The practice of BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, and Sadomasochism) is a roleplay activity that facilitates the examination of power dynamics through erotic play. Historically, the mental health community relegated BDSM as a deviant sexual practice. Modern therapeutic perspectives, however, affirm the normality of practitioners and report psychological benefits of BDSM. Nevertheless, the practice remains stigmatized and misunderstood. The goal of this research was to examine how BDSM works, and how power is exchanged within relationships. More specifically, the experiences of Black BDSM practitioners were investigated to add nuance to how racial dynamics further impact power relationships. Ethnographic procedures were applied to help deconstruct relational interactions in BDSM practice. Observations were carried out at three public BDSM dungeons, and 13 Black BDSM practitioners were interviewed to examine how power plays out with respect to role identity, communicative behaviors, negotiation and consent. Dramaturgical analysis was applied to outline observable and obscure behaviors within BDSM social interactions. The findings of this study present structural insights into BDSM practice that may be applied to mental health counselor's increased understanding of power relationships. Furthermore, findings suggest dynamics observed in BDSM can be applied to non-BDSM relational interactions with regards to negotiating power and exercising personal agency. Lastly, the narratives of Black BDSM practitioners provide insight into how marginal identity statuses can impact psychological safety within unequal power relationships.
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Butler, S. Kent
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Community Innovation and Education
School of Teacher Education
Education; Counselor Education
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Norman, Amber, "A Critical Microethnographic Examination of Power Exchange, Role Identity and Agency with Black BDSM Practitioners" (2020). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 260.