Sadism is the deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others. A person who enjoys sadism is a sadist.

Leptosadism refers to mild sadism (from Greek leptos, small).

Derivation of the term

The term sadism is derived specifically from the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French soldier and writer. From the time that he was a young nobleman Sade consorted with prostitutes and developed a taste for sexual perversions.

He was imprisoned on several occasions for his harsh abuse of prostitutes and gross licentiousness. After arriving at the Bastille in 1784 he began writing erotic novels in which he gave full expression to his sexual fantasies. His most famous novel was The Adversities of Virtue (1787). His works are known for their graphic descriptions of sexual perversions.

His last years were spent in an insane asylum at Charenton, where he wrote plays for his fellow inmates to perform. His compulsion for physically and sexually abusing others gave rise to the concept of sadism.

In relation to BDSM

Within the BDSM community, the Dominant is most often the sadist, and the submissive is generally the masochist (who derives pleasure from receiving pain). Also in the BDSM community, unlike most societal descriptions in the medical and psychological community, sadism is widely accepted as a healthy expression of inflicting pain in a safe, sane, and consensual manner to a masochist who seeks such activities as a form of emotional release or sexual pleasure.

Psychological categorization

The classification of sadism and masochism has always been separate, sadism was included in DSM-I in 1952  while masochism was added in DSM-II in 1968. Contemporary psychology continues to identify sadism and masochism separately, and categorizes them as a) practiced as a life style or b) as a medical condition.

In the current DSM, sadism and masochism, alongside certain other sexual practices, are classified as paraphilias. Since the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994, the current criteriafor sadism and masochism as a paraphilia include that: “The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors” must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. The manual’s most current edition (DSM-IV-TR) has not changed the 1994 criteria for masochism: the activity must be the sole means of sexual gratification for a period of six (6) months, and either cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” or involve a violation of consent to be diagnosed as a paraphilia. The criteria for sadism has had minor wording changes.  The other major international classification of mental disorders, the ICD-10 differs from the DSM in a few regards. The ICD-10 combines sexual sadism and masochism into sado-masochism, makes more of a marked distinction between consensual sadomasochistic practices and sexual violence, and suggests that aspects of sadomasochism occur within average sexual relations.

The DSM’s criteria for sadism and masochism has been criticized as vague and untested in real life circumstances. The inclusion of paraphilias as a whole in the DSM has been a point of debate within the field. One concern is the ambiguous criteria for distinction between common sexual activities with the criteria for paraphilia. Others believe the inclusion of many paraphilias rest on conventional perceptions of normal sexuality, and compare the inclusion of paraphilias like sadomasochism to that of homosexuality which has been removed. The latest version of the DSM will be published in May 2013, so it remains to be seen if any changes in diagnosis and criteria will happen.

Forensic classifications

Sexual Masochists

Class I: Bothered by, but not seeking out, fantasies. May be preponderantly sadists with minimal masochistic tendencies and/or non-sadomasochistic with minimal masochistic tendencies

Class II: Equal mix of sadistic and masochistic tendencies. Like to receive pain but also like to be dominant partner (in this case, sadists). Sexual orgasm is achieved without pain or humiliation.

Class III: Masochists with minimal to no sadistic tendencies. Preference for pain and/or humiliation (which facilitates orgasm), but not necessary to orgasm. Capable of romantic attachment.

Class IV: Exclusive masochists (i.e. Cannot form typical romantic relationships, cannot achieve orgasm without pain or humiliation).

Sexual Sadists

Class I: Bothered but don’t act out sexual fantasies.

Class II: Act on sadistic urges with consenting sexual partners (masochists or otherwise). Categorization as Leptosadism is outdated.

Class III: Act on sadistic urges with non-consenting victims, but don’t seriously injure or kill. May coincide with sadist sexual type rapists.

Class IV: Only act with non-consenting victims and will seriously injure or kill them.

Difference between I-II and III-IV is consent.

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