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Survey Results: Sexual Roles

I already started analyzing the SSC survey data on fetishes, but I wanted to move on to look at dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism.

Why might this be interesting? For one thing, some people have fetishes for things that seem, well…bad. Getting hurt. Letting other people control and abuse them. As if they have a drive toward weakness and unhappiness. This is kind of reminiscent of the self-sabotage and bad decisions some people make throughout their lives (for example, marrying a spouse who treats them the same way as an abusive parent). Sometimes I conceptualize this as them having a set point of low self-esteem and degradation that they try to enforce, regardless of its cost to their well-being. If this had the same roots as sexual masochism, that would be worth studying.

But I didn’t find anything interesting like that in the data.

BDSM preferences were heavily gendered. Of people who expressed a preference, 71% of cis men preferred the dominant role, compared to only 16% of cis women (18% of trans women; insufficient sample size of trans men). This was such a big difference that gender swamped every other effect, so I limited the analysis to cis men from this point on, since they made up most of the sample.

80% of straight men preferred the dominant role, compared to only 34% of gay men. This was such a big difference that orientation swamped every other effect, so I limited the analysis to straight cis men from this point on.

In order of importance, here are some factors that made the men in this sample more likely to be dominant, rather than submissive. All of these are self-rated:

– Good social skills
– High risk taking
– High ambition
– Conservative political values
– Low anxiety
– High status
– Belief that others are trustworthy

Forget the lurid stories about high-powered executives who secretly want to be abused and degraded. Most of these are pretty straightforward. The more successful and less neurotic a man’s personality, the more likely he is to be sexually dominant. But none of these are big effects. For example, conservatives are more dominant than liberals, but the exact numbers are 83% vs. 70%. Straight men are still mostly dominant, regardless of politics.

Submissive men reported lower sex drive, fewer dates (9 vs. 18), fewer sexual partners (5 vs. 11), and fewer long-term relationships (2.7 vs. 3.5) than dominant men. This probably has to do with the worse social skills and decreased risk taking.

This was so boring that I tried switching to sadism vs. masochism. Most self-reported sadists were also self-reported masochists, so I took only the subset of people who reported one but not the other. This showed similar patterns to dominance vs. submission, so much so that it’s not worth going over them separately.

Two mildly interesting findings. First, although psychiatric issues in general only affected these roles weakly and inconsistently, men with OCD were four times less likely to be sadists (and somewhat more likely to be masochists) than anyone else. This seems like an extreme form of the effect of high anxiety, plus maybe an obsessive fear of hurting someone else, or a response to feelings of guilt.

Second, although there was no effect of self-reported childhood trauma, men who grew up poor reported about twice the sexual sadism rates of people who grew up rich or middle-class; whether or not you were currently poor mattered a little less. Given how many comparisons I did, I’m not very confident in this result even though the effect size is pretty big.

The data didn’t support any kind of connection between dominance/submission/sadism/masochism and more prosaic forms of selfishness or self-sacrifice. Men were about equally likely to give money to charity, or identify as effective altruists, or hold various opinions in moral philosophy, regardless of their sexual roles.

Although I’ve made every other part of the survey publicly available, given the sensitivity of fetishes I’m keeping these particular answers private. If you are a professional researcher (or an amateur researcher with a good track record of professionalism and data integrity), and you want to test these results, please email me at scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com and we can discuss how to make that happen.

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105 Responses to Survey Results: Sexual Roles

  1. Grey says:

    Sometimes I conceptualize this as them having a set point of low self-esteem and degradation that they try to enforce,

    I wonder if the data would show something interesting if you where looking from the opposite perspective.

    Alinging ones self with a powerful in-group is a way of building ones self up, and tieing ones esteem into a group one esteems is a way of building up self-esteem. Total submission is a way of not only identifying with but identifying AS the individual or ideology one submits too.

    I agree the findings for high-powered men and dominance are banal but what about the findings about how-powered women and submissiveness? Anecdotally I’ve known a number of very high-powered women. High level executives for major corporations, buisness owners, a prestigous lawyer. Those high-powered women do talk and so far as I know them (and I know some of them quite well) live a life where submission at home is idealized. They’re not the sort that would talk about what they do in the bedroom but the dominant submissive archetype is even more pronounced than usual with them.

    It’s worth noting that the ones I know tend to have a husband that is not as conventionally wealthy and powerful as they are, but they project prestige and power in their own ways. Police\Military men, emergency workers, or pastors\missionaries. You get the motif, something heroic or some kind of religious authority. Unsurprisingly that subset is pretty conservative with at least some religiosity. I know only a couple high powered women who are more liberal-leaning, they’d say their relationship is egalitarian but given their behavior that’s possibly more of a political statement than a description of the real power-dynamic of their relationship.

    I’d be interested to see how my experience expands. If I had to guess I’d say that high-powered women prefer to be submissive at rates similar to the general population, but I think that there could be interesting results digging into that data.

    As if they have a drive toward weakness and unhappiness.

    I don’t think sensation play, even when it includes some pain, can be considered seeking unhappiness by any reasonable metric. And as I alluded to before I don’t think being controlled makes the submissive feel weak. Rather the sensation being sought is to be part of a more powerful whole.

    My anecdotal experience indicates that women most comfortable being submissive and submitting are ones that are used to high-stability high-trust relationships. They’re used to the men in their lives being trustworthy and having their best interests at heart. Women who have harder relationships, especially with their fathers, seem to be more offend by the idea of submission. This bears out pretty logically to me.

    I know a few cases, not just two but obviously not enough to be statistically significant. I’ll generalize it to this: For women who like to be spanked, they where not spanked as discapline often as children, if at all, and generally looking back they’d say something like ‘If I got spanked I did something to really deserve it’. The women who look back and say they where spanked often, and somewhat unjustly, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to be spanked erotically.

    I’ve had two submissives at the same time talk about just that, and it’s interesting. The one who was spanked a lot had a very strict upbringing but beyond undo strictness had high-trust relationships. The other had a pretty well rounded up-bringing and was rarely spanked as a girl. The later enjoyed being spanked to the point where she wants it in most sessions, the former couldn’t imagine why anyone would want that. They had an interesting little conversation about it that I found interesting. Other than that they enjoy doing mostly the same standard-fare BSDM submissive acts.

    The point being that low-self esteem, low trust, and bad childhood experience with authority make a woman not want to be submissive. In practice submissives, both in the BSDM sense and in the tradcon ‘man is the head of the household (don’t ask don’t tell what he does to her in the bedroom)’ sense, are very proud of themselves. In dominating them, their dominant or husband projects strength, and as far as she is concerned his strength is her strength.

    As best as I can explain the thought process, from talking to them, it’s something like this: ‘If he can dominate me, he must be strong and capable. Because he is strong and capable, if he finds me worth dominating I must be special and valuable’. It’s a self re-enforcing cycle, but it’s a healthy one. Even though the BSDM acts themselves are degrading the end result seems to be higher self-esteem. Sometimes it can turn into outright arrogance or a kind of a ‘my dom is better than yours’ or ‘I’m the better submissive than you’ competition.

