brad sagarin james ambler ellen lee kathryn klement northern illinois university n.
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Brad Sagarin, James Ambler, Ellen Lee, & Kathryn Klement Northern Illinois University. The Science of SM. Sadism would … correspond to an aggressive component of the sexual instinct which has become independent and exaggerated and has been brought to the foreground by displacement.

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Sadism would … correspond to an aggressive component of the sexual instinct which has become independent and exaggerated and has been brought to the foreground by displacement.

Freud (1938)


[Masochism is] nothing but a continuation of sadism directed at one’s own person in which the latter at first takes the place of the sexual object.

Freud (1938)


[Masochism is] a peculiar perversion of the psychical sexual life in which the individual … is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused.

Krafft-Ebing (1965)


Abused as children

  • Irrational guilt
  • Filled with unconscious rage and the desire for revenge
  • Fragile sense of identity
  • Indistinct personal boundaries between themselves and others

Ross (1997)

hamilton s 1929 survey of 200 married men and women
Hamilton’s 1929 survey of 200 married men and women:







“Pleasant thrills” frominflicting pain

“Pleasant thrills” fromreceiving pain





  • Higher education and income
  • Higher divorce rate
  • No higher incidence of childhood abuse
  • Socially well adjusted
demographics c on t
Demographics con’t...
  • Many realize SM tendencies at an early age:
    • Gay men before straight men (all before 16 yrs)
    • Men before women
relationship dynamics
Relationship dynamics
  • Partner selection, power dynamics, and sexual bargaining in self-defined BDSM couples (Cutler, 2003)
  • Great diversity in relationships
  • Compatibility ≠ identical kinks
  • Sexual gift-giving

Sagarin et al. (2009)


Sagarin et al. (2009)

relationship closeness1
Relationship closeness

Sagarin et al. (2009)

psychological functioning of bdsm practitioners connolly 2006
Psychological Functioning of BDSM Practitioners (Connolly, 2006)
  • 132 respondents
  • 56 women, 73 men, 3 transgendered individuals
  • Ages 25-74
  • Recruited in Southern California via e-mail through BDSM clubs and organizations
psychological functioning of bdsm practitioners connolly 20061
Psychological Functioning of BDSM Practitioners (Connolly, 2006)
  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2, 567 items)
  • Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III, 175 items)
  • Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI, 100 items)
  • Postraumatic Stress Disorder Scale (PDS, 49 items)
  • Multiscale Dissociation Inventory (MDI, 30 items)
  • Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II, 21 items)
  • Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI, 21 items)
psychoanalytic theorizing
Psychoanalytic theorizing






Psychological sadism

Psychological masochism


Borderline pathology


bdsm practitioners vs normative samples
BDSM practitioners vs. normative samples

Out of body experiences

Missing one’s freeway exit because one’s mind is elsewhere

Ego self-involvement

Connolly (2006)

altered states of consciousness
Altered states of consciousness
  • Physiological short term changes in the brain caused by SM related activities

The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.


conditions under w hich f low h appens
Conditions under which flow happens
  • Engagement in activity chosen for its own sake
  • Perceived challenges are high while skill level is also high
  • Clear goals that are regarded important
  • Immediate feedback indicating success at task
  • Highly focused attention
characteristics of flow s tate
Characteristics of flow state
  • Intense concentration on task
  • Deep sense of involvement and merging of action and awareness
  • Sense of control over one’s actions
  • Enjoyment in activity
  • Distorted sense of time

Escape from the Self

The self is sometimes burdensome

  • "The greater the demands in my outside life, the likelier I am to feel submissive sexually."


Wiseman (1996)


Transient Hypofrontality Hypothesis

Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DL):

  • Important for directed attention, temporal integration, and working memory

Working memory deficits cause:

  • Less abstract thinking
  • Less access to memory
  • Less self-reflective consciousness
  • Less cognitive flexibility
  • These lead to subjective changes

in consciousness

Dietrich (2003)

Common experiences of altered states of consciousness:

time distortions

disinhibition from social constraints 

changes in focused attention

Transient Hypofrontality Hypothesis

Transient Hypofrontality States

-Runner’s High 



-Day dreaming 


-Various Drug Highs

  • Specific variations:
    • reduction of pain
    • feelings of floating
    • feelings of peacefulness
    • little consistent logic
    • difficulty with memory
    • feeling of living in the here and now
    • little active decision making

Dietrich (2003)


“With my girl, she was punishing me, and I felt a deep sense of pain and pleasure, sort of a one with nature and my environment, it was incredible.”

