Why Do People Like BDSM? [2022 Facts and Statistics]

BDSM might seem strange to some, but why do people like BDSM? In this article, we’ll talk about what it is, how common it is, and other interesting statistics.

why do people like bdsm

If you’re not familiar with BDSM and its various sub-groups and practitioners, you might think it’s all whips, chains, and torment. BDSM is about a whole lot more than that and has a wide variety of participants who enjoy all sorts of different activities – inside the bedroom and out of it. 

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about BDSM, how common it is, why people like it, and other important statistics. Let’s dive in:

Top BDSM Statistics You Should Know:

  • 1.8% of people (2.2% of men, 1.3% of women) said they had been involved in BDSM the previous year.
  • BDSM was more common among gay/lesbian and bisexual people.
  • 64.6% of women have sexual fantasies about being dominated sexually.
  • 46.2% of men have fantasies about being tied up for sexual pleasure.
  • 86% of women who read the Fifty Shades books said it influenced their sexual attitudes, and 22% said the books motivated them to try BDSM activities.
  • Researchers found the average age of a BDSM sexual debut between 15 and 18, with 55% debuting by the age of 18.
  • BDSM was classified as a mental illness in 1905 and remained so until 2013.
  • When cortisol (the stress hormone) was measured after BDSM scenes, one study found cortisol levels decreased significantly, showing that BDSM play had reduced the participants’ stress.
  • Those who are into BDSM are just as psychologically healthy as people with more traditional sexual interests.
  • Adults interested in BDSM do not have an increased likelihood of reporting childhood sexual victimization.

What Is BDSM?

BDSM can mean a lot of different things to different people, so let’s start off with a baseline definition of the term:

  • BDSM includes three separate practices: bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M). (BuzzFeed, 2021)1
    • These terms are often lumped together, but BDSM can mean different things to different people who have a variety of different preferences.
    • Most people’s interests fall into one or two of those categories rather than all of them.
  • BDSM can be divided into another five categories: (WebMD, 2021)2
  • Bondage: Bondage involves restricting a partner’s movement with ropes, handcuffs, or other restraints. 
  • Discipline: Discipline includes rules and punishments that partners agree upon, allowing a dominant partner to exert control over a submissive partner.
  • Dominance: Dominance can be displayed over a physical partner during sex or outside the bedroom.
  • Submission: Submission is the opposite, showing submission to the dominant partner’s actions and wishes.
  • Sadism and Masochism (or Sadomasochism): A partner may feel pleasure from either inflicting pain (sadism) or receiving pain (masochism). This can involve physical, emotional pain, or both.

How Does BDSM Work?

Some partners practice BDSM in different ways, even if they’re a part of the same sub-group. Most BDSM participants fall into a couple of different categories, though.

Here’s what studies have shown:

  • People who engage in BDSM often see it as a form of release, an exploration of trust, or a safe way to act out fantasies of submission, vulnerability, and control. (WebMD, 2021)2
    • In relationships with two partners, one will typically play the dominant role, while the other plays the submissive role.
      • Some people are known as a “switch,” which is someone who shifts between the dominant and submissive roles, depending on the partner and the context.
      • The dominant and submissive dynamic is often referred to as a top/bottom dynamic.
      • When the dominant partner or top, they are typically the one taking control
        • This may involve spanking, bonding, whipping, or other sexual scenarios.
        • The submissive partner may also maintain control by demanding the top perform certain roles or by switching roles.
  • Many survey respondents reported more than 1 BDSM role identity: (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
    • 57%: “Submissive” – the most common identity.
    • 45%: “Kinky” – the second most common identity.  
    • 38%: Switch
    • 33.5%: Dominant
    • 32%: Masochist
    • 20%: Sadist
  • When French participants were asked when having same-sex activity, are you a top or a bottom: (Statista, 2021)4
    • 19% said “only a bottom.
    • 19% said “mainly a bottom but also a top.
    • 29% said “as much as a top as a bottom (versatile).
    • 17% said “mainly a top but also a bottom.
    • 16% said “only a top.
  • In a year-end review of Grndr Unwrapped: (Grndr, 2021)5
    • Countries with the highest percentage of tops:
      • Philippines
      • Argentina
      • Colombia
      • Israel
      • India
    • Countries with the highest percentage of bottoms:
      • Vietnam
      • South Africa
      • China
      • Peru
      • Poland
    • Countries with the highest percentage of vers (switch):
      • Romania
      • Russia
      • Czech Republic
      • Venezuela
      • Costa Rica

Why Do People Like BDSM?

Some people think that those involved in BDSM are weird, damaged, or abused in some way. But many people enjoy BDSM just because they simply don’t enjoy vanilla sex as much.

