Recent studies have revealed the stigma faced by practitioners of the sexual practice of BDSM (bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, masochism). This stigma affects practitioners’ ability to be open about their sexuality and raises the question: why is this the case in this socio-historical moment? In answer, this paper analyses discourses regarding BDSM across the disciplinary boundaries of psychiatry, sociology, feminism and law. It investigates some key historical moments in the development of these discourses and reveals two discursive formations that continue to affect practitioners: pathologised practitioner and BDSM as violence. Further, this paper demonstrates how these discourses permeate the social world through the narratives produced in popular culture, and looks at the place of practitioners in these discursive formations.
Keywords: BDSM; sadomasochism; stigmatisation; sexuality; psychiatry; sociology; feminism; law; Krafft-Ebing; R v Brown; sex wars; popular culture.