User Tools

Site Tools


This article is about sadism and masochism as aspects of BDSM.

The term Sadism passed into common usage as the sexual or social pleasure or gratification in the infliction of pain and suffering upon another person. The word is derived from the name of the Marquis de Sade, a prolific French philosopher-writer of sexually violent novels and plays. The passive counterpart of sadism is masochism, the sexual pleasure or gratification of having pain or suffering inflicted upon the self, often consisting of sexual fantasies or urges for being beaten, humiliated, bound, tortured, or otherwise made to suffer, either as an enhancement to or a substitute for sexual pleasure. The name is derived from the name of the 19th century author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, known for his novel Venus in Furs that dealt with highly masochistic themes.

However, the creator of both terms, german psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing wrote “By masochism I understand a peculiar perversion of the psychical vita sexualis in which the individual affected, in sexual feeling and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused. This idea is coloured by lustful feeling; the masochist lives in fancies, in which he creates situations of this kind and often attempts to realise them”.

This shows quite clearly that pain and physical violence in its original conception were not necessarily part of the deal. Sadism and masochism, often interrelated, are collectively known as S&M or sadomasochism.

The S&M erotica is about consented humiliation and power exchange. The words are now commonly used to describe personality traits in an emotional, rather than sexual sense. Although it is quite different from the original meaning, this usage is not entirely inaccurate. There is quite frequently a strong emotional aspect to the sexual desires, taking the form of a need for domination or submission-the desire to control another, or to be controlled, as opposed to a simple desire for pain (which is technically known as algolagnia).

Pain, violence, sex and love all are associated with the release of a variety of hormones and chemicals within the human body. Furthermore, humans have been shown to exhibit sympathetic responses in their bodies while watching, hearing, or imagining such experiences.

Endorphins are released by pain experiences and can be perceived as pleasurable and possibly psychologically addictive. It is due to this same release of endorphins that people can become addicted to self harm. In this way, the acts of self harm and engaging in masochistic behavior can be similar in function though most would agree, not in causality. Brain chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin can be affected by emotional or stressful experiences.Epinephrine and norepinephrine are released during stressful or painful experiences, and can cause a pleasurable 'rush'. The effects of S&M on body chemistry possibly reinforce the behavior and therefore might create psychological states that seek to further such behavior.

The psychology of S&M

The terms sadism and masochism were first used consistently to describe these behaviors by the German psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing in his 1886 compilation of case studies Psychopathia Sexualis, a famous study. Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst and a contemporary of Krafft-Ebing, noted that both were often found in the same individuals, and combined the two into a single dichotomous entity known as sadomasochism (often abbreviated as S&M or S/M). This observation is commonly verified in both literature and practice; many sadists and masochists define themselves as “switchable”-capable of taking pleasure in either role. However it has also been argued (Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty) that the concurrence of sadism and masochism in Freud's model should not be taken for granted.

It was Freud who introduced the terms “primary” and “secondary” masochism. Though this idea has come under a number of interpretations, in a primary masochism the masochist undergoes a complete, not just a partial, rejection by the model or courted object (or sadist), possibly involving the model taking a rival as his or her preferred mate. This complete rejection is related to the death drive in Freud's psychoanalysis (Todestrieb). In a secondary masochism, by contrast, the masochist experiences a less serious, more feigned rejection and punishment by the model. Secondary masochism, in other words, has the characteristics of a charade, and most commentators are quick to point out its contrivedness.

Rejection is not desired by a primary masochist in quite the same sense as the feigned rejection occurring within a relatively equal relationship–or even where the masochist happens to be the one having true power (this is the problematic that underlies the analyses of Deleuze and Sartre, for example). In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of The World Rene Girard attempts to resuscitate and reinterpret Freud's distinction of primary and secondary masochism, in connection with his own philosophy.

Both Krafft-Ebing and Freud assumed that sadism in men resulted from the distortion of the aggressive component of the male sexual instinct. Masochism in men, however, was seen as a more significant aberration, contrary to the nature of male sexuality. Freud doubted that masochism in men was ever a primary tendency, and speculated that it may exist only as a transformation of sadism. Sadomasochism in women received comparatively little discussion, as it was believed that it occurred primarily in men. Both also assumed that masochism was so inherent to female sexuality that it would be difficult to distinguish as a separate inclination.

