Sociopaths feel sexual chemistry

BDSM: How sadomasochistic fans tick

Imagine you are sitting in the barren examination room of a research laboratory. A porn movie is playing on the television screen in front of you. Your body is wired: electrodes on your chest and fingertips monitor your heart rate and skin conductivity, your genitals are connected to a sensor that measures sexual arousal. In addition, there is a thin cable stuck to your arm that leads straight to an electrical stimulator. Three small signal lamps light up in random order above the television screen: The first one is very likely to announce an electric shock. The second light also - but only if your sexual arousal does not exceed a certain value. If the third lamp lights up, however, it has no consequences.

What sounds like a bizarre erotic short story was actually a psychological experiment conducted by sex researcher David Barlow of the State University of New York at Albany in 1983. Together with colleagues, he investigated how his twelve male test subjects would react to this fear conditioning. Interestingly, the announced pain stimuli did not seem to stand in the way of sexual arousal. Quite the opposite: when lights 1 and 2 came on, the test subjects' penis girth swelled significantly for a short time - much to the surprise of the participants themselves, who had expected the opposite effect. The result was in contradiction to the prevailing view at the time that fear principally reduced pleasure.

  1. For a long time, psychologists viewed sadomasochism as a mental disorder. Even today, the international ICD-10 diagnostic system lists it as "paraphilia". This classification is now controversial.

  2. Numerous studies have found no psychological pathologies in people who live out their sexuality with dominance and submission role plays.

  3. Initial findings indicate that the preference for BDSM goes hand in hand with "sensation seeking". This is a personality trait that demands thrills and variety.

This article is contained in Spectrum Compact, Sex - Between Lust and Frustration

It is true that Barlow plays a rather dubious role in sex research (the "therapy" of homosexuals also belonged to his scientific interests). But his study impressively shows that not only positive feelings such as joy or security can be linked to sexual arousal. Fear and tension can also have a stimulating effect in the right context.

Playing with power and pain

Some people see power, submission, and pain as an integral part of their sexuality. Luna from Hamburg (name changed editorially) knows the usual name for it: BDSM. "I had fantasies and ideas in this direction before, but I only got to know the term eight years ago," she explains. Written out it means: "Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism" (in German, for example: "Bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism"). He summarizes various sexual preferences which, on superficial examination, appear violent, downright brutal. Many of the practices appear to contradict liberal values ​​such as self-determination and equality. Many sadomasochists allow themselves to be whipped and choked, tied up and gagged. Some lock their sexual partners in metal cages, torture them with clothespins on sensitive skin or fail them to orgasm.

"However, BDSM always requires consensus," says Luna. The "dom", the dominant play partner, cannot react at will with his slave, the "sub". Only what both agree to is allowed. In this respect, BDSM also has more of the character of an erotic role play. Beyond the bedroom, sadomasochistic relationships can be just as trusting, intimate, and equal as any other relationship.

Luna sees herself neither as a sub nor as a dom. It describes itself as a "switch" because - depending on the playing partner - it decides anew whether to take on the active or the passive part. "Most of the time, however, it quickly becomes clear which of the two has the upper hand," she says and grins.