The Neuroscience of S&M

We live in a paradoxical world where pain management funds an industry of at least $36.1 billion (Elder, 2017) side by side with the culture of BDSM which thrives and celebrates, among other taboo activities, the use of pain within sexual contexts. Why would people want to use painful activities as part of intimate relationships. Or more to the point, HOW can they mix the two with positive outcomes? This paradox was the primary inspiration for Ms. Mercury’s Masters degree research and dissertation on the therapeutic benefits of sadomasochism (S&M).

Ms. Mercury

As a kink explorer from early adulthood, Ms. Mercury observed first-hand how kinky S&M play was not as painful as it seemed. In fact, many kinksters are more “pained” by the stigma around BDSM than by the crack of a whip. In the past, this stigma placed practitioners in diagnostic scenarios, which described our kinks as «perversions», something to be cured through psychotherapy.

Despite the recent removal of BDSM from international psychiatric diagnostic manuals by the World Health Organisation, the cultural stigma remains. In many cases, this cultural judgment can still damage participants’ rights for child custody and job security. Researching the psychological and biological roots of BDSM, sheds light into the paradox of perversions and promotes a more accepting and respectful attitude towards diverse sexual & fetish interests.

In this lecture, Ms. Mercury will share some of the background research on pain mechanisms in the nervous system, some psycho-social theories for why people enjoy S&M, and her own results on the therapeutic benefits of S&M practice.