Here’s what the data says:

  • Most BDSM participants are mentally healthy and typical in every respect, except that they find traditional (“vanilla”) intimacy unfulfilling and are looking for something more intense, according to the available evidence. (EveryDayHealth, 2019)6
  • BDSM is fairly normal, according to some experts, “If your definition of normal is how many people are doing this, it’s way more people than you may think,” says Michal Daveed, a spokeswoman for The Eulenspiegel Society. (EveryDayHealth, 2019)6
    • if your definition of normal is ordinary, the BDSM world is full of ordinary people whose sexuality happens to be hardwired a particular way.
  • Most BDSM participants report a very low degree of distress: (The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2019)7
    • Dominant and switch groups are generally more satisfied with their sex and are less concerned about sexuality than the general population and the submissive group.
    • The role a person identifies with in the BDSM scene has a moderate effect on sexual satisfaction.
  • 1.8% of people (2.2% of men, 1.3% of women) said they had been involved in BDSM the previous year. (The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2008) 8
    • BDSM was more common among gay/lesbian and bisexual people.
    • Those who have engaged in BDSM are more likely to have experienced oral sex and/or anal sex.
    • They are also more likely to have had more than one partner in the past year, to have had sex with someone other than their regular partner, and to have: 
      • Taken part in phone sex.
      • Visited an Internet sex site.
      • Watched an X-rated (pornographic) film or video.
      • Used a sex toy.
      • Had group sex.
      • Or have taken part in manual stimulation of the anus, fisting, or rimming.
    • Engaging in BDSM was not significantly related to any sexual difficulties.

How Common Is BDSM?

BDSM, or at least some of the practices of BDSM, is more common than many think, according to these studies:

  • 47% of women and 60% of men have fantasized about dominating someone sexually. (WebMD, 2021)2
    • BDSM sex was slightly more prevalent in LGBTQ couples.
    • Researchers determined that BDSM sex was practiced across all different ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.
  • In a study of BDSM participants, 52.2% identified as heterosexual. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
    • Over one-third (36.2%) identified as bisexual, pansexual, or poly-sexual.
    • 16% identified as heteroflexible, 8.3% as bicurious, and 12.6% as demisexual.
    • 6.3% identified as queer.
    • Less than 4% as homosexual/gay/lesbian, asexual, or questioning.
  • Roughly 30% of American adults are into spanking. (Fatherly, 2018)9
    • 20% like to play with restraints, and 13% of the public has dabbled with whips and floggers.
  • 5%-10% of the U.S. population engages in sadomasochism on at least an occasional basis. (Marie Claire, 2015)10
    • Around 11% of men and 17% of women reported trying bondage.
  • 36% of adults in the United States use masks, blindfolds, and bondage tools during sex, compared to 20% worldwide, according to a 2005 survey conducted by Durex. (Marie Claire, 2015)10
  • The following are some types of BDSM practices: (Very Well Mind, 2022)11
    • Age play: Age play involves pretending that a partner is a different age than they are, whether younger or older.
    • Breath play: Breath play involves controlling one’s breath during the sexual experience, such as by holding their breath or choking.
    • Edge play: Edge play involves BDSM activities perceived as being more dangerous, pushing the “edge” of whether the action is SSC.
    • Gender play: Gender play involves a partner pretending to be a different gender than they are.
    • Impact play: Impact play involves striking the body with some type of instruments, such as a hand, whip, or cane.
    • Role play: Role play is a partner pretending to have a different identity during a sexual experience.

What Are Some Interesting BDSM Statistics?

While the BDSM community is relatively small overall, many people still have fantasies about BDSM activities in the bedroom. The prevalence of BDSM kinks also varies significantly depending on what country you’re from.

Here are some interesting stats:

