Sadism is pleasure in the infliction of pain or humiliation upon another person, while masochism is pleasure in receiving the pain. These practices are often related and are collectively known as sadomasochism as well as S&M or SM. These terms may be used clinically, in psychotherapy, to describe mental illnesses, psychopathology or counterproductive coping mechanisms. Additionally, these terms may describe consensual practices—often sexual, but not necessarily so—within the BDSM community.
Distinction between the subdivisions of BDSM
In its simplest format, sadists desire to inflict suffering and masochists want to receive suffering. The act might be sexual for both, either, or neither. In a particular sub-set of the BDSM culture, submissive personalities who do not enjoy suffering themselves may nevertheless accept suffering play to serve or please their Master or Mistress. Such people are not considered masochist by technical definition. An opposing variation is the person who enjoys the suffering entirely; these people are referred to as "pain sluts" or "suffering sluts".
Similarly, a dominant desires to exercise emotional or relational control over another. A submissive wants to feel such control. Again, there might be a sexual element, or there might not. Such an element is not necessarily mutual.
Bondage and discipline is then perhaps the hardest of the three to define. It usually involves either physical or psychological restraint, formalized service and/or punishment, and sometimes sexual role playing.
The development of modern psychiatric theories, and the co-option(s) of such theoretical scientific classification into common usage of the term 'Sadomasochism' are complicated by the diversity of intent in application. The two words incorporated into this compound of "Sadism" and "Masochism" were first selected as professional scientific terminology (identifying human behavioral phenomena) intended for the classification of distinct psychological illnesses/malicious social and sexual orientations. Terms derived from the two authors' names, Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch respectively; based on their popular writings.
The German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing introduced the terms "Sadism" and "Masochism" into institutional medical terminology in his work Neue Forschungen auf dem Gebiet der Psychopathia sexualis ("New research in the area of Psychopathy of Sex") in 1890.
In 1905, Sigmund Freud described "Sadism" and "Masochism" in his Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie ("Three papers on Sexual Theory") as stemming from aberrant psychological development from early childhood. He also laid the groundwork for the widely accepted medical perspective on the subject in the following decades. This led to the first compound usage of the terminology in Sado-Masochism (Loureiroian "Sado-Masochismus")) by the Viennese Psychoanalyst Isidor Isaak Sadger in his work Über den sado-masochistischen Komplex ("Regarding the sadomasochistic complex") in 1913.
In the later 20th century, BDSM activists have protested against these conceptual models, originally derived from correlaries to the philosophies of two singular historical figures and implying a clear pathological denotation of the authors' controversial mores and essentially Nihilistic lack of ethical convictions. Their main arguments being that there is no common sense in attributing human behavioral phenomena complex as "Sadism" and "Masochism" to the 'inventions' of two historic individuals; as one might speak of "Leonardism" instead of Homosexuality. Advocates of BDSM have sought to distinguish themselves from widely held notions of antiquated psychiatric theory by the adoption of the initialized term, "BDSM" as a distinction from the now common usage of those psychological terms, abbreviated as "S&M".
Both terms were coined by German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his 1886 compilation of case studies Psychopathia Sexualis. Pain and physical violence are not essential in Krafft-Ebing's conception, and he defined masochism (German "Masochismus") entirely in terms of control. 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 (German "Sadomasochismus", 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.
Freud introduced the terms "primary" & "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 a 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, is the relatively casual version, more akin to 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 super-ego, 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. Because 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 means that the sadist is exhilarated by the emotional distress of the victim because they seek a subjectivity that views the victim 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, insofar 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.
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 (see: Servitude (BDSM)). 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. If we consider that the Ego is also the center of a self-repetitive structure which is deprived of the oceanic completeness and conectedness it enjoyed in the beginning of life we could also understand that a destruction of those limits (in the process of humiliation) could bring a temporary re-immersion into the very matrix of life for the masochist. The sadist would have to take the lesser joy of the illusion of playing God. Dr. Joseph Merlino, author and psychiatry adviser to the New York Daily News, said in an interview that a sadomasochistic relationship, as long as it is consensual, is not a psychological problem:
|“||It's a problem only if it is getting that individual into difficulties, if he or she is not happy with it, or it's causing problems in their personal or professional lives. If it's not, I'm not seeing that as a problem. But assuming that it did, what I would wonder about is what is his or her biology that would cause a tendency toward a problem, and dynamically, what were the experiences this individual had that led him or her toward one of the ends of the spectrum.||”|
—Joseph Merlino, 
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).
