Curative kink: Survivors of early abuse transform trauma through BDSM


Bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM; “kink”) are frequently pathologized as derivatives of abuse. Although the link is unsubstantiated, some kink-identified people who happen to be survivors of trauma may engage in kink, or trauma play, to heal from, cope with, and transform childhood abuse or adolescent maltreatment. The present study sought a thematic model (Braun & Clarke, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101, 2006) of trauma recovery through kink using a critical realist, inductive approach to inquiry. Participants were eligible if they had experienced early abuse, were adults, and practiced kink. Six superordinate themes were generated from semi-structured interviews with 20 participants from five countries: cultural context of healing (e.g. using BDSM norms and previous therapy to reframe kink and trauma), restructuring the self-concept (e.g. strengthening internal characteristics which had been harmed or distorted), liberation through relationship (e.g. learning to be valued by intimate others), reclaiming power (e.g. setting and maintaining personal boundaries), repurposing behaviors (e.g. engaging in aspects of prolonged exposure), and redefining pain (e.g. transcending painful memories through masochism). Notably, participants only reported retraumatizing experiences prior to learning about the structural safeguards of BDSM. Research and clinical implications are discussed by drawing on general models of trauma recovery.

In Sexual and Relationship Therapy
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Cory J. Cascalheira
Cory J. Cascalheira
Doctoral Candidate in Counseling Psychology

Research interests include (1) the examination of stress-based, multilevel determinants and mechanisms conferring risk for LGBTQ+ health disparities (e.g., substance misuse); and (2) the use of computational methods (i.e., artificial intelligence) and big data to understand LGBTQ+ health behaviors and outcomes. Clinical interests include ACT, CBT, CPT, and MI.