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BDSM an acronym for bondage and discipline; dominant and submissive; sado-masochism; slave and master.

Assume such a relationships or sexual practices are genuinely mutually consenting; and by consent I mean, meaning two well informed, mature, sober, drug free adults. In such cases, are BDSM practices or relationships a symptom of a sick mind or the true freedom from social conditioning to play and experiment as desired?

When answering one must be mindful to put the moral judgment that away. Answers based purely on opinion and without references will be down voted and flagged, as it is not a site for moral argument, but built on latest scientific research.

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In this context, are you referring to "light" activities such as spanking and paddling, with mild pain, and no real chance of injury, or "heavy" activities with strong pain and a meaningful chance of injury? –  Tom Au Oct 19 '13 at 22:00
    
@TomAu I am referring to practices or relationships, as both require discussion if one is to pull out a paddle and spank someone. There is a spectrum, yes, and I am more than happy for this to be discussed within answers :) –  user3543 Oct 20 '13 at 2:16
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If your question is, whether practitioners of BDSM are in some way pathological, then Pamela Connolly (2006) answered it. Her abstract summarizes her research and findings nicely (emphasis added):

A demographic questionnaire and 7 psychometric tests were administered to 32 self-identified Bondage/Domination/SadoMasochism (BDSM) practitioners. Although psychoanalytic literature suggests that high levels of certain types of psychopathology should be prevalent among BDSM practitioners, this sample failed to produce widespread, high levels of psychopathology on psychometric measures of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsion, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, or PTSD. In fact, on measures of clinical psychopathology and severe personality pathology, this sample appeared to be comparable to both published test norms and to DSM-IV-TR estimates for the general population. There were, however, some exceptions to this general pattern, most notably the higher-than-average levels of narcissism and nonspecific dissociative symptoms found in the sample. This study also raises significant concern about the appropriateness of the diagnosis of sexual masochism and sadism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association or, minimally, the diagnostic criteria of these disorders.

But BDSM practitioners aren't only normal, they feel "more better", too: An Australian study (Richters, De Visser, Rissel, Grulich, & Smith, 2008) found that "men who had engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological distress than other men" (emphasis added).

This higher level of well-being may be explained by conscious and systematic "relationship management", including no-holds-barred open communication and clear agreement on mutual relationship roles, resulting in highly functional relationships, as well as a commitment to personal growth, both of which are common among BDSM couples (Cutler, 2003). Contrary to common views of BDSM, Cutler states, BDSM activities include non-sexual motivations: "hormonal studies have shown BDSM activities to be more similar to sports than sex, complete with stress relief qualities" (emphasis added).

Today, BDSM is a best-selling mainstream media phenomenon, and it has become increasingly difficult to draw a clear distinction between "deviant" and "normal" sexuality. When a little rope play is just another practice for the average couple, BDSM certainly isn't deviant any longer, and many practitioners are as "normal" as you and me. The difference in practice is, I believe, gradual: BDSM couples indulge in "normal" sex just as normal couples pay visits to the land of bondage and submission (and other kinks).


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