Power, Pleasure, Pain: The Psychology Of S&M

For many years, the concept of being flogged, humiliated, and whipped has long been associated with punishment and suffering. To be demeaned in this manner was unacceptable for most people, creating a social stigma that stands to this day. The stigma is so strong that people who want to go through that sort of treatment willingly were seen as having had their mental health compromised. In some circles, it can also be considered a sign of poor sexual health. However, according to more recent findings, neither mental nor sexual health are compromised by a desire to be bound and dominated. The Sadism and Masochism (S&M) community are not a group of deviants with poor mental health, but simply one that has tastes that vary from the norm.

In some ways, it allows people to be able to better connect to a side of themselves that has been suppressed. For example, one woman who enjoyed choking her partner during orgasm had a childhood of suppressing emotions and feelings. She had grown up psychologically suppressing things like sexual desire and her own need for a meaningful relationship. While she had outgrown most of it by adulthood, she remained partially detached from the act of intercourse, leaving her to regard the activity as bland and unexciting. It was only when she discovered the psychological “high” she got from choking her partner that she started to enjoy sex. Her psychologist believes that the act of choking someone has helped her bridge the mental gap between her desires and her personality, allowing her to temporarily let go of her inhibitions.

Some psychologists have also come to believe that S&M may also be connected to stress relief and escapism. In general, members of the S&M community engage in role-playing during sessions, with a person who usually appears as a timid librarian being a foul-mouthed, whip-toting dominatrix in her basement. This role-playing temporarily grants them a reprieve from the nature of their lives, giving them a much needed escape from the stress and anxiety of the modern world. The nature of the activity makes it such that the people involved focus only on each other and the raw physical sensations of the acts, allowing them a short amount of time to get away from whatever it is they feel a need to get away from. While this may not explain the reasons for the entire S&M community, it may explain some of the motivations behind this behavior.

It should be noted that the S&M community is a separate group from people who have sexual sadism. The core difference is that S&M practitioners are perfectly sane individuals who simply enjoy playing roles that they would not be expected to in their everyday lives. Activities for them are consensual and there is a complex web of unspoken rituals and unwritten rules that prevent either participant from inflicting permanent or serious harm upon one another. In contrast, sexual sadism is often non-consensual and, by the very nature of the activities, is designed to inflict as much harm as possible for as long as possible. There are some circles that believe sexual sadists are the reason why the S&M community normally shuns the terms sadist and masochist, preferring to avoid the negative psychological connotation.

One benefit that accepting S&M as a part of someone’s private life has had is an enhancement of one’s sex life. People who have come to accept it and have found partners who welcome it have reported that their sex lives have improved, as well as their emotional connection to one another. They report that there is a deeper sense of connection and understanding, likely due to the openness needed for both partners to accept such “unusual” tastes.

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