Spiritual factor widespread but taboo in deviant sexual subcultures

A large segment of those participating in deviant sexual subcultures, such as those involving sadism and masochism, report spiritual experiences from such involvement, even if they are hesitant and self-conscious about using religious or mystical language, according to sociologist Julie Fennell. In the journal Sociological Forum (online July), Fennell writes that the spiritual and “pagan” elements in the “BDSM” (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) subculture have been largely ignored by skeptical practitioners and others who are part of the “scene.” Fennell conducted 70 interviews with those she calls “kinksters” as well as analyzing a convenience sample of 1,100 such devotees and found that those most involved in the BDSM scene both showed high rates of atheism and agnosticism while also having a high spiritual interest, often involving pagan beliefs. Forty-seven percent of those showing high involvement in the subculture reported spiritual beliefs compared to only 21 percent of those displaying low involvement.

Respondents stated that they felt experiences of atonement and transcendence through such practices. Fennell notes that the “BDSM subcultures and the Pagan subcultures have become heavily entwined,” with the more active participants of the former groups exposed to pagan ideas and practices. While BDSM events were once a part of many pagan gatherings, they have gradually been discouraged because of internal fights about their appropriateness among pagans. More recently, pagan-based BDSM events, such as “sacred body modification tattooing and branding” and Tantric sexual practices, have become part of mainstream BDSM gatherings, though less so at the smaller parties that kinksters hold. Fennell found that even those with spiritual beliefs expressed doubt and ambivalence about using spiritual or mystical language as it conflicted with their secular and supposedly rational worldviews.

(Sociological Forum, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/15737861)