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The most common and the most significant of all the perversions -- the desire to inflict pain upon the sexual object, and its reverse -- received from Krafft-Ebbing the names of "Sadism" and "Masochism" for its active and passive forms respectively. --Sigmund Freud, "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905

Sadism [and masochism] is not a name finally given to a practice as old as Eros; it is a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century, and which constitutes one of the greatest conversions of Western imagination: unreason transformed into delirium of the heart, madness of desire, the insane dialogue of love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite." --Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization

What happened between 1740 [The publication of Pamela] and 1840 [birth of Krafft-Ebing] to cause such a proliferation of sexual deviations? The answer is that human beings learned to use the imagination far more than in previous centuries. They learned to day-dream. --Colin Wilson quoted from The Misfits

Parent categories: sexuality - power - masochism - sadism

In the media: sadomasochism in art - sadomasochism in literature - sadomasochism in film - SM pornography

People: Theresa Berkeley (dominatrix) - Krafft-Ebbing (coined the term) - Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (writer) - Bernard de Montorgueil (artist) - Bettie Page (model) - Jean-Jacques Rousseau (spankophile) - Marquis de Sade (writer) - Eric Stanton (artist) - Swinburne (spankophile) - John Willie (artist and publisher)

Experiments illustrating the sadomasochism of real life: Milgram experiment - Stanford prison experiment

Related: authority - BDSM - bondage - discipline - domination - erotic horror - fantasy - female domination - feminism and sadomasochism - fetishism - flagellation - history of sadomasochism - humiliation - master - mistress - obedience - paraphilia - perversion - pain - pleasure - power - punishment - rough sex - slave - sexual power - spanking - Story of O - submission - Venus in Furs -

The Velvet Underground (1963) Michael Leigh [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Illustration by Eric Stanton

Sadism and masochism

Sadism is the sexual 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 sadistic novels.

The 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.

Sadism and masochism, often going together (one person obtaining sadistic pleasure by inflicting pain or suffering on another person who thereby obtains masochistic pleasure), are collectively known as S&M or sadomasochism.

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 be controlled, or to control another, as opposed to a simple desire for pain (which is technically known as algolagnia).

It is often agreed that this desire for dominance or submission is in fact the driving force behind sadomasochism, with the giving and receiving of pain acting only as an active stimulation to reinforce those feelings. This view is supported by the nature of sadomasochistic behavior. A masochist does not in general take pleasure in any arbitrary form of pain, only in pain received under the pretext of enforcing authority, and typically only that of a sexual nature. Likewise, a sadist usually only takes pleasure in pain that is inflicted for reasons of punishment and control, and most often for the indirect pleasure of the masochist. Many sadomasochistic activities involve only mild pain or discomfort. Often they are focused primarily on roleplay. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadism_and_Masochism [Apr 2006]

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 of sexual perversity. 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.

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, Gilles Deleuze refutes 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 competely 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.

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. However, the degree to which any of these influences actually affect sexuality -- either consciously or unconsciously -- is unknown, and the validity of this theory of socially-conditioned female masochism is questionable.

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 responsiblity, 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.

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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadism_and_Masochism [Apr 2006]

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 more accurateley be said to lie with the "masochist," or "bottom," who typically creates the script, or at least sets the boundaries, by which the S&M practitioners play. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadism_and_Masochism [Apr 2006]

Sadism as a motivation for crime

A small minority of disordered individuals commit crimes with a strong sadistic element. This is generally considered to be caused by personality disorders. Many serial killers' murders have strong sadistic elements. Recently, there have been theories that many of these personality disorders have been caused by brain damage. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadism_and_Masochism [Apr 2006]

Sadism and masochism in fiction

In general, the depiction of sadism and masochism in fiction tends to be portrayed from the viewpoint of masochistic fantasy.

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 pioneering rock group The Velvet Underground, featuring the lyric "Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather."

The 1962 science fiction novel A Clockwork Orange, along with its 1971 Stanley Kubrick film adaptation, follow the exploits of a vicious street gang led by a sadistic young nihilist with a taste for Beethoven and gang-rape. Both works present violent sadism as a force that grows beneath society, only to be eventually unleashed upon it.

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 mistreated by a group of men.

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.

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.

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

As of 2005, sadomasochistic themes are common in mainstream erotic fiction, to the point of cliché.

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. It could be said that S&M themes are becoming more popular with fashion magazines than it once was. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadism_and_Masochism [Apr 2006]

Coldness and Cruelty (1967) - Gilles Deleuze

We would like to suggest that sado-masochism is a syndrome that ought to be split up into irreducible causal chains. It has been stated so often that sadism and masochism are found in the same person that we have come to believe it. We need to go back to the beginning and read Sade and Masoch. Because the judgment of the clinician is prejudiced, we must take an entirely different approach, the literary approach, since it is from literature that stem the original definitions of sadism and masochism. It is no accident that the names of two writers were used as labels for these two perversions. The critical (in the literary sense) and the clinical ( in the medical sense) may be destined to enter into a new relationship of mutual learning. Symptomatology is always a question of art; the clinical specificities of sadism and masochism are not separable from the literary values peculiar to Sade and Masoch. In place of a dialectic which all too readily perceives the link between opposites, we should aim for a critical and clinical appraisal able to reveal the truly differential mechanisms as well as the artistic originalities. -- Gilles Deleuze. Coldness and Cruelty. trans. Jean McNeil. New York: Urzone. 1989. p. 14

  • Masochism : Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs (1967) - Gilles Deleuze [Amazon.com]
    In his stunning essay, Coldness and Cruelty, Gilles Deleuze examines the work of the late-nineteenth-century German novelist Leopold von Sacher-­Masoch. He shows that masochism is something far Tore subtle and complex than the enjoyment of pain, that masochism has nothing to do with sadism; their worlds do not communicate, just as the genius of those who created them - Masoch and Sade - lie stylistically, philosophically, and politically poles apart. Venus in Furs, the most famous of all of Masoch's novels, belongs to an unfinished cycle of works that Masoch entitled The Heritage of Cain. --from the English-language publisher

    See entry on Gilles Deleuze

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