Publication Date

Summer 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies


Bryce Westlake


BDSM, Consent, Education, Safety, Stigmatization, Therapy

Subject Areas

Social research; Sexuality; Mental health


Mainstream society’s characterization of activities and subgroups as abnormal can result in a long history of being shamed and pathologized, leading to discrimination and stigmatization. BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) is an alternative lifestyle with a variety of identities, characteristics and practices that are viewed by many as being outside of societal norms. The consequences of this can be seen in how society, in general, views BDSM participants, how the criminal justice system responds to issues involving BDSM, and how the mental health system perceives those who participate in BDSM activities. The purpose of this thesis was to give voice to a highly stigmatized community regarding the true aspects and lived experiences of their culture, particularly regarding health and safety practices. This was achieved by conducting interviews with 18 BDSM community leaders to better understand the adopted health and safety practices that have been influenced by the obstacles that come with social stigmatization. Based on qualitative findings, four main themes associated with BDSM interests emerged including BDSM beyond sexual pleasure, BDSM as a coping mechanism, healthy BDSM requires education, and ensuring community safety through alternative resources. Findings suggested guidelines that can provide the general population with solutions regarding awareness, acceptance, and management in areas of society, mental health, and the justice system.