BDSM – Bondage, punishment, sadism, masochism … are among the most violent sexual practices. They are also the most enigmatic with the backdrop of a question: how the hell can they like that? This is what a team of American researchers from the University of Northern Illinois sought to understand, whose work was spotted by the LiveScience site.

Because sadomasochistic practices, better known today, no longer fall within the domain of pathologies. According to DSM5, the authoritative American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , BDSM practices are simply considered non-standard sexual practices.

Even more surprising: an American study published in May 2013 showed that followers of sadomasochistic practices had stronger social relationships than others. Worse, they would even be more relaxed than the rest of the population. As if the SM was doing them good.

Paradox

“On the surface, it may seem paradoxical,” admits James Ambler, a graduate in psychology from Northern Illinois University, so to understand this paradox, the psychologist has made a real dive into the brains of SM practitioners.

To do this, he recruited a community of switchers, a term that refers to individuals who give as much as they receive pain. Before and after each sexual experience, the volunteers had to perform a cognitive test called the Stroop Test – in which they were confronted with paradoxical associations like the word “blue” written in red.

Because it is complicated for the brain to read the color if it is written in another, it is considered a good way to measure the cognitive abilities of the participants.

The volunteers also had to fill out questionnaires about their feelings about the “flow” during their sadomasochistic practices. Flow is a state of focus and enjoyment that individuals experience when immersed in these practices.

Thanks to these measurements, the researcher was able to observe that people who received pain within a SM practice had the lowest scores on the Stroop Test, a result generally associated with a decrease in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. . However, this area of ​​the brain is essentially linked to executive functions and memory.

In other words, SM practices would influence the irrigation of the brain, and therefore change the state of consciousness of those who engage in these practices … and therefore understand why they like it. “One of the reasons why these activities can be so extreme is that they are very effective in the redistribution and the fluidity of the blood in the brain of a human being”, explains the researcher.

Spiritual, not sexual

But who says sadomasochism does not necessarily mean sexual practices. So in this type of situation, what exactly happens? To understand this, a second study, conducted by Ellen Lee and Bred Sagarin, also at Northern Illinois University, looked at a non-sexual but extremely painful practice of the SM register called “dance of souls”.

This ritual involves the body piercings of individuals through which cords are attached. These ropes are connected to those of all the other participants or to a heavy object and fixed to the ground. During the ritual, they are stretched to the rhythm of the music being listened to or the beating of a battery.

The researchers therefore carried out a survey of 22 people following this ritual, recruited after an SM event in California. Five people who had piercings agreed to participate, as well as nine supporters – those who verify that the ritual is going well for each of the followers, but also eight observers.

These individuals answered the psychologists’ questions concerning their stress, their emotions, their feelings when they practice sadomasochism. The researchers then also took a sample of the respondents’ saliva to assess their levels of cortisol, the hormone that rises under stress.

As a result, when a person suffered during this ritual, their cortisol levels were unsurprisingly on the rise. But, strangely, the participants all admitted to feeling less stressed. “It is surely part of the effects of conscience that people seek during this kind of sexual act”, admits Sagarin.

Clearly, SM practices, whether sexual or not, influence brain irrigation. And it is this modification which, in turn, modifies the state of consciousness of the participants.

Researchers even go so far as to assert that the effects of sadomasochism are similar to those provided by yoga, or certain meditation practices. In short, to change your state of consciousness, you are spoiled for choice.

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