Feature by Nikita Fernandes
I recently had the chance to attend one of The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance ( TASHRA) trainings titled "Exploring Issues and Clinical Implications around BDSM/Kink and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury." TASHRA is a non-profit working to improve the healthcare services of folks with alternative sexualities. It is a great resource for healthcare professionals as well as people that identify as kinky. The presenter was Dr. Markie Twist, PhD (she/her/they/them), who is an award-winning sexuality educator, sexologist, relationship therapist, author and international speaker. Dr. Markie presented great insights about NSSI (non-suicidal self-injury), which is defined as intentionally creating pain on one's own body tissue without suicidal intent.
It must be noted that the author is not promoting self-harm behaviors but rather exploring the purpose through a curious lens.
Most people who self-injure have used various techniques, with examples of common ones including cutting, burning, scratching, and slamming or punching. Dr. Markie argues that NSSI is a way for people to regulate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. She speaks to the hopeful nature of coping as intent of suicide is not present. NSSI helps people regulate overwhelming emotions and alleviates negative emotions. When someone is suffering from depression and starts to feel hopeless, they may engage in NSSI as a way to create feelings in their otherwise numb state. Self-injury has been linked to other disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), and eating disorders.
A variety of research showed that there is an association between NSSI and BSDM/kink where people stopped engaging in NSSI as they started to explore kink and BDSM. From my understanding, kink and BDSM offers a space for people to engage in impact play and create sensations that are cathartic to them. NSSI provides a relief of inflicting pain and then feeling grounded in the sensations. People gain a sense of control through engaging in this behaviour.
Unpacking The BDSM/Kink
BDSM and kink involve a multitude of behaviors and practices that looks different to everyone. There is a misconception that BDSM and kink have to be sexual in nature which is untrue. There are many people that engage in BDSM and kink through a non sexual practice. The inclusive and platonic practice creates space for people that identify as asexual and aromatic to also identify as kinky. When people practice kink, they enter spaces with intersections of different identities and body shapes and sizes. Thus, it can be so affirming and healing for people partaking in Kink/ BDSM. Fantasies of play can start during childhood and can stem from wanting to push boundaries and find pleasure.
Dr. Markie beautifully explains that before engaging in kink, people might feel desire, hunger and eagerness. During the practice, they experience excitement, pleasure, connection and stress relief. After the practice, they feel satisfied, content and secure. They also feel intimate and bonded with their partner and empowered, loved and authentic towards themself.
The Work Moving Forward
So many people pathologies practices like sadism, masochisms, and other paraphiliacs which lead to feelings of shame in people. I am here so say that there is no shame in living your life as your authentic self. As a therapist and kink practitioner myself, I understand the importance of working with my clients on unpacking shame and I am honored to create a space for my clients to explore their desires with openness, curiosity and support. I invite you to approach your own shame with kindness and curiosity as there is so much healing on the other side of it.