Is BDSM wrong and can I feel good about myself if I love it? How was the decision made that BDSM is a real social no–no? And who in the world made that decision? If it is a consensual act between adults then why does psychologist even care? But first before answering these questions, let’s look at some of today’s changing views of BDSM.

Just as homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness, BDSM is no longer viewed as pathological by the majority of the psychological community. Just as the general public has not fully accepted homosexuality, it has not fully accepted BDSM. In the intellectual and psychological communities, BDSM is gaining a wider acceptance and is now believed to be a lifestyle choice.

By now we all know the basic meaning of bdsm. It is a catch all for terms like B&D” (Bondage & Discipline), “D&S” (Dominance & Submission), and “S&M” (sadomasochism) so we will dispense with any additional review of the word’s meaning. We will now go directly to a detailed discussion of some psychological views of the practice of bdsm.

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is published by the American Psychiatric Association. This book commonly called the DSM is the bible in the practice of psychology that is used to define mental disorders. One of the major uses of the DSM is to properly categorize an illness in order to get insurance companies to pay for treatment. In prior versions of the DSM, sadism and masochism were considered to be disorders. BDSM fantasies alone, over a period of time, could be considered disorders in the older DSM’S.

The  DSM-IV (forth version) restructures what is considered a S&M disorder to a more realistic definition. With both masochism and sadism, there are two criteria (A&B for each shown below) that must be met in order to make a diagnosis of a disorder. Note: (DSM-5″) is currently in planning and due for publication in May 2013

A disordered related to bdsm is now defined in the DSM-IV as; you must have the fantasies, urges, etc., and the fact that you have them must make you effectively dysfunctional in an important area of your life. The keywords are now defined as “these fantasies or actions must make you dysfunctional.” This was not necessary in past editions of the DSM that you were dysfunctional.

gagged slave girl on her knees in a dungeon

Image © Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)”

Sexual Masochism and Sadism and BDSM:

*From the DSM-IV:

302.83 Sexual Masochism.

In order for BDSM to be a disorder BOTH A and B must be present:

 A) Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound or otherwise made to suffer.

 B) The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

 

302.84 Sexual Sadism.

In order for BDSM to be a disorder BOTH A and B must be present:

 A) Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving acts (real, not simulated) in which psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation) of the victim is sexually exciting to the person.

 B) The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

 

In addition, the DSM-IV states the following about non-pathological sexual behavior; “a paraphilia must be distinguished from the non-pathological use of sexual fantasies, behavior or objects as a stimulus for sexual excitement.”

*From the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. (DSM-IV). These criteria are listed in the Paraphilia section, pg. 525.

Note: It seems to me that almost anything could be classified as a dysfunction if the conditions of B are met, not just BDSM. This step in changing the DSM is a huge step for the lifestyle and has been a long time coming. Lots of clinical research was required over many years that disputed the older DSM’s opinions before changes were made.

These changes in the DSM-IV mean that you are NOT considered a sexual dysfunctional person just because you attend a munch group that is BDSM based or belong to a BDSM related on-line chat group. Sorry to disappoint you, but these activities no longer qualify you to call yourself a pervert according to the DSM-IV. You will have to try a different avenue to earn the title of pervert.

Granted, the DSM-IV did not go as far as many in the lifestyle would have liked in changing the definition, but it is at least a start.

The change in the DSM-IV is founded on modern fields of psychology that view BDSM in a sociological perspective and do not consider sadomasochism to be pathology or deviant behavior. It is now viewed simply as a lifestyle choice that causes no harm to individuals unless it causes a dysfunction in your life.

Paul Gebhard, an anthropologist, stated, “Sadomasochism is embedded in our culture since our culture operates on the basis of Dominant-submissive relationships and aggression is socially valued” (Fetishism and Sadomasochism published in 1969). Gebhard provided strong evidence that sadomasochism is based on culture as opposed to biology and is therefore a social behavior. Gebhard considered it as an activity that involves at the minimum two people and didn’t view it as an individual engaged in sadism or masochism. He explained how SM play came to be in certain parts of the world, but not in others. He then explained that BDSM is a subculture with its on values, rules, language and formally structured organizations. Gebhard’s work has been a foundation of many social psychological views of BDSM.