Havelock Ellis, in Studies in the Psychology of Sex, argued that there is no clear distinction between the aspects of sadism and masochism, and that they may be regarded as complementary emotional states. He also made the important point that sadomasochism is concerned only with pain in regard to sexual pleasure, and not in regard to cruelty, as Freud had suggested. In other words, the sadomasochist generally desires that the pain be inflicted or received in love, not in abuse, for the pleasure of either one or both participants. This mutual pleasure may even be essential for the satisfaction of those involved.

Here Ellis touches upon the often paradoxical nature of consensual S&M. It is not only pain to initiate pleasure, but violence-or the simulation of violence-to express love. This contradictory character is perhaps most evident in the observation by some that not only are sadomasochistic activities usually done for the benefit of the masochist, but that it is often the masochist that controls them, through subtle emotional cues received by the sadist.

In his essay Coldness and Cruelty, (originally Présentation de Sacher-Masoch, 1967) Gilles Deleuze rejects the term 'sadomasochism' as artificial, especially in the context of the prototypical masochistic work, Sacher-Masoch's Venus In Furs. Deleuze instead argues that the tendency toward masochism is based on desire brought on from the delay of gratification. Taken to its extreme, an infinite delay, this is manifested as perpetual coldness. The masochist derives pleasure from, as Deleuze puts it, The Contract: the process by which he can control another individual and turn the individual into someone cold and callous. The Sadist, in contrast, derives pleasure from The Law: the unavoidable power that places one person below another. The sadist attempts to destroy the ego in an effort to unify the id and superego, in effect gratifying the most base desires the sadist can express while ignoring or completely suppressing the will of the ego, or of the conscience. Thus, Deleuze attempts to argue that Masochism and Sadism arise from such different impulses that the combination of the two terms is meaningless and misleading. The perceived sadistic capabilities of masochists are treated by Deleuze as reactions to masochism. Indeed, in the epilogue of Venus In Furs, the character of Severin has become bitter from his experiment in masochism, and advocates instead the domination of women.

Before Deleuze, however, Sartre had presented his own theory of sadism and masochism, at which Deleuze's deconstructive attack, which took away the symmetry of the two roles, was probably directed. By virtue of the fact that the pleasure or power in looking at the victim figures prominently in sadism and masochism, Sartre was able to link these phenomena to his famous philosophy of the Look of the Other. Sartre argued that masochism is an attempt by the For-itself (consciousness) to reduce itself to nothing, becoming an object that is drowned out by the “abyss of the Other's subjectivity” By this Sartre means that, given that the For-itself desires to attain a point of view in which it is both subject and object, one possible strategy is to gather and intensify every feeling and posture in which the self appears as an object to be rejected, tested, and humiliated; and in this way the For-itself strives toward a point of view in which there is only one subjectivity in the relationship, which would be both that of the abuser and the abused. Conversely, of course, Sartre held sadism to be the effort to annihilate the subjectivity of the victim. That would mean that the sadist, who is exhilarated in the emotional distress of the victim, is such because he or she also seeks to assume a subjectivity which would take a point of view on the victim, and on itself, as both subject and object.

This argument may appear stronger if it is somehow understood that the Look of the Other is either only an aspect of the other faculties of desire, or somehow its primary faculty. It does not account for the turn that Deleuze took for his own philosophy of these matters, but this premise of desire-as-Look is associated with the view always attacked by Deleuze, in what he regarded as the essential error of “desire as lack,” and which he identified in the philosophical temperament of Plato, Socrates, and Lacan. For Deleuze, in so far as desire is a lack it is reducible to the Look.

