BDSM, Sexual Sado-Masochism Disambiguated

Uploaded 8/26/2021, approx. 8 minute read

Today, your favorite topic, sex. We're going to discuss sexual sadism, sexual masochism and the difference between these two and BDSM.

Now BDSM is a very confusing catch-all phrase because it includes SM. SM means sadism and masochism or sadomasochism.

But actually BDSM is not the same as classic overt sexual sadism and classic overt sexual masochism. And I'm trying to help you disambiguate a bit.

Both laymen and scholars confuse sexual submission and masochism. They think that a sexually submissive person is a masochist. A sexually submissive person is also known as a sub or a bottom in the parlance of this community of BDSM and assorted characters.

But sexual submission is not the same as masochism.

Similarly, sexual domination, Dom or Top, sexual domination is absolutely not the same as sexual sadism.

All four sexual submission, sexual masochism, sexual domination, sexual sadism, all four of them are consensual practices. I'm not talking about sadistic rape, but I'm talking about consenting adults. Consenting adults who participate in these practices, enjoy them, get aroused by them and seek them actively.

But there are important differences.

Submission and domination are usually intra dyadic practices. In other words, they take place in couples. They involve intimate partners.

Submission and domination are rarely conducted in public.

In other words, they are not exhibitionistic.

Exhibitionism is a totally different behavior, totally different complex of traits and behaviors, which is not necessarily attached or attendant upon submission and domination. Actually, very rarely.

Submission and domination take place in couples among intimate partners, not in full view of others. And they involve the ritualistic and rigidly boundaried exchange of pain and power between the parties.

That's very important because the parties are actually intimate partners. There is a lot of compassion, a lot of affection, a lot of attachment, a lot of bonding between the partners.

Everything they do to each other, which actually involve an exchange of power, a power gradient, a power symmetry, involves an exchange of pain, a pain giver and a pain receiver.

All this is highly ritualized. They follow strict steps. They have words which they can use to immediately seize everything they're doing. These are red words.

They are rigidly boundaried. They know each other. They know what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, what they can do to each other and what they are not allowed to do to each other. These boundaries are strictly observed.

The Dom and the Sub collaborate as equals. Actually, many would tell you that it is the Sub, the allegedly ostensibly submissive partner, who is in control of the whole interaction.

The Sub dictates to the Dom how to behave and what to do to her. I'm saying her because the majority of submissive people are actually women, not all, but the majority.

Sexual arousal in BDSM is the outcome of the suspension of the bottom's autonomy.

The submissive person gives up on her agency, on her independence, on her free thinking, on her free will, on her judgment. She submits.

It's very similar to hypnosis. It's the same, more or less the same psychodynamic of hypnosis.

She becomes an extension of the Dom. She is a kind of outlier skin of the Dom. She and the Dom merge and fuse in some ways.

There's an outsourcing of potentially self-harming decision making to a loving, compassionate or caring partner, the dominant partner, the Dom.

So while theoretically and technically, especially if the Dom is not experienced or a bit sadistic or dysregulated, there is risk. Choking, for example, ends very often, very badly. Even harmless practices, such as slapping and spanking sometimes end in bloodshed and bruising.

So the decision making in BDSM is potentially self-harming.

It is this affinity to self-harm that is actually the cause of the arousal. There is also an element of degradation and humiliation, self-dispoiling and self-trashing.

But overall, BDSM is a ritualized extended fantasy, a roleplay, nothing much more than that.

At the end, the two parties snap out of it and go back to being utterly normal people. I mean, BDSM is normal, but I mean to being utterly conventional people.

BDSM is also frequently followed with vanilla sex, regular sex, missionary, otherwise sex. So it spices up the sex life. It's not the main dish. It's a dessert.

Masochism is an entirely different thing. Sexual masochism revolves around self-objectification, sexual degradation, extreme sexual degradation, dehumanization, losing one's identity, sometimes faceless self-pornography, the infliction and reception of real pain, real, the kind that makes you scream and shriek in agony.

