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Sadomasochism: A Form Of Deviance Essay, Research Paper


A Form Of Deviance

Sadomasochism is a sexually deviant behavior that is practiced by many people within today’s society. It is the combination of two paraphilias, sadism and masochism, which are usually always linked together. An occasional mild or light form of sadomasochism (or S& M for short), is considerably common among the general population. Many people often enjoy being mildly dominant or submissive during lovemaking. They believe that it makes the experience more enjoyable. But when S&M becomes the dominating feature of a person’s sexuality, that is when he or she is considered deviant. Unlike other paraphilias, sadomasochism includes a large population of women as well as men. They are nearly equally balanced in number.

A paraphilia known as masochism is characterized by the desire or need to inflict pain and or humiliation, so that sexual arousal and fulfillment may be achieved. The term “masochism” refers to an Austrian historian and author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895), who wrote various stories of male submissiveness. These stories consisted of men who received sexual pleasure by having their female partners inflict pain upon them (Ernulf&Innala, p635). A masochist may receive sexual gratification from several different types of pain and or humiliation. Some of these types may include being spanked, being whipped, being made to perform humiliating acts, being rudely insulted, being blindfolded, being disciplined, and being restrained (Rathus,

Nevid, &Fichner-Rathus, p545). Being physically bound or restrained is most commonly called sexual bondage and it is a part of bondage and discipline, “where discipline refers to psychological restraining, such as control, training, and nonphysical punishment” (Ernulf&Innala, p637). Some forms of masochism can also be lethal, such as hypoxyphilia. Hypoxyphilia is a fairly common practice where a person chooses to enhance their sexual arousal by voluntarily depriving himself or herself of oxygen. In order to become deprived of oxygen, people usually use plastic bags, rope, or their partner’s hands to choke their partner once consent is given. This practice is dangerous and can possibly even result in a tragic death (Rathus, Nevid, &Fichner-Rathus, p545-546).

Masochism’s counterpart, sadism, is the complete opposite for many reasons. Sadism is a parphilia, which is characterized by the association of sexual satisfaction with the infliction of pain or humiliation onto others. The term sadism refers to a French author and philosopher, Marquis de Sade (1740–1814). Marquis de Sade wrote stories of people who became sexually aroused by inflicting pain or humiliation on others. Some of his best known works are Justine (published in 1791) and Juliette (published in 1797). A sadist receives sexual gratification by role-playing. They usually play the authority figure who inflicts pain, humiliates, disciplines, and plays master to another person (Ernulf&Innala, p637). Most sadists hurt and humiliate willing partners who are usually masochists. A small minority of sadists may even attempt to stalk and attack their unwilling victims. This is a very dangerous and harmful to its participants. In fact, Sigmund Freud wrote extensively on sadism. In his research, he recognized its existence in the individual and tried to explain it and understand it further.

The sexuality of most men, shows an admixture of aggression, of a desire to subdue, the biological significance of which lies in the necessity for overcoming the resistance of the sexual object by actions other than mere courting. Sadism would correspond to an aggressive component of the sexual instinct, which has become independent and exaggerated and has been brought to the foreground by displacement (Freud, p569).

Through his works, it is shown that the average person may have sadist tendencies in him, but more often than not it is not a dominating aspect of his personality.

When we combine sadism and masochism together, we arrive with the term sadomasochism (more commonly called S&M). S&M is a mutually gratifying sexual interaction between consenting sex partners, in which sexual arousal is associated with the inflicting and receiving of pain or humiliation (Rathus, Nevid, &Fichner-Rathus, p546). Most participants in sadomasochism usually participate on both sides of the spectrum. They often switch roles at different times during certain rituals. Usually, the person who is in a submissive role will play in that role for the remainder of the ritual. Then for the next ritual, he or she might play the dominant role (Queen, p68). Within the S&M community, the terms “slave” and “mistress/master” are used to refer to the participants on both sides of the act. The term “slave” most commonly refers to the submissive or sadist role, and “mistress” or “master” is used to refer to the dominant or masochist role. The words “play” and “scene” are also used in the context of the S&M community. “Play” refers to any sort of erotic exchanges that both partners have agreed to engage in prior to the sadomasochistic practices. “Scene” refers to a single episode of the play in which these practices take place (Queen p68).

Because of sadomasochists’ growing acceptance in our culture, S&M communities were formed throughout different countries of the world. Within the United States, a notable S&M subculture has been around since the 1940’s. Since the 1970’s, heterosexual, gays, and lesbians have been able to form a community where people with interests in S&M are able to interact with others who possess similar or mutually beneficial interests. That decade saw the birth of a handful of S&M societies in both New York and San Francisco (Queen p67).

