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Sex plays a major role in today’s society. It seems that all forms of media use sex to help sell their products. From television, radio, music, and advertisements, to video games, the Internet, and even art and pictures, sex rules our society. In addition, many newspapers have recognized the attractiveness of sexual aggression as crime news, and therefore as prime news, lately. Some of these sexual acts are said to promote criminal behavior subconsciously among certain individuals. As rape and sexual assault became a more serious social problem in the 80’s, this prime news story helped many papers to sell more copies in the competitive news market, while creating an impression of responsive and responsible reporting. In the 90’s, sexual acts started to become more relaxed and doors were opening to the public eye. The public was soon seeing variations of sexual activities that seemed to be a little dark and mysterious to the everyday normal human being. Now in the year 2000 and the years to come, some sexual acts might in fact become normal to our everyday living. Everywhere you look nowadays sex is there slapping you in the face, however sexual activities have changed dramatically from that of the past.

In this day and age, sex is a much more talked about topic then it used to be. With all this openness about sex, we have also seen a rise in some of the not so popular sexual activities. However, let’s face it, the perpetuation of life all falls down to one act, the act of sex. There are many different meanings to sex. Sexual intercourse can be exercised through intercourse as a means of procreation, emotionally or for the simple pleasure of the act itself. However, sex can also be performed with different techniques or variations. Sadomasochism is just one of these variations of techniques that a person can use to reach their sexual peak.

Sadomasochism is a term that combines two words, Sadism and Masochism. Sadism has to do with inflicting pain during sexual intercourse and Masochism is the enjoyment of receiving pain during sex. The most striking peculiarity of sadomasochism is the fact that its active and passive forms are regularly encountered together in the same person. He who experiences pleasure by causing pain to others in sexual relations is also able to experience pain inflicted on himself as pleasure as well. A sadist is simultaneously a masochist, though, either the active or

the passive side of the perversion may be more strongly developed and thus represent his dominating sexual activity. The tendency to cause pain to the sexual object, and its opposite, the tendency to seek out and suffer pain from the sexual object, is designated sadism in its active form, and masochism in its passive form. Sadism and Masochism are two terms that you will hear quite often in the upcoming years.

A Sadist is a person who derives sexual satisfaction from experiencing pain. The word sadism, or sadist is derived from the name of the historical character, Marquis de Sad who lived around the time of the French Revolution. “Krafft-Ebing (1900), who first described sadism as “a pathological elaboration of a normal, aggressive component of male sexuality.” (Panken, p.109) However, we cannot confuse sadism as merely a male trait. Females can and have demonstrated their ability to take on this role as well. For men, the sexual act is very similar to that of rape, and thus they can perform domineeringly in such a relationship. With men, the mentality is usually focussed around the concept of destroying the woman. For females, the mentality centers on the same notion, the destruction

of men. Therefore, both males and females can exhibit this sadistic quality in whatever relationship they may hold. In today’s context, it could be more clearly understood as one of the following: the Dominant, Master, Dominatrix, or Mistress. Some other terms have been coined from the underground of this sexual preference. To say that someone is “The Top” is to say that he/she is a sadist.

A Masochist is a person who derives sexual satisfaction from experiencing pain, either by his or her own hand or by the hand of someone else. The term masochism or masochist has its roots from a historical character as well. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836 – 1895) wrote a few books on the subject of masochism, and he himself was a masochist. Richard von Krafft-Ebing actually supplied us with the term masochism to describe the disorder he saw in the work of Sacher-Masoch. Masochism, which is the passive role of a sadomasochist relationship, can be more easily identified as a female trait. However, just as sadistic traits can be found in women, so too can masochistic traits be found in men. Therefore, the basis behind masochism is the desire to be sexually punished by the hand of his or her sadistic partner. Freud’s interpretation of the subject was: “The true masochist, he

wrote, always holds out his cheek wherever he sees a chance of receiving a blow.” (Shainess, p.17) Just as sadism has synonyms that are used today, so too does masochism. The masochist can sometimes be called a Submissive, a Slave, or from the underground, “The Bottom”. These words “Top” and “Bottom”, are also used as verbs, as in “I bottomed to him”, or “I want her to top me”.

Another aspect to be discussed on modern Sadomasochism is the psychodramatic development of “The Switchable”. This would be a person who consciously, in the sadomasochistic acting-out session, takes one side of the dynamic, then at some point during the sexual act “switches” over to the other side of the dynamic. Psychologically there is an equal and opposite switch in the role playing of the sadomasochist. In other words, the man might begin to act aggressively and then, either with his own will or because he is compelled by his partner, “switches” to enact the submissive side of this sexual performance. Thus, there might be the possibility that whomever the “switchable” is engaged with at the time of sexual intercourse will also oscillate between their own sadomasochistic roles as well.

