MASOCHISM: His and Hers:

BDSM lifestyle article:

MASOCHISM: His and Hers;

By: Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

Are there sex differences in masochism? For a long time, this question was asked in relation to Freud’s suggestion that women are more masochistic. Various thinkers, like Helen Deutsch and Theodor Reik, debated whether males or females were the more masochistic sex. This went back and forth for decades.

 

In retrospect, the whole debate may have been stupid. It is now clear that there are masochists who are men, and there are others who are women. And neither is typical: That is, most men and most women are not masochistic. Masochists are a minority found among both men and women.

 

But that doesn’t mean that gender is irrelevant. Male masochists and female masochists don’t seem to desire, do, and enjoy exactly the same things. It may be possible to speak of male and female styles of masochism.

 

Research on these different styles is just beginning. I can tell you roughly how male and female masochists differ. What these differences mean is harder to say. Keep in mind that these are merely broad, general trends, while every masochist is a unique individual, there are many males who are closer to the feminine style than the masculine style, and vice versa. You can make generalizations about masochists, but there are always many exceptions.

 

In a previous issue of Spectator, I described masochism as a means of escaping from self. Sexual submission makes your ordinary world go away and puts you in the middle of a fantasy scene in which you can think, feel, and act as someone entirely different. There are two stages to this. First, the normal identity is stripped away, and second, a new fantasy self is created to replace it. Although masochism typically involves both stages, male masochism seems to emphasize the first, while female masochism emphasizes the second.

 

The male ego is generally regarded as stronger as and more formidable than the female, and so it’s harder to get rid of than the female ego. That may be why male masochists seem to emphasize the first (escape) stage. Females may find it relatively easier to slip out of their normal selves, and so female masochism emphasizes the second part of the process, namely the construction of a new fantasy self.

 

Male masochism features intense sensations and practices that will grab the mind and force it to change. Female masochism tends to rely more on symbolism, suggestion, emotion, and allowing the mind to play. Male masochists desire multiple ways of overcoming their normal selves and proving that they are not grown-up men. Female masochists, however, rarely want to be treated as anything other than grown-up women.

 

The difference can be seen in how men and women use humiliation, which is a common and important feature of masochism. Male masochists often desire to be treated or transformed into something less than a man. They may be put on a leash and made to walk on all fours like a dog. They may be dressed in diapers and treated like babies, complete with suckling, changing, and the inevitable spanking for wetting their diapers. The dominant partner may insult the masochist’s genitals (such as being too small or ugly). Such degrading practices are almost never found among female masochists.

 

In addition, many male masochists desire to be symbolically transformed into females, such as by being dressed up in women’s clothes. Female masochists almost never report being transformed into men or anything else. Indeed, if female masochism makes use of any such symbolism, it involves emphasizing the woman’s femininity. The book Coming to Power, a compilation of stories about lesbian S&M, contains two stories in which women are humiliated by being dressed up in ultra-feminine clothing. They found this embarrassing, but it did not make them into anything other than women.

 

Humiliation in female masochism typically centers on what I call display. That is, the woman is put on display in a revealing or embarrassing pose. This might involve being tied spread-eagled to the four corners of a bed or table. It might involve undressing while others watch, or generally being naked while others remain fully clothed. It might involve some public or semipublic acts, such as allowing her underwear–or lack of underwear–to be seen in public settings.

 

For some women, this exhibitionistic display is a central feature of their masochistic desires, and the scene may be elaborate. For example, one masochistic woman described being posed nude on a serving table along with the snacks and hors d’oeuvres at a party.

 

Male masochists rarely emphasize being put on display. When they do, it is often more to emphasize other aspects of their submission rather than an end in itself. Thus, it may serve to underscore their degradation, such as if other people see a man being led around on a leash or put in diapers.

 

Another form of humiliation involves having your partner have sex with someone else. It is quite clear that people find it humiliating to be cuckolded, and indeed the emotional effects of extramarital affairs are often centered on the implicit humiliation. It is not surprising, therefore, that some masochists want to be humiliated in this way. Sacher Masoch, the Austrian novelist after whom “masochism” is named, was fascinated by the desire for this form of humiliation. He put a great deal of pressure on his reluctant wife to have sex with other men. Later, he found more accommodating partners, and reveled in his disgrace. He would help his beloved arrange the tryst and help her dress for it. On at least one occasion, he arranged for his wife to have sex with another man in his own apartment, while he waited outside and watched through a keyhole in the door. Afterwards he served them both wine.

