Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John E. Robinson, Sr.: The Slavemaster

The world of domination and submission is a complex place, and mental health experts have been debating its role and effect on the personality since Freud began writing in the early 20th century. While the term BDSM -- Bondage, Domination and Sadomasochism -- is frequently used to describe the type of sex act where one person plays the role of a dominant partner and another takes the submissive role, the all-encompassing term generalizes the activities and oversimplifies dominate/submissive sexual relations.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4th Edition
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition

Sexual sadism and masochism are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4th Edition as personality disorders, but only to the extent that they interfere with normal productive living or involve non-willing partners. Interest in BDSM is not considered a disorder or affect. Domination, submission and bondage have no formal definition in psychology, as scholars and D/S practitioners have not reached mutually agreeable consensus of what the terms involve.

Nevertheless, domination and submission are frequently explored topics of sex research and some general conclusions about them have been reached. Bondage refers to the use in sexual behavior of physically restraining materials or devices, or to the use of psychologically restraining commands. Sadomasochism involves sexual behaviors that include inflicting and/or receiving physical or psychological pain. Domination and submission in sex acts does not require either physical restraint or inflicting pain.

Theories of what attracts a person to a dominant/submissive sexual relationship or encounter are numerous and range from the assumption that the various acts are perfectly normal and even helpful to a healthy psyche, to the belief that participants are mentally ill and incapable of traditional love. Most experts have concluded that domination and submission are normal aspects of the continuum of sexual activity, while the more controversial aspects of bondage or sadism have many, but fewer supporters in the psychology community.

Participants point out that a healthy D/S relationship requires trust and respect on the part of all parties involved. Once the line is crossed and consent by a participant is withdrawn, the act becomes a crime. The vast majority of people who enjoy robust D/S relationships are outgoing, functioning members of society who are most frequently well-educated, employed and often involved in long-term relationships. Surveys of sexual practices reveal that anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the population in Europe and North America practice some sort of domination/submission sex play on a regular basis. Most of the people who say they enjoy domination and submission are men, although women also frequently express their enjoyment of BDSM role-play.

BDSM appears in the earliest known writing on sexuality, but it was only in the mid-1980s that the medical community stopped considering it an abnormal practice and an indicator of other mental illness. For centuries, adherents to BDSM met secretly, which added to the mystique and belief that the practice was unwholesome, violent and an indicator of madness. The participants formed clubs that sometimes traded "slaves" among groups and that practice gave rise to the rumor that many women who took part were unwilling victims.

As Americans became more open about sex and tolerant of alternative sexual practices, BDSM practitioners emerged into the daylight. They openly courted each other in newspaper advertisements and in the club scene. One of the more popular methods of meeting fellow BDSM fans remains the munch, where doms and subs meet publicly in nightclubs and restaurants to find partners, formalize dom/sub contracts and generally interact with like-minded folks.

It was the Internet that brought BDSM within reach of everyone and this has been both a blessing and a curse for practitioners. On the one hand, it has increased the pool of doms and subs, but it has also allowed dangerous malefactors to infiltrate the society and bring harm to innocent participants. Sociopaths like John Robinson are much more difficult to identify online and the anonymity of the Internet makes sharing information about particular threats among a close-knit group almost impossible. In the days when clubs and munches were the only way to meet like-minded people, serial killers were less likely to ingratiate themselves into a small group of BDSM aficionados and any mysterious disappearances of regular munch attendees would be noticed.

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