is shared equally during a scene. The remainder of people are evenly split between dom or sub, which implies that on the whole, everyone in the community sees a scene as something that happens between equals.

 No big surprise here, although I was a little surprised to see that women represent almost two thirds of the people involved in BDSM. I didn’t think it was that high.

No big surprise here, although I was a little surprised to see that women represent almost two thirds of the people involved in BDSM. I didn’t think it was that high.

 I think the researchers worded this question poorly. The BDSM community has come up with a number of terms, such as ‘heteroflexible’ or ‘polysexual’, rather than just being either ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’, or ‘gay’. My own sense is that this graph overstates the number of people who are completely straight.

I think the researchers worded this question poorly. The BDSM community has come up with a number of terms, such as ‘heteroflexible’ or ‘polysexual’, rather than just being either ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’, or ‘gay’. My own sense is that this graph overstates the number of people who are completely straight.