Bondage & Discipline, Submission, S & M

What is Sadomasochism

Reflections via Freud and Stekel
By Terence Sellers

"The most frequent and most significant of all perversions", 1 Sado-Masochism is our deviation of interest. Deviant, that is, from the normal sexual impulse - as per 'normal' being "the union of the genitals in the characteristic act of copulation".1 (We like to put this in, as it is so taxing for us to try to define that 'normal'.) But even the normal impulse "is always bound with a more or less prominent brutal element".2 In our modern age where relative morals seem to count for so much - even we of vaunted pervert strain must still remind ourselves that Sado-Masochism is a definite abnormality.

The ritualized behaviors; the strange and blatant acts, some which seem to be cut from horror-fiction; the rigid symbolism in dress, and manner - none of these behaviors should be lightly viewed, or ever treated as a mere 'game'. For those who do possess, in the depths of their being, the predominantly Sado-Masochistic bent cannot do without the flavour of it. And it will color every relationship - it is very often not a choice - and often it destroys love; and thus, to its possessor, it is rarely a possession of joy.

"The most striking peculiarity of sadomasochism is in the fact that its active and passive forms are regularly encountered together in the same person. He who experiences pleasure by causing pain to others in sexual relations is also able to experience pain as pleasure. A sadist is simultaneously a masochist, though either the active or the passive side of the perversion may be more strongly developed and thus represent his preponderate sexual activity." 1 The tendency to cause pain to the sexual object - and its opposite, the tendency to seek out and suffer pain from the sexual object, is designated sadism in its active form, and masochism in its passive.

In terms more au courant to the year 2000, the sadist might now be termed the Dominant: the Master, Dominatrix, or Mistress - or simply 'The Top'. The masochist is called a Submissive, a Slave, or 'The Bottom'. 'Top' and 'Bottom' are also used as verbs, as in "I bottomed to her", or "I want him to top me!". Another aspect of modern Sado-Masochism is the psychodramatic development of 'The Switchable'. That would be a person who consciously, in the sadomasochistic acting-out session, takes one side of the dynamic, then at some point 'switches' over into its psychologically 'equal and opposite'. So that a man might begin to act aggressively and then, either of his own will, or because compelled by his partner, 'switches' to enact the submissive side of his sexuality. (We assume the more favored, 'preponderate' role, is the one that ends the session - otherwise we cannot imagine what cathartic purpose the switching might have.) As well, we have to understand that whomever the 'Switchable' is with, will also oscillate between their own complementary sadomasochist roles. Or not ...

"Clinical observation led us ... to the view that masochism, the component instinct which is complimentary to sadism, must be regarded as a sadism that has been turned round upon the subject's own ego."3

Certainly there seems to be no harm in 'dressing up' one's ordinary sex-life with 'love-toys', role-play fantasy, or a little kinky costuming. But the 'charge' you are receiving within this 'play' is the bell-note of the Imperial Power you have tapped into. A Power still Libido, but with the Heart in abeyance; a sexuality shaped not by that kindly organ, but by the Mind, and the Will-to-Power. Such Power does excite; but is violent, excoriating; of a volatile, often uncontrollable Force, it can and will subvert the love that two people share. For this is a Power of Death, very strictly conjoined to Sex.

"From the very first we recognized the presence of the sadistic component in the sexual instinct. As we know, it can make itself independent [author's emphasis] and can ... dominate an individual's entire sexual activity." 3 The danger of an emotional 'bleed' into one's Love - a Love perhaps not yet entirely debased by a Lover calling itself Master - a Love that is most decidedly, at some point, wounded by the no-longer-merely 'symbolic' actions involving dominance and control.

And in time, Love may not even seem very important - at least to one of the Lovers - except as a precondition to submitting. Lord Byron once wearily remarked he cared very little any more for Love; though he would never tire of Obedience.

Both Freud and Stekel believe there is an instinct for, or towards Death; and that it is the first, most primordial of the instincts. That is to say, there is in all existant matter, from the stone to the human, a tendency to return to an original state of being - or Non-being, as it may be. The will to preserve oneself they view as a further development, even an acculturated trait.

This instinct to Death, this entropy, this seductive falling-back towards an earlier, assuredly more pleasurable time, we notice easily in the masochist. They would strive no longer to be anything, but to regress, become infantile, more helpless in the Greater's arms (though it might be a Greater Nothing). Though this inertia exists also in the Sadist, who might always be seen to be quite pleased with themselves - content to remain 'perfect', and thus, 'entropic'.

But - "the backward path that leads to complete satisfaction is as a rule obstructed by the resistances that maintain the repressions."3 As active Sado-Masochists, our resistance is down - the repressions are refashioned into 'psychodrama' - and so do we attempt to stand firmly on that 'backward path', to a complete satisfaction.

But Stekel goes yet deeper in his descriptions of the sadistic wielding of the Death-instinct, within sexuality. He comprehends there is, as well as inertia, an active Will-to Destroy - to overpower, crush, and kill the object of love. "Hate is the will to power, and love the will to submission. [But] there is no love without hate! This principle is still easier to comprehend than its converse: there is no hatred without love ... and while the will to power is inborn, the will to subjection seems to us a product of culture." 2

So the imperious Will-to-Power is a natural trait, inborn? And kept quieted, under control only by the later development - the perhaps more weakly will-to-subjection - the culturally-developed submission of the citizen, to the Greater Good - the social Order? "The sadist strives originally for the total annihilation of its subject. Every sadist is really a murderer." 4

Where a measured use of violence infuses the body with an erotic charge; where the lover's kiss is not enough, but needs the teeth to bite; where a slap in the face, by itself, has the same love-inspiring affect as a night's caressing: there is demonstrated Sado-Masochism - and, by implication, its usurptive power.

"But how can the sadistic instinct, whose aim it is to injure the object, be derived from Eros, the preserver of life?" 3 Freud himself does not answer his own eloquent question, except to concur Sadism must itself be the force of Death... dominating Love, and its handmaiden, Sex... resolving nothing, presenting yet again to our tired gaze the menage a trois ad infinitum of the Sado-Masochistic convolute.