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Were Kinky People Abused as Children?

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I'm always amazed that people have the courage to rear children, given that once you have them, anything people don't like about your offspring's sexuality becomes your fault. I heard a new twist on this lately: Foot and leg fetishes stem from men sitting on the floor as infants, tugging futilely at the skirts of their (obviously) distant, unloving mother. It's odd how no one pathologizes guys for liking boobs.

But these are just variations on the sex-negative theme that BDSM in adult sexuality is a result of childhood abuse. Our families were dysfunctional, the theory goes, and thus we were twisted into this warped, unhealthy sexuality. BDSM people should work out our issues so we can have normal sex—whatever that is—instead of damaging ourselves with all this kinky fuckery.

It's not just conservative wackos who say this sort of thing, either. I've actually heard a few self-identified BDSM people say so. (Talk about carrying around some issues.) And the last person who tried this line on me was a dreadlocked Burning Man type wearing—I swear I am not making this up—a glow-in-the-dark cord around his neck with a baby pacifier on it.

I used to attempt to counter this canard by stating that, in fact, I was not abused as a child. It never worked. People whose entire education in mental health consisted of watching daytime talk shows would condescendingly inform me I was obviously in denial and repressing the memory of my abuse. Regardless of what I said, being kinky proved I was abused as a child, end of story.

If you're going to have stupid arguments with people, sometimes you have to get down to their level. "Says who? How do you know that's true?" That usually takes them off guard. "Well, you know, doctors. There's studies and stuff."

That's where Mr. Baby Pacifier and his Childhood Issues Orchestra fail, because doctors and studies have not proved any such thing. No one can cite an unbiased and reputable scientific source that supports the "BDSM is a result of childhood abuse" theory from anyone younger than Sigmund Freud, because there isn't one.

Don't believe me? I asked some experts. Psychologist Dr. Joy Davidson, author of Fearless Sex, says: "One of the largest and best-designed studies of abuse and kinky people clearly rejects the idea that being kinky stems from childhood abuse or that there is more abuse in the backgrounds of kinksters than any other groups... There is no more psychopathology among kinky people than in the general population."

Clinical sexologist Dr. Gloria Brame, author of Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission, says: "I have never seen a study showing that abuse leads to kinkiness. That's a fallacy."

You don't have to participate in my sexuality, but lay off the parents of kinky people, okay? You might wind up being one yourself someday. recommended

 

Comments (36) RSS

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1
FYI, Freud doesn't think sadism or masochism are the results of childhood abuse, either. He's actually pretty progressive about it, for his era. He thinks sadomasochism grows understandably out of what is understood as "normal" sexuality - sadism is an exaggerated manifestation of the violent tendency inherent in all sexuality, and masochism is an inward-directed manifestation of the same phenomenon, combined with an appreciation of the intense sensation bordering on pleasure which is always inherent in pain. See the first section of _Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality_.
Posted by lymerae on March 10, 2010 at 3:17 PM · Report this
2
FYI, Freud doesn't think sadism or masochism are the results of childhood abuse, either. He's actually pretty progressive about it, for his era. He thinks sadomasochism grows understandably out of what is understood as "normal" sexuality - sadism is an exaggerated manifestation of the violent tendency inherent in all sexuality, and masochism is an inward-directed manifestation of the same phenomenon, combined with an appreciation of the intense sensation bordering on pleasure which is always inherent in pain. See the first section of _Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality_.
Posted by lymerae on March 10, 2010 at 3:19 PM · Report this
3
Matisse, surely you know that the pacifier has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the teeth-gnashing jaw pain in the 7th hour of an ecstacy high, right? It's been a raver thing for years now.

Love the article but wish it was longer. I once had to slam shut a fantastic book about neuroplasticity because about midway through he got to discussing how kinky people were all abused as kids. I had loved the book up until then and tried to stick with it but just couldn't get past the fact that anyone who was so obviously wrong about such a big thing couldn't really be trusted about anything else.
Posted by alicia from california on March 10, 2010 at 6:03 PM · Report this
4
I once briefly dated a supposedly kinky guy who informed me that the fact that I love sex "proved" that I'd been abused. Something about my working through my trauma by overidentifying with the oppressors, or somesuch. There's no stopping those who want to pathologize sexuality.
Posted by AnathemaT on March 10, 2010 at 7:28 PM · Report this
OutInBumF 5
Just watched some similar drivel on Monday's Castle episode. I'm not into BDSM, but understand it's allure and also that it has nothing to do with perversion, psychopathy, or childhood abuse/trauma. Geez!!
Anyone desiring a glimpse into the way the masses view BDSM should take a gander.
Posted by OutInBumF on March 10, 2010 at 10:34 PM · Report this
6
Never abused, love kink. What can I say
Posted by sydvic on March 10, 2010 at 11:33 PM · Report this
7
Yep, many of the kinky people I know weren't even -spanked- as children (unlike the norm in our generation).

