I just enjoyed watching "Fetishes" -- thanks for telling me about it! The pain scenes were especially engaging for me, and I found myself smiling and laughing at moments.
I don't think that you and I saw the same things in this documentary. What I saw was a lot of people having a lot of fun. With the exception of the wrestler who left in a huff, all of the clients who were interviewed had positive reactions to their scenes. They were relaxed, pleased, high, and so on -- all the things someone might report after having mind-blowing sex. The dominatrices seemed to enjoy their work overall, though they had the usual sorts of bad stuff to cope with that any job brings: creepy or unpleasant customers, clashes with the rules or the boss, etc.
The humiliation scenes aren't something that I understand (it's not my kink, and there's a good argument that I don't know how to be humiliated), but even those clients had the relaxed, pleased, and high responses afterward. Did the dominatrices enjoy these sessions as much as, say, the flogging and canings? It's hard to know for certain. They acted as if they enjoyed themselves, and they didn't complain about these scenes as being unpleasant. Again, it's not my kink, so I can't relate directly -- but I can certainly imagine that shaming and humiliating someone else works for some folks.
So, I didn't see anything sad in the scenes themselves, for either the dominatrices or the clients.
Were some, most, or all of those clients repeating a sad dance of shame and humiliation? Was the dance endlessly repeated from life? This would seem to assume that a life full of being victimized can lead some victims to deliberately seeking out bdsm as a way to get more of being victimized. I can't say it isn't possible, but there seem to be some obvious obstacles to plausibility in that chain.
First, wouldn't victims of mistreatment find no shortage of chances to be shamed and humiliated? Perhaps they're now free of their former victim status, but they've been so damaged that this mistreatment is a need to fulfill. So they now partake of fresh humiliation, and that would be a sad dance to repeat...but doesn't that analysis fail when one sees and hears the reports of pleasure, satisfaction, release, etc? How can something so rewarding be sad?
Second, many such clients were said to be from powerful positions in society, business, and life. Does it seem likely that judges, stock brokers, doctors, bankers, etc, are all endlessly repeating cycles of shame and humiliation? I can certainly imagine that a person can be victimized, emerge from that victimhood to succeed wildly...and then, as above, discover that long-term mistreatment produced a kinky need. So that's not a sad cycle. I can also imagine that a person can achieve great success and suffer endless and concurrent shame and humiliation...but I can't imagine it easily.
Humans are pattern seeking animals, and we fall prey to like-causes-like thinking. Sometimes it's true, and that works out well for us (we may have learned how to cook our food, thanks to this trait). Sometimes it isn't true, and we benefit by questioning whether our assumptions are valid.
Can a campfire cause a forest fire? Sometimes. Can an abusive childhood yield an abusive adult? Sometimes. Can an abused child develop bdsm kinks? I can't rule that out.
Are all forest fires caused by campfires? No. Do all abusive adults come from abusive childhoods? No. Do all bdsm kinksters come from abusive childhoods? No.
"Fetishes" doesn't delve deeply enough to learn how all of the clients came to develop (or realize that they possessed) their bdsm fetishes. We can't even assume that all of the clients know, even if those clients claim that they do. (I've met folks who don't know where their desires originated, and who've wondered, and who have some guesses -- and some of them have gone on to assert their guesses with great conviction.) The same holds true for the dominatrices.
Being a masochist has changed how I relate to myself, others, and the world. I can't see how being in bdsm at any level could not produce such changes, but neither can I see how any part of our lives can be so compartmentalized: being unemployed, homeless, sick...or getting a new job or promotion, moving to a new home, recovering...or being at the same job and house forever... All of these facets of our lives contribute to who we are and what are worldviews are, and that must shape our relationships.
Does bdsm affect our relationships in a universal way, either for good or ill? I can't see how "universal" it could be. My relationships are better as a consequence, but there are plenty of bdsm folks who struggle with relationship issues. Do they struggle because of bdsm? Maybe. Is bdsm the sole source of this struggle, or even a majority shareholder in the problems? It seems unlikely to be the sole source, but I could see someone having bdsm as a majority shareholder in relationship strife.
The dominatrices who were interviewed seemed to have trouble with relationships outside of work, even if the clients seemed to have a wide range of relationship patterns outside of their sessions. They chalked up at least some influence for their jobs: people on the outside tend to regard bdsm folks in a way that doesn't foster good relationships.
At the dungeon I attend, a bunch of us were chatting about this and that, and someone asked, "How easy would it be to find someone to date outside of the lifestyle?" The immediate response from most everyone was a confused, "Why would you want to do that?" I say "most everyone" because maybe somebody had a different response, but kept it to themselves; this was the only outward reaction, however.
It's a touchy subject for some people. When do you disclose to a date that you like to dress in leather and hurt people with sticks? How many dates to you go on before saying you like to be whipped, preferably every week? I can't imagine trying to navigate that with anything like grace. And the dominatrices interviewed here had the added aspect of being considered paid sex workers; how's that for conversation fodder at the meet-my-parents dinner?
(Whew! That was a long reply. Kudos to anyone who made it this far. I can highly recommend "Fetishes," via hulu.com!)