BDSM and Helpseeking: an Exploratory Qualitative Survey
Background: Awareness of the subculture of BDSM has grown considerably in recent years, particularly through media and fictional depictions of BDSM. Societal responses to BDSM have ranged from vilifying, to pathologising, to fictional glorifying. Due to the stigmatised nature of BDSM and the prevalence of sadistic abuse in the wider society, the BDSM community has a number of significant barriers to help-seeking, particularly around legal, medical, and therapeutic needs. Objectives: First, exploring how New Zealand BDSM practitioners experience and make sense of help-seeking, including the barriers and benefits of doing so. Second, based on this, informing the BDSM community and helping professions on guidelines around help-seeking with this niche population. Methods: Online qualitative survey, using thematic analysis to construct an interpretive description of the results. Results: Three themes were constructed from the data. The first theme is how BDSM practitioners engage with the dominance of helpers, including use or avoidance of negotiation, limit setting, and aftercare. The second theme covers three distinct patterns of appropriation of BDSM by outsiders, from dominant societal groups, from predators, and from the medical and psychological community. In response to this appropriation, a range of resistance techniques used by the BDSM community are discussed. The final theme is the interpretation of consent as technology. This technology takes skill to be used, and is a tool to aid protection from abuse as well as enabling valued interactions. Conclusions: This research supports the need for helping professionals to have cultural competence when working with this niche population. The cultural resources held by the BDSM community can be a valuable asset in improving help-seeking for BDSM practitioners, and improving the professional helping environment in general.