    I have no idea how these dynamics play out in non heterosexual relationships*. I know some gays and a few lesbians but contrary to the stereotype they don’t actually talk about their love lives a whole lot. The lesbians I know that do find dominance and submission to be an almost alien concept. I have no idea if that’s part of a larger trend or just an anomaly. Would you have data on that? Lesbians having more egalitarian relationships that cross-gender relations? I see from your data here that gays having dominance and submission preference is pretty true.

    *Polygynous dynamics where the women are bi don’t turn up anything that interesting, other than in comparison to polygynous dynamics where the women are not bi. Where the women are bi jealousy is far less, or essentially non-existent, while jealousy is high in separate beds\separate houses polygynous dynamics. But that doesn’t have anything to do with BSDM.

  2. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    It would be interesting to have more detailed questions in a following survey, especially on a) what the respondent has actually done rather than just what they find sexy and b) whether the respondent is or ever has been part of an organized kink community.

    Firstly, because what you “find sexy” versus what you actually do can be pretty different. Especially given that we have a fair number of virgins (13.5%) and sexually inexperienced guys here, it’s not clear how many respondents are talking about things that they’ve done and enjoyed versus things that they could imagine enjoying.

    Secondly, because I suspect that the seeming paradox of sexually dominant conservative men is probably driven by the high visibility of the left-leaning organized kink community. For example, as someone who answered that I was sexually dominant and politically far-right the kink scene has basically nothing to offer to men like me. If you can pick up women on your own there’s no reason to wait your turn for one of the handful of women who get passed around in the overwhelmingly-male groups, and those groups are generally also heavily involved in LGBT activism which I oppose.

    Also, this has basically nothing to do with my suggestion above but how are you correcting for multiple comparisons? It’s not that big a deal, since this is a hypothesis-generating survey and you’re not going to submit this for publication anyway, but there are a lot of ways to do it and I’m curious which you’re using.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      IME the organized kink community is about fifty-fifty male-female.

      Of course, if you dislike sluts and queers, you are going to have a bad time.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I can’t look it up at work but my recollection is that most organized kink communities have a serious shortage of women. I recall it being pretty well-attested but I’ll try to dig up real numbers later.

        Of course, if you dislike sluts and queers, you are going to have a bad time.

        Is “queers” allowed again or is this an N-word privilege situation? I was under the impression that the new rule was person-focused language and those of us without Q-word privileges still have to say “queer people.”

        I suspect the latter but it’s always nice to know what the rules are.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          I’m queer (yes, surprise surprise).

          I use the word “queer”. I like it. I don’t mind someone using it, as long as it’s used without a sneer, including and especially by straight people and other non-queer people. Feel free.

          I roll my eyes at the people adding to the alphabet soup.

          I’ve marched in Pride parades since the early 90s. I’ve organized and lead groups, carried banners, and held up flags. I’ve managed the budget and paperwork for a local org, and paid budget shortfalls out of my own pocket.

          I was pro-gay marriage when BHO and HRC were both publicly against it.

          My personal and political support for “Pride, Inc” and for Pride Org political organizations died in one day. In a cake shop. People can disagree with me about that, but they are still wrong.

          I don’t mind anyone using any of the LGBQXYZABC words, as long as they think it’s descriptive, and it’s said without a sneer.

          People who language police those labels are invited to FOAD, especially the queerfolk people who language police them.

          • Null42 says:

            I basically agree with you on everything.

            I think some of what you’re saying may have to do with members of sexual minorities before, say, the 90s having to adopt a ‘live and let live’ attitude due to necessity, so if someone isn’t pro-gay-marriage you don’t want to force them to bake a cake. (I agree with you, and support gay marriage BTW.)

            Nowadays, though, Pride is part of the social structure and the civil religion (as Scott’s written). So enforcing rules against deviants comes perfectly naturally–though, ironically, if you go back to about 1960 the deviants and normals have switched places.

            A more charitable view of our opponents is that they feel they’re taking a stand against homophobic bigotry.

    • Watchman says:

      Secondly, because I suspect that the seeming paradox of sexually dominant conservative men is probably driven by the high visibility of the left-leaning organized kink community. For example, as someone who answered that I was sexually dominant and politically far-right the kink scene has basically nothing to offer to men like me. If you can pick up women on your own there’s no reason to wait your turn for one of the handful of women who get passed around in the overwhelmingly-male groups, and those groups are generally also heavily involved in LGBT activism which I oppose.

      I don’t get how the fact that most organised fetish communities are liberal is going to affect the reporting rates here? Your contention would have to be that non-participation in a community would increase the likelihood of responding positively on the survey? Yet this seems counter-intuitive: most minorities are happier to admit their minority identity if they have a community. That’s pretty much what the original Stonewall riots were about, an attack on a community through its hub.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I think that I expressed myself poorly.

        What I meant was that I think that Scott’s numbers shouldn’t be surprising and that the reason that they are surprising is that the popular conception of BDSM is based on a small-but-highly-visible community. I expect that respondents who are or were actively involved in the kink scene are going to be much more liberal than the average respondent who is into kink.

        That is, I’m not doubting Scott’s survey results so much as trying to dig into why they differ from one’s expectation.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      If you can pick up women on your own there’s no reason to wait your turn for one of the handful of women who get passed around in the overwhelmingly-male groups

      I’m kinda curious here about the nature of your complaint here. Is the ratio relevant? Would you actually be fine in a group of 10 men and 10 women where all the men sleep with all the women, but not a group of 20 men and 10 women where same? Even if it didn’t impact the women’s availability to you (a few ways this could be the case)?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Neither part is great.

        A lopsided ratio of men to women makes for a very unpleasant dynamic for whoever is in the majority. Even a few percentage points can noticably change the dynamic of a city or a campus, and the larger the gap the more pronounced it gets. Whenever possible you should aim to be the one sought after rather than the one seeking.

        But even with an even sex ratio, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re getting everyone’s sloppy seconds. Aside from how gross it is, those environments are a recipe for drama of the daytime soap opera or telenovela variety. It’s not exclusively a casual sex problem, a lot of friend groups run into this with serial monogamy.

    • Null42 says:

      I’m not against promiscuous/sexually adventurous women or LGBTQ people at all but I’ve been finding myself drifting away from the left as it gets ‘woker’, so guess I’m between you and Ozy.

      I generally found if you’re somewhat socially inept and you’re a guy you can get yourself in trouble pretty fast at these things by showing interest or even trying to talk to the wrong person who’s not attracted to you, so I had better luck going online and dating one at a time. If she doesn’t like you, she won’t answer or will cut off contact or have a breakup and it’s over.

      I also suspect the BDSM scene is the tip of the iceberg to the larger number of kinksters who don’t want to do that sort of thing as part of a larger community because sex is a private thing between two people. You can definitely be conservative and do kinky stuff with your mate (though I certainly hope you get consent!)…I don’t even think most religions oppose it.

  3. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Most self-reported sadists were also self-reported masochists

    So if the main division is between S&M fans and non-S&M-fans, did you check characteristics of those groups?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Also, just looked at the question and for sadism/masochism they’re indicated by the multiple-checkbox section “Which of the following fetishes do you find at least a little bit sexy?” Makes me wonder if the results are dominated by vanillas who find the idea of S&M kinda sexy–the popularity of e.g. the Rihanna song suggests this is common. You could check this reasonably by restricting the analysis based on answers to the “Fetish Importance” question.

