Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 8-10-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Lori Koelsch

Committee Member

Suzanne Barnard

Committee Member

Derek Hook


BDSM, S&M, kink, psychoanalysis, schizoanalysis, sadomasochism, sex, sexuality, fantasy, phantasy


The opening decades of the 21st century have seen a veritable explosion of representations of bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM) and kink practices in mainstream media and American culture. Along with this, empirical researchers working in sexuality studies continue to show, contrary to the history of stigmatizing accounts in the history of clinical psychology, no evidence of increased pathology and, in some studies, better outcomes on measures of mental health.

Given the legacy of psychoanalysis in foregrounding considerations of sadomasochism and sexuality for the human psyche, it seems particularly well positioned to approach the complexities of dynamic fantasies involved in BDSM and kink. Yet in the United States, many contemporary psychoanalytic psychotherapists have distanced themselves from discussions of sexuality, considering it of little importance in contrast to normative or adaptive ends for psychotherapy. Meanwhile, emerging narratives and anti-narratives from feminist and queer “kinksters” as well as those with histories of trauma are beginning to explore BDSM and kink as forms of self-transcendence as well as transformation.

In this dissertation, I consider the material and historical aspects of BDSM and move, with queer and feminist theories as my guide, into considerations of contemporary kink practices. I consider BDSM and kink through the notion of sexual praxis, in which theory and practice are intertwined in a consistent ethic. Through published accounts by BDSM practitioners I consider how, following Foucault, engagements in sexual praxis can constitute embodied forms of philosophical activity related to the production of knowledge and subjectivity. I explore, through psychoanalysis and later schizoanalysis, how individuals and groups may transform cultural trauma through redefinitions and enactments of fantasy. As much of philosophical and analytic thought as well as research has ignored the importance of the role of touch in history, fantasy and trauma, I conclude with a proposal for haptic inquiries into sexual praxis. Moving from literary accounts to contemporary blog posts, I take up Elizabeth Freeman’s (2006) call to theorize BDSM’s historicisms while also historicizing its theories.