  • 30 out of 55 sexual fantasies are considered “very common.” (2Date4Love, 2021)12
  • BDSM fantasies are quite common among both men and women: (Sex & Psychology, 2014)13
    • 64.6% of women have sexual fantasies about being dominated sexually.
    • 53.3% of men have fantasies about being dominated sexually.
    • 46.7% of women have fantasies about dominating someone else sexually.
    • 59.6% of men have fantasies about dominating someone else sexually.
    • 52.1% of women have fantasies about being tied up for sexual pleasure.
    • 46.2% of men have fantasies about being tied up for sexual pleasure.
    • 41.7% of women have fantasies about tying someone else for sexual pleasure.
    • 48.4% of men have fantasies about tying someone else for sexual pleasure.
    • 23.8% of women have fantasies about spanking or whipping someone for sexual pleasure.
    • 43.5% of men have fantasies about spanking or whipping someone for sexual pleasure.
    • 36.3% of women have fantasies about being spanked or whipped for sexual pleasure.
    • 28.5% of men have fantasies about being spanked or whipped for sexual pleasure.
  • When 935 kinky people were asked what BDSM meant to them: (Psychology Today, 2019)14
    • 90%: personal freedom.
    • 91%: adventure.
    • 91%: self-expression.
    • 91%: stress relief.
    • 97%: positive emotions.
    • 99%: pleasure.
  • 23% of women say using handcuffs is on the list of kinks they would like to try in the bedroom. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
    • 21% of women are interested in using vibrators, and 20% said they would like to use BDSM equipment like ropes and whips during sex.
    • 20% wanted to use love eggs, and 18% said they would like to try using a lubricant.
    • 15% of women say they would bring anal toys and strap-ons into the bedroom.
    • 21% said they wouldn’t like to use any of the toys mentioned above.
  • 46.8% of Belgians said they participated in a BDSM activity at some point in their lives. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
    • 22% said they had fantasies about it.
    • 12.5% said they participated in BDSM regularly.
    • 26% said BDSM interested them.
    • 7.6% identified as BDSM practitioners.
  • 61% of Italians aren’t familiar with the BDSM community. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
    • 21% said they are not a part of it and don’t want to become a part of it.
    • 7% stated they were curious about BDSM.
    • 4% expressed aversion towards the BDSM community.
    • Only 2% said they belonged to the community.
  • Research also shows that 55% of women and 50% of men respond erotically to being bitten. (Adam & Eve, n.d.)15

How Many People Are Into BDSM?

BDSM fantasies and parts of BDSM practice have become fairly mainstream. People might not be a part of the “BDSM Community,” but they might still be into certain BDSM activities.

Here’s what studies have shown:

  • 86% of women who read the Fifty Shades books said it influenced their sexual attitudes, and 22% said the books motivated them to try BDSM activities. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
  • According to an Adam & Eve survey, gender roles don’t necessarily directly correlate to being submissive or dominant: (Adam & Eve, n.d.)15
    • Men
      • Dominant: 48%
      • Submissive: 33%
      • Switch: 18%
    • Women
      • Submissive: 75%
      • Switch: 16%
      • Dominant: 8%
  • When asked if they shared their sexual fantasies with their partner: (Adam & Eve, n.d.)15
    • 56% answered “yes.”
    • 44% answered “no.”
  • When asked if they engaged in bondage play, such as blindfolds, restraints, paddles, etc.: (Adam & Eve, n.d.)15
    • 27% answered “yes.”
    • 73% answered “no.”
  • When the respondents engaging in bondage play were asked if they use a safe word: (Adam & Eve, n.d.)15
    • 17% answered “yes.”
    • 83% answered “no.”

Frequency of People Practicing BDSM by Age

How old are people when they start participating in BDSM? According to these studies, many begin the practice fairly early:

  • Early research on how old people were when they started BDSM analyzed limited samples of men and found that interest and sometimes engagement in BDSM usually began in adolescence or earlier. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
    • Researchers found the average age of a BDSM sexual debut between 15 and 18, with 55% debuting by the age of 18.
  • 26% of men said their first face-to-face BDSM experience was at age 16 or under, according to some older research on male BDSM practitioners. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
    • Half of the participants said they were aware of their interest by age 14, with interest typically developing by their twenties (20s).
  • 9% of male patrons of a Finland S&M club reported interest prior to age 10. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3
  • The majority of a Belgian study reported awareness of interest prior to age 25. All 20 participants in another study reported interest by age 15. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022)3

What Are Some BDSM Facts?

BDSM has had a long and interesting history, which has led to some wild facts. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  • BDSM was classified as a mental illness in 1905 and remained so until 2013. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
    • It’s unknown when people first started practicing BDSM for pleasure.
    • Sigmund Freud decided that this kind of kink was a sign of severe neurosis, which remained so until fairly recently.
  • Family court judges used to remove visitation rights and child custody from parents who participated in consensual BDSM. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
  • 3 people have died from BDSM over the course of 25 years. (2Date4Love, 2021)12
    • The study in question analyzed 74 reported cases of deaths that occurred during sex and only three involved BDSM.
  • When cortisol (the stress hormone) was measured after BDSM scenes, one study found cortisol levels decreased significantly, showing that BDSM play had reduced the participants’ stress. (Psychology Today, 2019)14
  • Those who are into BDSM are just as psychologically healthy as people with more traditional sexual interests. (Sex & Psychology, 2015)16
  • Adults interested in BDSM do not have an increased likelihood of reporting childhood sexual victimization. (Sex & Psychology, 2015)16
  • Activities that lead to extreme pain (e.g., cutting, piercing, electric shocks) are quite rare in BDSM sex. (Sex & Psychology, 2015)16
    • Most people who are into BDSM prefer their sex “safe, sane, and consensual.”