      • Watchman says:

        If someone finds S&M sexy, then presumably they’re not a vanilla though. Unless your categorisation is based on participation, and that’s an opportunity thing rather than a measure of preferences.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          I think it’s more complicated than that. There seems to be a distinction worth drawing between finding S&M titillating and finding it arousing.

          A lot of things are “sexy” in the sense that they inspire sexual interest (in a given person), but are not “arousing” in the sense that they are seen (by that person) as a desirable component of the sex act itself.

          Let me pick a deliberately silly but realistic example. I’m sure there are lots of people who are titillated by (the idea of) their partner being a motorcyclist. Learning that a prospective partner is a motorcyclist might well increase their sexual interest. They might feel a bit of a thrill at the open road, the wind in their hair and/or whistling over their helmet, et cetera, et cetera…

          In short, they find motorcycles and motorcyclists sexy.

          That doesn’t mean they want to have sex on, with, or using a motorcycle.

          It may not even mean they wish they owned or regularly rode a motorcycle.

          In the same spirit, you’re likely to find a lot of people who just wouldn’t gain that much actual arousal out of participating in S&M- who might be uncomfortable enough with it for it to be an active anti-fetish for them, something that decreases their arousal… But who are still on some level titillated by it, because they associate it with sex and sexuality and a sex-positive mindset, or something like that.

          • Watchman says:

            Good point, as I’d read sexy as meaning arousing. Maybe a rephrased question next time might avoid that issue.

            My understanding of vanilla though would probably exclude the titillated as well as the aroused, but I’m guessing arguing the definition of a term designed to outgroup people is rather pointless since it’s very nature requires it to be flexible to allow for in group/out group realignment.

  4. throwaway of a regular commenter says:

    Submissive men reported lower sex drive, fewer dates (9 vs. 18), fewer sexual partners (5 vs. 11), and fewer long-term relationships (2.7 vs. 3.5) than dominant men. This probably has to do with the worse social skills and decreased risk taking.

    Speaking as a submissive man, I would question whether that’s the causality there. It should also be borne in mind that it’s a lot harder to find a partner when your sexuality goes so heavily against the heteronormative grain. Like, women who will play the dominant role are vanishingly rare, so if that’s an obligate part of your sexuality, you’re going to struggle to find very many partners. (Female switches are rare but can be found. If you’re looking for a solely dominant woman, I say that you’re going to be disappointed, because they’re all-but-nonexistent.)

    There’s also the matter of the acceptability of one’s kinks. A few unhappy experiences with vanilla women have made me more anxious about being forthcoming about my kinks, and in fact about the whole experience of going to bed with women in general. But maybe that’s just my own neuroticism talking… or my correlated-with-submissiveness decreased social risk-taking.

    Meanwhile, I’m curious about how the data were collected. Do the questions, as phrased, include people who are pretty indifferent to BDSM but who, if pressed, would prefer one role over the other? Or does it only include those who are seriously into BDSM?

    Depending on the phrasing, I feel like you could end up including a lot of people who are ‘dominant by default’, so to speak. That is, men (resp. women) who aren’t heavily into BDSM but weakly prefer the dominant (resp. submissive) role to the extent that it’s the default for their gender. In that case, all those well-adjusted, non-neurotic normies could throw off your comparisons.

    I took the survey, so in theory I should be able to remember, but I’ve no idea.

    Edit: oh, scooped by ejmoncrieff above.

    • Null42 says:

      If it makes you feel better, if you’re a dominant guy you’re always worried your partner is going to turn on you and go to the cops, or slander you as a batterer. That and you always wonder if some ex-post-facto revision of sexual mores as we’ve been seeing is going to decide that *even consensual* maledom-femsub relations are exploitative, because women can’t consent due to the patriarchy or something similar (I have no idea what they are going to say in 20 years).

      (My strategy was always to clarify that I ‘play in the shallow end of the pool’ and avoid leaving marks and go heavy on the psychological stuff like picking their clothes out for them, which rules out a lot of the hardcore kinksters. You’d be surprised, there’s a pretty big market for ‘kinky but not too kinky’. Ironically this meant mentioning ’50 Shades of Grey’ was a positive, as it meant they were kinky but not expecting bruises or complicated ropework.)

      Honestly I wish I were vanilla.

  5. ejmoncrieff says:

    For one thing, some people have fetishes for things that seem, well…bad. Getting hurt. Letting other people control and abuse them. As if they have a drive toward weakness and unhappiness. This is kind of reminiscent of the self-sabotage and bad decisions some people make throughout their lives (for example, marrying a spouse who treats them the same way as an abusive parent).

    Dr. Alexander, I am concerned about your ability to treat sexually submissive patients with empathy. You seem not to understand the psychology of BDSM.

    Some people like to eat food with hot pepper. Eating food with hot pepper involves some painful sensations, but for people who have a taste for it, the overall experience is pleasurable. Physical forms of masochism are similar. Getting flogged (say) involves painful sensations, but for people who have a taste for it, the overall experience of a flogging is pleasurable, provided that the flogging is done with implements and techniques that are intended to produce a mix of pleasure and pain. (The techniques used for consensual flogging or other impact play scenes are completely different from the techniques used for nonconsensual corporal punishment.)

    Most people enjoy watching movies or reading books in which characters experience negative emotions like fear and sorrow. Why do people enjoy thrillers? Why do people enjoy tragic drama? It’s partly because we know that the events we’re watching or reading about aren’t real. Nobody is actually going to be harmed. Experiencing an emotion that is normally negative can be a pleasurable experience when we know that the bad thing that emotion normally indicates isn’t there.

    Forms of masochism that involve emotional rather than physical pain are similar. The submissive doing a consensual humiliation scene in a controlled environment knows that nothing genuinely harmful is going to happen. This makes it possible to explore and take pleasure in the emotion of shame. Some submissives use the word “catharsis” to describe their experiences…the same word we use to describe the experience of watching tragic drama.

    The motives for submitting to bondage are many. Sometimes it’s about humiliation. Sometimes it’s about trust. Sometimes it’s a way of heightening sensation, either a pleasurable form of pain or straightforward pleasure.

    Dr. Alexander, before you treat another patient who is sexually submissive or masochistic, I hope you will rethink your attitudes. I really hope that you scrupulously avoid saying anything judgmental about your kinky patients’ sexual preferences and practices. Consensual BDSM is not degrading or abusive. Nothing is more degrading or abusive than telling someone there is something wrong with their sexuality.

    Submissive men reported lower sex drive, fewer dates (9 vs. 18), fewer sexual partners (5 vs. 11), and fewer long-term relationships (2.7 vs. 3.5) than dominant men. This probably has to do with the worse social skills and decreased risk taking.

    I think it’s more likely that the worse (self-rated) social skills and decreased risk taking are a consequence of being sexually submissive. Simply because of the relative prevalence of submissiveness and dominance among straight and bisexual women, it’s more difficult for sexually submissive straight men to find a compatible partner than it is for sexually dominant straight men to find a compatible partner. Sexually dominant straight men thus have more incentive to take two kinds of social risks: to ask women out, and to be forthcoming with partners and potential partners about their kinks. Sexually dominant straight men are also likely to develop social skills faster as a result of having more dates.

    It would be interesting to look at the data on gay men and see whether the same pattern holds. Are sexually dominant gay men more confident about their social skills than sexually submissive gay men? My subjective impression is that it is somewhat easier for submissive gay men to find compatible partners than it is for submissive straight men (though among both straight men and gay men, dominants have it easier).