It is interesting that one of the major factors in the changing of the mindset of psychology came from an anthropologist. Who would have guessed?

Andreas Spengler did a major study of “SM practitioners” that was published in 1977. The study showed that the only thing “SM practitioners” had in common was that they, as a general rule, 1) had a high standard of living, 2) had social status, and 3) were well educated. The vast majority were perfectly happy with their sexual preferences, with their biggest fear being the social stigma attached to BDSM. (A. Spengler, “Manifest Sadomasochism of Males: Results of an Empirical Study,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 6).

In my opinion, there are two major groups in the field of psychology that would like to cling to the old concept that BDSM is an illness and/or a social no-no. They are the students of the Freudian psychoanalytical theory and some of the Feminist theories of psychology. Both have their own agenda as to why they believe the DSM is wrong.

The Freud followers have a hard time accepting contemporary concepts that BDSM is a lifestyle choice and not pathological because Freud said it was pathological. It is as simple as that. Freud said it, so it has to be true.

Sheldon Bach, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychology at York University states that “Despite the research indicating that S&M does no real harm and is not associated with pathology, Freud’s successors in psychoanalysis continue to use mental illness overtones when discussing (consensual) S&M.”

Students of some Feminist psychological concepts have opposed the lifestyle choice concept on moral grounds. BDSM, in their opinion, goes against the more desired concept of self-independence and is not equated to the equality of the sexes. They fail to see it as a lifestyle choice and is not destructive to the submissive’s self-image. Now, this is not a blanket statement that includes all Feminist psychological theories, just some.

Additional material, copied from the website “Sexual Freedom NOW” on current thinking that may have an effect on hold out feminism beliefs are:

 

From Physicians and Psychiatrists.

For the S/M Policy Reform Statement.

From the website.

Sexual Freedom Now.

Susan D. Wagenheim, M.D.

As a board-certified psychiatrist and supporter of the National Organization for Women, I write in support of amending the policy statement on consensual S/M. It is my understanding that S/M practice is a valid expression of adult consensual sexuality. In my private practice, I hear patients tell me frequently that they were “born this way”; i.e. submissive or dominant in sexual nature. Their experience is that S/M is their sexual ORIENTATION, and they “come out” to themselves much as homosexual and lesbian people do. With that understanding, there is no place in NOW for discrimination against a woman’s right to choose; her right to choose how, when and with whom to express her sexual self.

Charles Moser, Ph.D., M.D.

S/M practitioners have been victimized by society as a whole and by many groups that should know better. There is no credible evidence that S/M practitioners have any more problems or issues than other sexual orientations. There is no data to suggest that S/M leads to violence. All research so far, indicates that S/M practitioners are indistinguishable from individuals with other sexual orientations, except by their sexual behavior. The revision of the NOW policy is long overdue.

June M. Reinisch, Ph.D., with Ruth Beasley, MLS.

The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex.

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1990.

“Researchers estimate that 5 percent to 10 percent of the U.S. population engages in sadomasochism for sexual pleasure on at least an occasional basis, with most incidents being either mild or staged activities involving no real pain or violence. It appears that many more individuals prefer to play the masochist’s role than the sadist’s. It also appears that males are more likely to prefer sadomasochistic activities than females. This means that male sadists may have difficulty in finding willing masochistic females to be sexual partners.

“If partners are located, an agreement is reached about what will occur. The giving and receiving of actual or pretended physical pain or psychological humiliation occurs in most cases only within a carefully prearranged script. Any change from the expected scenario generally reduces sexual pleasure.

“Most often it is the receiver (the masochist), not the giver (the sadist), who sets and controls the exact type and extent of the couple’s activities. It might also interest you to know that in many such heterosexual relationships, the so-called traditional sex roles are reversed — with men playing the submissive or masochistic role. Sadomasochistic activities can also occur between homosexual couples.”

