Playing with Power: Women and Gender in BDSM Sexualities

Document Type

Book Chapter

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Publication Title

The Essential Handbook of Women's Sexuality


In this chapter, I examine psychological research and theory on the sexual practices that fall under the umbrella of BDSM (a multipurpose acronym referring to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism, consensual sadomasochism, fetish, and kink). After providing definitions and descriptions of the roles and sexual practices involved, I turn to theoretical perspectives on BDSM practice. Throughout, I highlight issues relevant to women's involvement in these practices, given that women have traditionally been discouraged from engaging in such nontraditional practices. Because of gender socialization in childhood that teaches girls to eschew interest in sexuality (with messages such as "good girls don't want/have sex"), and femininity ideologies that encourage women to pursue sex only in the context of romantic relationships (Phillips, 2000), some women find that there are explicit and implicit social pressures pushing them toward more traditional, mainstream practices. This chapter concludes with recommendations for future research on women who engage in BDSM and other nontraditional sexual practices.


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