BDSM in the boardroom? More powerful people are more aroused by sadomasochism, study finds

New research published in the journal Social Psychology & Personality Science has found that people with more social power are more likely to enjoy BDSM.

The study of 14,306 men and women found that people in higher positions at work were more likely to be aroused by both sadistic and masochistic thoughts. As social power increased, women tended to be more aroused by sadism (inflicting pain on others) while men tended to be more aroused by masochism (having pain inflicted on oneself).

PsyPost interviewed Joris Lammers of the University of Cologne about his research. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Lammers: I have always been interested in power because of my background in political science. I feel that power is one of the most important social psychological variables. Connecting this to sex is very exciting given the importance of sex to many people. Also, since Freud and others sex has always been one of the classic topics in psychology. So I have always been thrilled to connect these two very basic and important variables.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Power affects us in many more ways than people think. Power (at work, e.g. being a CEO or President) does not only affect what you do in the boardroom or at work but changes you as a person, thus also changing how you behave in other settings, even if they have nothing to do with work, such as in bed.

What is the scope of the study? Are there any major caveats?

The major caveat is the effect size: this is a huge sample (15,000, so 1 in every 1,000 Dutch participated!) and so this allows you to test very fine-grained effects. It is not the case that all powerful men and women are into BDSM; power only increases the odds a few percentages. But what is interesting is also the effects that are not there: there is certainly no evidence that power only affects men’s sexual behavior (and not women’s) or that men necessarily have to adopt the dominant role and women the submissive (as in Fifty Shades of Grey). Large sample sizes also allow you to show that certain things are not the case (which is often much harder than showing that something is the case).

What questions still need to be addressed?

Sex is such a multifaceted experience and there is still so much to discover. A very interesting and important question is how this affects downstream consequences. So power makes people more likely to engage in BDSM (and also other sexually liberating behaviors). I now want to know what that does to them in the long run and outside sex. Do they perform better as a result, etc.?

The study, “Power and Sadomasochism: Understanding the Antecedents of a Knotty Relationship,” was co-authored by Roland Imhof.