 

Bill Thompson.

Sadomasochism.

(1994)

“As SM devotees carefully refine these simple acts, by dressing them up in role-play, it is easy to see how they are deliberately manipulating various forms of stimulation in the service of sexual arousal; and how this consenting scene where the submissive’s pleasure is carefully planned is obviously very different from a truly coercive act like rape, which involves aggressive action designed to inflict acute pain on a non-aroused victim.”

How BDSM became defined as an illness (the answer to the how and who questions):

HOW BDSM became defined as an illness:

Moser (1996) “SM behaviors are seen throughout history, dating back at least to ancient Egypt and the Hindu culture in India,” Roy Baumeister (1997) said that there is some evidence of masochistic SM play in the 1500s, in Europe and beyond.

The problem all started with psychoanalyst Richard Von Krafft-Ebing’s book, Psychopathia Sexualis: A Medico-Forensic Study first published in 1886. In this book he examined over 200 cases of psychosexual activities that included lust murder, necrophilia, pederasty, bestiality, transvestism, rape, and mutilation. All were, in a sense, lumped together and defined as psychopathic perversions. The case histories he reported and drew his conclusions on involved nonconsensual sexual violence and is not what we call consensual BDSM.

He made no major distinction between consensual and nonconsensual S&M. Therefore, the consensual act of sado-masochism was lumped into the same book of perversions as those involving the forceful violations committed on another person. BDSM play is still considered a sexual perversion because of Krafft-Ebing’s theory that is now over 100 years old.

Krafft-Ebing coined the terms sadism and masochism. The term “sadism” is from the writings of Donatien-Alphonse-Francois de Sade, more commonly known Marquis de Sade born in 1740. The term “masochism” is used to describe the enjoyment of sexual servitude. He took the term from the writings of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian novelist, born in 1836. He wrote about his masochistic desires. Sacher-Masoch was not happy about having a perversion named after him.

 

Sadism according to Krafft-Ebing:

He, in Psychopathia Sexualis defined sadism as follows:

Sadism is the experience of sexual pleasurable sensations (including orgasm) produced by acts of cruelty, bodily punishment afflicted on one’s own person or when witnessed in others, be they animals or human beings. It may also consist of an innate desire to humiliate, hurt, wound, or even destroy others in order thereby to create sexual pleasure in one’s self.

What he called sadism is now called violent sexual crimes and not consensual BDSM play. He stated that “Sadism is thus nothing else than an excessive and monstrous pathological intensification of phenomena – possible, too, in normal conditions in rudimental forms – which accompany the psychical sexual life, particularly in males.”

 

Masochism according to Krafft-Ebing:

His definition of masochism in Psychopathia Sexualis as:

By masochism I understand a peculiar perversion of the psychical sexual life in which the individual affected, in sexual feeling and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex: of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused. This idea is colored by lustful feeling; the masochist lives in fantasies, in which he creates situations of this kind and often attempts to realize them.

He could not understand masochistic desires in men because, in his opinion, sadism was more natural for men. He said that men had a “natural aggressive tendencies,” but that men shouldn’t, or don’t have “natural passive tendencies.” Based upon these beliefs he said that masochism was associated with psychological impotence.

Understanding and explaining masochism became a real problem for him. He states it made men impotent, but acknowledged that it occurred in people that were not impotent. He also states without establishing proof that all sexual perversions are alike, and caused by heredity.

It has been said that Krafft-Ebing was too ready to call something that he did not understand a perversion, without taking the time to do the research to prove it. It is important for the reader to understand this because, in my opinion, his work is still highly regarded by the psychoanalysts that follow the teaching of Freud.

It is also my belief, that Krafft-Ebing ignored the more playful forms of S&M play and focused on violent behaviors of sexual predators. It thinks this is obvious from his writings.

Before the publication of Krafft-Ebing’s book, the acts of consensual BDSM were given very little attention by the world and very often accepted. From the beginning and more so now, his book is controversial. However, alone this book would have probably had little impact on the world but Sigmund Freud, a contemporary, agreed with him that S&M was pathological.