 

As far as I can tell, the desire to be cuckolded as a form of humiliation is almost exclusively associated with male masochism. I have never found any reports involving female masochists who desired or enjoyed this form of humiliation. There may be a few, but clearly this pattern exists mainly among male masochists (although, to be sure, it is rare among men, too).

 

All of this fits into a general pattern. The female masochist wants to feel her partner’s desire and love for her, even if he ties her up and spanks her. She likes to be the center of attention, displayed nude while others stare at her breasts or vagina. She doesn’t want her partner to desire other women or to diminish her female sexual appeal in any way.

 

In contrast, the male masochist often wants his masculine sexuality to be stripped away from him. He may desire to be treated like a dog or a baby or a woman. His partner doesn’t express desire for him; she may even insult his penis size or sex appeal. Her sexual desires are directed toward other men than toward him. At most, she uses him as a sort of human masturbation device, as if he were a dildo or vibrator.

 

The mouth is one of the body’s main sex organs, as well as being an especially sensitive and intimately personal part of the body. Some masochistic practices make liberal use of the mouth. These practices are mainly associated with male masochism.

 

These “oral” humiliations take several forms. A submissive may kiss and suck the feet of the dominant partner, or he may bestow similar attentions on the partner’s anus. Both of these are of course expressions of respect and submission, sometimes called “oral worship.”

 

Another form of oral humiliation, involves having women’s panties stuffed in the masochist’s mouth. The most popular version of this practice is to have the dominant woman take off her panties and use them to gag the submissive man, such as while she spanks or whips him. Masochists often seem to savor the scent and taste of panties worn by a beloved female dominant partner.

 

A last category of oral humiliation involves consuming sexual fluids. This is commonly described as having the masochist “clean up” after sexual activity. Several masochistic practices fall in this category. Sometimes the male masochist is required to ejaculate by masturbating, perhaps for the entertainment of his dominant partner (and some-times by her guests as well). This is followed by having him lick up his own semen off the floor. He might also be required to ejaculate onto the hands or feet of his partner and then lick that off. I have even seen a few cases in which men desire being required to ejaculate directly into their own mouths. I don’t know whether that is really possible, but at least in reports and fantasies the man tries to accomplish it by lying on his back, then pulling his legs up and over his head, so that his shoulders are on the floor and his derriere is facing the ceiling, with his penis thus pointed toward his mouth. In other cases, the man will have intercourse with his partner, until he comes, after which he is required to “clean her up” by licking her genitals and then consuming the mixture of his semen and her secretions.

 

Two more extreme practices involving the mouth deserve mention. One involves oral consumption of urine; typically, the dominant partner will urinate into the mouth of the masochist. This is reported occasionally by both male and female masochists, but it seems to be quite rare, and it may be more common as a fantasy than a reality. The other practice involves cleaning up after others have sex. For example, one man reported how his wife would invite another man in and have sex with him, after which the husband performed the humiliating duty of licking her clean. In other cases, the submissive male is required to suck both his dominant partner and her lover to arousal and then lick them both clean afterward.

 

These humiliations, as a group, are far more common among male masochists than female masochists. Female masochists would not commonly make a ritual out of kissing the feet of their Master or of licking his anus or licking him clean after sex. Male masochists do sometimes treat their mistresses those ways.

 

Of course, there is more to masochism than humiliation. Pain and bondage are also common features. Most masochists desire some amount of pain. Female masochists seem to use pain a little more commonly than male masochists. But among the masochists who do use pain, there seems to be a tendency for males to want greater intensity. Female masochists typically desire to be spanked, and often the use of pain more symbolic than real. A few slaps may be enough. Male masochists are more likely to want a whipping or a severe spanking, or to combine several sources of pain. As I said earlier, male masochism tends to use intense experiences to grab and focus the mind, while female masochism can rely on suggestion and imagination.

 

Bondage is popular with both males and females. It may be slightly more common among male masochists. The goal of bondage is to make the person feel helpless, vulnerable and totally at the mercy of the dominant partner. It may easier for females to feel this way when their partner is a man who is stronger and larger than they are. A male masochist dominated by a woman may need some bondage to make him physically vulnerable.

