Kinky Sex Is on the Rise, Therapists Say

Sex researchers: Sadomasochism, swinging and even bestiality are on the rise.

BySusan Donaldson James
February 11, 2009, 11:30 AM

Feb. 11, 2009 — -- Eroticism is in the eye of the beholder. In Japan, some women turn to electrically charged squid for sexual satisfaction. In the American world of masochism, one man begged to be tied on a spit and roasted over sizzling coals. His counterpart, a latex-loving dominatrix, reached ecstasy merely watching his pain.

What is abnormal may not necessarily be unnatural, according to sexologists who study the outer limits of the human psyche.

And, increasingly, as seen in a plethora of new books and films -- not to mention thousands of sites on the Internet -- kinky sex is getting more attention.

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"To badly paraphrase Alfred Kinsey, [who pioneered sex research in the 1940s and 50s, filming couples in flagrante in his Indiana attic], 'the only unnatural sex act is the one you can't perform,'" said Robert Dunlap, a California sex therapist and filmmaker.

Paraphilias -- or socially unacceptable sexual practices -- are more common than most ordinary "vanilla" teleiophiles [those who desire adults] would imagine, according to Dr. Judy Kariansky, a sex therapist from Columbia University.

Though there is no hard data on what whether a spike in interest means a spike in actual activity, experts say anecdotally that couples are showing a marked interest in exploring new sexual intensity.

In his 2001 film, "Beyond Vanilla," Dunlap interviewed more than 200 subjects who had one common denominator, some type of fetish -- bondage, flogging, knife play and fire, among others.

When asked "What is kinky?" academics, doctors, lawyers and even a congressman, shared fantasies like, "sex with a taxi driver in the back seat," "pouring candle wax on his testicles," "arresting someone and patting them down on the bar," "being gang-raped by many sets of twins, or better yet, triplets."

The film was widely praised and used by the University of Minnesota medical department at conferences on human sexuality and development.

Today, Dunlap is in negotiations for release of his latest film, a biography of the life of Xaviera Hollander, the madam who brought kinky sex out of the closet in 1971 with her book, "The Happy Hooker." His documentary earned early acclaim at numerous film festivals.

Also out this year are two books that appeal to those interested in sex outside the normal boundaries and that explore a world where pain, pleasure and often guilt intertwine.

One, "The Other Side of Desire," is a journalist's exploration of "the far realms of lusting and longing," including that reference to the pain aficionado who ordered her "servants" to barbecue her willing submissive.

Another, "The Adventurous Lover," which is part of the new "Joy of Sex" series, is a handbook for couples who want to experiment in a safe environment.

Kinky Sex on the Internet, Books, Movies

"It's a totally new revolution and it's really exploded," Dunlap told "The Internet has changed everything. So many people can go online and say, 'This is me. I love this. I am finding like types.'"

And for those who think this phenomenon might encourage anti-social behavior, he counters, "I don't think anyone was really damaged or hurt by book or movie."

Columbia's Kuriansky agrees that "what's weird, sick or kinky for you is what practitioners defend as 'normal' for them."

"Credit, or blame, the Internet, making information available in such a level playing field that outrageous acts have become so accessible they seem mainstream," she told

Throughout history kinky sex has emerged in myth, literature and in anthropology. Urban legends still persist that Catherine the Great had a special relationship with her horse.

Dunlap cites studies that in some African cultures, older women guide younger boys into their manhood and are "revered."

But today, according to sex-perts, couples are looking for more intensity in sex lives, and interest in sado-masochism appears to be rising.

"After the pain threshold is crossed, they describe a type of ecstasy called 'flying," Dunlap found in his research. "It is no longer painful and gives an entirely sexual as well as psychological, transcendent place. Flying is bigger than any drug."

British relational therapist Susan Quilliam, whose revision of the 1972 classic, "Joy of Sex" sold 30,000 copies in three weeks when it was released this year in the U.S., confirms, "A lot is changing culturally."

"First of all, we live in a more sexualized society and there's the Internet," she told "Interest groups communicate with each other and reinforce their identity."

"It gives people permission and normalizes it and encourages them to explore the outer boundaries of their preferences," she said.

And now, her spin-off book, "The Adventurous Lover," is being billed as "perfect for the couple who want to push the boundaries: sections include fantasy, fetish, sex-clubs, foursomes and bondage."

Quilliam, who doles out advice on her "Sex in the City" radio show, has seen an increased interest in BDSM – or bondage, dominations, sado-masochism, as well as "swinging."

Creating a "safe" arena for experimentation is critical, she said, and couples should have special words, should they be uncomfortable, to call for "an immediate halt to the activity."

Dangers of Swinging: Love

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