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Another possible example of pleasure/pain might be enjoying loud sounds. (I’m including motorcycles and the like as well as loud music.)

      I actually don’t know what loud sounds are like for people who want them– I find loud sounds painful and don’t seek them out. Sufficient exposure to loud sounds cause permanent damage, but I don’t know whether there’s any pain involved.

      • Paper Rat says:

        From personal experience, loud music is more about feeling your whole body vibrate, rather than strictly about hearing stuff with your ears. Actual sound quality at the live shows is often way lower than on a recording by the same band, because correctly setting the sound for a live show is a very hard problem, with lots of variables.

        Also some musicians, who play loud music, do performances and practice sessions in earplugs (especially drummers).

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Might it be possible to get the whole body vibration without the hearing damage?

          • Meister says:

            They make special concert earplugs for exactly this use case. They attenuate the sound without muddling it.

          • Paper Rat says:

            It’s very-very unlikely for you to get hearing damage from attending a concert of loud music, unless you fall asleep next to the speaker or something :).

            That said, earplugs might still be a good idea, as loud sound takes some getting used to and can be an uncomfortable experience at first.

            Also, if your goal is to feel music with your body, indoor venues are better than open air, and music with lots of medium and low frequencies is preferable.

          • martinepstein says:

            I know many musicians and avid concert goers with tinnitus. Everyone should wear high quality ear plugs to concerts.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paper Rat

            It’s very-very unlikely for you to get hearing damage from attending a concert of loud music

            This is very much not true. We know the sound levels and exposure times that cause hearing damage and sound levels at concerts often exceed that.

            Like martinepstein said, serious hearing damage is very common among those who frequent loud concerts.

            Those who do it less still tend to get permanent hearing damage, but not necessarily so serious to be that noticeable, at least at an early age (the hearing damage adds onto the damage caused by aging, so many only truly pay the price later in life).

          • Paper Rat says:

            @Aapje

            I’ve been going to concerts and wearing headphones (for about 6 hours a day every day) for roughly 20 years. Now in my mid-thirties there’s no hearing damage to speak of. That’s where I’m coming from, when I say, that attending a concert to see what’s it’s all about won’t instantly damage your hearing (sorry if that part wasn’t sufficiently clear).

            Not saying that you or martinepstein are wrong, probably, I was just lucky, but I honestly almost never see attendees in earplugs, nor hear stories about dangers of loud music. I will pay more attention in the future, that’s for sure.

          • Lambert says:

            I think there’s a difference between instantly doing permenant damage and doing noticeable damage.
            Like how any radiation exposure will increase your risk of cancer, but small dosages won’t increase it much.

            I have a pair of Senner musician’s plugs which I quite like. I bring them to loud bars, because it makes it easier for me to hear whomever I’m talking to.

    • throwaway of a regular commenter says:

      I agree that the way Scott talks about masochism in that passage is off, though I doubt that he—a psychiatrist practicing in the bay area—is likely to tell any of his BDSM-practicing patients that there’s something wrong with their sexuality.

      On the other hand, I’ve also always felt that the classic comparison to other forms of controlled pain—stories in which unhappy things happen, spicy food, etc—is off the mark, too. It’s hard to explain the difference, but they seem qualitatively different to me.

      It seems possible to acquire a taste for most of those other forms of controlled pain, whereas whatever drives us to sexually desire pain (or humiliation, or whatever) is pretty mysterious, maybe deeper, and does not, as it seems to me, spring from the same source. Being submissive does not feel to me like a taste for spicy food that I picked up because I wanted some variety.

      But maybe others are different and I shouldn’t speak for them. I’m submissive but not really a masochist; maybe for masochists it is more like that. It might also be different for women than for men–women’s sexuality seems less centred on obligate kinks and more open to picking up new turn-ons, so maybe the ‘acquired taste for pleasure mixed with pain’ model is a better fit for them.

      • ejmoncrieff says:

        I agree that the way Scott talks about masochism in that passage is off, though I doubt that he—a psychiatrist practicing in the bay area—is likely to tell any of his BDSM-practicing patients that there’s something wrong with their sexuality

        I’m sure you’re right that a psychiatrist practicing in the Bay Area wouldn’t explicitly tell BDSM-practicing patients that there is something wrong with their sexuality. I’m worried about comments that implicitly disparage BDSM, like comparing BDSM to abuse or suggesting that masochism or sexual submissiveness is like “a drive toward weakness and unhappiness.” Saying things like that to a patient could cause real harm.

        I have no opinion about what causes people to become masochistic or sexually submissive (or sadistic or dominant). There’s nothing wrong with asking the question. It’s possible to investigate this without making unwarranted value judgments or needlessly disparaging comparisons.

        This thread is a reminder of the need for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s Kink Aware Professionals Directory.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Nobody deliberately gives themselves chili eye.

        • ejmoncrieff says:

          Indeed! And nobody deliberately submits to a careless flogging (e.g. with the flogger’s tails accidentally “wrapping” and painfully bruising the sides of the body, rather than squarely striking the upper back).

      • nyc says:

        I have the impression that submission/pain is signaling, in the same way that someone might labor for hours on a symbolic gesture with no practical utility other than proving a willingness to devote resources, or in this case a willingness to suffer pain. Then the submissive enjoys the same satisfaction in receiving pain as the laborer does in accomplishing the work, even though in each case a cost has been paid which is otherwise in vain.

        • ejmoncrieff says:

          I can’t speak for all submissives and masochists, but this doesn’t come remotely close to describing my experience. It doesn’t fit with the way most submissives and masochists describe their experiences.

          For me, and I think for most other submissives and masochists, the pain (emotional or physical) is either a means to pleasure or a necessary adjunct (i.e., the thing that causes a certain type of pleasure also causes pain). The experience is on balance positive, at least when it goes well.

          • nyc says:

            It doesn’t surprise me that my impression is off in this case.

            I have a longstanding desire for a woman who is strong and confident and generally well above average across arbitrary metrics, who is then interested in me and treats me as an equal.

            When I look for that, it’s the last bit where it seems like I most diverge from other people, who in that context most commonly seem to be seeking a dominant woman to either punish/humiliate or baby them. Or conversely in the mainstream case, a submissive woman for them to dominate.

            I come across the first case often enough that I try to understand it, but it’s so far from my inclinations that my intuitions are basically useless.

            I can understand the appeal in combining pain and pleasure, where the contrast intensifies the good, but I’ve never been able to comprehend pain or (especially) humiliation being enjoyable in and of themselves. And my attempt at deduction from a position of ignorance has apparently failed.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      In the future, please avoid taking things personal or questioning my competence. I don’t need a BDSM 101 talk, I’m aware of the difference between risk-aware-consensual-kink and abuse, and of everything else you’re saying. I still think that when people enjoy intense physical pain and humiliation, that’s surprising enough that it deserves further study and might be relevant to other cases in which people seek out bad situations, in the same way that studying the biology of healthy and proportional fear might shed risk on phobias.