With the possibility of a role reversal, this would

suggest that both sadistic and masochistic traits be linked in someway. In both cases, they seem to be a way to account for some personal inadequacy that the certain individual might have or had experienced. These inadequacies can be linked back to when the individual was a baby. How the individual was reared as a child has a lot to do with what type of person he or she will grow up to be. “It is fairly well established that the child requires a durable, sustained, affectional tie with the mother figure for optimal development of all growth processes.” (Panken, p.82) In addition, if the individual was abused when he or she was a child, this could play an influential role as well. Learning at such a young age that abuse is a form of control can be hazardous to proper mental growth of a child. For a child to see Daddy hit Mommy, reinforces the fact that Mommy is being punished for something she did wrong. Later on in life, even if the child does not grow up to be an abusive spouse or parent; subconsciously they might be longing to receive some pleasure from being punished, because they had witnessed a loved one striking another loved one in the past.

However, there is some speculation as to if sadomasochism thoughts are related to childhood experiences

in some manner. One theory explains that sadomasochism is a learning condition. For example, a boy who is being spanked over his mother’s knee encounters his penis rubbing against her knee, and therefore gets an erection. Another example of this concept could be when a girl, who is caught masturbating, is spanked. These are events are thought to teach a child to associate pain with sexual arousal. These types of conditionings at such a young age have the possibility of setting up an individual for a life long career as a sadomasochist.

Sociologists emphasize that the key to the definition of S&M (Sadomasochism) is not pain, but rather dominance and submission. (Weinberg, 1987) Thus it is not an individual phenomenon, but rather a social phenomenon embedded in a subculture and controlled by elaborate scripts. Therefore, sadomasochism becomes a technique of sexual pleasure. When the individual becomes aroused, a small amount of pain is insignificant, because of the many endorphins running through the body. That small amount of pain does however, make it that much more difficult to achieve orgasm. Thus, there is the need to increase the pleasure, and then increase the pain, and so on. This cycle allows for extremely intense sexual experiences. This

keeps the person coming back for more, and more, similar to someone addicted to heroine. Basically, sadomasochism is just one very intense way for a person to reach their sexual peak.

Certainly there seems to be no harm in ‘dressing up’ one’s ordinary sex life with love toys, role-play fantasy, or a little kinky costuming. However, the charge you are receiving within this kind of play is so extreme, because you have just tapped into immense power that may not be experienced through ordinary sex. Thus, we see measured uses of violence infuse the body with an erotic charge; where a lover’s kiss is no longer enough, but instead the need for the lover’s teeth to bite. Here the individual’s sexual peak is achieved not through a shapely organ, but instead through the mind. Yes this power can and does exist, but is violent, harsh, loveless, and often an uncontrollable force. Thus, what ends up happening in most cases is that the sadomasochist makes themselves independent, and can dominate the individual’s entire sexual activities.

With all this talk of violence, one could just say that only two sadomasochists would be able to form a relationship with each other. However, this is not

necessarily true. The danger with such a relationship is the love shared becomes debased usually by the lover who calls himself or herself ‘the Master’. This love, which at some point becomes wounded by the no longer-merely symbolic actions, which involve dominance and control. Over time, this love may not even seem very important, at least to one of the lovers, except maybe as a precondition to submitting. However, marriages between two sadomasochists can go the long haul and last a lifetime, usually because it becomes the center of both their psychic lives. The two become dependant upon each other, not because they cannot find someone else, but because they are part of one another. Thus, they grasp onto the destructiveness of the relationship, in which the two are enchanted to. “Psychoanalyst Reuben Fine said that a sado-masochist marriage does not begin as a love affair, but as a hate affair.” (Shainess,p.101) The sadomasochistic marriage has detrimental effects, not just on one, but on both partners.

Well sex is a part of life, everyone’s life. It is common ground to all people. Everyone will experience it, or will be or have been affected by it. Producers, advertisers, writers and musicians must believe that if they include it in what they intend to sell to the public,

then people will somehow relate to it, and be drawn in by it. However we must be aware that these ritualized behaviors; the strange and blatant acts, some which seem to be cut right from a horror-fiction film, should not be taken lightly, or even treated as a mere game. For those who do possess, in the depths of their being, the predominantly sadomasochistic tendency cannot do without the flavor of it. Moreover, many times to the possessor, it is rarely a possession to be proud of. Therefore, it will taint every relationship, which is often not by choice and possibly destroy the very thing which is at the center of a relationship between two people; love.

Works Cited

Hanly, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick. Essential Papers On

Masochism. New York University Press: New York, 1995

Panken, Shirley, Ph.D. The Joy of Suffering. Jason

Aronson, Inc.: New York, 1973

Shainess, Natalie, M.D. Sweet Suffering. The Bobbs-

Merrill Company, Inc.: New York, 1984

Stekel, Wilhelm, M.D. Sadism and Masochism vol.1.

Horace Liveright, Inc.: New York, 1929

Stekel, Wilhelm, M.D. Sadism and Masochism vol.2.

Horace Liveright, Inc.: New York, 1929

Weinberg, Thomas S. 1987. “Sadomasochism in the United

States: A review of recent sociological literature”

Journal of Sex Research: 23, 50-69


Reviewed by Charles Socarides, M.D.



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