Interest in BDSM/Fetishism and romantic relationships: Preliminary Results

R. Quaresma, P.M. Pascoal, D. Cardoso

Escola de Psicologia e Ciências da Vida, Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, Lisbon, PORTUGAL

Objective: The purpose of this study is to understand what challenges people interested in BDSM/fetish perceive they face within romantic relationships.

Design and Method: This cross-sectional qualitative study takes a participatory research approach. The questionnaire was developed in collaboration with members of the Portuguese BDSM/fetishist community - 5 - and was available through an online platform. After approval by the IRB and pilot testing, links to the questionnaire were distributed within the BDSM/Fetishists forums, newsletters, and closed groups within social networks, but also in generalist social networks and via snowballing. There were 103 responses. In this study we focus, via thematic analysis, on participants’ perceptions of unique challenges posed to people who are interested in BDSM within the context of their romantic relationships.

Results: The participants had in average 34.04 years old, 54 male (M=34.81) and 49 female (M=33.48), of the participants 44 males and 35 females had responded interest and/or practiced BDSM/fetishism. Thematic analyses were conducted on 57 informative responses and highlighted that self-disclosure and acceptance of BDSM/fetishism were a major concern, with challenges in maintaining a relationship with a person with no interest in BDSM/fetishism.

Conclusions: Mismatched expectations about how to interact sexually with partners are complex and nondichotomous (e.g.: when partners are kinky but their preferences are similar rather than compatible). There is a tendency to morally invest non-kinksters as being less ‘open’, and kinksters often disavow responsibility in terms of mismatched expectations sometimes with implicit moral superiority. This can be seen as a reaction to stigma around BDSM/fetishism, but it can also hamper interpersonal acceptance.