 

Male and female masochists also differ in their sexual patterns. In my research, about two thirds of female masochists describe having genital intercourse with their partner on a regular basis, but only about a quarter of male masochists do. A common explanation for not having genital sex is that penetration carries a symbolic message of domination, so it wouldn’t seem right for a male masochist to penetrate his mistress’s vagina.

 

Whatever the reason, it seems fairly clear that genital sex is much more common in female masochism. Genital intercourse is one of the ultimate expressions of mutual love, intimacy and sexual desire. Thus, once again, female masochists are reminded that their partners love and desire them–but male masochists get no such message.

 

The notion that penetration symbolizes domination fits evidence about anal sex. A fair number of masochistic scenes include receiving a dildo, vibrator, or penis in their anus. For heterosexual female masochists, anal sex usually involved their master’s penis. My research has found no sex differences in anal sex. It was reported by about a third of both the male and the female masochists.

 

Oral sex, meanwhile, is a little more common among men than women. To be sure, it is very commonly performed by both male and female masochists, but male masochists seem to be especially partial to it. One reason for the high rate of oral sex in male masochism is that men often do not have genital sex with their mistresses, and so they have to satisfy them orally. Another reason is that men seem to be quite oral in their masochism. Many masochistic practices feature the man’s mouth. Cunnilingus is simply an extension of this.

 

The notion of servicing a dominant partner orally brings up the notion that oral sex can be used as a form of humiliation. Masochists may be drawn to oral sex, not only as a sexual act, but also as a submissive act. Again, this seems to be especially apparent among male masochists. In one case, a male masochist described how his mistress required him to hold a vibrator in his mouth and insert the other end into her vagina. These hardly treating him like an adult human lover; instead, he is reduced to an extension of a mechanical device.

 

Male and female masochists also differ with regard to the presence of other people at a scene. In my work, both male and female masochists reported the presence of a third party with about equal frequency. But there was a difference in what these others did. Male masochists nearly always wanted these third parties to participate in some way. In contrast, many female masochists seemed to desire the presence of others who were there only as spectators.

 

For example, one masochistic fantasy that both men and women report is this: The dominant partner invites several friends over and the masochist is ordered to don a skimpy outfit (or even strip naked) and serve drinks and snacks. Being thus displayed in a humiliating way may be the main aspect of a woman’s masochistic fantasy. For a male masochist, however, the scene will usually go farther: The women may take turns whipping him or he may have to perform oral sex on each of them in turn.

 

Lastly, there is the issue of symbolic sex change. Masochism revolves around escaping from one’s normal identity. Part of one’s identity involves being male or female, so masochistic escape can be increased by becoming someone else–such as someone of the opposite sex. But only male masochists reported this. Female masochists are rarely or never transformed into men during their S&M scenes. My research found that male masochists were symbolically transformed into women in about 40% of the cases. Typically, this involved being dressed up in women’s clothing, especially lingerie. Sometimes the bra and panties were augmented with makeup, a wig, even a dress and high-heeled shoes. Some male masochists desire the transformation to go even further: They are given a feminine name, required to perform “women’s work” such as housework (and dominant females especially seem to like this part, because they can have a sex slave do their housework for them), or even required to take the female role in sexual intercourse.

 

These differences reflect the same themes. Male masochism is based on denying the individual’s manhood, but female masochism does not deny her womanhood. Female masochism can achieve escape with suggestion and fantasy, but male masochism has to work hard to get rid of the male ego.

 

Thus, there are indeed sex differences in masochism. Rather than viewing these in terms of whether men or women are more masochistic, it seems more accurate to speak of different styles of masochism.

 

One last word of caution is necessary. These differences refer to general trends and patterns, they are not absolute. There is no reason to worry or be upset if you are a male but seem to prefer the female styles of masochism, or vice versa. What I have sketched is a series of broad, general patterns about whether each particular practice is more common among male or female masochists. What is impressive about masochism, though, is how distinct specific each person’s preferred fantasy is, and how widely varied different people’s desires are. Sexual masochism expresses the individuality of sexual desire, much more than many other areas of sexuality.

 

Roy F. Baumeister is Professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University.

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