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In “An Inside Look at S&M,” Roy F. Baumeister explores the taboo lifestyles of sadomasochism. The main theme and purpose of the piece is to find out who are masochists, and what do they put themselves through in the name of pleasure. “Across the country, from sophisticated cities to subdued suburbs, men and women are acting out fantasies of sexual domination and submission.” (Psychology Today 47) I believe that Baumeister describes a very accurate portrait of who one specific group of masochists is and what they do for pleasure, however, I feel that he fails to recognize the younger generation of masochists. I also feel that on the issue symbolic of sex change, Baumeister does not elaborate enough.

Baumeister’s findings show that the majority of those participating in sadomasochistic behavior come from the upper class. He claims they come from high-powered jobs. They are people who make decisions everyday that effect the lives of many of their workers. Baumeister believes that the characters’ occupations are the reasons for their submissive behavior. He says, “Masochists seem to be drawn largely from the privileged classes; They are above average in education and income; Society’s real victims do not seek out masochistic sex. Rather it is often the rich, powerful, and successful, the people with the heaviest burdens of selfhood, who need the escape of masochism.” (Psychology Today 47)

What Baumeister means by “?burdens of selfhood?” is he believes that “the self” is a very demanding entity. “It requires constant upkeep and maintenance.” (Psychology Today 47) It requires that one be in constant control of one’s self and surroundings. Those individuals that are so consumed with shouldering all the pressure or being the one that everyone counts on, that they sometimes need an escape. And for many of these people, their escape is masochism. It is a situation that requires their submission; it is a total role reversal. These people need this activity to be reminded that they are just normal humans, it is almost a grounding process for them. The masochist wants to contradict his or her own identity with these fantasies

There are a wide variety of practices a masochist would enjoy such as loss of control, pain, and humiliation. But whichever activity they are participating in, it will always be consistent with the fact that one person is the dominator and the other the dominated. The loss of control fantasy seems to be one that is the most prevalent of all. Baumeister claims that these fantasies can range from wanting to be blindfolded during intercourse to wanting to be bound and gagged or handcuffed.

Pain, being something that most humans would try to get away from at all costs is something that is sought out and even craved by the masochist. The pain fantasy seems to be the one that has the widest range of practices. According to Baumeister, some people enjoy “an old fashioned, bare bottomed, over the knee spanking,” (Psychology Today 47) where others would prefer having hot candle wax dripped on them. Still others enjoy needles and being whipped.

The third masochistic practice that Baumeister addresses is humiliation. Some of the practices include being forced to walk on all fours, and bark like a dog or being paraded around naked in front of others who are wearing clothes. There is one memorable image that Baumeister depicts of humiliation, in which a man for his wife’s birthday party had her displayed naked on the hors d’oeuvre table, “so that every party goer who reached for a cracker or the vegetable dip had to reach across her bare self.” (Psychology Today 47)

In this essay I believe that Baumeister did a very good job with informing the audience in a descriptive way what exactly masochism is, but I do also feel that there is at least one point that he did not address as well as a few that he could have elaborated on better.

One of the issues that he doesn’t address is the fact that the privileged classes are not the only ones who are into sadomasochism. There seems to be a younger generation of kids following such music groups like Marylin Manson and The Genitorturers that dress in leather and make up, donning whip and corsets. These kids seem to participate in their own forms of masochism and self-mutilation, with tattoos and body piercings. I feel that this omission of the younger class is detrimental to his piece. One of the things that I feel he could have elaborated on was the fact that he claimed that people were not only committing masochistic acts with their partners but also going out and hiring professional to fulfill their masochistic desires. I feel that if there are enough people out there making a living by dolling out spankings, then Baumeister should have elaborated on who these people are and what, exactly it is they do.

There is also the issue of mock gender change that Baumeister brings up but fails to go into any detail about. He says, “One common masochistic fantasy involves symbolic sex change?there’s no clearer way to shed an identity than by changing gender. But the sex change is always one way: from male to female, never from female to male.” (Psychology Today 47) WHY??? Why does he say this and not explain why this happens? I feel that he could have gone much more in depth with this subject. He could have brought up the character of Buffalo Bill, from the Tom Harris novel “Silence of the Lambs.” In the book, Bill is a man who dresses up in women’s clothing and posses for himself in front of a mirror. Or Baumeister could have showed some statistics on actual sex changes, to show that maybe more men change into women than vice’ versa. But, he shows no such support for his claim.

He also claims that women fantasize about being submissive more than men, but men are more likely to act out those fantasies, but he never states why. He could have said that men act out on their urges more than women do because they are the more adventurous of the species, or shown some statistics or examples to better back up his claims.

All in all, I found “An Inside Look at S&M,” very informative from a subjective point of view. However, there were those point had Baumeister elaborated on more, the essay would have been much stronger. It did however, stick to its theme of finding out who sadomasochists are and what they do for pleasure.

Works Cited

Baumeister, Roy F. “An Inside Look At S&M.” Psychology Today Nov-Dec. 1995: 47


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