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  • Erin Lightman Renner

7 Lessons in Kink and BDSM


I find myself in an interesting place in the kinky world. I serve people in the kink and BDSM communities as a mental health counselor, but I’m not an active participant in those communities myself. I got into working with kinky individuals, not through any expertise, but because I saw (and continue to see) kink as a healthy expression of sexuality, not something to be pathologized.


After graduating with my degree in counseling, and as I gained experience working with people with various different backgrounds and characteristics, I found that I greatly enjoyed working with kink-identified clients. Although the community is in no way homogeneous, I noticed that the clients I worked with from the community were highly self-aware, intellectual, and curious – traits that fit extremely well with my approach to counseling.


However, I realized that my lack of knowledge about kink and BDSM was holding me back in terms of building rapport and having a shared vocabulary. I never want a client to feel like they have the responsibility to educate me. So when I saw that TASHRA, The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance, was offering a 6-part training on culturally competent care with kink-identified individuals, I jumped at the chance to improve my knowledge and understanding.


Some things I already knew, such as consent being a central foundation in kink and BDSM activities, but there were many things I either didn’t know or hadn’t considered before. Here are the 7 most interesting things (to me) that I learned from the training:


1. People who practice BDSM are comparable to non-practitioners in terms of most mental health markers. However, a study by Brown, Barker, and Rahman (2019) found that they have significantly lower depression scores on average. I wasn’t surprised by this; most of the kinky people I’ve known both professionally and personally have already done a ton of work on self-actualization and have worked out what does and doesn’t make them happy. While not surprising, I tucked this piece of trivia away for the next time I get into an argument with someone over BDSM being healthy or harmful.


2. There is a concept called newbie frenzy. This refers to the preoccupation/seeming obsession that many people develop after first discovering an interest in BDSM/kink. Many newbies have sought therapy over fear that they might be sex addicts. For most, this newbie frenzy levels off after a few weeks or months and isn’t a cause for concern.


3. In the training, we learned how to distinguish between BDSM and abuse. In extreme situations, predators are able to infiltrate BDSM/kink communities and commit abuses. On the less extreme side, consent mistakes can happen, often among newbies who may not be as good with communicating.

4. While kink and BDSM can involve genital sexual activities, it allows sex to be removed to other parts of the body (for example, spanking, bondage, and role play; Simula, 2017). This can be extremely freeing for people with certain types of sexual dysfunction and people who experience pain during intercourse.


5. On a related note, kink and BDSM play can happen outside of a sexual context altogether. In fact, there are numerous kink-identified individuals who also identify as asexual. While there are many ways to be both kinky and ace, many people on the asexual spectrum use BDSM as a way to enhance intimacy with their partners in a non-sexual way. A couple of excellent papers on this are Sloan (2015) and Winter-gray and Hayfield (2019).


6. BDSM can allow trauma survivors a way to re-script past experiences of trauma and abuse. Trauma play allows a survivor to vacillate between processes of repetition and repair which are mediated by a blending of past scripts and future goals. It can also facilitate the shift from shame to integration by allowing others to “bear witness” to a re-enactment of a past trauma (Weille, 2002).


7. Finally, clients in the kink and BDSM communities often come to therapy but don’t disclose their participation in these communities until they believe it safe to do so. On one level this makes sense; if it’s not the main reason for seeking counseling, why disclose at all? On the other hand, I want the people who see me for counseling to feel comfortable sharing any and all parts of themselves in therapy.


If you’re interested in giving counseling a try, whether it’s for the 1st or 50th time, send me an email at erin@healingquestcounseling.com for a free consultation.


More information about TASHRA and upcoming trainings can be found at https://www.tashra.org/



References


Brown, A., Barker, E. D., & Rahman, Q. (2019). A systematic scoping review of the prevalence, etiological, psychological, and interpersonal factors associated with BDSM. The Journal of Sex Research, 57(6).


Simula, B. (2017). A “different economy of bodies and pleasures”?: Differentiating and evaluating sex and sexual BDSM experiences. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(2): 209-237.


Sloan, L. J. (2015). Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM

practice. Sexualities, 18(5-6), 548-563.


Weille K-LH (2002) The psychodynamics of consensual sadomasochistic and dominant-submissive sexual games. Studies in Gender and Sexuality 3(2): 131–160.


Winter-gray, T. & Hayfield, N. (2019) ‘can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people negotiate their experiences of kinks and fetishes. Psychology & sexuality, advance online publication. Doi: 10.1080/19419899.2019.1679866



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