“It’s very dreamlike. I knew that I felt good, and I was aware of my partner, but I was not paying attention to anything else.”

“I felt intense pleasure and pain, I almost felt like I was flying and for a moment I thought I would pass out. I felt like I was separating from my own body.”

“An almost trance like state. Pain didn’t exist in any form.”

“While bottoming with my partner, I was able to let go to the point of losing touch with reality while my partner spanked me.”

“While being dominated I stepped back inside myself. After getting the rush from playing I lost track of what was going on, nothing seemed to affect me while I was down inside myself.”

an experiment to test the causal effects of topping and bottoming
An experiment to test the causal effects of topping and bottoming
  • Recruited switches willing to be randomly assigned to the top or bottom role
  • Friday, March 29th, 2013 at the Arizona Power Exchange (APEX)
  • With generous support from:
  • 14 participants, 10 women, 4 men
  • Mean age= 40.86, SD=12.46, Range: 23-64
  • Sexual Orientation
    • 1 gay/lesbian
    • 10 bisexual/pansexual
    • 3 heterosexual
  • Race
    • All participants were Caucasian
  • BDSM experience (years)
    • M=6.86, SD= 5.07, Range: 1-17
  • BDSM experience (# scenes)
    • M=386.65, SD= 510.67, Range: 18-1500
  • Experience with study partner (# scenes)
    • M= 39.64, SD= 79.73, Range: 0-250
  • Pre-scene Stroop
  • Pre-scene saliva sample
  • Pre-scene survey
  • Scene
  • Post-scene Stroop
  • Post-scene saliva samples (x3)
  • Post-scene survey
  • Informed consent
  • Practice Stroop
  • Baseline Stroop
  • Baseline saliva sample
  • Baseline survey
how well did the scene go
How well did the scene go?

Very Well

Very Poorly

open ended thoughts
Open-ended thoughts
  • “It went better than I expected since it was random I did not know how well it would go.”
  • “It was fun and since I had never played with (#6) before it was nice the variety and different style.”
  • “Incredibly sensual and sexually charged, less about pain than sensuality and sensation.”
  • “He got my masochist to come out then fed her pain. I liked it.”
impact of observation
Impact of observation

Very strongly affected

Not at all affected

what activities were most intense
What activities were most intense?
  • “the connection between us.”
  • “heavy flogging at end.”
  • “Being bitten on the tender sides of my stomach and ribs.”
  • “Biting the spot where her heart chakra is.”
  • “no one thing. It all added up to a very intense/gratifying scene.”
what activities were sexual
What activities were sexual?
  • “Watching my partner as I brought her to orgasm!”
  • “the sounds she made, the element of control”
  • “Being bitten on the nape of the neck and having full body contact. There was also full chakra contact that was sexual in the energy exchanged.”
  • “using toys on my partner's breasts and genitals.”
what activities were spiritual
What activities were spiritual?
  • “The connection between us.”
  • “the music drums/beat”
  • “laughter”
what activities were sadomasochistic
What activities were sadomasochistic?
  • “Some intense cane strokes”
  • “It was an impact/sensation scene. The bristle brush on the nipples and clit and caning.”
  • “paddles and floggers used hard”
  • “Being bitten and scratched.”
  • “Spanking”
altered states flow
Altered states (flow)
  • 36 items (1-5 plus “not applicable” option)
  • “I was challenged, but I believed my skills would allow me to meet the challenge”
  • “I did things correctly without thinking about trying to do so”
  • “Time seemed to alter (either slowed down or speeded up)”
  • “I really enjoyed the experience of what I was doing”
altered states flow1
Altered states (flow)

Exercise: 3.88

Yoga: 3.85

Sports: 3.68

  • Incredible community support for research
  • Participants volunteered for more intrusion!
  • SM activities
    • Increase intimacy
    • Decrease stress and negative affect
    • Increase then decrease sexual arousal and positive affect
    • Facilitate flow
topping and bottoming caused
Topping and bottoming caused
  • Different perceptions of scenes
    • Tops: Sexual > Spiritual > SM
    • Bottoms: SM > Sexual > Spiritual
  • Different perceptions of scene intensity
    • Tops saw scenes as more intense than did bottoms
  • Altered states
    • Objective evidence of altered states of consciousness in bottoms
for more information
For moreinformation: