Experience over perversion – How sick is BDSM?

Monday, July 1, 2013

“Experience over perversion” is part of the series on BDSM and psychology
Is kink normal, is the missionary position normal, is the way we look at the world normal? You may answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions or perhaps not, but in a way we all sense that the answers are depending on your beliefs, your culture or your experience. In this blog we take a closer look at how BDSM became pathologized in the past and why this is now scientifically regarded to be a gross mistake.

Sick persons, sick morals, sick methodology
Most of us will likely not know why the thought that masturbation - instead of being healthy and normal – was regarded as ‘wrong’, but this seemed rather easy to answer: it is not something that we abundantly find written down in religious texts - for as far as I know there is not much on the topic in the Bible. When I was searching for the reason behind this negative attitude towards masturbation I crossed an amazing story.

It all begins at the end of the 19th century in several mental asylums. They were visited by the German-Austrian psychiatrist Richard, Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing who noticed that 98% of the mentally ill inmates did masturbate; from this it he concluded that masturbations either was a symptom or perhaps even the cause of their illness. Krafft-Ebing also suggested a link between masturbation and homosexuality.

As incredible as this story sounds to us now, we can only say that it was a matter of bad luck that this psychiatrist apparently did not masturbate himself, as this would have likely had lead him to quite another conclusion about its healthy and pleasurable effects.

But there is more misfortune in the air, as this doctor, did not only labelled masturbation as a disease, but also other sexual behaviour that was not conform the prudent Victorian moral code, particularly male sadism and masochism. (Female kinky and fetish behaviour were not included in the survey, as Krafft-Ebbing regarded woman as sexually passive).

In 1886 his ‘Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study’ appeared, containing around 200 case histories of human sexual behaviour and the work soon became the standard with regard to sexual perversion.

Wikipedia states that “it became the leading medico–legal textual authority on sexual pathology” and - while written in an academic style - developed into a “forensic reference book for psychiatrists, physicians, and judges”. As one of the first scientific book on sexual pathology and same-sex relationships it attracted a lot of attentions. Remember that there was not much pornography available and that people where likely as curious about sex as we are today.

From an evolutionary point of view, sexuality only functioned for procreation, a view that was shared by the church doctrines. Therefore any sexual activity outside of the holy matrimony was regarded as morally flawed, just as recreational sex.

When Freud connected the several stages of sexual development with our mental health, it became clear that sexual deviation mainly was due to childhood trauma. And this and similar theories have been hanging around ever since and caused great harm, disrespect and rejection towards alternative sexual praxis, often leading to situations that show resemblance to the witch-hunts.

Problems we meet
Depending on where you live, your culture may have stringent or looser views on BDSM and same-sex relationships. Area’s we likely will meet a negative attitude or actual resistance are:

- Religious institutions
- Neighbourhood
- Working place
- Children

The idea is that when we are sexually defiant, we are unable or unworthy to participate in religious rituals, social interactions or raising or working with children. However, the functioning of kinky and LGBTQ persons in reality, does show that there seems no reason to suggest that they suffer from a mental disease.

Problems rather by thoughts, as by deeds
Again we see that theoretical prejudges and abstract values are chosen above life-based experience: in scientific terms we would call this a delusion in order to avoid getting on terms with evidence. Whereas for an evaluation of whom we are as a person, our deeds should be taken into account and not our theories about how persons should ideally be; as long as we consent, keep our sexual acts private and respect the public space of others, there is nothing anti-social in what we do.

Notice that we are not claiming that others are not entitled to their beliefs; they are, but so are we. We do not reject, ridicule or forbid the type of sex that the majority seems to prefer, and neither do we force our views upon them, obliging them to follow our sexual preferences. Meanwhile we battle wrong convictions about what it is what we do and enjoy, just like any sensible person would stand up for the right to be yourself.

Concluding we can say that it is not by our deeds that we get problems in the above mentioned areas, then as long as no one knows, everything seems to work fine. Yet as soon as our deeds are being contrasted with differing opinion with regard to sexual ethics, we run the risk of being pathologized. As there is no compelling argumentation for such ethics, we cannot let that happen. Understanding the mechanisms behind pathologizing us, will help to debunk them and set us free.

Afterword regarding religious morality
For about 1800 years amongst those confessing to the spiritual values and truths that can be found in Christianity were many that held slaves. The slaves were used for work, public and private service as well as for sexual service. Slaves were commodities without rights and such slavery was nowhere near the consensual, nurturing and mutually beneficial kind of slavery that we find in BDSM relationships. Rather it showed the unequal, unjust and exploitive side of slavery, a way that devalues the slave instead of empowering them. Regrettably, there was not much theological resistance against the praxis, but eventually reason prevailed.

Bringing an end to abusive slavery was of course a humane act and I think an act that is in accordance with the commandment to love your neighbour. It was a good development and I wish such developments would also occur with regard to the sex-negative attitude that we find in many branches of Christianity. Reality shows that there is nothing wrong with the actual loving of our neighbours, even when this loving occurs in a sexual context.

The truth will set us free – Sir Cameron

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