Many people think of sadomasochism as being amoral, a violent subculture of perverts who cannot control their desires and have no place in "polite society." In reality, that's quite a misconception. Those into S/M can often make the most considerate, responsive and tender lovers. The cornerstones of the sadomasochism scene are, after all, "Safe, Sane and Consensual." Now, that doesn't sound so brutal, does it?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Sadism is the "deriving of sexual gratification, or the tendency to derive sexual gratification, from inflicting cruelty, pain or emotional abuse on others." The word is derived from the Marquis de Sade, an 18th century French nobleman who got off on the sexual torment and humiliation of others (see page 21).

The definition of Masochism is the "deriving of sexual gratification, or the tendency to derive sexual gratification, from being physically or emotionally abused, humiliated or mistreated." It is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a 19th century Austrian novelist who delighted in being tortured and humiliated by his lovers (page 22).

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, but Whips and Chains Won't Hurt Me

German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined these words acknowledging that both predilections could exist in one person, hence the word "sadomasochism." Modern day S/M tendencies are no longer looked upon as a sexual abnormality, and are often considered to be commonplace, to varying degrees. This can be anything from light spanking and tickling, to full-on bondage, fisting, whips and chains.

Bondage and Domination, or BD, is another part of S/M culture. This can include getting tied up and/or handcuffed, but also extends to the different roles that people take in sexual relationships, like being more dominant or more submissive. More intense BD/SM culture is about people exploring the erotic feelings associated with power, pain, desire and domination. This is where we come back to the cornerstones of "Safe, Sane and Consensual" or SSC. A past president of Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA) in New York City describes SSC as follows:

  • Safe is being knowledgeable about what you're doing. This means knowing your equipment and how to use it, and knowing your partner and how to keep him healthy both physically & psychologically.
  • Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and observing that difference. You may know how to do something, and even get consent for it, but it may be best left for one-handed reading.
  • Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant. Consent is an ongoing right, and can be withdrawn at any time. You cannot consent to give up the right of consent! Nor can the content of any master/slave contract negate that right. "You can do anything you want to me, even if I really want you to stop" is a statement that only an irresponsible top would take seriously.

Safe also means practicing safer sex, like using condoms and lube, and talking with partners about HIV/STD status before you start play.

SSC includes a lot of conversation before hand, especially for those who are getting into hardcore role-playing scenes. One of the most important things for guys to do before entering into a BD/SM scenario is to build trust and set limits. This is why coming up with rules beforehand and sticking to those rules is so important. Also, it is necessary to agree on a "safe word," a word that you both come up with ahead of time that means it is time for the scene to stop immediately. Words like Stop, Don't or No aren't any good since those are things that might be said as part of the scene, when you really want to keep going. It's good to use a word that you wouldn't possibly say during a sexual or erotic situation, like "banana" or "Rhoda Morgenstern" and make sure that you both agree that it is the safe word.

BD/SM is Safer Sex
Sadomasochistic play can also be a very erotic alternative to penetrative sex. There is more focus placed on the feelings leading up to or surrounding orgasm than there is on the actual climax. Prolonging ejaculation or orgasm becomes an act of pleasure in and of itself. Also, there may be more focus put on other body parts, besides the cock or ass. For example, your feet may be the center of attention during a particular session, or your balls. They can be shaved, scratched, tickled, tied up or down, squeezed, pierced or whipped. The point of this pleasure is not necessarily ejaculation. It simply is sexual pleasure… for both you and your partner. And in terms of HIV or other STDs, it is pretty much totally safe without swapping fluids.

Marquis de Sade (1740 - 1814)
Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade, was a French soldier and nobleman. He is also perhaps the most infamous hedonist of all time. Known for his bacchanal orgies, which were not uncommon amongst the French aristocracy of the time, the Marquis often went way too far in his sexual exploits. He spent approximately 27 years of his adult life in prison, several times for assaulting prostitutes and once for poisoning party guests with Spanish fly, which allegedly resulted in several deaths. It was during his time in prison that he indulged his literary side and wrote several books, most of which were banned. During his final years, at a prison for the criminally insane, he wrote and directed political plays that were performed by his fellow inmates as a means of reform.

It should be noted that the Marquis was a violent and dangerous criminal. He was a brutal rapist and pedophile. As such, scholarly focus is mainly placed on the philosophy put forth in his writings. Sade found sexual gratification in inflicting cruelty and humiliation on others. He also got off on corrupting innocence and debasing virtue. While the Marquis' name forms the basis for the word “sadism," his actions in life do not accurately reflect modern day S/M culture because they were not always negotiated and consensual.

Sacher-Masoch (1836 - 1895)
An Austrian novelist born 22 years after the death of the man whose name would be indelibly linked to his for the rest of time, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch is best known for his erotic fiction. His most famous book, "Venus in Furs," details a torturous affair in which a man becomes the slave of his lover. Sacher-Masoch's life imitated art when he entered into a similar relationship with a mysterious woman who took on the same persona as the heroine in his book.

Sacher-Masoch's slavish tendencies came from an overbearing aunt, Madame Xenobia, who wore fur coats and used to whip him as a child. He enjoyed it. As an adult, Leopold eroticized both fur coats and floggings (with a cat-o'-nine-tails) administered to him by a mistress. He even entered into a contract with one of his lovers, wherein he agreed to be her slave for 6 months, and to obey her every command absolving her from any liability to his own personal safety or well being. He encouraged his second wife to take other lovers in order to inflame jealousy in his soul. When she could not satisfy his desires, he left her for another mistress who could.