Sex can do wonders for your body and health – but it may also have the power to elevate your state of mind.
A study published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice spoke with people who mix pleasure with pain through spanking, pinching, verbal tongue-lashing, and the use of handcuffs or ties. Or, in other words, BDSM – the consensual practice of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism.
According to the researchers, people in the BDSM community often talk about being transported into a state of flow, a transcendent mental state often achieved by athletes, novelists, artists – or anyone who loses themselves in an activity they’re extremely good at.
Brad Sagarin, professor in the department of psychology at Northern Illinois University and author of the study said: “The idea that the rest of the world drops away and someone is completely focused on what they’re doing.”
So researchers at Northern Illinois University studied seven couples across the sexuality spectrum who practise BDSM. They included two who were in a long-term relationship, two in polyamorous relationships, two who were friends and one pair who were complete strangers.
The researchers randomly assigned a person in each pair to the dominant and submissive roles, and each couple engaged in BDSM for as long as they wanted while the researchers watched (yes, watched) and marked down what was happening.
Before and after each session, the team measured the participants’ cortisol and testosterone levels while also taking stock of their mood, sense of closeness, level of stress, and whether or not they were experiencing mental flow, TIME reports.
After the encounter, people reported lower stress, better mood and scored a high level of flow on a scale that measures flow state.
For people with an in-the-present-moment concept of mindfulness – or for people who just have really great sex – this may sound familiar.
But Sagarin says:
This may be an effective thing for people who otherwise have a hard time getting out of their intellectual head. BDSM, because of the intense sensations and potentially because of the restriction of movement, may have the ability to put someone in the here and now in a way that they may find more difficult to achieve through other means.
Time to get the whips out, then.