Some like it Rough

How does the kinky brain work? Ciao’s resident sex therapist, Cat O’Dowd, caught up with professional dominatrix Kalyss Mercury, who is studying the neuroscience of kink at the University of Oslo.

Mistress Kalyss Mercury is exploring how specific BDSM activities (like spanking or humiliation) benefits people, especially the psychological benefits. She also takes her academic work into the bedroom, working full time as a professional dominatrix.

Mercury is particularly fascinated by new research showing that kinksters are actually more emotionally stable than the average person. They are, “less sensitive to rejection, less neurotic and expressed higher scores for wellbeing. … kinksters tend to have completed higher levels of education and earn higher wages than the general population.”

Mercury maintains BDSM practices are not abusive – just like some people love rough sports, some people love rough sex.

Just like rugby, BDSM has many rules and agreements that have to be recognised before ‘entering the fray’. The main rule is consent.

“BDSM relationships can be complex and challenging and there are many rules for interaction. You can enjoy the ride while still enjoying the limits,” Mercury explains.

Kyliss Mercury’s current research explores the connection between pain, guilt and reward. Which I might just let her explain…

“For example, have you noticed how when we feel guilty, we tend to find ways to “punish” ourselves? The spin class after the guilt of eating that chocolate bar? Or feeling like you don’t deserve to party because you had a fight with your best friend,” she said.

“The classic example of self-flagellating monks is actually not far from reality. My research is based on a set of studies which found people willingly withstand pain for up to twice as long as they usually would when they are primed to feel guilty. On top of that, they showed guilt levels went down dramatically after the pain stimulation. So pain actually had a “remedial” effect.

“The main question I want to answer with my study is whether this type of healing effect is stronger for self-described masochists than for non-masochists. If my hypothesis is confirmed, that would mean masochism may not be such a paradox after all.”

Mercury believes that submission can be just as freeing, or more so, than having complete control in a sexual situation.

“In the dungeon, my clients can temporarily forget their burdens and become someone else,” Mercury explained, “someone who doesn’t need to decide, someone who can just surrender and let it all go. This is what I offer my clients: Freedom from choice, with a side of kink and fetish.”

Mercury told me that her favourite way of preparing clients is asking they leave their worldly concerns behind.

“Today you are just a puppy dog. All you have to worry about is following Mistress’ orders!”

Mistress Kalyss Mercury is currently collating research on the views of kinksters and non-kinksters on BDSM. You can participate in her online questionnaire at:

• Words: Cat O’Dowd. Sex therapist, Couples Coach and Art Therapist.