New research from Finland suggests interest in BDSM is surprisingly widespread

New research suggests that interest in BDSM (bondage, dominance and sadomasochism) is fairly widespread in Finland. The results were published in The Journal of Sex Research.

BDSM has historically been viewed as deviant and pathological, but attitudes toward the practices have recently changed. Despite this change in attitude, the spread of BDSM is still unknown in several European countries. The authors of the new study set out to investigate the prevalence of BDSM interests and BDSM-related activities in a large, population-based sample of Finnish adults.

“I had previously written my bachelor’s thesis on porn addiction and internet porn, so I had some prior knowledge of sex research,” said study author Markus Paarnio, a PhD student at the University of Jyväskylä. “I wrote my master’s thesis on BDSM, which has been edited into this research article. BDSM has not been studied very much, although there has been a massive increase in research recently. That alone made this topic very appealing because our data set was so large and unique that this research added valuable knowledge to this area.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from 8,137 Finnish people who took part in the Genetics of Sexuality and Aggression (GSA) project, a longitudinal study of twins and their siblings. As part of the survey, participants were asked various questions about BDSM. They also completed personality trait assessments.

Paarnio found that 37% of women and 23% of men reported having been sexually dominated at least once or more, while 25% of women and 32% of men reported having been sexually dominated their partner at least once or more. Additionally, 38% of women and 36% of men said they were interested in BDSM.

“People might think it’s a very small group of people,” but the results underscore the “surprising commonality of interest in BDSM,” Paarnio told PsyPost.

Researchers also found that both men and women who were interested in BDSM tended to score higher on openness to experience but lower on honesty, humility, and conscientiousness. Among women, interest in BDSM was also associated with decreased agreeableness. But the effect sizes of these relationships “were negligible at best and therefore offered no real practical implications.”

“It seems that the personality of people who are interested in BDSM is no different than those who aren’t,” said Paarnio.

It has also been found that non-heterosexual individuals are more likely to practice and express an interest in BDSM than their straight counterparts. “To our knowledge, there are no current theories as to why non-heterosexual individuals are so heavily represented in the BDSM community and why their practices and interests outweigh those of heterosexual individuals,” the researchers write in their study. “One speculative hypothesis could be that a minority’s sexual orientation and being part of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community may influence one to be more open and explore one’s sexuality in general.”

Younger people were also more likely to say they were interested in BDSM.

However, some important variables were not included in the data set. “We didn’t have the educational level of our participants, which is a shame because it was already included in many studies and it would have been interesting to know if the previous results would have been replicated with our sample,” said Paarnio. “Previous studies indicate that BDSM practitioners are typically more educated than non-practitioners.”

Despite the new findings, Paarnio noted that scientists still have a lot to learn about the psychology of BDSM.

“Future research will address the prevalence in different countries,” the researcher explained. “The area would also benefit from a validated BDSM questionnaire, since it is now sometimes difficult to compare studies because there are different definitions and classifications. It is also important to understand the underlying psychometric structure behind BDSM, as it is not known whether BDSM interest and behavior is a factor in its own right or a factor of paraphilic interests.”

The study “The Prevalence of BDSM in Finland and the Association between BDSM Interest and Personality Traits” was authored by Markus Paarnio, Nils Sandman, Marianne Källström, Ada Johansson and Patrick Jern.

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