      I agree with your chili pepper analogy. But I’m also really interested in why people eat chili pepper! I’ve blogged about it here before, and in that post I specifically compared it to sexual masochism. I think all of this questions the way reinforcement learning is supposed to work (i.e. seek pleasure and avoid pain) and that makes it a legitimate subject for scientific study. I can find that interesting and also empathetically treat patients with a wide variety of sexual preferences, and I feel insulted by your implication that I can’t.

      (and are you the J Moncrieff who does the long-term antipsychotic outcome studies?)

      • ejmoncrieff says:

        I apologize for the personal nature of my comments. I won’t make such comments again.

        I will take you at your word that you understand the difference between BDSM and abuse. Your original post did not make clear that you understand the difference.

        My username is a pseudonym. It is an Oscar Wilde reference.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I wonder whether extreme sports should be included in the category.

      • Koken says:

        FWIW I thought this was a bit off when I read it. As a (fairly) long-time reader I took at as simply poor phrasing, but if I had no pre-existing assumptions about the blog and its author I might have gone to a different conclusion.

  6. Frederic Mari says:

    “Why might this be interesting? […] I conceptualize this as them having a set point of low self-esteem and degradation that they try to enforce, regardless of its cost to their lives. If this had the same roots as sexual masochism, that would be worth studying”.

    I’m pretty sure that’s been extensively “studied” – or at least it’s a common remark when dealing with the BDSM community. You get plenty of “were you guys/gals abused when you were young”? Directed at the bottoms/masochists in general, not so much the Doms/sadists.

    “BDSM preferences were heavily gendered. Of people who expressed a preference, 71% of cis men preferred the dominant role, compared to only 16% of cis women […] 80% of straight men preferred the dominant role, compared to only 34% of gay men. This was such a big difference that orientation swamped every other effect, so I limited the analysis to straight people from this point on”.

    I don’t know enough/I’m not plugged in enough in the gay community to comment on that difference but it’s well known that male hetero subs vastly outnumber Dommes (female Doms). Regarding the cis hetero gender difference, that’s pretty normal, IMHO – it’s basically taking traditional gender roles (that a lot of people like, including women) and turning them up to 11.

    “Conservative political values”

    That’s the thing that threw me the most when talking with my friends in that community. Like, you know you guys would be among the first to be ostracised if conservative people knew of your inclinations? Even sub women. Quite a few was told by her (then) partner she was weird and despicable when she expressed her desires to submit/be made to submit. And that’s, see above, just taking a traditional gender role and amping it up.

    What do you think conservatives would like to do to anyone in the community not even following traditional gender roles?

    And yet plenty of BDSMers are, AFAICT, conservatives or, can you believe it, fairly traditionally religious? You often see “oh, well, my kinks are really pretty normal and natural. But you should see those people…” To the point the community developed an acronym – YKINMKBYKIOK – Your Kink is not my Kink but it’s okay… You don’t get those kind of acronym unless it reflects a real problem…

    “Most self-reported sadists were also self-reported masochists” – interesting, I wouldn’t have guessed. In general, switches are another hot contested topic (or were – I used to be friends with some people in the BDSM community but it was arguably a decade ago).

    “Second, although there was no effect of self-reported childhood trauma…” : All articles I’ve read on the topic are forced to conclude that BDSMers have been abused at the same rate as non-BDSMers.

    “people who grew up poor reported about twice the sexual sadism rates of people who grew up rich or middle-class; whether or not you were currently poor mattered a little less.” : interesting. I could make a just-so story as to why that makes sense but I never spotted or seen that correlation discussed…

    “The data didn’t support any kind of connection between dominance/submission/sadism/masochism and more prosaic forms of selfishness or self-sacrifice. People were about equally likely to give money to charity, or identify as effective altruists, or hold various opinions in moral philosophy, regardless of their sexual roles”. Yes. A lot of BDSMers have been arguing that their orientation is mostly genetic and that’s that. It means nothing as far as their personal philosoph(ies) of life goes…

    • LadyJane says:

      That’s the thing that threw me the most when talking with my friends in that community. Like, you know you guys would be among the first to be ostracised if conservative people knew of your inclinations?

      I don’t know about the people you interacted with, but I just assumed that most of the “conservative” kinksters in this survey were conservatives in the “rich urban cosmopolitan in a fancy business suit” sense, not conservative conservatives. Wall Street types, not “Jesus blessed my pickup truck” types. There were a fair number of finance bros (or more likely, wannabe finance bros) in the NYC kink scene, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them considered themselves to be “conservative” or “right-wing” politically, despite having rather liberal views on social/cultural issues.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        At the time, I participated in a couple of religious discussions. There were people identifying as “Christ followers but not Christians” and there were Church-going people.

        Obviously, none of them were fanatics so maybe they’d pale in comparison to a Born Again Midwestern Christian Warrior but they were serious about their religious beliefs, not just small c conservative… though you’re right those were common enough too.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I think it also has a lot to do with if you’re part of a “community” based around sexual preference versus doing it in private with your own husband/wife.

          I have counselled many young married and about to be married people (of the Born Again Midwestern Christian Warrior variety) and it’s a fairly common internal kink for married Christians to have with their husband/wife, but it would be considered reprehensible to be part of a community based on it, because sex is private.

          Since this survey is about private fetishes, this doesn’t surprise me much.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Interesting, hadn’t thought of that. Still not the image you get when people tell you they’re born again Christians… You expect a certain amount of decorum and prudery even in the privacy of their own homes…

          • aristides says:

            @Frederic Mari

            I’m not sure where you get that view, but I have attend church at 7 different denominations regularly, and not one preached against male dominant BDSM sex within marriage. The majority never talked about marital sex at all, but if you combine the tenets of all of them together, (And no single denomination preached all of these) here are the requirements:

            All sexual activity, including kissing, must be within a heterosexual marriage. No adultery, no porn, no masturbation, no ejaculating outside of a vagina that is not on birth control, no period sex, and the man must always be the dominant partner. Above all, a couple’s sex life should be private, between them and god, and both people should be satisfied with sex. As you can see, these are pretty stringent requirements that include items from very conservative churches. And yet it not only allows, but in some ways encourages male dominant BDSM.

          • Null42 says:

            My dad said the priest he talked ages ago said “you can do it from the chandelier as long as it’s in marriage, etc…”

            The problem, as far as I can tell, is with the ‘loose sex’ that inevitably arises in community based around sex. If your wife wants to wear a black leather collar and call you ‘Sir’ or you like to dress as a pirate and pretend to ‘ravish’ her (and she enjoys it )…well, that doesn’t really compromise the marriage relationship (and may even strengthen it as it’s something you have in common).

            Even switching the roles might be permissible as long as nobody else finds out, I suspect.

      • 10240 says:

        Given feminists having co-opted prudery in many ways (talking about carnal things in front of the innocent ladies is now called sexual harassment etc.), it wouldn’t be surprising if a libertine right-wing attitude had had emerged (right-wing specifically on these issues, by today’s standards). Trump would be an obvious representative.

        • Frederic Mari says:

          That’s certainly something I’ve heard from at least one of my good friend.

          She likes japanese yaoi mangas (mangas about teenage boys’ gay relationships) and it seems it’s been under censorship pressure in the West.

          That helps turn her alt-right in a “screw this neo-victorian BS” reaction…

          But I don’t think she’d identify as “conservative”. Libertarian, more like.

