• BDSM;
  • SM;
  • Recreational Leisure;
  • Paraphilia;
  • Personality;
  • Attachment;
  • Subjective Well-Being



It has been generally thought that the practice of bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, sadism-masochism (BDSM) is in some form associated with psychopathology. However, several more recent studies suggest a relative good psychological health of BDSM practitioners.


The aim of this study was to compare scores of BDSM practitioners and a control group on various fundamental psychological characteristics.


For this aim, 902 BDSM and 434 control participants completely filled out online questionnaires. Associations were examined using χ2 tests of independence with φ and Cramer's V as effect size measures and eta or Pearson's correlation. Group differences were tested using analysis of covariance, with partial η2 as effect size measure. A priori contrasts were tested using α = 0.01 to correct for multiple testing; for all other tests we used α = 0.05, two tailed.

Main Outcome Measures

The study used Big Five personality dimensions (NEO Five-Factor Inventory), attachment styles (Attachment Styles Questionnaire), rejection sensitivity (Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire), and subjective well-being (World Health Organization-Five Well-being Index).


The results mostly suggest favorable psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners compared with the control group; BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, had higher subjective well-being, yet were less agreeable. Comparing the four groups, if differences were observed, BDSM scores were generally more favorably for those with a dominant than a submissive role, with least favorable scores for controls.


We conclude that BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes. Wismeijer AAJ and van Assen MALM. Psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners. J Sex Med 2013;10:1943–1952.