Perhaps their missing that experience led to them seeking it out as adults. ;-)

(FWIW, I was spanked plenty as a child, and can't eroticise it for myself. So much for causation there, eh?)
Posted by Trix on March 11, 2010 at 2:36 AM · Report this
8
You should thank Dr. Drew for the popular propagation of such wank. Every one who calls in to him has been, according to him, sexually abused, whether they know it or not. If they're gay, most certainly sexually abused. If they're kinky, you bet. Etc, etc, ad nauseum.
Posted by 1111111111 on March 11, 2010 at 7:55 AM · Report this
9
This reminds me of a conversation I recently had about porn, sex addiction, and sex workers. No matter what I said this particular person kept telling me that if I look at porn or am a sex-worker (because in her mind you must *be* a sex worker to advocate for them or appreciate their intelligence in general) then I have intimacy issues. Any attempt to talk about choices, and social construction of morality lead to screeches of "you're in DENIAL! I can't learn anything from you!" Needless to say, it didn't go over well when I tried to link to your blog, Mistress Matisse, to prove my point.
Posted by AgLee on March 11, 2010 at 8:11 AM · Report this
10
As a parent, and particularly as a mother: Thank you. Good lord, the laundry list of things that can supposedly be my "fault"!
Posted by MN on March 11, 2010 at 9:34 AM · Report this
11
So if my kink is intelligent conversation my parents were verbally abusive? Then how do they explain my fetish for being tied up since I was never in any way shape or form tied up by my parents as a child?
I'd have to say that anyone who demonizes sex in any for whether kinky or otherwise is probably a divorced or never married twit that lives in his mothers basement surfing chatrooms and masturbating to porn.
How's that for a generalization? *Please note the abundant sarcasm in the above comments.*
Posted by kahlanas on March 11, 2010 at 10:02 AM · Report this
12
I was molested but I was kinky long before that sequence of events- I had a crush on Darth Vader when I was 8, fer fucks sake! Before that, when my little friends and I played superhero games, I always wanted to be the villian because then I'd be the one captured and tied up in our fort to be questioned about the plot to take over the world..... I was kinky before anything in my little world ever went remotely sideways.
Posted by Probably born kinky on March 11, 2010 at 11:13 AM · Report this
13
"It's odd how no one pathologizes guys for liking boobs."

Actually, I've heard several "causes" for breast obsession in men - most of them revolving around breast feeding. "The experts" can't seem to agree if it's because of being breast fed too much or too little, however. *snerk*
Posted by Not abused, still kinky on March 11, 2010 at 1:15 PM · Report this
14
First of all, the episode of Castle mentioned above was about the most kinky friendly thing you're ever likely to see on network tv. Very postive, overall. Now to Matisse's column: she's probably right, but she does herself no favors by quoting authors who are known to be kink friendly AND kinky themselves. Of course they're gonna support findings like that. More telling would be to find researchers who are NOT kinky who find the same thing. In the social "sciences" it's just too easy to let one's personal feelings influence one's research (it's not even clear that any research was DONE by the people quoted, just their personal, anecdotal findings). That's NOT science folks.
Posted by olderwithmoreinsurance on March 11, 2010 at 1:51 PM · Report this
15
Well, one correction: Joy Davidson was quoted as mentioning a "large study" but of course no references or ways to follow up on that were given. I'm not asking for a research paper for publication here, but Matisse could and should have done better.
Posted by olderwithmoreinsurance on March 11, 2010 at 1:55 PM · Report this
16
@15 Those people just mentioned the study, I doubt they performed it. No need to impugn the science of the people who did by accusing them of bias.
If you want to read it yourself you could just ask this Dr Davidson for the reference. But it's usually difficult for someone who isn't trained to interpret the data properly.
Posted by Larkshead on March 11, 2010 at 2:20 PM · Report this
Strappedinsilk 17
I heard Bill Gates was forced to recite his multiplication tables in front of relatives in his shorts,and he seemed to do well....
Posted by Strappedinsilk http://www.strappedinsilk.com on March 12, 2010 at 4:06 AM · Report this
18
I agree that the Castle episode was as kink-friendly as it's going to get on TV - after all, the murderer turned out to be vanilla. The only other TV series that ever tiptoed around kink friendliness was CSI, w/Grissom's hinted-at involvement with Lady Heather, who herself was presented positively.