        • Null42 says:

          Yeah, that’s the funny thing. It’s not clear how much longer libertarians will be able to describe themselves as ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ when ‘socially liberal’ now means supporting fairly high levels of social control over behavior, etc. to avoid offending anyone in a ‘protected group’.

          • 10240 says:

            I don’t think it has ever really been true. The American government has been intervening mostly in favor of left-leaning causes in both economic and social matters for about as long as modern libertarianism has existed (with some exceptions such as drugs). As I see it, the main difference between conservatives and libertarians on social matters is in the motives, and in the ideals (conservatives would like government intervention in the opposite direction, libertarians want none).

          • 10240 says:

            The American government has been intervening mostly in favor of left-leaning causes in both economic and social matters for about as long as modern libertarianism has existed (with some exceptions such as drugs).

            Correction to the above: I meant this with regards to government interventions in economy and society that can be characterized as left-wing or right-wing causes. Many if not most government interventions are just BS regulations with no discernible left-wing or right-wing character; on those, libertarians tend to oppose whoever wants to retain/enact the regulations (often both major parties).

      • Jeff R says:

        My gut feeling is that a lot of conservatives wouldn’t be inclined to talk about it, publicly, and would probably look askance at people who do, but overall would take a pretty non-judgmental approach to what another couple does within the bounds of a committed, monogamous relationship.

        • rambitx says:

          I’ve never understood the precept (often given to married couples) to simply incorporate one partner’s fetishes into the relationship. In my experience, people and relationships aren’t that malleable.

          • Null42 says:

            In a traditional relationship, the marriage bond and the family unit are more important than one partner’s satisfaction. (Feminists would point out it’s usually the woman who has to sacrifice here.) You put up with the fetishes to keep the family together. (Liberals in the late twentieth century would point out all the repressed unhappiness.)

            The modern relationship is supposed to fulfill its members sexually, in terms of personal growth, etc. and to terminate if it does not. (Tradcons would point out this is unrealistic; MRAs would point out in practice it’s usually the man who winds up paying alimony.)

            So, now they’re not that malleable, but (a) in the old days people put up with a lot more as part of the relationship, so even if people weren’t the relationship was (b) the discrepancy of this view with modern expectations probably has something to do with the decline in marriage. The fear of divorce means people are less likely to get married at all.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve been told that there’s nothing against kink in the bible. I’m not an expert on the bible, but that sounds plausible.

      Is there anything against kink in the Talmud? Canon law?

      • Frederic Mari says:

        http://www.sexinchrist.com : Have a try. NSFW obviously. Still not sure if this site is meant to be a parody or serious but it certainly made me laugh…

        OTOH, it’s all nonsense. No social conservative would admit to any of that being acceptable/what they meant b “family values”… 🙂

      • Sam S says:

        Paul does say that Christians should submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) 😉

        • Frederic Mari says:

          And this type of quotations/motivated reasoning is basically the basis for all their attempts at reconciling their kinks and their religious feelings/attitudes.

          I mean, I guess that’s no different from anyone else. But it’s really a bit of a shock to the system. I guess we/I have gotten used to the standard right wing hypocrisies of marrying Christianity and abandonment/persecution of poor people/hatred of brown people and that one was a bit of “ooohh, that’s new!”.

          • SCC says:

            Thanks for your efforts, Frederic Mari. It is good to try and understand the world, and while I disagree with your view of the world, I appreciate the fact that you are making an effort.
            But I think you do not understand how conservatives see the world.
            I hope you realize most conservatives think most liberals dislike brown people – for example, if white liberals really liked African-Americans, they would unanimously vote against liberal abortion laws which result in a three to one ratio of little brown babies being aborted, and which result in so many poor unloved African-American women having to live with the consequences of the abortion industry that took their money and took their babies.
            Also, you probably don’t have many conservative friends who are married.
            Conservatives, like liberals, pretty much all understand that their sex lives are boring to other people.
            Do not be deceived by the commercial pornographers, who like to try to make sex seem exciting everywhere:
            it isn’t, my friend, no more than eating or laughing are exciting everywhere….
            in reality, in most marriages, sex is sort of a subset of the reasons why one loves the other and is loved by the other.
            I mean, I am almost sure you knew that, but ….
            I am not completely sure you knew that, you seem to dislike your conservative friends ….. and seem unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt!
            Wake up, and be kinder !

          • Frederic Mari says:

            @SCC : Thanks for the reply.

            And, yes, I’m not used yet to the wide variety of people posting on Slate Star Codex so I tend to default to what I used to do on some liberal political board I used to have i.e. we had been through all the arguments you raised and I have personally maintained my POVs.

            i.e. I don’t know if ALL conservatives believe what you believe (there seems to be a real racist fringe, regardless of their “I’m not a racist” denials), I don’t know if ALL conservatives are sincere in their belief of “personal responsibility” (see Bill O’Reilly using the words 3 times a minute but then hiding from it when he gets caught harassing women) but my conclusion is that most conservatives seem to believe hard as rock in the “Just World” fallacy : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis

            I simply don’t. Institutions matter. Institutional -ism is a thing.

            Another canard (IMHO) is the “personal responsibility”/Just World-related belief in “culture”.

            I think I had this very argument here, in another thread. Someone was saying that culture (personal habits shaped by the environment) is more important than money. I believe the opposite : By and large, people with middle class income will naturally behave middle class. People with poor income will behave poorly.

            But, yes, you’re correct I shouldn’t write as if we all already had all those arguments at nauseum and we all knew where everyone stood. So the bad phrasing is entirely my fault.

          • 10240 says:

            And this type of quotations/motivated reasoning is basically the basis for all their attempts at reconciling their kinks and their religious feelings/attitudes.

            Besides that it was obviously meant as a joke, to say that Christians use motivated reasoning to justify their kinks only makes sense if a reasonable reading of Christian doctrine prohibits the kink in question in the first place. Based on what others have said, nothing in Christianity doesn’t prohibit dominance/submission, especially if the man is dominant. While it prohibits several specific things related to sex (such as sex outside of marriage, and contraception and ejaculation outside the vagina according to some interpretations), it doesn’t have a general ban on “anything kinky”. You can’t make silly excuses for something that’s not prohibited in the first place.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          Islam actually means “submission”. But I’m pretty certain that submission to God is the intended interpretation.

          At the end of the day, I doubt whether many of the well-established religions are too fussed about what husband and wife get up to.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            “At the end of the day, I doubt whether many of the well-established religions are too fussed about what husband and wife get up to”.

            I’m sorry but I cannot agree. That might be true today but not so long ago, the Catholic Church was trying to regulate contraception (by forbidding it and thus maintaining that even in a marriage the main purpose of sex was procreation) and a bit earlier was even trying to regulate sexual positions! i.e. Missionary was really the only accepted position…

            I’ve just quickly googled sexual positions and catholic church and it didn’t get me to the stuff I was looking for but you got modern catholic bloggers explaining that oral sex is okay for a man as long as it’s to get him hard and penetrate his wife. But coming outside of the vagina – i.e. a full blow job – isn’t…

            There’s a reason most people, me included, tend to believe religious people are supposed to live a pretty straight laced sexual life…

          • Evan Þ says:

            Source on the Roman Catholic Church trying to limit sexual positions? I’ve never heard of that before, outside of a half-joke about some stricter Protestant sects.