Is It Normal to Practice BDSM?

“Normal” can be a bit hard to define given the wide variety of human experiences, but if you think of something “normal” as common and harmless, then BDSM is pretty normal:

  • There is nothing inherently wrong or damaged with people who are into BDSM. (BuzzFeed, 2021)1
    • Studies show BDSM isn’t something that emerges from abuse or domestic violence
    • Engaging in BDSM does not mean that you enjoy abuse or abusing.
    • “Enjoying BDSM is just one facet of someone’s sexuality and lifestyle. It’s just regular people who happen to get off that way,” – says sex expert Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

FAQs About BDSM

Here are some of the most common questions and answers about BDSM and people who enjoy it:

  • Is there something wrong with people who enjoy BDSM? (On A Magic Carpet Ride, 2015)17
    • There isn’t anything wrong with people who are into BDSM. “It’s just how we are wired and what we like.
  • Does BDSM involve sex? (On A Magic Carpet Ride, 2015)17
    • Most BDSM involves sex, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. “There are plenty of play sessions or scenes as they are often called that do not involve sex at all.
    • BDSM is more about the feelings that are associated with it, although they are often of a sexual nature.
  • If you’re a submissive, can anyone tell you what to do? (Medium, 2020)18
    • Most people in the BDSM community consider it rude to give someone orders or call someone a pet name when you first meet them. 
    • It’s also rude to expect someone to call you an honorific if they aren’t your sub.
  • If I decide I’m a submissive, does that mean I have to do everything I’m told? (Medium, 2020)18
    • Relationships in BDSM are built on trust. Doms who know what they’re doing won’t give orders until you’ve both discussed interests, limits, and safe words. 
    • Consenting to one thing does not mean you consent to everything – and your Dom should check on you frequently throughout a scene.
    • You’re always free and encouraged to say something when you feel too intense, or uncomfy, or just want to ease up or stop.
  • Is it all whips and chains? (Medium, 2020)18
    • If whips and chains excite you, and you’ve discussed it with your partner, then have at it! But if they’re not for you, don’t use them. BDSM is about more than that. 
  • Do you always go by the same label? (Medium, 2020)18
    • Lots of folks identify as more than one thing. Plenty of people are Switches, meaning that they like to Dominate and submit at times.
    • There are plenty of people who change roles throughout their lives as they learn what they like. Some people switch roles as they get older. No one should ever feel stuck in a particular role or label.

Conclusion

BDSM can be a complex, sensitive, and sometimes controversial subject. But those who enjoy BDSM are all consenting adults who just like things a little kinky, and studies have shown time and time again that they aren’t abused or damaged. Overall, people just like BDSM because it excites them more than vanilla sex. More power to them!

For more interesting sex studies and statistics, head over to our guide here.

Footnotes

  1. BuzzFeed, 2021. An article on things everyone should know about BDSM.
  2. WebMD, 2021. A medically reviewed article on what BDSM is.
  3. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022. A study on Pathways and Patterns of Entrance into BDSM.
  4. Statista, 2021. Statistics on 848 French respondents aged 18 years old and older on identifying themselves as tops or bottoms.
  5. Grndr, 2021. A presentation slide of Grndr Unwrapped’s 2021 year in review.
  6. EveryDayHealth, 2019. An article on what BDSM is and its fundamentals, types, and roles.
  7.  The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2019. A study of 266 Italian consensual BDSM participants (141 men and 125 women).
  8. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2008. A study on 19,307 Australian respondents aged 16-59 in 2001-2002.
  9. Fatherly, 2018. An article on how common BDSM is and how often people practice kinky sex.
  10. Marie Claire, 2015. An article on how many people are doing S&M.
  11. Very Well Mind, 2022. A medically reviewed article on BDSM and its several types.
  12. 2Date4Love, 2021. A compiled statistics on BDSM.
  13. Sex & Psychology, 2014. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine of 1,516 Canadian adults aged 18-77.
  14. Psychology Today, 2019. An article on what kind of people enjoy BDSM.
  15. Adam & Eve, n.d. An infographic on The Numbers Behind BDSM.
  16. Sex & Psychology, 2015. An article on Scientific Facts You Should Know About BDSM Sex And Those Who Practice It.
  17. On A Magic Carpet Ride, 2015. An article on common questions about BDSM.
  18. Medium, 2020. An article on FAQs about BDSM.
Dainis Graveris

Dainis Graveris

Over last 4 years Dainis have helped millions of people through his advice on this site (200+ guides and 1M+ visits/monthly). His work & advice has appeared on sites like: Healthline, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, WomensHealthMag, MindBodyGreen & more. Read More

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