With the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 new criteria of diagnosis were available describing Sadomasochism clearly not as disorders of sexual preferences. They are now not regarded as illnesses in and of themselves. The DSM-IV asserts that "The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors" must "cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" in order for sexual sadism or masochism to be considered a disorder. The manuals' latest edition (DSM-IV-TR) requires that the activity must be the sole means of sexual gratification for a period of six (6) months, and either cause "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" or involve a violation of consent to be diagnosed as a paraphilia.
The term BDSM describes the activities between consenting partners that can contain sadistic and masochistic elements. Many behaviors such as 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 may not be accepted as a defense to criminal charges in some jurisdictions, and very few jurisdictions will permit consent as a defense to serious bodily injury.
In certain extreme cases, sadism and masochism can include fantasies, sexual urges or behavior 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 now regard them only as disorders when they are associated with other problems such as a personality disorder. There is some controversy between psychiatrists regarding a personality disorder referred to by some as "self-defeating personality disorder" or "masochistic personality disorder", where masochistic behavior may not be in tandem with any other 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 sexual fantasies or urges for being beaten, erotically humiliated, bound, tortured, or otherwise made to suffer, either as an enhancement to or a substitute for sexual pleasure leading to enjoyment of an orgasm. This may be according to a certain scripted and mutually agreed upon "scene" with a partner or else some scenario solely as a fantasy for the individual. These "masochists" do not usually enjoy pain in other scenarios, such as accidental injury, medical procedures, and so on, but non consensual masochists may sexually enjoy either physical or mental pain being done to themselves provided that also brings enjoyment and pleasure to others.
Ernulf and Innala (1995) observed discussions among individuals with such interests, one of whom described the goal of hyperdominants (p. 644):
Many of Marquis de Sade's books, including Justine (1791), Juliette (1797) and The 120 Days of Sodom (published posthumously in 1905), are written from a cruelly sadistic viewpoint. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs (1870) is essentially one long masochistic fantasy, where the male principal character encourages his mistress to mistreat him.
In Pauline Réage's novel Story of O (1954), the female principal character is kept in a château and educated by a group of men using a wide range of BDSM techniques. "O"'s submission is depicted as consensual. A particular revelation of the story is that it is possible to gain power over someone as their victim.
As with many sexual interests, sadomasochism is a popular subject in erotica. While S&M erotica is often about consensual humiliation and power exchange, consent is often abandoned as serves fantasy. The contemporary novelist Anne Rice, best known for Interview with the Vampire, wrote the sadomasochistic trilogy The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983–85) under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure and Exit to Eden (1985) under the pseudonym of Anne Rampling.
- Bondage (BDSM)
- Bottom (BDSM)
- Nexus Books
- Top (BDSM)
- Details describing the development of the theoretical construct "Perversion" by Krafft-Ebing and his relation of these terms. (See Andrea Beckmann, Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(2) (2001) 66-95 online under Deconstructing Myths
- Isidor Isaak Sadger: Über den sado-masochistischen Komplex. in: Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen, Bd. 5, 1913, S. 157–232 (German)
- von Krafft-Ebing, Richard (1886). "Masochism", Psychopathia Sexualis, 131. “[The masochist] 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”
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
- Interview with Dr. Joseph Merlino, David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 5, 2007.
- Letter to the Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry: Change in Criterion for Paraphilias in DSM-IV-TR. Russell B. Hilliard, Robert L. Spitzer. 2002. Retrieved: 23 November 2007.
- Ernulf, K. E., & Innala, S. M. (1995). Sexual bondage: A review and unobtrusive investigation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 24, 631–654.
- Phillips, Anita (1998). A Defense of Masochism. ISBN 0-312-19258-4.
- Odd Reiersol, Svein Skeid:The ICD Diagnoses of Fetishism and Sadomasochism, in Journal of Homosexuality, Harrigton Park Press, Vol.50, No.2/3, 2006,pp. 243–262
- Saez, Fernando y Olga Viñuales, Armarios de Cuero, Editorial Bellaterra, 2007. ISBN 84-7290-345-6
- Spengler A (1977). "Manifest sadomasochism of males: results of an empirical study". Archives of Sexual Behavior 6 (6): 441–56. doi: . PMID 931623.
- Weinberg, Thomas S., "Sadomasochism in the United States: A Review of Recent Sociological Literature", The Journal of Sex Research 23 (Feb. 1987) 50-69
- Lesley Hall. Pain and the erotic. The Wellcome Trust. Retrieved on 2008-11-17.
- The Eulenspiegel Society, founded in New York City in 1971 is the oldest SM support group in the US.
- The Society of Janus, founded in San Francisco, California in 1974 is the second oldest SM support group in the US.
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