Dr. Brad Sagarin: The Real Effects BDSM Has on Relationships

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Dr. Brad Sagarin: The Real Effects BDSM Has on Relationships

Hayley Matthews Hayley Matthews • 5/13/16

TL;DR: For more than 15 years, Dr. Brad Sagarin, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University, has used his innovative research to identify the positive aspects of BDSM. 

He may have a background in computer science, but Dr. Brad Sagarin knows a thing or two about bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.

And as an esteemed professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, he’s able to share his expertise with millions of people through his work on consensual BDSM and its effects on couples.

I spoke with Sagarin to discuss his most popular study to date and the impact it’s making on this “Fifty Shades of Grey”-obsessed world.

What are the physiological and psychological effects of BDSM?

In the publication “Hormonal Changes and Couple Bonding in Consensual Sadomasochistic Activity,” Sagarin examined 58 participants, consisting of both heterosexual couples and same-sex couples, as they participated in a BDSM scene.

Surveys were conducted and saliva samples were gathered before and after the scene to measure the participants’ levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress.

Sagarin found that while cortisol levels rose for people taking on submissive roles during the scenes, it stayed the same for people taking on dominant roles, which he attributes to the bottom giving up control of the situation and not knowing what activity will happen next.

What are the physiological and psychological effects of BDSM?

Dr. Brad Sagarin studies deception, jealousy and infidelity; evolutionary psychology; human sexuality and more.

 

According to Sagarin, perhaps the most important  finding was that couples displayed acts of caring before, during and after the scenes, which he said shows that these often intense activities happen within a positive relationship context.

“These activities are not happening where someone is walking into a room with a whip, smacking someone else with it and walking out,” he said. “There is continued feedback going on so both can check in and make sure they’re having a good time, and when the scene is over, couples would typically sit quietly, would cuddle, would talk. This process that is often called ‘after care’ is an important part of reconnecting after these activities.”

Putting accurate information out there

The main goal Sagarin hopes to accomplish with this work is to replace stereotypes about BDSM with accurate scientific information, particularly with the popularity of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books and forthcoming movie.

“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is really getting a conversation going in society about BDSM. If the book is managing to reignite sexual interest between partners 20 years into a marriage, more power to them,” he said. “However, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ doesn’t necessarily provide information that is representative of the way people in practice are doing this.”

Sagarin’s follow-up research looks to be just as exciting, as he’ll examine altered states of consciousness BDSM acts seem to provide to people.

“Are people who do BDSM different from everyone else? Actually what you see in the BDSM community are ranges of personality traits and backgrounds that are really quite comparable to what you see in the general population,” he said. “I hope people who are curious at a personal level or just simply curious about BDSM will seek out good advice and accurate scientific information.”

To learn more about Dr. Brad Sagarin and his work, visit niu.edu, scienceofbdsm.com, scienceofbdsm.blogspot.com and follow @ScienceofBDSM.