Kinky Sex Can Make You More Creative
Research suggests that BDSM can help people achieve altered states of consciousness
By Steven Blum / Mel Magazine
In the typically staid classical music section of The New York Times, readers this past February were treated to an article about kinky sex as a conduit to a more creative life.
Georg Friedrich Haas, widely seen as one of the world’s leading composers, came out in the newspaper of record as a BDSM master to his wife Mollena, and credited their dynamic with helping him write his most recent, and well-reviewed, new works.
Once considered a shameful pathology, recent research has suggested BDSM can reduce anxiety and stress while promoting bonding. But could it actually make you more creative? A new study from the Science of BDSM research group at the Northern Illinois University indicates it certainly can’t hurt.
After recruiting a small sample of BDSM fetishists through Fetlife?—?essentially the kink community’s Facebook?—?and asking them to recreate a typical BDSM session, researchers at the university found doms were able to achieve “optimal flow”: an immersive, creative state of mind sought by writers, artists and musicians.
Subs, on the other hand, experienced “transient hypofrontality,” an altered state of consciousness that can present itself as anything from a distortion of time to floating feelings, lack of self-consciousness, peacefulness and the experience of being in the here and now. (Bottoms also demonstrated impaired executive functioning after the scene was over, scoring poorly in a word and color matching game called the Stroop Test.)
It might be a leap to say that achieving flow in one arena could help you achieve it another. Still, it’s intriguing to think of BDSM as a skill, like painting or conducting, that demands a similarly deep level of concentration.
Brad Sagarin, a professor of psychology and one of the principals on the study, used the Flow State Scale, a questionnaire developed at the University of Queensland, to measure how BDSM tops experienced flow. Respondents agreed with statements like, “I felt in total control of what I was doing” and “I was completely focused on the task at hand.”
“I don’t think that the flow experience that we measured among BDSM tops differs from the flow achieved in other activities,” Sagarin said.
That said, BDSM tops don’t achieve flow right out of the gate. BDSM scenes require lots of preparation and skill to be done safely and effectively. “It’s not about grabbing a toy and swinging it at someone for the first time,” Sagarin noted.
Mistress Fiona, a professional dominatrix who works between Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, says that dominating her clients makes her feel on top of the world. She compares it to the sixth sense she sometimes acquires while cycling. “When I’m riding through the city, I may not see all the obstacles or turns but I’m able to anticipate them and pull off extreme maneuvers at split-second notice,” she said. “It’s definitely an elevated state of mind.”
Neil S, a male dom, compares the intense feelings of “domspace” to his own work in computer programming?—?“although coding is not as pleasurable,” he added.
He’s noticed that his subs sometimes attain a “trancelike” state reminiscent of those under hypnosis. (Because he’s a hypnotist, he’ll sometimes induce that subspace first using hypnosis and then “use it to form the scene,” he said.)
“It feels like the sub and I are the only beings in the world, and the only things that matter are the connection between us and what’s happening in the scene,” he said. “Of course, that kind of focus heightens the connection and makes the scene far more intense.”
Katherine Klement, one of the researchers behind the study, told me that bottoms might have more “fun” during a typical session.
“Bottoms said they were having more of the good time on the flow scale while tops were feeling more focused and satisfied from getting things right,” Klement said.
The idea that being whipped and bound could actually be good for your mental well-being is extremely new to the psychiatric community. The American Psychiatric Association didn’t change the diagnostic code for BDSM, fetishism and “transvestite fetishism” (aka cross-dressing) until 2013. A fetish for sadism or masochism is now called paraphilias (a blanket term for any kind of unusual sexual interest), and the DSM differentiates between harmless fetishes that take place in the bedroom and harmful kinds that cause “distress or impairment to the individual or harm to others.” In other words, the dentist who likes torturing patients has a disorder; the one who likes consensually torturing his partner for fun is fine.
In the past, no such distinction had been made. Sigmund Freud famously considered BDSM a “disease” and “the most significant of all perversions.” Other researchers went even further, linking masochism to cannibalism, vampirism, mass murder, necrophilia and epilepsy, according to Sadism and Masochism by Wilhelm Stekel.
It took significant lobbying by the National Council for Sexual Freedom to have the definitions changed; previously, BDSM practitioners risked losing custody of their children if a spouse told a therapist about their “disorder.”
Klement told me she hopes research like hers will “destigmatize the lived experiences of BDSM practitioners and dispel harmful stereotypes of kinky people.”
BDSM, of course, is not the only way to achieve an altered state of consciousness, which is considered “any condition that significantly differs from normal waking beta wave state.” (Beta wave describes the frequency range of human brain activity between 12.5 and 30 Hz.)
In addition to fun things like recreational drugs and meditation, altered states of consciousness can be caused by medical conditions including epilepsy, oxygen deficiency, infections and sleep deprivation.
Sagarin first became interested in the cognitive effects of BDSM after hearing those in the community describe feeling “fried” or experience a “floating” sensation during BDSM sessions. Next, he hopes to study aftercare, or how BDSMers spend their cooling-off period once a session has concluded. “We’re really interested in how people in BDSM feel bonded and a greater sense of intimacy when it’s over.
When is that bonding happening? Is it happening during the BDSM activities or after it’s over?”
Klement is also interested in how BDSM participants process pain.
“While we wouldn’t advocate prescribing BDSM play as a way to manage chronic pain, it is possible that the ways a bottom or masochist deals with pain in a BDSM scene could offer insights into ways individuals could cope with it,” Klement said.
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