        • Frederic Mari says:

          @10240 : I obviously got that Sam S was joking. He even put an emoji to make sure no confusion was possible.

          But like most good jokes, it’s based on something real.

          As to your reading of Christian doctrine re. kink, that’s fine and the website I shared above makes the same point in great details but I would maintain this is not the image you (or at least I and most people) get when they think of Christians.

          re. Churches’s doctrinal control of what goes on in the bedroom : https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100422175050AAtAiMG

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not a Catholic, but from what I understand, the Catholic teaching on sex is, in a nutshell, that both the procreative and the bonding aspects are important and important to keep together, and so your optimum sex is always going to be with your spouse in a way that allows for childbirth. I’m not sure if they now or previously would call all variations on that sin or wicked, but anyhow that seems to be the justification.

            Christianity giving specific guidelines to sexual intercourse is not really that strange; essentially it is a ritual that summons an immortal being to earth in order for it to be judged and its eternal fate decided.

          • Grey says:

            There’s a pretty big chasm between what scholars in the abstract thought and what would actually be enforced on the laity, or that the laity would even care to know about.

            Even with some big names like Aquinas being pro missionary position only It doesn’t follow that was at any point a widespread belief or practice.

            On the other hand it is true that as recently as a century ago all kinds of Christians, including protestants, aggressively opposed birth control even in marriage.

            As Randy said it isn’t strange for Christianity to regulate sex, nor is it strange for any religion or social institution to try to do that. And most do. But the more austere views, like missionary position only or for conception only, where more academic than real prescriptions.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Hi, Grey.

            I once bought a book (I’m away from my library so I can’t share the title) written by a Catholic guy who was describing the real-life issues whatever papal encyclicals banning the pill created for him, a lowly university researcher who couldn’t afford a big family in London in the 60s or maybe 70s.

            That book, the author says, was written in part b/c the author felt too many people thought “oh this is just theoretical, Catholics laity isn’t bothered by these dogmatic, silly prescriptions”. He was and apparently he thought many others were.

            I couldn’t finish the book. It wasn’t that interesting. But it made the point about the dread he felt every month waiting for his wife’s period quite clear…

          • Grey says:

            Good day, Frederic

            That book, the author says, was written in part b/c the author felt too many people thought “oh this is just theoretical, Catholics laity isn’t bothered by these dogmatic, silly prescriptions”. He was and apparently he thought many others were.

            The thing is, that never was a merely theoretical prescription, but was and is an article of how one must behave as part of the Christian faith. Marriage + openness to children or celibacy has been quite openly and, until about the 1930s, universally demanded by all sects of Christianity right from the get-go.

            The academics that assert things like ‘have sex at fertile times only’, ‘sex is only for procreation’ or ‘have sex in certain ways only’, existed on and off at different ages, and some of them where quite influential. Those people did not make any widespread norm and probably no one actually heeded their advice outside of perhaps for a window of time in some town or city they held cult-like influence in.

            a lowly university researcher who couldn’t afford a big family in London in the 60s or maybe 70s.

            Catholic social teaching is holistic. It touches as many parts of society and covers as much of life as it is humanly possible to do. Supply and demand economics and free market capitalism* are heretical (I am not being facetious here). The saying is that the economy exists to serve the people, and not the people to serve the economy. This birthed various economic ideas like subsidiarity, distributivism, social credit theory, and they’re built on older ideals like the Just Price Theory. Specifically the Just Price is that which the seller must receive to comfortably maintain their station, a reasonable lifestyle for their social rank.

            Frankly if your dear author has attacked the Catholic Church for demanding he have kids he can’t feed, and failed to attack English society for making it so he can’t feed his kids, he’s too screwed up to know who his enemies are. England of the ’60s and ’70s was not facing a famine or food crisis, nor did it lack the industrial capacity to supply housing to it’s people.

            And what if you’re in a situation where your society legitamatly can’t produce the food and housing you need for children? Don’t marry, and commit your whole life to improving the lot of your people.

            *Communism is also quite heretical, and viewed as capitalism in different clothes by influential thinkers like Chesterton and Belloc.

    • SaiNushi says:

      As of two years ago, reactions to a switch were rather mixed. There’s a bit of disgust, and a bit of fear. I think the fear comes from the idea that a switch in the bottom role might suddenly switch to domination. Which should be part of the clearly spelled out rules for the scene.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        Sad to see that things don’t change.

        At the time (and I don’t claim extensive knowledge of the community etc. I was very much on the periphery – just like with this rationalist community), most of the people who weren’t keen/cool with switches were often making a naturalistic argument – i.e. “our kinks are genetic. We’re born D or s, or whatever. Switches are perversion of the ‘natural’ order”. The debate(s) quickly heated up when people pushed back on 1- maybe switching is genetic too? and 2- maybe our kinks are at least in part socially constructed/consciously chosen?

        The old Nature vs. Nurture plus a bit of Us vs. Them.

    • 10240 says:

      Among correlates of dominance among men, it would be interesting to disentangle correlates of dominance (regardless of sex), and correlates of taking traditional roles (i.e. dominance in men, submission in women). It’s likely that conservative views are correlated with the latter. However, Scott didn’t give data for women.

      The numbers are percentages among BDSM practitioners who have a preference. It’s quite possible that there are fewer BDSM practitioners in general among conservatives than among liberals, but Scott didn’t give data about correlates of BDSM in general.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        Among correlates of dominance among men, it would be interesting to disentangle correlates of dominance (regardless of sex), and correlates of taking traditional roles (i.e. dominance in men, submission in women). It’s likely that conservative views are correlated with the latter.

        Sorry, can you explain? I don’t get what you’re saying.

        • 10240 says:

          Scott listed some things (social skills, high risk-taking, conservative views) etc. as correlated with being dominant, among men who practice BDSM and have expressed a preference between dominance and submission. In some of these, the mechanism may be that they are correlated with following traditional roles, so among men they are correlated with being dominant, but among women they are correlated with being submissive. Others may simply be correlated with being dominant, regardless of sex. We don’t know which ones are which, because don’t see the data about women.

          • Null42 says:

            I’d be interested to see the (limited) data on cis women, just to see if it tells us anything. If (as I suspect), that’s not the second-largest group, I’d also be interested to see the data on trans women or whoever it is.

      • Null42 says:

        My one-person experience is that there are *lots* of feminists who like to be submissive in bed (probably n=10 or so?), so the correlation may not hold outside of cis men.

        I’m guessing there are a few reasons why conservative men might be more dominant (or vice versa):

        1. comfort with traditional roles, as people have said
        2. self-confidence leads to both conservatism (as a cis guy) and dominance
        3. liberal guys may feel guilty about expressing dominance–I’ve had women tell me this

        It would be interesting to see one of those color-coded maps of the correlation structure, but Scott’s probably sick of this by now.

  7. metacelsus says:

    For one thing, some people have fetishes for things that seem, well…bad. Getting hurt

    This brings to mind bugchasing which is where people intentionally expose themselves to HIV infection. I can kind of see why some people might find that sexy (loss of control over one’s body is the ultimate submission) but it still seems quite insane. I wonder if it’s specific to HIV or if there have been other diseases (HSV, syphilis, etc.) to which people intentionally sexually expose themselves.

    • caryatis says:

      Eroticizing unprotected sex is definitely a thing, although for straight people it’s more about risk of pregnancy plus general dominance/submission dynamic than about STDs.