S&M paraphernalia is often used in many of these rituals. Items like handcuffs, leather masks, leather whips, and leashes are commonly used during S&M play. Various types of stimulation may be used to inflict pain upon the consenting partner. Within the S&M community, they have recently been forced to grapple with questions concerning the safety, and physical and mental health of the submissive participant. The issue of consent is also a primary concern. To help keep S&M practices safe, the community has developed a list of strategies for building awareness of consent during play. One strategy to help keep play safe, is for future partners to meet beforehand to discuss their likes and dislikes, and desires and limits. They discuss the events very thoroughly before engaging in any type of play. Another popular strategy that is used to help keep people safe is the development of “safe words.” This allows play of any kind to be stopped when one of the partners uses the safe word, which would not ordinarily be part of in-scene communication. One of the more commonly used safe words is the word “red” (Queen p68).

Within the S&M society, there are a few terms related to what people are more interested in. There is sadomasochism, bondage discipline, and dominance and submission. Dominance and submission is a broad term that usually includes many features of the other two and other features, such as fetishism and transvestitism. It may include other paraphilias such as fetishism and transvestitism because it includes the act of role play and role reversal with the exchange of power. Bondage and discipline is the use, in sexual behavior, of physically restraining someone with materials, devices, or the use of psychologically restraining commands. These commands may enforce discipline without inducing physical pain. But many times, bondage and discipline does include physical punishment. These categories may sometimes all be distinguished from each other. But, they also may include characteristics that overlap. For example, bondage does not always have to include dominance and submission, or sadomasochism. But at certain levers, it may. The same also holds true for dominance and submission, and sadomasochism (Ernulf&Innala, p632).

Sadomasochism, however, is the only paraphilia that does not occur exclusively among men. Many women participate are found to participate in S&M practices. A survey of S&M participants drawn from ads in S&M magazines found that about three in four were male and about one in four were female (Rathus, Nevid &Fichner-Rathus, p547). Many people who are into the S&M scene may have a dominatrix that they may frequently visit. The dominatrix plays the dominant role and is a usually a female figure. There is some evidence for a social-class difference in the S&M scene. Working-class clients of prostitutes purchase mainly traditional sexual activities, while upper-class clients seem to frequently request to be sexually dominated (Ernulf&Innala, p635). One example that comes to mind is when famous sportscaster, Marv Albert’s name was found on a dominatrix’s black book. He is a very wealthy man who has a fianc?e, and yet he found it necessary to seek the skills of a dominatrix.

Sadomasochists may have problems but can usually find ways to help themselves. It becomes a problem when one’s behavior becomes destructive or dangerous, to ones self or to others. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes sexual sadism and sexual masochism, but certain minimum for these diagnoses must be fulfilled:

Sexual Sadism: The essential feature of this disorder is recurrent, intense, sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies, for at least six months’ duration, involving acts (real not simulated) in which the psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation) of the victim is sexually exciting. The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them. (p286)

Sexual Masochism: The essential feature of this disorder is recurrent, intense, sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies, for at least six months’ duration, involving the act (real, no simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer. The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them. (p286) (Ernulf&Innala p636-637)

Luckily, many Sadomasochists have found an outlet in their communities where they can practice safely with others who share the same desires. This feeling of needing to give or receive pain for sexual gratification stems back to when one was a child. If the only attention a child received from his or her parents was when he or she was being punished, than being punished was a pleasurable thing. The child might continue to do things in order to get their parents attention so that he or she may be punished.

Out of all the paraphilias in existence, sadomasochism is one of the more commonly accepted ones in today’s society. Not to say that in the future there will ever be a “Sadomasochist 101” class at Long Island University or C.W. Post, but there will hopefully someday be more of an understanding of the practice. Even HBO has frequently shown different specials that include sadomasochism as the main topic of discussion. They are attempting to teach people what it is all about, so that they have can begin to have a better understanding of it, and are more accepting. Although if one possesses these sadomasochistic tendencies, it might be far healthier for them to act out those feelings, rather than to keep them bottled up inside of them. However there always remains the more conservative element that will find such sexual behavior as degrading and immoral. Some groups may be so daring as to say that such acts of immorality may be classified as satanic in nature. Luckily, today there are now many places in which one may visit in order to act out his or her fantasies in discretion and secret. These establishments allow for the exercise of these practices in seclusion. Many psychologists believe that it is healthy for sadomasochists to be able to unleash these desires. If these desires are not expressed, it may lead to repressed violent tendencies.


Rathus, Nevid, &Fichner-Rathus (human sexuality textbook, 1996)

Queen, Carol (1996) Women S/M and Theory

Women and Theory, 19 (4) 65 – 73

Ernulf, K. &Innala, S.M. (1995) (sexual bondage)

Archives of sexual behavior, 24 (6) 631 – 654

Freud, S. (1938) The Basic Writing of Sigmund Freud, page 584

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