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Posted October 17, Reviewed by Devon Frye. Why would anyone experience pain and humiliation as sexually arousing? The puzzle of sexual masochism has bedeviled psychology for some time now. That a person would derive sexual pleasure from the pain, humiliation, and loss of control associated with the practice is a mystery, as these run counter to the most fundamental functions of the self—namely, to avoid pain, maintain self-esteem, and seek control.
Unlike other non-mainstream sexual practices such as anal sex, prostitution, bestiality, group sex, etc. Even today, sexual masochism appears to be unevenly distributed around the world. By available evidence, it is most common in the affluent West. Like other unconventional sexual interests, masochism is more prevalent in men, although masochistic fantasies appear to be more prevalent in women. The term was a reference to the writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose book Venus in Furs had a protagonist bent on being enslaved and tortured by an attractive woman.
By the turn of the 20th century, the ascendant Freudian approach sought to explain masochism as a sexual perversion related to the Oedipal drama. These explanations were, in their own way, rather tortured.
For example, the late psychoanalyst Rudolph Loewenstein wrote: "The essential mechanism underlying the masochistic perversion is that, by inducing the sexual partner to enact a scene of castration threat or punishmentthe masochist forces the prohibiting, threatening parent to…undo…the castration threat through its simulated repetition while actually participating in the veiled incestuous gratification. Thus viewed, masochism was no longer tethered to sexuality.
It is a disturbance of interpersonal relationships in which the masochist loves a person who gives hate and ill-treatment. It is not a liking for pain but a loving of the object giving pain, and it is devoid of sexuality. In the latter part of the 20th century, the broad definition of masochism has found a strong foothold in popular culture and in psychology.
The label has been applied to various nonsexual behaviors that result in personal degradation or ruin. Pleasure torture example, gamblers and other addicts were now said to be masochists, returning to receive their punishments again and again. This broad conceptualization, however, is problematic. As the psychologist Roy Baumeister had noted, the nonsexual behaviors often characterized as "masochistic" differ qualitatively from sexual masochism in that they tend to be self destructive and self defeating. Sexual masochism, on the other hand, is neither destructive nor self defeating. Sexual masochists neither seek nor regularly experience injury.
Sexual masochists take great care to protect themselves from actual harm while engaging in carefully negotiated rituals of humiliation and the infliction of pain. Sexual masochism is highly contextualized. Masochists pleasure torture no more likely than you to enjoy a stubbed toe. Research suggests that sexual masochists do not differ from others in their perception of painexcept in the sexual context. Masochism is rarely enacted with strangers. Most often, masochists engage in a well-communicated, trusting, and safe ritual.
In other words, sexual masochism is not about destruction, but about construction; it is not about hating, but about relating. Data suggest that sexual masochists as a group are generally normative in all other aspects of their lives and psychologically healthy. At the same time, we know that the sex lives of ordinary folks are threaded with masochistic themes. In a recent survey of over 1, Canadian adults, more than one-third of women and more than one-quarter of men reported having fantasized about being spanked or whipped.
The DSM-V distinguishes between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. Paraphilias are defined as atypical sexual practices. In contrast, if they declare no distress, exemplified by anxietyobsessions, guilt, or shame about these paraphilic impulses and are not hampered by them in pursuing other personal goalsthey could be ascertained as having masochistic sexual interest but not be diagnosed with sexual masochism disorder. Even as our culture has moved away from fearing and stigmatizing sexual masochism, scientific curiosity regarding its causes has not abated.
Over time, the traditional Freudian formulations focusing on the internal dynamics of guilt have been augmented by various other theories. For example, learning theorists have argued that masochism may be a learned behavior. First, pain is often followed by relief. Relief is reinforcing, and hence likely to increase the behavior it followed i. Second, much of our behavior is acquired through association. Whatever is present at the time of arousal may become associated with arousal and hence a later cue for it.
If happens to have an erection while being spanked by a parent, then perhaps an association is created between pain, humiliation, and sexual excitement. Third, any behavior that runs counter to our day-to-day habits will be novel, and, as such, arousing. If you spend your days being powerful and in control, the feeling of powerlessness and the loss of control will be novel, and hence likely to produce arousal, which can be channeled toward sexual pleasure.
According to Baumeister, modern life is hard, and many people fail to meet their own self expectations. To be self-aware is to be in the knowledge of our shortcomings. To be self-aware is also pleasure tortureas we are supposed to maintain self controlself poise, self purpose, self care, self presentation, self esteem and self efficacy. Just as we need periodic breaks from the stress of work in the form of exotic vacations, so too we need periodic breaks from the burden of the self.
Masochism, in its rituals of self oblivion, offers a period of relief from these burdens, stresses, and weighty pleasure torture. Masochism, in this environment, offered a new justification and a new means of fulfillment. In masochism, the relation to the dominant partner pleasure torture, like a God, has total control supplies justification, while providing the fulfillment of emotional closeness to the partner. Moreover, the goal of retaining self dignity and power is replaced by its opposite, and success in self oblivion becoming a good slave le, paradoxically, to fulfillment and a sense of worth.
Clearly, pushing oneself to the edge of endurance is a common theme in the human quest for meaning and fulfillment. Mountain climbers, explorers, religious ascetics, ultra marathoners, etc. Perhaps masochism, at least in some of its forms, amounts to another version of this human attempt to overcome fears by facing them. Endeavoring to own fearpain and humiliation—to fully immerse oneself in these pleasure torture serve to neutralize their ability to harm. Indeed recent research has suggested that masochism may be sought because it can produce the experience of "flow"—an altered state of consciousness associated with a heightened sense of well-being.
Being fully immersed in the experience of pain without fear or panic could create this kind of flow experience. In sum, the phenomenon of sexual masochism is not yet fully understood. Still, its seemingly paradoxical nature reveals something about the dynamics of the psyche, while its transformation, in the span of years, from pathological sexual perversion to something more akin to a spiritual quest says something fascinating about the dynamics of culture. Noam Shpancer, Ph. Noam Shpancer Ph.
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