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The Science of SM Brad Sagarin, James Ambler, Ellen Lee, & Kathryn Klement Northern Illinois University.

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Presentation on theme: "The Science of SM Brad Sagarin, James Ambler, Ellen Lee, & Kathryn Klement Northern Illinois University."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Science of SM Brad Sagarin, James Ambler, Ellen Lee, & Kathryn Klement Northern Illinois University

2 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)

3 [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)

4 [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)

5 Filled with unconscious rage and the desire for revenge
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)

6 Hamilton’s 1929 survey of 200 married men and women:
51% 28% Men 32% 29% Women “Pleasant thrills” from inflicting pain “Pleasant thrills” from receiving pain

7 Clinical Criminal Consensual


9 Demographics Higher education and income Higher divorce rate
No higher incidence of childhood abuse Socially well adjusted

10 Demographics con’t... Many realize SM tendencies at an early age:
Gay men before straight men (all before 16 yrs) Men before women

11 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

12 Testosterone Sagarin et al. (2009) 12

13 Cortisol Sagarin et al. (2009) 13

14 Relationship closeness

15 Relationship closeness
Sagarin et al. (2009) 15

16 Before, During and Aftercare

17 Psychological Functioning of BDSM Practitioners (Connolly, 2006)
132 respondents 56 women, 73 men, 3 transgendered individuals Ages 25-74 Recruited in Southern California via through BDSM clubs and organizations

18 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)

19 Psychoanalytic theorizing
Depression Anxiety Obsessive-compulsion PTSD Dissociation Psychological sadism Psychological masochism Narcissism Borderline pathology Paranoia

20 BDSM practitioners vs. normative samples
BDSM practitioners lower than normative samples BDSM practitioners not statistically different BDSM practitioners higher than normative samples Depression Obsessive-compulsion Dissociation Anxiety Narcissism PTSD Psychological sadism Psychological masochism Borderline pathology Paranoia Out of body experiences Missing one’s freeway exit because one’s mind is elsewhere Ego self-involvement Connolly (2006)

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

22 Flow The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Csikszentimihályi (1991)


24 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

25 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

26 Consciousness as a Process

27 The self is sometimes burdensome
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." Baumeister (1988) Wiseman (1996)

28 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)

29 Transient Hypofrontality Hypothesis
Common experiences of altered states of consciousness: time distortions disinhibition from social constraints  changes in focused attention Transient Hypofrontality States -Runner’s High  -Meditation  -Dreaming  -Day dreaming  -Hypnosis  -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)

30 Subspace “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.”


32 The Stroop Test

33 Read the word

34 Green

35 Red

36 Blue

37 Yellow

38 Name the color





43 Read the word

44 Yellow

45 Green

46 Blue

47 Red

48 Name the color

49 Green

50 Red

51 Yellow

52 Blue

53 Correlation does not imply causation!

54 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:

55 Participants 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

56 Participants BDSM experience (years) BDSM experience (# scenes)
M=6.86, SD= 5.07, Range: 1-17 BDSM experience (# scenes) M=386.65, SD= , Range: Experience with study partner (# scenes) M= 39.64, SD= 79.73, Range: 0-250

57 Procedure Informed consent Pre-scene Stroop Practice Stroop
Baseline Stroop Baseline saliva sample Baseline survey Pre-scene Stroop Pre-scene saliva sample Pre-scene survey Scene Post-scene Stroop Post-scene saliva samples (x3) Post-scene survey

58 How well did the scene go?
Very Well Very Poorly

59 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.”

60 Very strongly affected
Impact of observation Very strongly affected Not at all affected

61 Self-other overlap

62 How intense was tonight’s scene?

63 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.”

64 Sexual, Spiritual, SM

65 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.”

66 What activities were spiritual?
“The connection between us.” “the music drums/beat” “laughter”

67 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”

68 Stress

69 Sexual arousal

70 Positive affect (excited, determined, attentive, …)

71 Negative affect (distressed, irritable, nervous, …)

72 Altered states (Stroop)

73 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”

74 Altered states (flow) Exercise: 3.88 Yoga: 3.85 Sports: 3.68

75 Conclusions 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

76 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

77 Future directions

78 For more information:

79 Thank you
Brad Sagarin

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