Sigmund Freud, is considered the father of the psychoanalytic theory of psychology. In 1938, he termed “sadomasochism” which put the two terms (sadism and masochism) together for the first time. It is often said that Freud studies of S&M were not always clear and often contradictory. However, Freud, as a person, had a huge impact on modern psychology and when he stated that S&M was pathological; it carried a huge weight and was accepted almost without question for many years. Freud studied individuals with actual sexual disorders and projected his findings to the population as a whole. Freud believed that sadism and masochism was the most significant of all the perversions. Freud like Krafft-Ebing made no real distinction between consensual S&M acts and nonconsensual sexual aggressive acts.

Because of the fame of Krafft-Ebing and Freud, other psychoanalysts such as, Naylor (1986), and Rothstein (1989) still consider sadism and masochism in much the same terms. Krafft-Ebing and Freud did not view sadism and masochism as acts done in love. They viewed Sadism as acts of cruelty. Both viewed Sadism as an aberration stemming from the normal drive in men to dominate and this drive became out of control in men who practiced sadism.

Masochism was difficult for both Krafft-Ebing and Freud to understand because they felt that there are no masochistic tendencies in normal men. Freud differed from Krafft-Ebing in that he (Freud) thought that sadism and masochism were two forms of the same thing, rather than separate entities. Freud felt that masochism was merely a ‘transformation from sadism. It should be noted that little reference was made to women is the study of sadism or masochism.

Psychologist Albert von Schrenk-Notzing coined the term “algolagnic” which means sadomasochism. The term active algolagnic was the term for sadism and passive algolagnic was the term for masochism. Anthropologist, Iwan Bloch (1933/1994), in Anthropological Studies in the Strange Sexual Practices of All Races in All Ages, defined “algolagnic” as ‘painful lasciviousness.

In the mid-twentieth century other theories of psychology begin to be widely accepted. Many of these theories are based on social, behavioral and cognitive concepts. As the practitioners of psychology moved away from Freud’s concepts many changes in the field of psychology were made, views on S&M being only one of these. Today, the Freudian concepts of psychology are not the dominant theory practiced, but still has a major influence.

Some current opinions of S&M that are opposed to Krafft-Ebing’s and Freud’s views about bdsm:

Today, BDSM is considered a lifestyle choice and is founded, in part, by the following individuals:

Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1942), agreed with Freud that sadism and masochism were complimentary emotional states. Ellis was the first psychoanalyst to publish an opinion that the pain in SM play was born out of love, instead of cruelty. He was also the first to realize that “true sadists,” those who practice SM play, limit their pain giving only to sexual situations. This contradicted Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that SM play is a part of a person’s personality and was done because of a love of inflicting cruelty and pain on others. Ellis purposefully omit the term “perversion” in his writings that described SM play. According to Ellis, SM play is limited, in mentally healthy individuals, to a pursuit of pleasure in pain by sexual partners during sexual encounters.

In 1969, anthropologist Paul Gebhard’s article, (detailed above) on fetishism and SM play, defined SM play as a social/cultural phenomenon.

John K. Noyes, Ph.D. in The mastery of submission: Inventions of masochism (1997) stated that masochism came about in the nineteenth century because people were obsessed with control. He said that masochism as a “continuation of social violence” (p.14) which May in-part acts to defuse violence:

Noyes also said that this violence in masochism was play only, not real. Noyes’ views of masochism adds and entirely different view than did Freud. He added a sociological and political dimension. He believed that masochism was a reaction to an over controlled political and religious authority in the nineteenth century. He certainly added a new idea to the mix that is trying to define S&M play with his belief that it was a reaction to social violence in the 1800’s. The important point, in my opinion, is that he saw it as play with no harm.

Bill Thompson, Ph.D. a criminologist, in his book. Sadomasochism: Painful perversion or pleasurable play? (1994) New York, states that:

1) Consensual SM play is not done to cause harm or injury to anyone involved, rather “such acts are experienced mentally and physically as a form of pleasurable arousal-enhancement”

2) He disagreed with Krafft-Ebing that sadomasochist is a perversion and Krafft-Ebing’s opinion is based on “a Victorian stereotype about male and female sexual responses” (p.20).

