KinksSex & SexualitySunday School

Sunday School: On Bondage

A question for Sunday School: Is it true that bondage is more prevalent in the queer community? I have often been told by the x-phobic people in my life that fetishes are consistent with mental illness. Does bondage pose psychological risks? –A.

I have some bad news for you, A. Literally every experience poses psychological risks. ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE, etc. Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way.

There are BDSM practitioners of all genders, orientations, and walks of life. A lot of them are queer, to be sure, but far from all or even most of them. If you want some numbers, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has a nice little fact sheet here, but sociologists tend to collect data along gender rather than sexual orientation lines. If you look at the statistics for kinky Facebook clone FetLife, users identifying as exclusively homosexual are actually underrepresented vis-a-vis the general population–less than 4%. Bisexuals make a much stronger showing, at 18%.

The perception of queer overrepresentation in BDSM can probably be traced to the visibility of gay leather culture in the 70s. Remember that one dude in the Village People? Of course you do. (His name was Glenn Hughes.) You may also remember a movie called Cruising, which was based on the book of the same name. The gay community in New York, where it was filmed, actually protested the hell out of it, in part because they felt it overstated the general gay interest in S&M (not to mention, uh, serial murder).

As for the contention that fetishes are consistent with mental illness, I suggest that you promptly defriend anyone who is in your life who says such stupid shit. If you peep that NCSF fact sheet, you will notice that 30% of men and 32% of women have participated in sexytimes bondage. As tempting as it is to label anyone who reads Playboy as crazy, I feel fairly confident that anyone “x-phobic” probably isn’t talking about straight couples who are into rope when they condemn people who participate in kink.

The irony, of course, is that the overwhelming majority of people who participate in BDSM are in a male Dom-female sub relationship, to the extent that people who aren’t interested in that can sometimes feel alienated by the kinky community. The fact that lesbian subs and heterosexual Dommes get tons of messages from straight dude tops who are looking to “break” or “convert” them doesn’t help. If you’re a lesbian on a vanilla dating site and you haven’t made your profile invisible to straight dudes, you probably have experienced exactly the same shit, except possibly with fewer capitalization quirks. (Yes, I am aware that FetLife is not, strictly speaking, a dating site.)

So, going to full circle to your question about “psychological risks.” I wasn’t really kidding when I said that every experience carries psychological risks, because that’s the way life works. But a sexual relationship that includes rope is not, in my view, any riskier than one that doesn’t, so long as the relationship is healthy–that is, so long as the participants are open and truthful with one another about their needs and their limits. Trust and consent are the foundations of a BDSM relationship; the props and the games and the “Sir” or “Mistress” are honestly secondary. If a party interested in BDSM has issues preventing them from completely trusting their partner(s), such as trauma or an actual mental illness such as an acute anxiety disorder, then kink is probably not for them until they can work through or control those issues. But that’s pretty reasonable advice for anyone in any kind of relationship, don’t you think?

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Featured image of Glenn Hughes by Mark Weiss, 1979

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Rachel

Rachel

Rachel is a queer lady from Texas who currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin. She studied history at Texas A&M University and has spent more time than she cares to admit arguing social justice with junior Republicans. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood and enjoys knitting, media criticism, and comic book slash fiction.

8 Comments

  1. January 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm —

    From my own experiences, kink has been incredibly beneficial to my mental well-being. Though most of the kinky folks I’ve met have also been straight, so kind of less interesting to me on a practical level. But that’s my anecdata.

    • January 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm —

      That has been my experience as well! But obviously it is not something that I would just go around recommending to everyone like getting tied to a chair is some sort of panacea.

      • January 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm —

        Haha, true. Subbing is absolutely not great for my mental health for some trauma-related reasons, and no kind of sexy fun is good for everyone.

        Besides, if everyone was tied to chairs, who would be doing the tying? And then what would happen?

        • January 17, 2012 at 9:45 am —

          There would be a lot of people tied to chairs who would be very, very sad that there was nobody around to whack them with a riding crop šŸ™

  2. January 16, 2012 at 12:50 am —

    Yay kink!

  3. January 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm —

    There are actually a few studies out there that suggest that people actively involved in kink are mentally healthier than the general public. If true this is definitely correlation not causative; people with clear mental health problems tend to have trouble finding kinky people to play with/sleep with so they leave. Also, the HUGE amount of time we spend discussing relationship dynamics and communication styles (especially around issues of consent) seems to do a ton of good for people’s positive feelings about their relationships, though I’ll admit that’s anecdotal.

    Fetishes/kinks are no more mental illness than any other interest. It’s a problem if it gets in the way of the rest of your life and causes problems, it’s not if it doesn’t.

    Also, I DO think that kinky sex is more common in people who identify as queer – but not because being queer causes fetishes. I think it’s because we THINK more about what sex we want to have and what kinds of relationships we want to be in. We have already broken down one or more of society’s expectations of us, why not break down another? I think this is a good thing – it helps us to get what we want instead of what society thinks we should want.

    • January 17, 2012 at 8:25 pm —

      On the one hand, I want to agree with you, because that logic makes sense to me. On the other, it’s an awfully self-aggrandizing claim to make when no research has been done, which is why I didn’t include it šŸ™‚

  4. January 22, 2012 at 6:04 pm —

    I agree on the trust thing, I keep having to tell people that, really, it’s about setting boundaries and trusting people, not just throwing a pair of manacles around any which way.

    Funny story, I was talking about BDSM and queerness with a straight acquaintance and she told me it all sounded terrifying to her; “I love my boyfriend but the idea of him tying me up and me helpless is just horrible!” Yeah, uhm. Don’t do it, then. That’s kinda that point! šŸ˜›

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