Kathryn R. Klement, Ph.D.

Research in psychology and women's studies

Purity Culture and Rape Culture

This research program is designed to explore the relationships between the purity culture and rape culture in the United States.  These cultures operate at both an individual level and a group level, and can ultimately lead to objectification of and violence toward women.

A purity culture is considered a culture that prizes the maintenance of virginity until marriage, particularly for women.  In such a culture, women's sexuality is proscribed and sanctioned: women who are valued are women who have little to no sexual experience prior to marriage.  Purity culture asserts that women should keep themselves safe from sexual overtures by men, and place the burden of such protection on women.  Sexuality is less restricted after marriage, but should still remain traditional; thus, alternate expressions of sexuality, be it masturbation, anal intercourse, or any kind of kink or homosexual activity is considered unacceptable.

A rape culture is one that accepts and expects sexual aggression from men against women; violence is seen as sexy and sexuality is seen as violent (Buchwald, Roth, & Fletcher, 1994, "Transforming a Rape Culture").  In such a culture, women are perceived as objects of sexuality.  Women are socialized to believe that a range of sexually violent behaviors are normative, from sexually harassing catcalls on the street to sexual coercion with strangers or partners to avoid violence or simply conflict.

The connections between purity culture and rape culture lie in the perceptions of women and their objectification.  In purity culture, women are perceived as having value when they remain sexually pure, and they are obligated to maintain this purity.  However, once that purity is lost, so is their apparent value, and they are turned into sexual objects to be acted upon, as in rape culture.

Work on this research program includes a series of studies demonstrating attitudinal links between purity culture and rape culture, as well as structural modeling and experimental approaches.

Consensual BDSM and Extreme Rituals

This research program is designed to explore the links between participation in BDSM (bondage/discipline, Dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) and participation in extreme rituals.  Though still outside the mainstream, estimates of individuals interested in BDSM activities range up to 62%.  Still, there are many questions about the motivation for engaging in such activities.  While past research was directed toward discovered the psychopathology of BDSM practitioners, more recent research has indicated that BDSM practitioners are psychologically and emotionally healthy.  Similarly, there are often questions about the sanity of those participate in extreme rituals, such as firewalking, skydiving, and temporary piercing and/or suspension.

Reasons for participating in BDSM may be similar to those for participating in extreme rituals: social bonding, spiritual experiences, and altered states of consciousness.  Research in this program has focused on assessing two altered states of consciousness: subspace and flow.  Subspace is a state described as floating or flying, and may be achieved by individuals who take a bottom role in BDSM play, or who are receiving sensations.  Flow (or topspace) is a state described as extreme focus, and may be achieved by individuals who take a top role in BDSM play, or who are providing sensations.

More information on this research program can be found at www.scienceofbdsm.com.