Although popular trope suggests BDSM is for the abused or disturbed, the biological basis of kink deserves more study. There’s a science to spanking, nipple torture, candle waxing and pretty much any other sex act you could name.
Anything that prolongs the anticipation of touch, or relief, or safe manipulation of blood flow causes the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, adrenalin or serotonin that result in a chemical high.
I’ve read many scientific journals to put this saucy science into a blog that’s similar to spunk after pineapple juice: a little easier to swallow.
Q: How can you tell LJ wrote a blog?
A: When there’s a needless definition section ofc!
It’s important to understand the difference between a kink and a fetish, so let’s get to defining.
def. A broad term that refers to a wide variety of consensual, non-traditional sexual, sensual, and intimate behaviours such as sadomasochism, domination and submission, erotic roleplaying, fetishism, and erotic forms of discipline.
def. A more narrow term that describes people with an erotic or intimate interest in specific non-genital body parts, fabrics, smells, fluids, costumes and other non-human objects.
The distinction is important because today we’re not only dissecting more traditional kinks, like spanking, bondage, and whipping, but also fetishes that might not come to mind when we initially think of "kink", such as balloon fetishists or people with an attraction to erotic hypnosis.
Let's get into it
Studies of Australian and UK adults found that 15% to 20% engaged in some form of BDSM at some point in their lives. Plus, the number of people that self-identify as 'kinky' is the same as the number that identify as homosexual. So, kinks are WAY more common than we've all been led to believe. It's the kind of kink that some people engage in that leads to... rarer self identifications in the world of kink like: inflation, vore, animal play, and the reasonably standard but lesser-discussed foot fetish.
Whilst kinks aren’t shameful, it’s important to look at what people are getting from certain kinks. Does one really enjoy being humiliated and hurt, or are they trying to appeal to a male fantasy that has been popularised through the readily available violent pornography? Beyond that, examining partner’s intentions for partaking in these violent activities, are they doing this for their pleasure only?
Research conducted by Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University found that vaginal blood flow in women interested in BDSM increased when they watched kinky porn at the same rate as it did for non-kinky women watching 'vanilla' porn.
Conversely, blood flow did not increase when these kinky women watched vanilla porn, which implies that the brains of people who respond to kinky stimuli fire up in the same way as those who get off to 'vanilla' sex.
This finding supports sexologists' mainstream hypothesis: that there is NOTHING neurologically or biologically dysfunctional about kink-related desire.
Most people have demons, neuroses and swallowed frustrations. It's totally normal. It's just that some people act on them more than others, and at different points in their lives. And for many of these people, BDSM or kinky sex is a way for act on, or work through, some of these.
Where do kinks come from?
If kinks are different ways to enjoy sex, where do they come from? Until relatively recently, being “kinky” was considered a 'mental disorder'. “Kink” was only recently removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the guidebook for psychologists and psychiatrists, in 2013.
Clinical sexologist Rena McDaniel points out that our fear responses and our arousal responses are very similar, and that our bodies can’t always tell exactly what’s happening when we’re turned on: “Your body can't tell the difference between a sharp knife and a credit card when you are blindfolded. The rush of energy flooding your body from having a credit card dragged over you helps increase blood flow to the genitals, which increases arousal.”
Now I’m not a kinky girl, but I am a kinky girl ally. Still, I’ve been kind of caught off guard when my friends talk to me about their soirees that were "so fucking gross, I loved it".
Disgust response tends to go down when we’re sexually aroused. In other words, things we might normally find gross become less so when we’re already turned on. Seeing as sex itself can be messy when we’re exchanging body fluids, maybe it’s adaptive to be less triggered by disgust when having sex. Although if you’re already grossed out about something, it can be hard to get in the mood for sex.
Evolutionary psychologists think this is about pathogen avoidance: specifically, if a disgust response is triggered, it should lead us to avoid sex in the interest of protecting our health and fertility (e.g., avoiding potential STDs). While super interesting, neither of these lines of research really tell us why disgust itself sometimes becomes a turn-on. So what’s up with that?
Sex Physio-psychologists have come up with three possible explanations:
1. It’s A Learned Behaviour
We’ve established that disgust tends to go down when we’re aroused. After we orgasm, the disgust response can come back pretty quickly. That’s why people are often so quick to turn off porn after they’ve done ye olde cums.
If your disgust response comes back really quickly while you’re still experiencing the pleasure of orgasm or still enjoying sex, some people may start to associate disgust and sexual pleasure. It’s a conditioning effect: feeling disgusted can become rewarding, if it’s repeatedly paired with something pleasurable and positive.
Here's a fun foot fact: foot fetishes are a learned behaviour more prevalent in men, as men tend to masturbate above the duvet covers, and frequently have a view of their feet while they’re choking the chicken. Whereas women tend to masturbate under the covers, meaning we don't get the association between being horny and feet.
2. The Appeal of Taboo
Disgusting things are often “taboo”. We’ve all been told not to do gross things, like picking your nose as a kid. Often if you tell someone not to do something, it makes them want to do it more, like picking your nose as a kid.
This is a fundamental principle of human sexuality known as the 'Erotic Equation': attraction + obstacles = excitement.
If you have an inkling to do something disgusting, being told not to do it can increase your interest in it. This might not be about the fact that something is disgusting, but that it’s taboo.
Sexual taboos may also appeal to people with high sensation-seeking tendencies, who need more potent stimuli to get aroused in the first place. For them, doing something taboo amps up the excitement.
3. An Attraction to Power
Doing something disgusting, or being made to do something disgusting, can be a form of submission, masochism, and/or humiliation.
Think of it this way: there can be a certain pain that accompanies doing something disgusting. If you’re turned on by pain, doing something disgusting could become sexually arousing itself. Through this lens, disgusting sexual acts can be a vehicle for enacting fantasies or desires about BDSM or power play.
Human sexuality is complex! Adding further complexity to this, disgust in general is a little different for everyone. For some, disgust is easily triggered across situations, for others, their threshold for disgust is much higher.
It's almost impossible to know where a specific person's kinks come from.
The simplest answer is that it varies from person to person.
Some people might be able to trace their kink to a specific blue couch they masturbated on once, while others may have no idea why getting spanked gets them going.
Ultimately, does it really matter? If you’re getting involved in the kinky stuff in a safe, accepting, consensual, and mutually emotional way, then stop worrying about the psychology of it all, and go get your freak on!
Here's a picture of the Cock Destroyers. Can porn be feminist? Read our thoughts here.