Atypical Sexual Behavior493 493
Sexual Sadism and Sexual Masochism
Sadism and masochism are often discussed under the common category sadomasoch-
istic (SAY-doh-ma-suh-kis-tik) (SM) behavior because they are two variations of the
same phenomenon: the association of sexual expression with pain. Furthermore, the
dynamics of the two behaviors are similar and overlapping. Thus in the discussion that
follows we will often refer to SM behavior or activities. However, a person who engages
in one of these behaviors does not necessarily engage in the other, and thus sadism
and masochism are actually distinct behaviors. The American Psychiatric Association
(2000) underlines this distinction by listing these paraphilias as separate categories:
sexual sadism and sexual masochism. Sexual masochism is the only paraphilia that is
expressed by women with some frequency (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
(People who engage in SM often label these activities as bondage-domination-sadism-
masochism, or BDSM; Gross, 2006.)
Labeling behavior as sexual sadism or sexual masochism is complicated because
many people enjoy some form of aggressive interaction during sex play (such as “love
bites”) for which the label sadomasochistic seems inappropriate. Alfred Kinsey and his
colleagues (1948, 1953) found that 22% of the males and 12% of the females in their
sample responded erotically to stories with SM themes. In another study, approximately
25% of both sexes reported erotic response to receiving love bites during sexual interac-
tion (Gross, 2006). Another survey of 975 men and women found that 25% reported
occasionally engaging in a form of SM activity with a partner (Rubin, 1990). ere are
indications that ease of access to people with SM inclinations, facilitated by the Inter-
net, has resulted in an increased number of people who are exploring their SM interests
(Gross, 2006; Kleinplatz & Moser, 2004).
Although SM practices have the potential for being physically dangerous, most par-
ticipants generally stay within mutually agreed-on limits, often conning their activities
to mild or even symbolic SM acts with a trusted partner. In mild forms of sexual sadism
the pain inicted is often more symbolic than real. For example, a willing partner may
be “beaten” with a feather or a soft object designed to resemble a club. Under these con-
ditions the receiving partner’s mere feigning of suering is sucient to induce sexual
arousal in the individual inicting the symbolic pain.
People with masochistic inclinations are aroused by such things as being whipped, cut,
pierced with needles, bound, or spanked. e degree of pain that the person must experi-
ence to achieve sexual arousal varies from symbolic or very mild to, rarely, severe beatings or
mutilations. Sexual masochism is also reected in individuals who achieve sexual arousal as
a result of “being held in contempt, humiliated, and forced to do menial, lthy, or degrading
service” (Money, 1981, p. 83). e common notion that any kind of pain, physical or men-
tal, will sexually arouse a person with masochistic inclinations is a misconception. e pain
must be associated with a staged encounter whose express purpose is sexual gratication.
In yet another version of masochism, some individuals derive sexual pleasure from
being bound, tied up, or otherwise restricted. is behavior, called bondage, usually
takes place with a cooperative partner who binds or restrains the individual and some-
times administers discipline, such as spankings or whippings (Santilla et al., 2002). One
survey of 975 heterosexual women and men revealed that bondage is a fairly common
practice: One fourth of respondents reported engaging in some form of bondage during
some of their sexual encounters (Rubin, 1990).
Many individuals who engage in SM activities do not conne their participation to
exclusively sadistic or masochistic behaviors. Some alternate between the two roles, often
out of necessity, because it may be dicult to nd a partner who prefers only to inict
or to receive pain. Most of these people seem to prefer one or the other role, but some
are equally comfortable in either role (Mosher & Levitt, 1987; Taylor & Ussher, 2001).
sadomasochistic (SM) behavior
The association of sexual expression
The act of obtaining sexual arousal
through giving physical or psychologi-
The act of obtaining sexual arousal
through receiving physical or psycho-
A sexual behavior in which a per-
son derives sexual pleasure from
being bound, tied up, or otherwise
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