What is sadomasochism? Full psychological breakdown

You’ve seen it in the movies, you’ve seen it in TV shows. It even took the dance floors by storm with Rihanna’s classic “S&M.” But for those of you not playing in your local BDSM dungeon, her music video may just give you more questions than answers. More than just a rather long word, sadomasochism is a catchall phrase for two different sides of one sexy (and stinging) coin: sadism and masochism.

An umbrella term for pain-based kinks, if you're curious about sadomasochism, it may seem like it has to consume your social life, but many people engage in kink activities, then bake cookies for their kid's bake sale. Curious about the balance of such different worlds? Start by learning the fundamentals...

Sadomasochism basics

A person can't get into sadomasochism without understanding the concept of sexual trust, boundaries, and consent. Participants in all BDSM practices live by these words. Even the most violent of play relies on explicit conversations about safety and using established safe words.

This trust is so important because it opens kinksters up to express their innermost desires. Most commonly, sadomasochism crops up at the intersection of physical pain and pleasure. Physical sadomasochism includes...

  • Whipping and spanking (also known as impact play)
  • Ball gags 
  • Blindfolds
  • Cock + ball torture
  • Breath play
  • Blood play

Sadomasochism doesn't end with physical pain. That may work for some, but for others, the submissive release is in emotional pain inflicted with the help of their domming partner. While not physically dangerous, this kind of sadomasochism calls for safewords as well. Seasoned kinksters know how to push those tasty limits to their edge, and get up to things like…

  • erotic humiliation
  • talking down to their partners in the bedroom
  • Embarrassing them in public
  • Findom
  • Forced or denied orgasms
  • and many others...

Sadomasochism is only limited by your imagination. Often, the media advertisement machine sells the complexity of this world short, and sex shame has kept research on this world in the shadows - but slowly, it's changing. Maybe because we're starting to embrace the key players in sadomasochism in everyday life: the sadist and the masochist.


These roles may not feature in the next summer rom com, but sadism and masochism are healthy expressions of desire.

A sadist derives pleasure from other people’s pain, especially if they're the one causing it. A sadist craves taking control of a situation and helping someone else test the limits of what they can handle. Sadists care about their lovers. They respect them - they also get turned on by causing them pain.

Although this can have vanilla people equating sadists with sociopaths or murderers, the truth couldn’t be more different. Sexual sadists get a bad rep, but they're compassionate and kind. They understand boundaries and consent, and honor their partners' limits. Sadism is a normal expression of intimacy – and one of the least understood aspects of sadomasochism overall.


If you look up the word masochist, definition after article says this kind of person is attached to harm during sex. It's actually more than that. A person who's a sexual masochist is the mirror of the sadist. The rush can come from spanking, pain, denial, and humiliation. The psychology of that pleasure is wrapped up in the magic word: trust. Through trust, pain is the help they need to perceive every ounce of delicious surrender.

That being said, masochists may usually be submissive, but they aren't passive - they take an active role in sadomasochism, and their submission is a test of will.

The switch

Tom Robbins once wrote that “there are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people...and those who are smart enough to know better.” If you fall into that second category, good for you. That means you know the third part of the sadomasochism puzzle: the switch. See, a switch is someone who inhabits both sadistic and masochistic head spaces, depending on the day or the partner.

No matter where you fall, remember: there’s never a wrong way to love (as long as everyone’s consenting). The pleasure sadists, masochists, and switches derive from sadomasochism is featured many a science study, and modern psychologists all agree on one thing: this social group is completely normal. Everyone has a unique experience with desire, and folks who love S&M are no different.

Dip your toes in

Consensual sadomasochism is a thrill, one that doesn't have to be intimidating. The sadomasochism community is rich and welcoming. Try FetLife (a social media for the sadomasochistic person), or look up local dungeons for a firsthand sexual exploration of sadism and masochism with others who know the ropes.

Say the word, and the men, women, and nonbinary honeys of sadomasochism will be happy to help you discover your inner sadist, masochist, or switch. See what the world online has to offer for taking you to new sexual heights. You don't have to give up all other parts of yourself and let sado masochism define you - but be open to the idea that S and M might just be the magic cause of your (sadomasochistic) sexual revolution.