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Who’s afraid of the BDSM doctor? Interview with Daniela Botta

Alternative sexuality subcultures are often represented as alien, mysterious and inaccessible circles. Such mythology however has been far from reality for twenty years at least now: meeting people into the most uncommon disciplines just requires a Google search, and many variations are also studied in academical settings.
Also, after the LGBT world effort to open new communication channels with institutions, today we begin seeing the early experiments aimed at other communities. Like the BDSM one, with one interesting initiative I talked about with its manager. Here is the full interview…

 

Hi, Daniela, it’s a pleasure to meet again! Shall we start with your introduction to our readers?

My name is Daniela Botta: I am a psychologist, therapist and psychosexologist. I have been doing clinical work for over twenty years, I am a lecturer for the Lifelong sexual development psychology and psychopathology department of the Medicine and Psychology faculty of the Sapienza University in Rome, and a researcher at the Clinical Sexology Institute of Rome.

 

… and since last summer you are the manager of the free consultancy paraphilias Desk at the same institute. Can you tell me what is it about?

It’s a concept we started last year in collaboration with the Italian BDSM online community of Legami, during a series of events held at the gay culture circle Mario Mieli in Rome. On those occasions we explored various psychology matters relevant to building one’s role identity, the synergies and conflicts with gender stereotypes. It became apparent that the participants had a need of being able to express their doubts and perplexities in a, let’s say, “safe and consensual” psychological setting, where they could feel safe of not being judged or misdiagnosed when talking about their sexual experiences. This begat the free desk, offering consultancy to paraphiliac persons once a month.

 

That’s a fascinating service with not many equivalents worldwide, if I am not mistaken. In fact, I am happily surprised it is being accepted in a country like ours, where cultural initiatives about unusual sexualities are typically exploited as “scandals” by hatemongering politicians. Do you see it as a sign of unexpected intellectual progress, or are there other secrets behind its success?

We are probably flying under the inquisitors’ radars because the service name does not contain the dreaded ‘gender’ word! But seriously, I believe there is nothing outrageous in what we do. The Clinical Sexology Institute deals with sexual health:  it is an essential component of health rights, and it cannot be obtained or maintained it sexual rights are not the same for everyone. In the last twenty years’ literature there is growing and unquestionable scientific evidence that demolished the notion of BDSM as the expression of childhood traumas, abuses or mental illnesses. You may know that we are discussing about changing the ICD 10 diagnostic manual and excise some paraphilic disorders like fetishism, transvestism and consensual sadomasochism; many north-European states consider such diagnoses unscientific since 2009 already. Their removal seems like a change toward a better acceptance of sexual thoughts, fantasies, impulses and/or behaviors that were considered unusual so far, but are just an innocuous expression of sexual diversity if they are consent-based.
Dismantling deeply-rooted prejudices requires time, so those very people who require better information due to their unusual sexuality often cannot find comfort even by talking with professionals. Such a lack of information brings with it the risk of doubts and anxieties strongly impacting self-esteem and the sense of self. With the CSI we launched several research projects about sexual wellness and BDSM, the latest of which was just published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

 

Oh. Will you expose its conclusions before we go on?

Data have shown a great variety of practices, fantasies, rules and roles. Talking about gender, males and females showed some specific preferences. Generally speaking, BDSM player (especially the dominant ones) appear to be less worried and more satisfied about sexuality compared to the general population.

daniela botta

Dr. Daniela Botta

I kinda suspected that, but going back to the Desk, how is the initiative being received? How many requests do you receive each month?

Being a totally free service we expected a bigger response. The fear of prejudice is so strong that some applicants – especially and not incidentally by submissive men – want to remain anonymous and unseen, so there cannot come over and talk. We register about five appointments per month.

 

What is the typical user like? And, above all, what kind of needs have the persons coming to your Desk?

Well, nobody comes in in a collar or in stiletto heels: I could say we always meet average people, with a slight majority of women (as it is common for a psychologist) between 20 and 70. Most requests are actually not specifically about paraphilias or BDSM, but about common relational and emotional issues experienced in a domination or kinky context.

 

How do you read this? Are we so good at informing people, are the subjects underestimating the technical aspects of BDSM, or is it something else entirely?

The people using the service are probably already educated or part of the BDSM community, and therefore somewhat past certain issues. They simply need to talk about specific dynamics within an accepting environment. Some American states have a kink-aware professionals register featuring kink-friendly therapists, but I believe that overcoming our prejudices and staying scientifically up to date is enough.

 

What are the next steps for the Desk? Will this experience feed into other initiatives?

I would like this first contact channel to collect the instances of those conflicted in living their instincts. As I said, I was really struck by the fact that the most suffering subject are submissive males expressing true anguish in accepting their fantasies. They seem to be the most unresolved group and the biggest financial supporters of commercial BDSM.
I recall one of your articles about eroticism and transcendence, and I wonder whether the cause is to «avoid living eroticism as more than a momentary game, and to be touched by something that leaves something deeper than an orgasm or a bruise». Maybe is it a willingly alienated and dissociated experience, which doesn’t get accepted due to its conflicts with gender stereotypes?

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