October 13, 2021 3 min read
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.
For example, kink has been posited to “be an opportunity for people’s personal growth, self-actualization, healing, and transformation,” to “contribute to identity development, congruence, and self-actualization,” to create a “sense of belonging,” to facilitatespiritual experiences, and toreduce psychological stress and bad moods. Some research has even suggested that kinky people arementally healthier overall than the general population – possibly due to kink’s aforementioned ability to reduce stress, shore up identity, and build community.
One of themost 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 thatwhile 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 ifanything 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:
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