The research on the intersections of kink and mental health is surprisingly robust for such a seemingly niche topic. Perhaps the scientists behind these efforts set out to address these questions because of the way kink has been pathologized throughout history – but the results of these studies paint a very different picture of kink than the medical profession traditionally has.
One of the most recent studies on kink and mental health focused on the way some trauma survivors use kink “to heal from, cope with, and transform childhood abuse or adolescent maltreatment.” The researchers identified 6 key ways kink can soothe past traumas; some of these included “restructuring the self-concept” (i.e. using kink to re-access and restore parts of one’s personality that had been weakened or tamped out by trauma), “reclaiming power” (i.e. re-learning how to set boundaries and say no after having one’s boundaries ignored or actively dismissed in a traumatic way), and “redefining pain” (i.e. developing a new relationship to pain through consensual sadomasochism, to overshadow previous traumatic memories of pain). Stories of trauma survivors finding joy and peace through kink truly fly in the face of harmful old stereotypes about kink being, itself, traumatic or scary; to the contrary, when performed with kind and respectful partners in a consent-focused and risk-aware way, kink can have quite the opposite effect.
That said, though, it’s crucial to emphasize that while kink can be therapeutic, it is not therapy. Anyone wishing to process their traumas through kink, or even just to use kink as a cathartic balm for depression or anxiety, should ideally do so under the advisement of a kink-savvy therapist, in tandem with talk therapy, medication, and/or whatever other care is deemed appropriate. Kink cannot, by itself, magically cure your psychological issues – it’s debatable if anything can – but it can be a lovely way of finding peace, catharsis, pleasure, intimacy, strength, community, tranquility, and stability along the way.
If you’re curious about the psychologically positive potential of kink, try one of these ideas, or come up with your own:
- Inform your partner what you’ve been stressed or worried about lately (work? family? the news?) and ask them to give you a spanking, a flogging, a long electrostimulation session, etc. while gently reassuring you and saying the sweet words you most need to hear. They could, for example, slap your thighs with an open palm, increasing the intensity gradually, while saying things like, “You did such a good job at work today,” “You are so strong and brilliant,” and “You are loved.” Something about the combination of pain and heartwarming words can sometimes unlock and unleash emotions you’ve been holding in due to stress or self-consciousness; it can feel psychologically purifying to work through those feelings in this way.
- Got a task you need to complete (like a work assignment or a closet clean-out), or a habit you’re trying to instill in yourself (such as flossing or meditating)? Try creating a kinky incentive structure with your partner – or, if you’re single, just creating one for yourself – where meeting certain goals by certain times will get you specific rewards. What would genuinely feel like a treat to you? A long oral sex session, a foot massage, a rope bondage date, a fancy meal out, a new bath bomb and some uninterrupted time in which to use it? Whatever it is, you can harness the motivational power of these delights – as well as, perhaps, your kink-tinged desire to make your partner proud – to help you reach your goals.
- If there’s a part of your body you struggle to love – whether it be your thighs, your belly, your genitals, or someplace else – ask your partner to center a sex/kink session around that body part. It could be a sadomasochistic scene, or something more gentle and worshipful. Ideally they will intersperse the sensations with copious compliments. Having a less-than-loved body part focused on so completely in this way can help you view that body part in a new light and maybe like it a little more – because your partner clearly does!