I'm another who wasn't abused by her parents or her baby-sitter or the boy next door. But, to paraphrase Guy Baldwin, it was always the tooth - that playing with a loose tooth because it hurt so good, that search for intense sensation. That's been there all along.
Posted by DominEditrix on March 12, 2010 at 12:10 PM · Report this
19
Thank thank thank you. As both a parent and a person with highly refined, decadent and debached tastes, longings and desires. (Which I act out with beloved persons. Often.)

You suppose it could be blamed on growing up on a big fancy farm deep in serious horse-country in the Bluegrass? With all the horses and whips and men and girls in boots striding about?

Thank you thank you thank you!
Posted by Jae on March 12, 2010 at 1:34 PM · Report this
Zergling Supermodel 20
Matisse, I really like your column, but I think that writing your main points in bold letters is kind of condescending to your readers. We are not stupid, we don't need you to point out what we should remember from your article. Thanks and keep up the good work!
Posted by Zergling Supermodel on March 12, 2010 at 10:40 PM · Report this
21
@20: Matisse doesn't do that on purpose. There's some glitch. She's tried to get The Stranger to fix this, but clearly they haven't.
Posted by Just Stuff on March 12, 2010 at 11:11 PM · Report this
22
Zergling:

Mistress Matisse is not the one who bolds portions of her articles. That's the editors.
Posted by m32446 on March 12, 2010 at 11:18 PM · Report this
23
The people that say that all kinky people were abused are generally the people who also think a female submissive is weak and abused by her dom. And of course the male dom is a sick fuck who gets off on smacking women around. These are the same people that insist I must have had a fucked up childhood to enjoy anal sex.

Listening to Dr. Drew and reading a few pop-psychology books makes you as qualified to pass these judgments as reading a John Grisham novel qualifies you to be a lawyer.
Posted by RWgirl on March 13, 2010 at 12:34 AM · Report this
24
#13 (Mostly tribal) socities that consider breastfeeding the norm don't seem to sexualise the breast the way we westerners do, so there you go.
Posted by Got milk? on March 13, 2010 at 5:45 AM · Report this
25
Joy Davidson is probably referring to this study: Richters, J., et. al. (2008) "Demographic and Psychosocial Features of Participants in Bondage and Discipline, “Sadomasochism” or Dominance and Submission (BDSM): Data from a National Survey." Journal of Sexual Medicine; Jul2008, Vol. 5 Issue 7, p1660-1668, 9p, 5 charts

This study did an over the telephone survey of over 19,000 people about sexual behavior and identity, past abuse, and psychosocial state. Basically they found that people who engaged in BDSM were no more likely to have suffered abuse in childhood and were no more likely to be "disturbed". In fact, the men who engaged in BDSM tended to score lower than vanilla guys on scales of 'emotional distress'.
Posted by drtkygh on March 14, 2010 at 3:10 PM · Report this
26
Come on Matisse, don't leave us hanging. You must have some ideas as to what makes people kinky, not just ideas about what does not make people kinky. Do tell.

As you elude to by referring to breast fixation, it would be tricky to study the developmental origins of kink if researchers have the bias of defining kink primarily by the statistical deviance of the fetish. On that subject, why do you think so many guys are so turned on by boobs (and if your answer has something to do with their relationship to their moms, then why do you find it so silly that some think other types of fixation are mom-related?).

Also, since self-reporting by study subjects is likely required, such studies will probably be skewed in the direction of showing kinky people as being better adjusted overall than they really are as a group; only those comfortable enough to be honest about what they like will answer surveys accurately.
Posted by kungfujew on March 15, 2010 at 1:17 AM · Report this
27
"Once you have them, anything people don't like about your offspring's sexuality becomes your fault."

What if you rephrase this causative language in a more sex-neutral or sex-positive way; including removing the words "don't like" and "fault"? Would that change your opinion of this causative theory? How about: "The particular type of fun sex many kinky people have is partly driven by certain specific childhood experiences"? Is this same basic notion still ludicrous to you?

"I heard a new twist on this lately: Foot and leg fetishes stem from men sitting on the floor as infants, tugging futilely at the skirts of their (obviously) distant, unloving mother."

OK, but what about: "Men who have foot and leg fetishes may have been rewarded by their loving mothers for being physical clingy as infants/toddlers to the most accessible parts of their mothers' bodies?

"It's odd how no one pathologizes guys for liking boobs."

Really? You're just talking about the contemporary U.S., right?

"It's not just conservative wackos who say this sort of thing, either. I've actually heard a few self-identified BDSM people say so. (Talk about carrying around some issues.)"

Are you suggesting that these people have less self-knowledge than self-identified bdsm people who deny any connection between their kinks and their childhood experiences?

