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Masochism: what is it?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 177 views

Masochism means that a person feels sexual excitement, or at least positive emotions, when pain is inflicted on him or when he is humiliated. Read here what the causes of masochism are, whether the disorder can be treated and how it differs from sadism and sadomasochism .

What is masochism?

In psychology, masochism is when a person derives pleasure or joy from being inflicted with pain or humiliation. In general, the term refers to sexual behavior, but there are also forms that have nothing to do with sexuality.

Sometimes masochism is interpreted as the result of a certain death drive or inward aggression arising from excessive guilt.

Reliable data on how many people have a masochistic disposition hardly exist. There is only one Australian telephone survey from 2001/2002, according to which sexual practices such as bondage (shackles), sadism and masochism occur or are practiced somewhat more frequently in men (2.2 percent) than in women (1.3 percent).

The Austrian writer Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch gave his name to the term “masochism”. His novel “Venus in Furs”, in which he describes a liaison in which the main character allows himself to be humiliated and whipped by a woman, was published in 1870 and achieved worldwide fame.

The anthropologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Borneman divided masochism into three subgroups:

Nonsexual or psychic masochism

Nonsexual or psychic masochism is more of a type of mental masochism and has nothing to do with sexuality. Those affected cause defeats, failures and humiliating situations in their private and professional lives, sometimes on purpose. They wallow in sorrow, guilt, and feelings of inferiority, and accept mistreatment without protest.

Such emotional masochism is sometimes expressed, for example, in consciously getting involved with emotionally negative people in order to become or remain unhappy.

In addition, the Austrian doctor and psychologist Sigmund Freud defined the term “moral masochism”. According to Freud, those affected punish themselves in order to compensate for often repressed, unconscious feelings of guilt through auto-aggressive, i.e. directed against themselves, actions.

Sexual or conjunction masochism

This type of masochism is probably the best known. Affected people experience sexual pleasure when their sexual partner inflicts pain, ties, humiliates, or otherwise abuses them. Self-harm is also possible as part of the sexual act. The sex act can take place.

Sexual masochism is considered a form of paraphilia , i.e. it is one of the psychological disorders of sexual preferences.

Perverse or Compensatory Masochism

Here the need for physical pain and psychological humiliation replaces the desire for sexual intercourse. Sexual desires, such as being whipped by a naked woman, do not initiate intercourse or increase the sexual excitement of coitus, but take their place. A special form is automasochism , in which a person hurts or tortures himself.

Most sexual partners focus on love, tenderness, and companionship. The flow of sexual acts can be tender as the sexual ritual is strictly defined and focused on avoiding unwanted emotions. Most often, the masochist determines the nature and intensity of the pain.

Masochism: causes

There is no generally accepted thesis about the causes of masochism. Some theories assume that there are general disorders of sexual preferences. There is also speculation as to whether repressed sexual fantasies, strengthened by withholding, erupt into longing for painful masochistic experiences.

Others see a kind of escape in (sado-)masochistic behavior. They believe that those affected want it to make them feel different and new. In psychoanalysis there is the theory that the tendency to masochism is triggered by childhood trauma – for example by sexual abuse.

In addition, masochism and other manipulative behaviors are more common in the emotionally unstable borderline personality disorder.

And depression is almost always accompanied by masochistic traits. But: Although happiness is only felt to a limited extent in the case of depression and masochism, not every masochist is depressed.

How does masochism manifest itself: symptoms

Masochists are often unremarkable people. They have high standards for themselves, are often perfectionists, but cannot meet their own expectations. Often masochistic people need a lot of validation from outside, constantly criticize themselves and feel guilty to the point of self-loathing.

Sexual masochistic practices are for example

  • Beat
  • flogging
  • Party bandage
  • humiliation

Without a partner, masochists act out their urges by burning themselves, using stun guns on themselves, or tying themselves up.

Masochism: Diagnosis & Treatment

The criteria of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders” are used to determine a sexual masochistic disorder. These determine the following:

  • Humiliation, beating, shackling, or other abuse repeatedly and intensely arouses the victim. This is expressed through appropriate behavior, intense sexual urges or corresponding fantasies.
  • These fantasies, urges, and behaviors recur over a period of at least six months.
  • The fantasies, drives and behaviors put a significant strain on the person concerned or impair their social or professional life or other important areas.

Those affected usually receive psychotherapy when they are diagnosed with a sexual masochistic disorder. It should uncover the subliminal reason for this.

Sometimes medication is also used – for example antidepressants, to alleviate any psychological consequences of the masochistic disorder.

Drugs that lower testosterone levels are sometimes prescribed to reduce sexual desire or the frequency of erections. However, treatment for a sexual masochistic disorder often has no effect.

What is sadism?

In 1886, the physician Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing coined the term “sadism”. In contrast to masochism, in which the sufferer wants to experience humiliation and pain themselves, a sadist feels pleasure by inflicting pain on another person (“psychopathia sexualis”).

The term sadism was named after the French writer Marquis de Sade, who describes in his works sexual manifestations and variations, including torture and lust murder (sexual murder).

According to psychoanalyst Ernest Borneman, sadism can also be divided into three groups:

Nonsexual or psychological sadism

Individuals with nonsexual or psychological sadism bully family members and subordinates, torment and humiliate those around them. Their sex life may be raw and brutal, but it is devoid of sadistic sexual practices. The psychic sadist is unaware that his tendencies have a sexual origin.

Sexual or conjunction sadism

These individuals feel the need to engage in sexual intercourse by causing pain and humiliation to other people.

Perverse or compensatory sadism

In this form of sadism, the desire to physically inflict pain on others and to humiliate them psychologically replaces the need for sexual intercourse.

What is sadomasochism?

The combination of the two poles sadism (desire to inflict pain on another) and masochism (desire to suffer pain oneself) is called sadomasochism. The abbreviation SM stands for Sado/Maso. Most men and women who practice SM techniques have masochistic desires. Conversely, only the sadist can feel the pleasure of the masochist’s pain.

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