Finally, after Deleuze, Rene Girard included his account of sado-masochism in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of The World, originally Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde, 1978, making the chapter on masochism a coherent part of his theory of mimetic desire. In this view of sado-masochism, the violence of the practices are an expression of a peripheral rivalry that has developed around the actual love-object. There is clearly a similarity to Deleuze, since both in the violence surrounding the memory of mimetic crisis and its avoidance, and in the resistance to affection that is focussed on by Deleuze, there is an understanding of the value of the love object in terms of the processes of its valuation, acquisition and the test it imposes on the suitor.

Many theorists, particularly feminist theories, have suggested that sadomasochism is an inherent part of modern Western culture. According to their theories, sex and relationships are both consistently taught to be formulated within a framework of male dominance and female submission. Some of them further link this hypothesized framework to inequalities among gender, class, and race which remain a substantial part of society, despite the efforts of the civil rights movement and feminism.

There are a number of reasons commonly given for why a sadomasochist finds the practice of S&M enjoyable, and the answer is largely dependent on the individual. For some, taking on a role of compliance or helplessness offers a form of therapeutic escape; from the stresses of life, from responsibility, or from guilt. For others, being under the power of a strong, controlling presence may evoke the feelings of safety and protection associated with childhood. They likewise may derive satisfaction from earning the approval of that figure. A sadist, on the other hand, may enjoy the feeling of power and authority that comes from playing the dominant role, or receive pleasure vicariously through the suffering of the masochist. It is poorly understood, though, what ultimately connects these emotional experiences to sexual gratification, or how that connection initially forms.

It is usually agreed on by psychologists that experiences during early sexual development can have a profound effect on the character of sexuality later in life. Sadomasochistic desires, however, seem to form at a variety of ages. Some individuals report having had them before puberty, while others do not discover them until well into adulthood. According to one study, the majority of male sadomasochists (53%) developed their interest before the age of 15, while the majority of females (78%) developed their interest afterwards (Breslow, Evans, and Langley 1985). Like sexual fetishes, sadomasochism can be learned through conditioning-in this context, the repeated association of sexual pleasure with an object or stimulus.

The distinction between S&M, BDSM and D/S

BDSM is a short-hand acronym for many subdivisions of the culture: (B&D) bondage and discipline, (D&S) domination and submission, (S&M) sadism and masochism. Sadists enjoy inflicting pain; it may or may not be sexual in nature. Masochists enjoy receiving pain, which, again, may or may not be sexual. Dominance and submission is a more internal distinction, a power dynamic rather than a set of acts. Not all masochists are submissive, and not all submissives enjoy pain. Not all sadists are dominant, and not all who enjoy dominating others are sadists

Sadism and masochism in real life

The term BDSM describes the quite common activities between consenting adults that contain sadistic and masochistic elements. Many behaviors such as erotic spanking, tickling and love-bites that many people think of only as “rough” sex also contain elements of sado-masochism. Note the issue of legal consent which may or may not represent a defense to criminal liability for any more serious injuries caused.

In certain extreme cases, sadism and masochism can include fantasies, sexual urges or behaviour that cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, to the point that they can be considered part of a mental disorder. However, this is an uncommon case, and psychiatrists are now moving towards regarding sadism and masochism not as disorders in and of themselves, but only as disorders when associated with other problems such as a personality disorder.

“Sadism” and “masochism,” in the context of consensual sexual activities, are not strictly accurate terms, at least by the psychological definitions. “Sadism” in absolute terms refers to someone whose pleasure in causing pain does not depend on the consent of the “victim.” Indeed, a lack of consent may be a requisite part of the experience for a true sadist. Similarly, the masochist in consensual BDSM is someone who enjoys the experience of pain in a particular context and, usually, according to a certain scripted and mutually agreed upon “scene.” These “masochists” do not typically enjoy pain in other scenarios, such as accidental injury, medical procedures, and so on.

Similarly, the exchange of power in S&M may not be along the expected lines. While it might be assumed that the “sadist,” or “top”–the person who gives the sensation or causes the humiliation–is the one with the power, the actual power may lie with the “masochist,” or “bottom,” who typically creates the script, or at least sets the boundaries, by which the S&M practitioners play. Sadism and masochism in fiction

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs is essentially one long masochistic fantasy, where the male principal character encourages his mistress to mistreat him. It inspired a song of the same name, and about the same subject matter, by the rock group The Velvet Underground, featuring the lyric “Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather.”