"Regardless of what I said, being kinky proved I was abused as a child, end of story."

Right, but this attitude stems not only from a bdsm-negative bias, but also from the relatively new-age idea that any power a parent exerts over their child has an element of abuse. If we are talking about people who are turned on by being slapped and told they are worthless, that's one thing, but what about people who are turned on by being tied up and/or spanked for doing things they "shouldn't" be doing?" Looking at parenting in a more old-school way, these things can be seen as manifestations of a parent's love; attempts to protect their children from harmful circumstances or harmful behavior, so having a fetish for them can be seen as an eroticization of love, not of abuse.
More...
Posted by kungfujew on March 15, 2010 at 1:43 AM · Report this
28
I think the reason why some BDSM'ers think their kinks may have stemmed from abuse is that they have conversations among themselves in which they ask each other about past abuse. And they don't bother to ask non-kinky friends the same thing (and even if they did, they might not feel as close to their non-kinky friends and so those friends might not be as comfortable discussing it.) Add that to the fact that child abuse is probably MUCH more common than most people think. Yes, lots of kinky people were abused as kids, but so were lots of vanilla people. They might as well ask each other how many of them had parents who fed them spaghetti and meatballs as kids.
Posted by AbuseMoreCommonThanWeThink on March 15, 2010 at 4:18 PM · Report this
Tsunade 29
If you want to know why men have breast fetishes read The Naked Ape or The Naked Woman by Desmond Morris. I doubt there is any one cause for kinks and fetishes. I have a sensory disorder and I dislike casual touch. I loath being touched by strangers, doctors and even hair dressers. It's called Tactile Defensiveness. On the other end of the sensory disorder spectrum there are people who seek out sensory information. They prefer firm or deep pressure.
Posted by Tsunade on March 17, 2010 at 8:34 AM · Report this
30
Like 29, I have sensory integration issues, which almost definitely factor into my kinkiness. As a result I have limited sensitivity to pain, and many other kinds of tactile input (the exception being texture, to which I am so oversensitive that I cannot use cotton sheets). And yeah, I like pain, and it's probably related, but no one made me this way.

@17 I was forced to recite multiplication tables as a child and it doesn't seem to have found its way into my sexuality. I do, however, actually know them, which is more than can be said for many of my peers.

Additionally, my 7 month old son is showing signs of being a little sadist, just like his daddy. And I -know- he hasn't been abused.
Posted by taren on March 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM · Report this
31
easyest way to tell an alpha animal from a beta, the more the kink the stronger the link!
Posted by gillettebret on March 18, 2010 at 7:20 AM · Report this
32
Er... as a happy sadomasochist with over 20 years of passion in this field I have similarly been irked by Sunday psychologists linking BDSM and child abuse.

But.

But I have also grown to believe that BDSM does in fact stems from a dystonic mindset. Or, in other words, completely serene people don't do BDSM. You must have some inner tension to look for these kind of relationships.
This however doesn't mean you have to be raped when you were a child or gone through some other terrible lifechanging trauma: just a normal, little neurosis-inducing situation will do.

Freud & C. cured this through psychanalysis, we do it in a much funnier way.
Posted by Ayzad on March 22, 2010 at 6:46 AM · Report this
33
"just a normal, little neurosis-inducing situation will do."

@32: Can you please elaborate? If it's "normal", than why isn't BDSM also more normal (or is it)?

Also, do you think there are childhood experiences which do not induce neurosis but can still lead to later BDSM tendencies?
Posted by kungfujew on March 22, 2010 at 2:58 PM · Report this
34
In my book Insatiable Wives, Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them, I interviewed a woman who was kinky, nonmonogamous, and had been abused as a child. Her story was fascinating though, as her nonmonogamous lifestyle was not a symptom of her early pathology, but an adaptive behavior that allowed her to overcome the impact of the abuse. It was only because her husband did not require her to be monogamous that she was able to drop her emotional boundaries enough to have real intimacy and relationship with her husband, overcoming her fear of dependency. Her story was a very interesting and compelling one.
Posted by David Ley on March 23, 2010 at 6:31 AM · Report this
35

'People whose entire education in mental health consisted of watching daytime talk shows..." ha! I love it!
Posted by ggg on April 27, 2010 at 11:34 PM · Report this
36
Aw, now... "Burning Man type"? Sounds more like "stoned raver type," or *shudder* "smelly pseudo-nuevo-hippie kid with white-boy dreadlocks," but I can assure you- *my* "Burning Man type" friends are sex-positive, kink-positive, and wouldn't be caught dead with a damn pacifier! *grin*
Posted by El on March 31, 2011 at 7:28 PM · Report this

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