In August 2015, NCSF published a technical report on a survey of 816 individuals recruited through various outreach efforts using NCSF channels and resources. The study gathered data between September and December, 2014.
The online survey asked questions and used standard scales for measuring mental health (PTSD, depression, suicidality) and aspects of personality (including emotion regulation and self-control). It also asked about violence victimization and violence perpetration, and related personality factors (belief in rape mythology, aggression, etc).
This study finds that, on average, people discovered their BDSM interests around 16 (modal age, or age most frequently mentioned), but the average was 19.6 years old. (Some people discover their BDSM interests in middle or late adulthood, pulling the average up.) The spread was from early childhood (age 3-5) to later adulthood (age 65+) in terms of first awareness of BDSM interests.
These age-related demographics show up fairly commonly across different studies. I think they may represent several different developmental paths. Clearly there is a group that discovers this interest or forms this interest early in life, and it becomes a central organizing aspect of their sexuality. In my own work, these people are more likely to form a clear, central identity around this aspect of their sexuality. Then there are others who discover or form this interest later in life. I hope someday someone does a proper study of comparing these different groups, in terms of the meaning and function of their kink sexualities and identities.
In this sample, they report that about 14% would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. I compare this to the general population rate of about 8%. This suggests that there is a dynamic around trauma, although that dynamic remains a mystery. Is it because there are more LGBTQ in this sample than the general population studies? Or more women in this sample than in general population studies? Both are at elevated risks for PTSD and trauma, in particular. They report that about 7.7% of people report having experienced a hate crime related to their BDSM activities, identities or interests.
I hope a study in the future starts to address the possible confoundings, and starts to use more sophisticated statistical analysis, like latent curve modeling or a type of structural equation modeling. This step-up is clearly needed to move the field forward.
The rates of sexual aggression of various types were reported as being very low, but the numbers themselves were not reported in this technical report.
My overall impression is that the technical report is a good start, but it will be great to see a peer-reviewed, fleshed-out article based on the study. That’s were we might get some good detail on different aspects that were sketched out in the technical report. And a peer-reviewed article might allow the authors to address some of the methodological challenges of working in this area, and connect the findings to the larger body of literature.
Gemberling, T.M., Cramer, R.J., Wright, S., Nobles, M.R. (2015). Psychological Functioning and Violence Victimization and Perpetration in BDSM Practitioners from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Technical report, August 2015, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. https://ncsfreedom.org/resources/bdsm-survey.html