Recently, Therapy Today published an article: The researcher: would you believe it?, which is about the discovery by one man of a paper that discusses people who are ‘kinky’ (who like BDSM) and how they might have better mental health than people who are not kinky.
The article suggests that even if these results are true, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. Of course it’s wise to take everything with caution – some of the ‘best’ psychology studies have since been proven to be forged, but my issue is less with that and more with this: the therapy today article conflates BDSM and abuse. It discusses how the author has read ’50 shades’ as a fetish book and then goes on to say that Ana could be defined as a victim of domestic violence. This is absolutely correct. But there is nothing consensual about domestic violence, and kink (BDSM) is about giving informed consent. Very few people whether in to BDSM or not who are reading the book would say that Ana was giving consent (let alone ‘informed’) a lot of the time.
Any ‘kink 101’ would soon show the difference between the two issues (as for 50 shades, the author has been explicit about the fact that she did very little research into her topic also). Just as one could be not kinky and abusive, one could be in to BDSM and be abusive. the BDSM is not the issue, ABUSE is the issue in the book.
The biggest problem with this article is that of course kinky people will be our clients. Some studies have shown that people who practice kink make up 15-20% of the population. They live and work and breathe, just like the vanilla people. they will have better or worse mental health. And as a trainee who has to have counselling as part of that training, and who has to deal with being different on many levels (including sexuality and disability) I want to know that the person I am choosing for a therapist knows what they’re talking about. This article seems to poke fun at kinky people (kinky people, having normal mental health? That can’t be!) and silences a minority further.
Since the publication of 50 shades, and the plethora of books on the topic that has followed, kinky sex has become more and more common (as anecdata – just yesterday I met someone who told me that 50 shades of grey had changed her life – that she had no idea she liked those things until she read the book, and finding them has made her happier), and certainly more accepted. This means that more and more of our clients will be a) reading this and b) exploring it.
It seems to me that we do our potential clients a massive disservice by discussing the topic in this manner (rather than genuinely trying to increase our understanding), and by viewing our clients in this way (people who like to dish out pain are abusive, and people who like to receive pain are clearly victims of domestic violence). If any of our clients wanted to talk to us about how they feel about discovering this side of themselves, or are people in these types of relationship who don’t want to have to filter their language (much as gay men used to have ‘wives’ with female names), they will certainly not be inclined to do so if they have any inclination that we hold these kinds of feelings towards them, and we are clearly not then doing the best that we can for our clients, whatever our modality may be. We are forcing our clients in to a closet and we are silencing them. Let’s not do that?
1. BDSM users are better mentally adjusted. News. Therapy Today 2013; June: 5.