3) He said that Ellis’ theory was closer actual SM play.

4) He felt that Freud’s opinions on sadism and masochism were based on “his own preoccupations rather that anything said by his clients on the couch or by an SM devotee” (p.41).

 

Thompson was very critical of the psychoanalytical theory and current efforts by Freudian followers to hold on to the idea that S&M is a perversion.

 

**Park Elliot Dietz (1990).

 

P.E. Dietz is a forensic psychologist who consistently tries to point out the absurdity of the link between s/m devotees and psychotic criminals.

According to Dietz, the five main differences between psychotic sadistic serial murderers and SM devotees:

1) Psychotics search for unwilling partners. S/M devotees use a “safe word” that the submissive can say at any time to end the scene, thus the submissive retains real control throughout the encounter.

2) Psychotics force their acts on the victim rather than aiming at pleasing the submissive (as in s/m). The psychotic sadistic acts are quite different from s/m practices, and usually include: forced anal penetration, forced fellatio, or violent vagina-penetration with various foreign objects -rather than the penis.

3) The sadistic offenders’ demeanor is diametrically opposed to s/m devotees: usually the psychotic is detached and unemotional throughout the torture, while the s/m dominant appears to achieve a “high” or pleasure equivalent during the scene.

4) Psychotic criminals torture their victims, inflicting serious and permanent injury, trying to arouse terror in their victims. S/M devotees skillfully enhance the sexual arousal of their partner, following the rules and guidelines that were established before the scene, thus creating only the illusion that the submissive is not in control.

5) Psychotics usually have a past history of sexual crimes such as rape or incest. S/M devotees are average people who typically don’t have criminal pasts

 

**William A. Henkin, PhD.; November 1992 letter to the committee that advocated changes to the entries on sexual sadism and masochism in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“In conclusion: consensual sadomasochism offers its adherents an opportunity to explore paraphilia urges and fantasies, not in a dangerous or debilitating fashion, but in a safe and supportive manner, where those urges and fantasies can be pleasurably satisfied, and where their values in a person’s psychic life can be revealed.

“Within the past decade prominent clinicians and scholars in the fields of psychoanalysis, clinical psychology, and clinical sexology, eschewing the received wisdom of past masters who south to fit clinical observations to their theories, rather than the other way around, have instead made serious attempts to understand the activities of consensual sadomasochism as well as the dynamic processes that underlie them, and to devise theories that fit the evidence they found in the lab, in the consulting room, and in the field. They have proposed that consensual erotic power play is not a psychiatric disorder: that instead, it can simply be a form of sexual pleasure, and that as a path of psychological and spiritual development it can even be the evidence and experience of triumph over childhood adversity.

“Absent distress, harm, or functional impairment, to define such activity as a mental disorder is to place chains on the human spirit, and to produce a chilling effect on the very processes we as psychotherapists are trained and charged to abet: the healing and liberation of damaged and imprisoned personalities, and their integration in the full creative expression of human beings.”

 

Weinberg (1987/1995) said that S&M play is a subculture and is framed in terms of fantasy. He also does not believe that it is a perversion.

Gosselin and Wilson (1980/1994), said that those involved in S&M play were mentally healthy and happy with their sexual preferences and lifestyle.

** Copied from the website Sexual Freedom Now – http://members.aol.com/NOWSM/Psychiatrists.html

 

Conclusion: (The answer to the question – Is BDSM wrong and can I feel good about myself if I love it?)

This world is changing for us. Based upon Henkin’s and Dietz’s analysis of BDSM, along with many others in the field, you have no reason not to feel good about yourself and your BDSM desires. Many of the fields of study in Psychology have come to the conclusion that members of the BDSM Lifestyle have long known, BDSM is not abuse.

Below is a very good start in understand BDSM and yourself. In a article by Baumeister’s of which excerpts are shown below, the words BDSM can be substituted for masochism.

