Sadism is a mental disposition wherein a person enjoys inflicting pain on others. Masochism is a mental disposition wherein a person enjoys receiving pain. A combination of these two terms, Sadomasochism is a psychological condition wherein a person enjoys immense pleasure, usually sexual in nature, by inflicting or receiving humiliation, suffering and pain. Sadomasochism is a subset of Bondage-Discipline-Sadism-Masochism (BDSM) which is a sexual disposition. Experts also believe that people suffering from sadomasochism also derive gratification from other experiences and activities. These tendencies can either be very active or considerably latent or passive.
Psychologists and sexology experts don’t consider Sadomasochism clinical paraphilia, unless and until this condition starts disturbing the personal, social and occupational areas of a person’s life. Victims of severe sadomasochism may also suffer from personality disorders such as borderline bipolar, antisocial and psychopathic tendencies. If left untreated, sexual sadists can severely harm and even kill during an act of sexual gratification. At the same time a masochist will not even realize the point beyond which lasting psychological and physiological damage can be inflicted. An apparent risk of forcing such behavior on non-consenting partner also remains in this condition.
The root cause of sadomasochism is psychological in nature and takes shape during the sexual development of a person. While majority of men develop sadomasochistic tendencies during puberty or even before that, most women are known to develop these tendencies much later in life. The cause of sadism can vary from masochism and depends on a person’s early life experiences.
Sadism: Person suffering from sadist tendencies may have experienced extreme stress and helplessness at some point in life. This motivates him/her to start exercising control over others and take sexual gratification or enjoyment from it. While inflicting pain or humiliation, they tend to de-humanize the object of their sadistic activities and avoid any sense of shame or guild.
Masochists: Person suffering from masochistic tendencies may have elevated anxiety and insecurity levels and by submitting to the complete power of a sadist, attempt to escape the stress and worries of normal life. A masochist takes pleasure in completely giving up control and may in-fact feel the burden of responsibilities in other areas of life.
Psychologically, sadism and masochism are identified as paraphilia or deviant behavior especially if results in sexual gratification. The diagnosis is completed if a person has faced sadomasochistic urges for at-least and extended duration of six months. In addition, if these urges have caused distress or have hampered inter-personal interactions or the patient has acted upon these urges with a non-consenting partner; then clinical paraphilia is recognized in sadomasochism. At a forensic level, both tendencies are categorized into four broad classes and the diagnosis of the condition depends on the active behavior of a sadomasochist.
Class I: Person experiences sadomasochistic tendencies but doesn’t actively act upon them. The condition is only limited to fantasies and fetishes.
Class II: Person has sexual and other urges to participate in sadomasochistic activities and does so, only with consenting partners. Sexual satisfaction is enhanced by sadomasochistic activities but is not dependent on them.
Class III masochist: Person only has masochistic tendencies and has preference for receiving pain or humiliation to experience sexual gratification. Such individuals are capable of pursuing normal romantic relations too.
Class III sadist: Person derives sexual pleasure by inflicting pain and does so on non-consenting partners. They rarely inflict any other bodily harm or murder their victims.
Class IV masochist: Only prefers masochistic relationships and can achieve sexual satisfaction in associating with humiliation and pain. Such people can’t remain in normal relationships.
Class IV sadists: This is the most dangerous category of sadomasochism. People suffering from this severity of condition tend to crippling or deforming pain or even kill their non-consenting victims. This condition may also over-lap with other mental and personality disorders.
As sadomasochism is more of a personality disposition than a disorder, treatment can only be offered to patients if they are willing to accept the negative impacts of this condition on their lives. There are several psychological, medicinal and hormonal treatments available which can help a person manage this condition –
- Cognitive Behavior therapy: This is adopted to help a sadomasochist realize the impact of their condition on their relationships, their social activities and their occupation. The patient is expected to consciously avoid sadomasochistic tendencies.
- Aversion or positive & Reality therapy: Patient is encouraged to develop a positive view of normal sexual practices and develop an aversion towards sadomasochistic urges.
- Cognitive restructuring: This helps the patients recognize their partner as a person with emotions and not just an object to be controlled.
- Social-skill training: This is only an adjunct treatment and usually compliments other treatments.
- Stress-relieving medicines: As many sadomasochists find relief from anxiety and stress while engaging in sexual sadomasochism, stress-relieving medicines can help control these urges.