SM and MMPI


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ASK THE THERAPIST

October 1998

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1998 by William A. Henkin

<Q> With regard to finding intelligent and thoughtful people in the leather communities as you discussed a couple of months ago, may I suggest another hypothesis? I think most people who have radical sex urges are in denial and/or in the closet, repressing, suppressing, projecting, etc., so we don't generally meet a cross-section of all such adults, but only those who have come out. To know oneself is a difficult emotional and cognitive task – probably made less difficult by intelligence, courage, thoughtfulness – and to look in the mirror and say "I am a deviant, viewed by society as abnormal, and I am proud" may suggest a high degree of individualism and/or a less-than-normal urge to conform. In its emotional sense, thoughtfulness entails caring, compassion, sensitivity, and a willingness to communicate. I think one must bring such traits to the process of SM negotiation, and this process, repeated again and again, may enhance and expand those traits the way an active mind builds a better brain.

And now for a question: there have been academic studies in which the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: a psychological personality test – WAH) was given to samples of swingers. Has such work yet been done with leather communities?

<A> Part One: I certainly agree that we never knowingly meet a cross-section of sex radicals, either because most such people are in the closet as you suggest, or because it takes time to know oneself enough to decide or discover whether alternative sexuality is an interest one finds worth pursuing, or in any case because none of our lives is so random as to bring us into communication with a true cross-section of any population. To view oneself as proudly deviant does, I think, "suggest a high degree of individualism and/or a less-than-normal urge to conform," and that can be good for the self-esteem of someone who sees hirself as an outsider. But whether these conditions express the profound insights associated with self-knowledge or an equally profound urge to nonconform – whether they are the result of really free choice or are conditioned reactions against doing what one is told to do – I think must be assessed on a person-by-person and maybe even on a situation-by-situation or a moment-by-moment basis. Certainly it is difficult to know oneself, and from the depths of my own ignorance it seems to me that the process of coming to know myself never ends.

Part Two: Charles Moser did a study called "The Sexual Profiles of 108 Self-Identified Sadomasochists," which is unpublished but on file at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Other people too, including me, have done similar studies in association with the Institute. But though I have not done a thorough search of the literature, I have read widely in the SM field and I have not yet come across an MMPI study of leatherfolk, nor have I seen any referred to, nor have I heard of any, so my guess is that it hasn't been done. Perhaps you're the person? As a Ph.D. candidate it would be terrific research.


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