DR. ROY F. BAUMEISTER, psychologist from Case Western Reserve University, stated in an article “Masochism: An Alternative Intimacy” The Spectator (Vol. 22, No. 14 June 30-July 6, 1989).

“Is masochism a form of love or of hate? There has been a lot of debate on this, but both sides are wrong. Masochism has nothing to do with hate. And it is not quite a form of love, although it offers an alternative form of intimacy.”

“Masochism doesn’t necessarily involve love. It is possible to engage in S&M with someone you’re not in love with. Nor does masochism make love redundant: People seem to prefer to do it with people they love.”

“What’s clear, though, is that masochism produces an intense bond of intimacy between two people, even if it’s only temporary. The masochist submerges his or her will, personality, even identity, in the dominant partner. The importance of intimacy can be seen in sexual fantasies to involve long-term relationships, stable partners and intimates or lovers. (This conclusion is based on statistical comparison of masochistic versus other sexual fantasies.) Masochists are heavily relationship-oriented.”

“Masochism is thus not the same as love, but it offers an emotional and passionate feeling of closeness that is similar.” I

References:

 

Gosselin, C., & Wilson, G. (1994). Sexual variations: Fetishism, transvestism and sado-masochism [excerpt of a study in their book]. In B. Thompson, Ph.D. (Ed.), Sadomasochism: Painful perversion or pleasurable play? (pp. 100-103). New York: Cassell. (Original work published 1980)

 

Moser, C., Ph.D., M.D., & Levitt, E. E., Ph.D. (1995). An exploratory-descriptive study of a sasomasochistically oriented sample. In T. S. Weinberg, Ph.D. (Ed.), S & m: Studies in dominance and submission (pp. 93-112). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1987)

 

Moser, C., Ph.D., M.D., & Madeson, J. (1996/1999). Bound to be free: The sm experience. (Rev. Ed.) New York: Continuum Publishing.

 

Naylor, B. A. (1986). Sadomasochism in children and adolescents: A contemporary treatment approach. Psychotherapy, 23(4), 586-592.

 

Noyes, J. K., Ph.D. (1997). The mastery of submission: Inventions of masochism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

 

Rothstein, A., M.D. (1991). Sadomasochism in the neuroses conceived of as a pathological compromise formation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39(2), 363-375.

 

Thompson, B., Ph.D. (1994). Sadomasochism: Painful perversion or pleasurable play?. New York: Cassell.

 

Von Krafft-Ebing, R. (1995). Psychopathia Sexualis. In T. S. Weinberg, Ph.D. (Ed.), S & M: Studies in dominance and submission (pp. 25-31). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1886)

 

Von Sacher-Masoch, L. (1989). Venus in Furs (U. Moeller & L. Lindgren Trans.). New York: Blast Books. (Original work published 1870)

 

Weinberg, M. S., Ph.D., Williams, C. J., Ph.D., & Moser, C., Ph.D., M.D. (1996/1999). The social constituents of sadomasochism [summary of study]. In C. Moser, Ph.D., M.D. & J. Madeson (Eds.), Bound to be free: The sm experience (pp. 30-32). New York: Continuum Publishing. (Original work published 1984)

 

Weinberg, T. S., Ph.D. (1995). Sadism and masochism: Sociological perspectives. In T. S. Weinberg, Ph.D. (Ed.), S & m: Studies in dominance and submission (pp. 119-137). Amherst, NY: Prometheus. (Original work published 1978)

 

Weinberg, T. S., Ph.D. (1995). Sociological and social psychological issues in the study of sadomasochism. In T. S. Weinberg, Ph.D. (Ed.), S & m: Studies in dominance and submission (pp. 289-303). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1994)

 

Weinberg, T. S., Ph.D. (Ed.) (1995). S & m studies in dominance and submission. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

 

Weinberg, T. S., Ph.D., & Magill, M. S., Ph.D. (1995). Sadomasochistic themes in mainstream culture. In T. S. Weinberg, Ph.D. (Ed.), S & M: Studies in dominance