Turley, Emma (2011) ‘It started when I barked once when I was licking his boots!’: A phenomenological study of the experience of bondage, discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism (BDSM). Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The research presented in this thesis aims to explore the lived experience of participating in consensual bondage, discipline, dominance & submission and sadism & masochism (BDSM). Traditionally, psychologists have researched this phenomenon from an external perspective, conceptualising it as pathological. By employing a phenomenological approach, I aim to understand this multifaceted phenomenon from the inside, by listening to the voices of those who engage in BDSM.

The research is separated into two stages. For the first stage of empirical work I interviewed five practitioners of consensual BDSM about their experiences. This stage was designed to be particularly broad and exploratory with the aim of understanding more about the subcultures associated with BDSM, and also to inform the second, more focused stage of research. The findings were analysed using the descriptive phenomenological approach. The subsequent stage involved interviews with nine practitioners; including four that were previously interviewed for stage one. The aim here was to elucidate the specific constituents of BDSM that held erotic significance for participants. The template approach was utilised as the method of analysis.

The complexity of BDSM is illustrated by the subtle variations in the erotic scripts of participants. The co-creation of fantasy was of central importance to the experience, as were measures employed in order to maintain the fantasy and ensure its success. The notion of authenticity was fundamental to the experience, which ensured all participants were invested in the erotic scene and allowed immersion into the bubble of fantasy and the exclusion of the ‘real’ world. A sense of care, trust and partnership were vital in order to achieve the erotic atmosphere, concepts that appear contrary to the kinds of sexual activities involved.

This research presents an exciting account of the lived experience of BDSM, illuminating the erotic diversities and nuances related to this phenomenon. It is also the aim that this research contributes to the increasing body of work that investigates and reports BDSM from non-pathologising perspectives.

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