The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Marriage and Family Therapy: M.S.


Community Psychology, Counseling and Family Therapy


School of Health and Human Services

First Advisor

Jennifer Connor

Second Advisor

Manijeh Daneshpour

Third Advisor

Sandrine Zerbib

Keywords and Subject Headings

Sexuality, alternative sexuality, BDSM, kink, relationships, LGBTQ+, relationship satisfaction, RDAS


Sexual behaviors and styles that differ from that of the majority culture have been pathologized since civilizations began to form. One such category of sexual variation is BDSM (bondage-discipline/dominance-submission/sadism-masochism), which remains subject to widespread discrimination in the United States. Research on the treatment of BDSM practitioners by the legal, medical and mental health systems, as well as popular culture representations, suggests widespread discrimination in the United States. Feminist theory posits that such routine stigmatization from one's social context can lead to significant emotional and social stress. A growing body of literature, however, describes those who engage in BDSM activities as well-educated, socially well-adjusted individuals who are no more likely to have psychological distress than the general population. Symbolic interactionism explains this division between theory and empirical evidence by considering the explicit meaningmaking and positive interactions shown to be common among both those who practice BDSM and BDSM communities. Thus, BDSM practitioners may compensate for being a marginalized population by creating their own definitions of sexuality and identity separate from that of the dominant culture, and solidifying these in a supportive social context. PROCEDURE: This study used an online survey distributed via BDSM community websites and word-of-mouth to measure relationship satisfaction among BDSM practitioners who were in committed relationships. The Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS) was administered, as well as a number of demographic and BDSM participation questions about both the participants and their partners. Data were collected for 8 weeks. FINDINGS: The hypothesis predicted no difference in relationship satisfaction scores of BDSM participants and those of the general population. This hypothesis was rejected, as the current sample has statistically significantly lower RDAS scores than non distressed couples but statistically significantly higher RDAS scores than distressed couples. This result may not have practical significance, however, since the BDSM mean and non distressed mean were two points apart on a 69-point scale. Additionally, data analysis compared gender and BDSM roles to see if women and sub missives had lower RDAS scores (based on feminist critiques of BDSM being replication of patriarchal oppression). This yielded no statistically significant results. These results were considered in the context of both feminist and symbolic interaction theories and the current body of literature.



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