Masochism also usually involves public exhibitionism because there is a strong element of shame, of egosyntony, of dissonance. There's a lot of ambivalence and this is exactly the fount and foundation of the sexual arousal.

The masochist needs to degrade herself, to humiliate herself, to debase, to self-objectify and to self-trash in front of an audience. So she is very likely to be also an exhibitionist.

Masochism is sometimes embedded in a fantasy of intimacy with a partner and the partner can be real or the partner can be imaginary. So many masochists convert their masochistic experiences into a figment of some overriding, overarching fantasy which involves love or friendship or a relationship.

It's of course a fantasy and very often the partners in the fantasy are not aware that they are involved in the fantasy. They just happen to be there and the masochist projects the fantasy onto them.

Physical pain and physical despoiling are the forms of arousal of the masochist and some masochists are into humiliation or transient choreographed helplessness but the majority of masochists are more body-oriented, they are more somatic.

So the locus of the arousal is in the physical pain.

Now this is not the case in BDSM. In BDSM the emphasis is not about pain. It's about the relegation and delegation of one's free will. It's about submission, it's about giving up control. It's not about the pain itself.

The pain in BDSM is just an indicator and a reminder of this abrogation of self-discipline, self-control, autonomy and agency.

While in masochism sometimes there is full control. Sometimes the masochist is fully in control of a situation but she just wants to get hurt. She wants pain. She seeks pain, physical pain and she couples it with exhibitionism in rare occasions with degradation and humiliation.

Similarly sexual sadism is about being turned on by torturing a partner. The emphasis is on the word torture.

Kraft Ebbing and others had described sadism and sadistic practices in sex in the 19th century.

Sadism is when the sadist is aroused by causing pain to another person, by inflicting pain on another person.

And that person could be, usually is, an intimate partner but not always.

Observing the agony, observing the writhing, observing the physical changes, observing the uncontrolled dysregulated reactions to pain, observing the disintegration, the tears, all this turns on the sadist.

And never mind if the pain is actually egosyntonic. In other words, never mind if the victim, if the recipient of the pain, likes the pain. Never mind if the partner is a masochist and she actually climaxes, she has an orgasm when she is tortured. It doesn't matter. It's the infliction of pain that matters.

And the inevitable, ineluctable, physical, physiological reactions to pain, even if the outcome, the final outcome is arousal and orgasm on the part of the recipient of the pain, on the part of the masochistic partner, the sadistic partner is still gratified. Never mind how momentary and how fleeting the pain is still cause for extreme arousal.

The pain in sexual sadism need not involve humiliating the partner and does not usually involve public exposure.

But if the partner is averse to public exposure, is against exhibitionism, if the partner does not seek humiliation, then of course subjecting her to humiliation and to public shaming and to public degradation are forms of torture.

So paradoxically, normally a sexual sadist and a sexual masochist would engage in the exchange of pain.

But if the masochist is averse to public degradation and public humiliation, if she happens to be not exhibitionistic, the sadist will exhibit her. He will degrade her publicly. And if she is not into humiliation, the emphasis of the sexual sadist would be on humiliation.

Sadist, the sexual sadist would go anywhere that inflicts discomfort and pain on his partner.

Now, the partner doesn't always have to be a sexual masochist. Many sexual sadists engage in their practices with totally normal, non masochistic partners. And many sexual masochists have partners who are not sexual sadists.

But these kind of arrangements don't last long.

Ultimately, sexual sadists and sexual masochists gravitate towards each other. There are even communities and underground communities with extreme practices like blood drinking and so on. So they gravitate towards each other. They find each other in special clubs, in special venues.

But though the BDSM community also has special venues and special implements and special practices and special rituals, BDSM is a much more benign form.

It involves sex tangentially. It's not about sex. It's about submission and domination in ways which do not bridge the boundaries of the intimate partners involved.

Not so sexual sadisms and sexual masochism.

There, the breach of boundaries, physical boundaries, mental boundaries, emotional boundaries and behavioral boundaries. This breach of boundaries is actually at the core of the sexual practices and the reason what gives rise to the ultimate sexual arousal and orgasm.

Now, don't try any of this at home. You're not old enough.

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