As these writers names were the origin of the words sadism and masochism, associated to our BDSM games, we thought that it would be interesting knowing them a little better, and see how their names relate to the so named parafilias and to our games.
Even when there are many articles on Sade and Masoch in the Web, we think we can add something to the picture as we have our own ideas about them and about BDSM.
If you want more details about the characters of this story, read on the site our articles on their lives and works.
S, M and us
We believe that here are two mixed issues here. One is about psychology, and sadists and masochists as paraphiliacs. The other is the relation between de Sade and Masoch and BDSM.
For this comparison we will forget the fact that Masoch actually abused his wife, because that could make him a sadist (enjoying his wife suffering for being forced to make him suffer?), not a masochist, and stick to the “Venus in Furs” novel, which Krafft-Ebing actually used for his description of masochism. There is no such a difference between de Sade's life and his novels.
We think de Sade is not related at all to BDSM. First, most of his writings are about sex, in all formats and variations, and not only about our sexual games. When there are punishments, they are nonconsensual and abusive. He can be considered as “sadistic”, but in the psychological - not the BDSM - meaning: he gets his kick from abusing, violating and humiliating his victims for his own pleasure and ignoring theirs’ or, in fact, enjoying his partner’s predicament. There are no rules or moral limits about what he can do to his victims, even killing them (at least in his writings). He writes of self-satisfying sexual relations in which the other doesn’t matter. There is no power exchange; he takes all power from his victims and there is no caring or love.
Even if superficially it can be said that him, as us, enjoyed punishing and making the other suffer, in a BDSM game there are agreed rules, limits and the customary moral guidance is respected. The consent is mandatory, and even if the sub submits, and is beaten and humiliated, it is not only for the dominant’s pleasure, but because both parties enjoy the game. In most BDSM couples, there is a deep emotional attachment between the partners, missing on de Sade’s kind of relationships.
Sacher-Masoch approach, on the other side, is nearer to ours. First, the novel is not about suffering, as BDSM is not, but about submitting to the other, being dominated and at the other’s hands. The suffering and punishments are meant to highlight that power interchange. Severin craves to be dominated, beaten and humiliated, and even asks for her infidelity, to feel her power over him, because suffering makes him feel her domination more deeply, not because he enjoys it.
Another fact that relates him to us is that he doesn’t just submits passively to her, he asks (and even manipulates) her into dominating him. He was not a slave, a victim of her whims; he was an equal, convincing her to play with him.
But these characteristics get Severin far away from what the psychologists says a masochist is. He is not passive; he is plainly and consciously active. He not only is not abused, the novel’s Wanda must be convinced to dominate (at the begining, she doesn´t dare, afraid of enjoying it too much). And he asks for the especific ways in which he wants to be dominated. He “tops from the bottom”, not unusual on BDSM but out of character for a masochist in psychology.
Masoch was upset about the use of his name (Krafft-Ebing’s book was published while he was alive) because he declared that he could not recognize himself in the illness’s description, as we don’t recognize ourselves in it.
de Sade is an example of sickness, not related to us. He is obsessed with sex, which is the only important matter in his life, writing about it when he cannot practice it. Severin is related to us, not so much an example of sickness. Masoch had many interests, and wrote about many subjects, his fantasies being just a part of his life.
So, in our view, Masoch was not the right man to symbolize the masochist, opposed to de Sade’s sadism (or the other way around), neither in psychology nor in BDSM. de Sade is a paraphiliac, Masoch is not. They are not complementary, the active and the passive, the dominant and the dominated, they are both active. The identification was caused from a wrong and superficial approach, looking at the obvious similarity, or better, difference (“one enjoys inflicting pain, the other enjoys receiving it”) and ignoring consent, the element that defines the BDSM games. de Sade imposes his satisfaction on the other, with no consideration for the other’s feelings. Severin and Wanda, on the contrary, agree on the game.
Maybe the problem is that in sick persons (if clinical sadism and masochism exist), you should look for de Sade and his complement, the active and the passive, the abuser and the abused, while in BDSM, the characters are Masoch and his counterpart, both active participants who enjoy the game.
And perhaps, even in the clinical cases, Freud and the psychoanalysts are wrong, sadism and masochism being not complementary attitudes, but two opposed answers to similar psychological needs.