While Fifty Shades of Grey may be an awful road map to the practice of BDSM (although it’s a pretty good one to gaslighting and emotional abuse!), the books are also responsible for alerting the masses to the appeal of bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and pain play. Now, new research is highlighting the potential benefits of BDSM for those who choose to get involved. A small study in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practicesuggests that engaging in BDSM can induce a flow state like the one elite artists and athletes talk about entering when they’re so focused on their activities that they lose track of time.
In the study, which researchers say is the first to look at whether BDSM alters practitioners’ mental states, the 14 members of seven BDSM-practicing couples were each randomly assigned the role of either the dominant “top” or the submissive “bottom.” Couples were then instructed to engage in BDSM activities for however long they wanted while researchers observed. Which I’m sure was not at all awkward in the least.
Researchers’ measurements showed that after the encounters, participants’ stress levels had dropped, while their moods and sexual arousal had risen. Tops also entered flow state, as measured by the Flow State Scale (FSS); bottoms, meanwhile, showed signs of both flow and something called “transient hypofrontality,” the slowing of the brain’s prefrontal cortex that happens when an experience calls for intense focus. This leads to reductions in pain, feelings of being present, and sensations of “floating and peacefulness,” according to one study.
“This may be an effective thing for people who otherwise have a hard time getting out of their intellectual head,” study author and Northern Illinois University psychology professor Brad Sagarin told Time. “BDSM, because of the intense sensations and potentially because of the restriction of movement, may have the ability to put someone in the here and now in a way that they may find more difficult to achieve through other means.”
This doesn’t mean you should ditch your yoga classes and run out to buy a box of rope (although if you are in the market for some, I’m told that Home Depot sells a comfortable and sturdy nylon one). It does mean that if you’re into BDSM, you have a scientifically backed reason to love it — and that if you’re looking to try it, “floating and peacefulness” could be just on the other side of pain. (If you know what you’re doing, that is, so maybe don’t use the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker movie as your guide.)