There is a high level of interest in BDSM in the Belgian population, study finds

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New research suggests that bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM) is more prevalent in Belgian society that believed.

The study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, found 70% of the population had some interest in BDSM.

“This is the result of a collaboration between Collaborative Antwerp Psychiatric Research Institute and the University Forensic Unit of the Antwerp University Hospital a clinical treatment unit with a strong focus on sexual behavior,” said study author Manuel Morrens.

“We became interested in the topic due to the observation that on one hand, you have the stigma and taboo surrounding BDSM as a sexual interest, with very few practitioners willing to come out in public. Those that do are more often than not intensely involved in BDSM and sometimes live it 24/7. But even so, based on these witnesses, less than 1% of the population seem to have an interest, should you go based on that.”

“On the other hand, you see a general fascination with BDSM in mainstream media,” Morrens continued, “as witnessed by the immense success of the Fifty Shades books and movies. Moreover, many popular artists (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Rammstein) implement BDSM elements in their video clips.”

“The contrast implies that many people are at least fascinated by BDSM, suggesting that many if not most may have sexual fantasies about it, and may even have experimented with it, or even implement it on a regular basis in their sex life. As no previous study explicitly teased apart fantasies and practice into a prevalence study, and as no other published study looked into ‘degrees of intensity’ of these practices, we decided to do it ourselves.”

The researchers surveyed 1,027 Belgian residents ages 18 to 65 and found a high interest in BDSM-related activities.

“In a representative sample of the general population, we found 70% to have at least sexual fantasies about BDSM related activities, and half of the population indicated to have implemented at least one of these activities once or more in their life,” Morrens explained to PsyPost.

“Use of blindfolds, movement restriction (handcuffs, rope) and use of ice cubes were most popular, with about 30% of the population having done each of these three at least once. More ‘hard’ BDSM practices, such as hitting a partner in a sexual context, whipping, power play (kneeling before partner, addressing them with a title) has been done by 1 out of 10.”

“Thirteen percent of the general population performed a BDSM-related activity on a regular basis, with 3-5% implementing several BDSM practices regularly. One percent indicated they attended organized BDSM-events outdoors,” Morrens said.

“So BDSM interest seems to be a wide spectrum in which 70% of the general population situates themselves. On one end of this spectrum, you have those with sexual fantasies about it, without having practiced them, then you have the people that implement some soft play with handcuffs and blindfolds without going further. A third category would be those that are into more harsh forms of BDSM, until finally there are those who implement it intensely in their lives while participating in BDSM events outdoors. About 8 percent of the general population actually self-identifies as a ‘BDSM practitioner.'”

The widespread interest in BDSM suggests it is not a pathological behavior, Morrens and his colleagues argue in their study. But their research does have some caveats.

“Although we explicitly hired a research bureau to find the participants in order to have a sample as representative as possible for the general population, it is not clear whether these results can be generalized internationally,” Morrens told PsyPost. “Nevertheless, our findings are in line with many other, more rudimentary studies, on the topic.”

The researchers also used an online questionnaire, meaning they were only able to survey people with access to the internet.

“Finally, no specific information was requested on timing of specific acts. As a result, no distinction can be made between a subject referring to an act performed recently versus decades ago.”

“As this study generated very interesting results, and given the interest in this paper and the results from this study, we are pursuing several follow up projects in which we aim to explore psychological driving factors in BDSM interest, as well as look into the biological aspects of the pain/pleasure spectrum involved in BDSM related play,” Morrens added.

The study, “Fifty Shades of Belgian Gray: The Prevalence of BDSM-Related Fantasies and Activities in the General Population“, was also co-authored by Lien Holvoet, Wim Huys, Violette Coppens, Jantien Seeuws, and Kris Goethals.

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