M is for Masochist
Masochism is defined formally as ‘the derivation of sexual gratification from being subjected to physical pain or humiliation’. The more casual definition is ‘pleasure in being abused or dominated, a taste for suffering’. Sexual masochism remains a psychiatric diagnosis but a person can only qualify for this diagnosis if the behaviour is causing them significant emotional, social or physical distress. The mental health community now recognises that some people enjoy the experience of submission, pain and humiliation as part of their sexual relationships and that this does not mean their sexual relationships are not healthy ones. The relationships I am referring to involve consensual masochism.
Masochists come in many flavours. Some enjoy humiliation and emotional challenges (being called names like slut, or pussy for example). Others enjoy physical humiliation (being exposed in front of others, being forced to pee in front of others or being peed on). Others enjoy various levels of physical pain and submission to another’s will. Still others like bondage which can cause physical pain but that is secondary as they are enjoying the restraint or control. There are many people who identify as submissive and enjoy power exchange relationships but who are not masochistic in any way.
Masochism was named after Leopold von Sascher-Masoch who wrote novels that detailed his sexual fantasies. The most well-known of his books is Venus in Furs. However, there exist spiritual practices that long predate the idea of masochism. Zen Buddhist masters used a rod to awaken a higher level of spirituality in students. A large number of Saints and nuns practiced self-flagellation to achieve penance or spiritual release. You might believe that this is not related to sexual release but it is clear from research that it is related. The euphoria and bliss reported as a result of masochist sexual activities is described in the same way as the euphoria and ‘transcendence’ described by religious self-flagellants. Many people who practice sexual masochism make a connection between their physical experience and their spiritual experience.
Push your body to extremes and your body produces and releases endorphins which are the body’s natural opiates. It doesn’t matter whether you are reaching the extreme by running, a challenging climb or by being whipped with a single tail whip. The physiological response is the same and the euphoria and high experienced the same. For sexual masochists, this is often combined with orgasm making the whole experience even more intense and pleasurable.
Sexual masochists run the gamut from enjoying light pain (gentle flogging, scratching, nibbling to gentle bites, light spanking) to edge play (drawing blood with teeth, knife play, breath play, being beaten with sjamboks, whips, studded paddles). A larger number of people who enjoy sexually masochistic pursuits would not label themselves as masochists. For example, people who enjoy the occasional spanking or flogging. Even amongst those who consider themselves to be masochists, lighter play is much more common than edge play.
Contrary to what 50 Shades of Grey implies, most sadists and most masochists were not abused as children. Some people who enjoy masochism have had early sexual experiences that have influenced their preferences. For example, Jay told me that when he was a child, if he did wrong, his grandmother would cut a switch from the tree and he would be hit with the switch 10 times. He spoke of how much that hurt initially but that when he reached puberty the pain changed and he began to experience some sexual pleasure mixed in with the pain. As an adult, Jay enjoys all types of impact play but his favourite remains being beaten with a switch. Jay works in financial services, has a long term partner and describes himself as ‘happy with life’.
Some masochists find that the release helps with chronic illness. Bob Flanagan was the old living person with cystic fibrosis. He lived until he was 43. He was an extreme masochist and a performance artist. He spoke at length about it alleviating some of the pain and discomfort of the cystic fibrosis. This is not to say that he did not get sexual pleasure from his masochistic pursuits. Simply put, these pursuits had other beneficial effects.
I have a similar experience. I have systemic lupus that causes a wide variety of symptoms including chronic joint pain. When I engage in masochistic sex, I experience a higher level of pain relief, less fatigue and this lasts for days to weeks past the masochistic scene.
Masochists do not find all pain sexually exciting or pleasurable. When a masochist stubs her toe, it hurts and not in a good way. Arthritis continues to be painful and cannot be transformed into pleasure. Only certain types of pain, in particular contexts are experienced as pleasurable.
If you have fantasised about trying something masochistic, start slowly with things like light scratching, light spanking, light flogging, or nibbling. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.