1/31/2009

A Survey of Abuse and Mental Illness in BDSM

The more I've participated in the online BDSM community, the more intrigued I've become by the way many victims of abuse or mental illness seem to use BDSM as a way to heal and bond. It is as though BDSM activities give them a chance to re-play, re-act, and re-do terrible wrongs, and reimagine them in ways that are safer, healthier, and saner.

While I knew some people found strength and healing through their BDSM activities through their online posts, I wondered how prevelant this attitude was. I asked the members of Fetlife, an online community of kinksters, to take my online survey. In particular, I asked past victims of abuse or documented mental illness, especially submissive females. This survey in no way attempts to imply a relationship between abuse and BDSM (e.g., that all kinksters were abused as children) because such an inference is clearly stereotypical and over-generalized. In addition, a cursory glance at any BDSM community disproves this assumption. In fact, actual studies done (by scientists and doctors) on BDSMers indicate they tend to be emotionally healthy, and they come from more highly educated and professionally successful sections of the population than average. Those this survey does seek out those members of the BDSM community who also happen to be from abusive or troubled pasts, and ask them how--if at all--the world of BDSM has helped them cope and heal.

In a four-week period, 103 people took my online survey. Answers to individual questions are charted and discussed below.

94% of respondents were female and 6% were male. This refers to the original biological sex of respondents, not to orientation or gender.

The following shows the age breakdown of the respondents: As you can see, no one under 18 or over 65 responded to the survey. As for the nationality (see below), 71% were American, 13% Canadian, 1% Latino/Hispanic, 7% European, 1% African, 8% other, and 0% Middle Eastern or Asian.

How much education do you have? (Percentages are shown on the lower line.)



Were you abused as a child? 71% yes, 24% no, 5% unsure.If you were abused, what type of abuse was it? (More than one answer per person is possible.) Emotional abuse was the most preveland at 64%, sexual next at 55%, 37% physical.



If you were abused as a child, who abused you? The most common answer was one of the parents (father 47% and mother 41%) with acquaintance or extended family member the next two most common.
Were you abused as an adult? Interestingly, more respondents were abused as adults (over the age of 18) than as children, with 80% having been abused as adults (compared to 71% who were abused as children).



If you were abused, what type(s) of abuse did you encounter? Once again, emotional abuse was the most prevalent form of abuse for adults. This is interesting as it is much less documented in the media than sexual and physical abuse.



If you were abused, who abused you? For adults, far fewer were abused by a parent or extended family members, while the rate of abuse by strangers and coworkers/bosses rose. By far the most common type of abuse, however, was abuse from a significant other (58%) or spouse (35%).
At what age did you begin BDSM activities?


How would you describe your BDSM lifestyle?

How would you identify yourself? ("Top" is a broad, general term encompassing Masters, Doms, Mistresses, Dommes, Trainers, Daddies, Mommies, sadists, and more; "bottom" refers to their corresponding partners, and "switch" means you identify as both roles.)



If there is a power dynamic to your BDSM activities, which role or roles do you identify with? (Individual respondents could have checked more than one answer.)


Is there a power/control dynamic in your BDSM relationship?


Which BDSM activities do you most often engage in?
How would you describe your current BDSM relationship? (The first response truncated; it was "partnered for a lifetime.")

Do you believe past abuse made you more or less drawn to BDSM? This answer was a short essay, so there is no data available. Some said it made them more drawn to BDSM, such as being controlled, dominated, hit, hurt or raped. Some said it made them less drawn to BDSM, because the same activities reminded them too much of the abuse. Some said they were abused, but it had no effect whatsoever; they are entirely separate issues.

Have you been diagnosed with a mental disorder? 78% yes, 15% no, 8% I believe I have one, but have never been medically diagnosed. *Note: an official diagnosis by a certified professional is the only way to ascertain whether or not one suffers from a mental illness.



Have you been diagnosed with depression? 79% of people surveyed responded yes. This is interesting since only 78% said they had been diagnosed with a mental disorder, and depression is a specific type of mental disorder. Indeed it is the most common of all mental illnesses. The other two options were "no" or "I believe I am depressed but have not been medically diagnosed."


What conditions have you been medically diagnosed with? 72% depression, 43% anxiety disorder, 15% panic disorder, 14% bipolar disorder, 27% PTSD, 2% schizophrenia, 3% multiple personality disorder, 20% other. It is interesting 79% said they had been diagnosed with depression in the previous question, but only 72% had been diagnosed with it here. Also, please remember that mental disorders can often (but not always) be found together, so an individual respondent may have checked more than one diagnosed disorder. "Other" responses included Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, ADHD, and GID. It should be noted ADHD is not a mental disorder but developmental disorder.
How would you say past abuses and disorders have affected your BDSM lifestyle? The scale given was 1-5, 1 being "not at all" and 5 being "a lot." As you can see, most people were fairly neutral in their responses. Many more people reported being completely unaffected by issues of abuse or mental illness than reported being affected by it a lot. In fact, only 9 of the 103 people surveyed said their past history affected their BDSM life "a lot" (under 10%, although up to 80% had been abused and up to 79% had some sort of mental disorder).


How much do you believe BDSM has allowed you to heal from past traumas? Again, most people surveyed said not at all or were fairly neutral; the least number of people reported it allowed them to heal a lot.


Results
In all, this study found some people who were drawn to BDSM after abuse and some who were repelled by it. Some said their BDSM experiences made it easier to heal and some said it had no effect at all. Some said they became tops after abuse or disorders and others became bottoms.
Like any other community, the BDSM community is eclectic, one of varied personalities, ages, cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. This survey has proved nothing and claims nothing, but I hope you've found the information within interesting nonetheless. My sincere gratitude to the BDSM community members who participated in this survey.

2 comments:

Chris said...

This is an absolutely fantastic study!

Clarisse Thorn said...

103 people is a pretty small sample, and I would guess that people who were abused would be more likely to volunteer to participate in your survey. Note that the biggest and best-designed study ever done on BDSM (with 20,000 participants) found that there SMers were no more likely to be abused than vanillas.
http://www.news.com.au/bondage-lovers-normal-maybe-even-happier/story-e6frfkp9-1111117296864