The 1971 film Straw Dogs, by director Sam Peckinpah, features a scene where the character of Amy Sumner (played by Susan George) is “raped” by one of the few local men responsible for tiling the roof of her and her husband's house. The scene is extremely ambiguous, but it is usually interpreted that Amy begins to enjoy the encounter, of which she is the masochistic subject. In the 1987 film Hellraiser and its sequels, Pinhead (the lead cenobite) feels that there is beauty in suffering and torture. In the 2005 video game Crash Tag Team Racing video game, the Doctor N. Gin character is shown to possess masochistic tendencies.

The novel @Gordon@, by Edith Templeton, is a semi-autobiographical account of a long-term sadomasochistic relationship. Story of O is another classic masochistic novel, written by a woman, Pauline Réage. In this novel, the female principal character is kept in a chateau and educated by a group of men using a wide range of BDSM type techniques.

The novelist Anne Rice, best known for Interview with the Vampire, wrote the sadomasochistic trilogy The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure. Also “Exit to Eden”

In Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, the sexual relationship between the protagonists is characterized by violence and force, which the female protagonist savours.

Brendan Connell's novel The Translation of Father Torturo, features a character, Cardinal Zuccarelli, who finds romantic pleasure in humiliation and pain.

GoldenEye, the 1995 James Bond film features Xenia Onatopp, a crazed Russian killer who takes pleasure during sex by strangling her victims or crushing their pelvis with her thighs.

The 2001 movie La Pianiste (released with subtitles as The Piano Teacher) describes a relationship between a repressed piano teacher and her pupil, which ends unhappily when she reveals her extreme masochistic desires to him, which brings the relationship to an end, but not before he has made a disgusted attempt to enact his conception of her masochistic fantasies.

The metaphysical “documentary” What the Bleep Do We Know!? featured a bridesmaid who is shown subconsciously transmitting the message “Make me suffer please!” to the wedding-guests.

The 2001 Japanese movie Koroshiya 1 (released with subtitles as Ichi the Killer) follows 2 main characters, Kakihara and Ichi. Kakihara is an extreme sado-masochist who has a taste for pain and humiliation, while also having a taste of delivering pain and humiliation. Kakihara is looking for the extreme sadist who will grant him his wish of ultimate masochistic release even if it results in his death. (In fact he hopes it does)

A 2002 movie, Secretary, directed by Steven Shainberg, explores the relationship between a masochistic secretary and her dominant, sadistic employer.

A character in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy named Daemon Sadi is nicknamed “The Sadist” for his cruelty towards women (who used him as a “pleasure slave”).

In Paulo Coelho's novel Eleven Minutes the main character, Maria, experiments with sadomasochism, and her partner has studied the topic thoroughly.

In the game Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, Curtis Craig goes to an S&M club to visit his friend Therese.

In the novels by Jacqueline Carey, the Kushiel's Legacy saga, the main character Phedre is an extreme masochist for whom sex is a religious experience.

In Sorcerer Hunters, the manga and anime story, Chocolate Misu and Tira Misu are Sadomasochistic dominatrices, and this story has great influence of sadomasochism.

In a Family Guy episode called Peter's Two Dads, Stewie becomes a masochism addict when Lois spanks him.

Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy trilogy and related books star a masochistic woman. There are numerous examples of Edgeplay within the books.

The words “sadistic” and “masochistic” are mentioned at the beginning of both Kill Bill movies in Bill's speech.

Sadomasochism has also become a popular theme for advertisers who seek to appear “edgy” or unconventional. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., a mainstream brewer of popular beers, including Bud Lite, now sponsors the Folsom Street Fair and Diesel brand Jeans runs ads in major fashion magazines with an S&M theme.

Mr. Slave from South Park is an S&M whore.


  • 1. Richard von Krafft-Ebbing, “Psychopathia Sexualis”, 1886,

  • 2.Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, on sadism and masochism.

Article: MissBonnie ©

s_m.txt · Last modified: 2022/10/21 01:22 by admin