  8. March says:

    What kind of dominance did the survey ask about? Generic ‘Someone needs to run the fuck and I want to be that person’ territory or full ‘on your knees, slave’ stuff, whether in roleplay or more seriously power exchangey?

    • b_jonas says:

      Please see the exact questions at “https://slatestarcodex.com/blog_images/DummySurvey.html”

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      I suspect a significant number of people interpreted it as something more like the first, even though the mention of BDSM implies the second. This would skew the results in favour of male dominants.

  9. Radu Floricica says:

    > Forget the lurid stories about high-powered executives who secretly want to be abused and degraded.

    Reminds me of Baumeister’s Evil. Bullies are the same – there is no secret lack of confidence. If anything they’re a bit too high in self esteem. Some things really are what they appear, and pop psychology gets it completely wrong.

    • imoimo says:

      Both examples seem to me clearly motivated by a narrative where every intimidating force must be ironically non-intimidating. Pretty clearly untrustworthy.

  10. GeneralDisarray says:

    Why would you be surprised about OCD and tendency away from dominance? There’s a positive feedback loop re conceptual activation and desire to quell, which generates paradoxical forbidden thoughts (and in the case of pronounced tourettes, forbidden utterances) that aren’t at all random. Assuming a sexually dominant role, if you have an empathic desire to not actually hurt someone, would be like asking someone with a fear of heights to stand on a precipice.

    Similar feedback loop, at much less amplitude, that appeals to lower baseline-arousal men. But they’re on the other side of the yerkes-dodsen curve.

  11. notpeerreviewed says:

    My explanation for the stereotype of the high-powered executive who wants to be abused and degraded: Dominatrix sessions are really expensive. And when journalists interview a dominatrix, they inevitably pick one that’s really classy and charges a bajillion dollars and hour. Naturally, the only people who can afford those sessions…are high-powered executives.

    • Aapje says:

      Also, high-powered executives who want to dominate are much more likely to be able to find a wife who likes to be submissive than an executive who wants to be dominated is able to find a dominant wife.

    • Wency says:

      My understanding (no firsthand experience) is that the price of prostitutes tends to be highly negotiable. They’ll put up a high sticker price, claim their clients are mostly Saudi Princes or whatever, but in practice their baseline clients are not nearly so well-heeled and not paying anything close to sticker price.

      With dominatrices, this subterfuge goes double. The sort of women who become dominatrices tend (by definition) to enjoy the fantasy of dominance, and particularly of causing powerful men to submit, so I would anticipate a good deal of embellishment or outright fabrication of stories. The kind of men who go to a dominatrix also probably enjoy these stories — “she makes powerful men submit, so I’m really nothing but a worm to her”.

  12. soritical says:

    “80% of straight men preferred the dominant role, compared to only 34% of gay men“

    Not very surprising, but I didn’t expect it to be quite that low for gay men.

    • not-gonna-comment-again says:

      This is actually pretty well known among gay/queer communities, that there are way more tops than bottoms on dating apps etc. You can find some articles about it by looking for “top shortage”

      • soritical says:

        I expected it to be more like 45% to be honest

        I am aware of the folk belief that tops are super rare, but I’ve been skeptical of it for a while. Out of curiosity, I’ve counted the number of tops in my area on Grindr and compared it to the number of bottoms, and I’ve always found the numbers to be roughly equal, although of course this could be due to bottoms being less likely to advertise their preferences. Vice has an article on the topic, of course, coming on the side of the disparity not being real: link text

        I thought traditional wisdom had been vanquished.

        • keaswaran says:

          That’s really interesting! However, it doesn’t refute my hypothesis. My hypothesis is that even if there are an equal *number* of tops and bottoms, if you look at a snapshot of who’s online and looking *right now* you’ll find more bottoms, at most times. This is because a top who successfully hooks up is usually done for the day, but a bottom who successfully hooks up may choose not to orgasm and instead logs in to find another hookup. But in order for this hypothesis to explain things, it would need to be the case that a substantial number of bottoms who are actually looking at any moment are looking for a second or third hookup of the day.

          (If correct, this hypothesis would have some very odd parallels to evolutionary psychology hypotheses about how men seek multiple women but women seek only a single man – except this time with bottoms in the male role and tops in the female role.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Scotts’s actual phrasing is “prefer the dominant role”. I don’t know whether that’s the same as being a top. There might be people who’d like to be tops, but rarely or never find bottoms. Was there a question about behavior as distinct from preference?

      • deciusbrutus says:

        Wait, “Top” isn’t the dominant role?

        What are “Top” and “Bottom”?

        • throwaway of a regular commenter says:

          Yeah, ‘top’ is dominant. (I mean, strictly speaking the terms are about who penetrates whom, and if you want to split hairs they don’t always go hand in hand with dom/sub, but… let’s be real.) I think that person made a typo in ‘more tops than bottoms’.

          • tiso says:

            @throwaway This isn’t really right. Dominant has nothing to do with who is penetrating. For example a straight couple can have either person dominant. It’s about who is in control and/or who is restraining whom. Personally I’ve always found the person being penetrated being the dominant one to be more attractive (I am a bi male).

          • throwaway of a regular commenter says:

            @tiso,

            Personally I’ve always found the person being penetrated being the dominant one to be more attractive (I am a bi male).

            Hey, I mean I’m a straight guy and I feel the same. But I was just spelling out how it generally tends to shake out in practice. ‘Tops are dominant’ isn’t true without exception, but it’s truer than the opposite.

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            No, no, no. Google “topping from the bottom.” It’s a thing.

          • throwaway of a regular commenter says:

            Doesn’t the fact that ‘topping from the bottom’ is even a concept suggest that the normal state of affairs is topping from the top?

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            The point is that the penetrating role and the dominant role are not always the same.

          • Tarpitz says:

            By way of vaguely related decade-old scurrilous gossip, I have a friend (let’s call him Adam) who has a friend (let’s call him Bob). Adam and Bob are both gay. Per Adam, when Bob moved up to London to make a go of it as an actor, he heard that a good way to help his career along was to sleep with Kevin Spacey. So he did. Kevin Spacey, it appears, likes to receive, but nevertheless wishes it to remain very clear exactly who is (was…) the Hollywood superstar and artistic director of a major theatre and who is tonight’s disposable pretty young thing. So what he likes to receive is his Oscar statuette.

            Sadly history – or at least Bob – does not record which Oscar statuette.

          • Furslid says:

            Topping from the bottom isn’t about who penetrates who. It’s who is in control in a BDSM scene. An example of topping from the bottom would be of a submissive demanding to be spanked rather than the dominant person deciding to spank them.

        • ejmoncrieff says:

          These words mean different things in different contexts. Sometimes “top” means dominant. Sometimes “top” means the person who is applying sensation, pain, or bondage to another person. Sometimes “top” means the person who is penetrating another during sex.

          These things often go together, but they don’t always. There are submissive tops and “service tops” who like to take the penetrative role in sex or the physically more active role in a BDSM scene while being told what to do.

          • soritical says:

            In the context of the gay/bi men community, I have only ever heard “top” used to describe the insertive partner. An insertive partner who is especially dominant is called a “dom top” and a bottom who takes control of the scene is called a “power bottom”.

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