Why Some Adults Are Obsessed with Discipline

Does taking part in BDSM make you a disciplinarian parent? Here’s what the experts say.

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The word “discipline” can mean different things to different people. Most of us think back to being punished as children. Psychologists typically conjure the more formal definition — standards based on a system of values and rules that are implemented by rewards and punishment. And then there are people who consider discipline as an important component of a satisfying sex life.

As for the kinky contingency, therapists agree that including components of BDSM — the collective term for bondage, discipline, dominance, sadism, and masochism — into our sexual endeavors is perfectly healthy. Whether we’re talking an erotic fantasy, or a staged role play complete with whips and chains, “It’s a natural part of sexuality,” says Courtney Watson, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is pursuing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Human Sexuality.

ALSO: What, Exactly, Is the Difference Between Discipline and Punishment?

Yet there continue to be misnomers about mixing discipline and sex. One common misunderstanding, as demonstrated by the book Fifty Shades of Grey, is that an obsession or erotic notion of discipline stems from experiencing a punitive childhood. “Having BDSM as part of your sexual identify is not a pathology; it’s not something that can be traced back to some childhood trauma,” says Avi Klein, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Therapists contend that the way we were disciplined as kids has no effect on what goes on between the sheets in that regard. If your mother doled out punishment in the form of guilt and shame, that doesn’t mean you’ll yearn to be humiliated in the bedroom, or the inverse, to humiliate your spouse. In fact, you’re just as likely to turn out completely vanilla, sexually speaking.

Then there’s the tendency to view BDSM and other forms of kink as weird, or even as a mental illness. This misperception has historical roots: “The idea of sexual deviance comes directly from Victorian Era,” says Watson. “Basically, anything that wasn’t the missionary position became ‘wrong.’” Thankfully, many practices regarded as “bad” during the Victorian Era, like oral sex, have re-integrated back into mainstream sexual practices. But stigma remains around others, including those related to discipline.

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It can all be a bit confusing, especially for new parents who have otherwise been enjoying BDSM as part of a healthy sex life. Questions often arise as to how the practice may impact their parenting style. “There’s suddenly this fear that if you like to get strung up and hung upside down, or tied up with rope and flogged, then you somehow can’t be a phenomenal parent,” says Watson. “And that’s simply not true.” The psychological view on the matter is that there is no crossover whatsoever between what a person prefers sexually and how that person parents. To put it plainly: A mother who enjoys spanking her partner in the bedroom isn’t going to be predisposed to spanking a child.

A child may even benefit from being raised by parents who practice BSDM, according to Watson. “All forms of kink require open communication and clear boundaries, both of which are great habits to cultivate that can positively impact all our relationships, including those with our kids.”

Read more of Fatherly’s stories on discipline, punishment, and parenting.

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