Unique experiment sees Belgian researchers going to BDSM club to break taboo
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    Unique experiment sees Belgian researchers going to BDSM club to break taboo

    This integrated approach is unique worldwide, according to the scientists involved. Credit: Pixabay

    The University of Antwerp wants to break the taboo on BDSM, and conducted a unique experiment in a fetish club in Flanders, where researchers measured the biological processes of participants.

    As a part of the study, researchers of the university went to a fetish club over the course of 12 evenings, to measure and analyse the pain and pleasure that are associated with BDSM, which in full stands for Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), and Sadism and Masochism (SM).

    In 2017, a survey, also by the University of Antwerp, among 1028 Flemish respondents revealed that almost half (46.8%) of them had engaged in a BDSM activity at least once before.

    For this study, the researchers mapped out the biological mechanisms at play during the BDSM sessions of 35 experienced couples who volunteered to be studied, using questionnaires, blood samples, algometers (to measure the pain threshold), GSR sensors (to monitor stress) and heart rate monitors. Several observers also methodically kept track of the interactions during the sessions.

    “This really is the first study of its kind in the world. For our research, we worked closely with Club 78, a BDSM association in the municipality of Ham in the province of Limburg,” said Professor Manuel Morrens, who carried out the research together with Elise Wuyts, a psychiatric assistant who supervised the research, according to the university.

    “We see a significant increase in both stress and pleasure hormones for the submissive BDSM partners,” said Wuyts, reports VRT. “The pleasure reaction can even be linked to the stress reaction,” she added.

    The positive stress responses can be compared to what is known as the ‘runner’s high’, the rush of happiness due to the release of a flood of endorphins that runners can experience during prolonged exertion.

    “In both cases, the body produces endocannabinoids,” said Wuyts. She compares the responses to watching horror movies or riding a rollercoaster. However, for practitioners of BDSM, the pleasure of intimacy or sexuality increases that feeling even more.

    For the dominant BDSM-practitioners, the pleasure response was mainly linked to power play, which revolves around a power imbalance, and less so to pain play, in which pain is inflicted on the submissive participant, according to the research.

    The result of the study will be published in the academic Journal of Sexual Medicine, but the researchers aim to share the results of the study with as many people as possible to break the taboo that still surrounds BDSM.

    “For a long time, engaging in BDSM was classified as a sexual deviation, and even a disorder,” said Morrens. “In fact, the psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-5) still describes BDSM as a ‘diagnosis’, which means practitioners often still face prejudice,” he added.

    “Based on biological factors, we have now been able to demonstrate that there is no reason to make BDSM a pathology that needs to be treated. It is not a psychological abnormality, but a normal expression of intimacy or sexuality,” said Wuyts.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times