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Fifty Shades of health

Love & Sex

It's a world that was considered taboo for a long time. For many, anything beyond 'vanilla' sex was considered abnormal. Then came the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and our curiosity of Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Submission/Sadism and Masochism, BDSMwas sparked.

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Handcuffs, whips and rope might actually be good for your health. Picture: Instagram

Generally, BDSM is about dominance and submission. One person plays the 'top' or dominant role, while the other plays the 'bottom' or submissive role.

According to a post-50 Shades survey by Marie Claire, 85 percent of US adults had engaged in at least light-fare play using masks, blindfolds and bondage tools.

While there is plenty of room for sexual experimentation when it comes to BDSM, there are also many physical and mental health benefits when practiced safely and consensually.

Indeed, Dr Ian Kerner, a psychotherapist and sexuality counselor in New York, told Daily Mail Online that this kind of physical contact in BDSM can stimulate the body in far more ways than 'vanilla' sex.
READ:Want a healthy sex life? Get more sleep

'BDSM, in the right context, can be arousing and sexual whether you're spanking, using a flogger, or using bondage,' Dr Kerner said.'It's fun, it's sexy and when you're engaging in BDSM, there are levels that are highly explorative.'

Here, we speak to Dr Kerner, other experts, and round up medical research to explain why kinky sex maybe better for you than you think:

1. Reduces stress levels

Several studies have found that couples who engage in BDSM activities see a reduction in stress levels.

A 2009 study found that both dominants and submissives consistently had lower levels of cortisol after engaging in bondage compared to before. Cortisol, often called the 'stress hormone', regulates many changes in the body including blood sugar (glucose) levels, immune responses and inflammation.

A number of health benefits have been found with the risk of lowering stress levels including reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and symptoms of asthma.

Experts suggest there could be two reasons BDSM has this effect. First, couples may feel a unique confidence in their structured intimacy. Second, many BDSM couples report entering a state of 'mindfulness' during their escapades.

Exploring the second point, scientists at Northern Illinois University indeed found that BDSM participants enter a 'flow state' of mindfulness, similar to the mindset athletes report when they're 'in the zone'.

The researchers recruited seven couples and randomly assigned the pairs a top or bottom role, and then observed them having sex while noting the type of activities and 'flow state.'

The participants involved all reported better moods, showed lower levels of stress, and scored highly on the flow state scale. Lead author Dr Brad Sagarin wrote: 'The mindful attention that people give to each other in the context of the BDSM scene has applications in other kinds of sexual interactions.

'If people are really focused on each other and the positive experience of their partner, we might see similar kinds of effects.'

2. Strengthen immunity 

Flogging and spanking increases blood flow to the brain.

The fresh blood supply saturates the organs and muscles with new oxygen and hormones. Meanwhile, the used blood is removed along with waste products that cause fatigue and even illness of brain cells.

This is cleansing process is key to strengthen our immune system, keeping our bodies well-prepared to deal with pathogens. While all kinds of sex boost one's blood flow, experts explain it is not quite like the rush experienced in BDSM.

Dr Sandra LaMorgese, a sex expert in New York, told Medical Daily that physical contact between BDSM couples can promote a sense of well-being.

She said: 'The skin is the largest organ of the body, with millions of receptors right under the surface. 'When someone touches our skin through massaging, playing, hugging, hand-holding, or having physical sex, we begin to experience physiological and physical healing.'

3. Increase of feel-good hormones

Many couples who practice BDSM can fare better than 'vanilla' couples when it comes to communication.

Experts told Daily Mail Online that this is because they often have to be more thorough in discussions about their sexual desires.

Additionally, having tools such as 'safe words' and making a distinction between 'play' and other typical relationship interactions, are contributing factors.

When you and your partner are experiencing strong communication, the body can release feel-good hormones such as serotonin, making you feel happy and energetic.

Sari Cooper, an AASECT certified sex therapist based in New York, said: 'With people who agree to play with BDSM appropriately and correctly comes tremendous communication skills so that couples can learn what they are and are not comfortable with.

'The caveat to learning about BDSM is that is is not for everyone. It's a type of erotic thrill that works for some people and not for others. But it's important to talk to your partner about the spectrum on which you do or don't want to participate.'

4. Better mental health

While some may think BDSM is perverse, studies have found practitioners to have be mentally self-assured, strong and healthy.

Specifically, a 2013 study found BDSM participants to be less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, with higher subjective well-being than 'vanilla' couples.

They were also found to be more stubborn, sticking to their own way of doing things over alternatives.

This, researchers suggested, likely stems from their penchant for trying new things, exploring the un-explored, and putting themselves into new experiences.

READ: How love hormone increases sexual arousal

The findings sparked a flurry when they emerged four years ago, given the widely-held view that BDSM is something perverse.

Prior to Fifty Shades, most popular culture portrayals of BDSM showed characters with a history of sexual assault or molestation.

But psychologists and sex therapists say this is not the case.

'Are there people who participate who have been assaulted or traumatized in the past? In the same way there is a group of people who practice a more vanilla style of sexuality who have been sexually traumatized in their past, there are also trauma survivors in the kink community as well,' Cooper said.

'BDSM participation does not directly correlate to a history of abuse.'




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