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What It Means

Sadomasochism is a controversial subject. The psychological humiliation or physical punishment of a sexual partner through practices such as bondage and flagellation are commonly identified as characteristic of sadomasochism. As a concept that links sexual arousal to violence, the origins of sadomasochism as a term in modern Western culture are rooted in discussions of sadism and masochism that date back to late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century medical discourse in its exploration of "perversion" as a deviation from normal sexual instinct.



The use of emotional or physical punishment to attain sexual pleasure can be found across a number of artistic, legal, sociopolitical, and technological arenas in contemporary life. While inarguably ubiquitous, many of these contemporary articulations of sexual pleasure aligned with acts of violence do not necessarily reference the term sadomasochism, even if they can be recognized as drawing upon established iconic codes and conventions of representation associated with the phenomenon.

Some individuals find sexual pleasure in the active role of dominating and hurting others. Its complementary opposite of  "masochism," This newly created term describes a subject who achieves sexual arousal through taking the passive role and submitting to abuse and humiliation at the hands of a punishing partner.


Sexual sadism is considered a mental disorder; it is one of several paraphilias. A paraphilia is characterized by an obsession with unusual sexual practices and/or with actual sexual activity with nonconsensual persons and animals. Pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are additional types of paraphilias. It is estimated that sexual sadists are responsible for between seven and ten percent of all sex crimes. Sexual sadists are predominately male, however there is a prevalence of female domatrixes in sadomasochism pornography.

A sexual sadist has intense fantasies and/or performs acts because he desires complete sexual, physical, emotional or psychological domination over another person. Sexual sadism may be either physical or psychological in nature. Sadistic acts range from behaviors that do not physically harm another, (although it may be humiliating to the other person such as, being urinated or defecated on), to criminal, violent, and potentially deadly behavior. The essential feature of sexual sadism is not in the feeling of sexual excitement resulting from the infliction of true pain on the victim, but rather it is from witnessing his or her suffering. In extreme cases, sexual sadism can lead to serious injury or death. Mental health experts agree that these catastrophic results are more likely when the sadism is diagnosed as severe, and when it is associated with an antisocial personality disorder (a psychopath).

Sexual sadism needs to be differentiated from normal sexual arousal, behavior, and experimentation between consenting adults. Some forms of mild aggression, such as love bites, pats or scratching, are within the range of normal behavior during sexual intercourse. With a consenting couple the sadistic behavior generally only involves mild pain and/or the simulation of more dangerous pain. The intent is mutual excitement.

The true sexual sadist is cruel and his actions are not wanted by the victim. For example, spanking involves only minimal pain; whereas whipping, shocking, burning, beating, stabbing, strangling, raping, mutilation and murder indicate torture and suffering. Restraint between adults is very different than imprisonment in a cage shackled with chains. Mild sadism is referred to as S&M and frequently involves bondage, discipline, dominance and submission. Mild sadists seek out masochistic partners, and their behaviors are consensual. Major sadism however is not consensual and can involve injury and death. The sadist wants not only complete control and compliance; he wants his victim to feel fear. It is this fear that turns him on.


Sadomasochistic practices are very diverse. One study identified four separate clusters: hypermasculinity, infliction and reception of pain, physical restriction, and psychological humiliation. Interestingly, the study found that homosexual males tended more to hypermasculinity, while heterosexual males tended more to humiliation.

Sadomasochism is hard to understand, perhaps, one of those great mysteries of the human condition according to many phycologists but it dates back to very early days.

nipple tapes. A woman is imprisoned in a wooden pillory during sexual games. BDSM Erotic fantasies. Subordination. Toys for adults. The mask of the cat. The man in the shirt dominates


The physician Johann Heinrich Meibom introduced the first theory of masochism in his Treatise on the Use of Flogging in Medicine and Venery [De usu flagorum, 1639]. According to Meibom, flogging a man’s back warms the semen in the kidneys, which leads to sexual arousal when the warmed-up semen flows down into the testicles. Other theories of masochism centered around the warming of the blood, or the use of sexual arousal to mitigate physical pain.

Freud on the other hand remarked that the tendency to inflict and receive pain during intercourse is ‘the most common and important of all perversions’ and ascribed it (as so much else) to arrested or disordered psychosexual development. He paid scant attention to sadomasochism in women, either because sadism was thought to occur mostly in men, or because masochism was thought to be the normal and natural inclination of women.

Primarily, the sadist will derive pleasure from feelings of power, authority, and control, and from the ‘suffering’ of the masochist.

The sadist may also harbour a conscious or unconscious desire to punish the object of sexual attraction (or a stand-in for the object of sexual attraction, or for an original object of sexual attraction) for having aroused their desire and thereby subjugated them, or, conversely, for having frustrated their desire or aroused their jealousy.

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It is vital you know the person with which you intend to engage any sexual situations with especially if they are a sadist! Consensual sadomasochism should not be confused with acts of sexual aggression. While sadomasochists seek out pain etc. in the context of love and sex, they do not do so in other situations, and abhor uninvited aggression or abuse as much as the next person. Generally speaking, sadomasochists are not psychopaths, and often all the opposite.

Sexual sadists tend to relate to people in terms of power versus affection. In general, they commit more violent crimes than other offenders and are more aggressive. This corresponds with the psychopathy they display. Psychopaths are predatory; they lack the ability to feel empathy or remorse. They plan and they rehearse. Psychopaths are also traditionally charming and charismatic. The psychopathic sexual sadist usually has no problem finding a partner or several accomplices to his crimes if he so desires.

The Role of Consent in the Context of BDSM

Consent represents a central focus in the controversial realm of BDSM-an overlapping acronym referring to the practices of Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism. Many authors have argued that the hallmark feature that distinguishes BDSM activity from abuse and psychopathology is the presence of mutual informed consent of all those involved. Below some reviews examine the relevant literature on consent in BDSM, including discussions on safety precautions, consent violations, North American laws pertaining to BDSM practice, and the role of the BDSM community with respect to education and etiquette surrounding consent. Practical information relevant to professionals who work toward the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse is provided. The explicit approach to consent practiced by those in the BDSM community is proposed as a model for discussions around consent in clinical and educational contexts. Criteria for distinguishing abuse from BDSM and identifying abuse within BDSM relationships are outlined. It is our hope to demystify the consent process and add to the growing body of literature that destigmatizes consensual BDSM practices.

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