It is common for people to engage in sexual activities that cause them to experience some form of pain, whether spanking, having their hair pulled, or having their genitalia pinched. At the same time, they orgasm (also known as edge play). However, an entire subset of the BDSM community enjoys pain differently — they get aroused by humiliation. The term used to describe this phenomenon is sexual masochism disorder, characterized by experiencing sexual pleasure in response to receiving sexual pain.
Humiliation Kink: The Pleasure of Sexual Masochism
The term sexual masochism refers to the act of experiencing sexual pleasure in response to receiving pain or humiliation (De Neff et al., 2019). Sexual masochism disorder describes a condition in which those who experience sexual arousal from humiliation repeatedly request that their partner engages in it, even though it causes harm to their partner or themselves (2019). Both terms refer to the concept of humiliation, kink, or sexual pleasure from being humiliated and degraded during sex, but they are not synonymous with it. There are plenty of people who enjoy humiliation kink who do not consider themselves to be masochists and vice versa.
By definition, humiliation kink sexual masochism (SM) are mental and sexual disorders that involve pleasure in being humiliated, beaten, bound, or suffering in some other way (Weierstall & Giebel, 2016). This creates arousal and feelings of sexual pleasure in the individual experiencing it. On the other hand, humiliation kink is one of the more taboo forms, with some claiming that it is not a type of fetish at all—that it is abuse disguised as sexual pleasure.
How humiliation sex differs from BDSM
Humiliation play is a form of sexual masochism, but it is different from BDSM (bondage, domination/submission, sadomasochism). When you engage in humiliation play with your partner, you are not playing out any power dynamic or enforcing an agreed-upon structure for sex; you are not following any specific guidelines. Instead, humiliation is about making a human being feel uncomfortable to enjoy sexual pleasure. For some people, humiliating sex brings out an inner sense of vulnerability and creates feelings of heightened sensitivity during sex. Others get off on their partner insulting them as they orgasm, experiencing a release of stress that makes them feel more relaxed after sex than before.
There are many reasons why someone might want to try humiliation kink. There are no limits to what you can do if you want to experiment with humiliation play—but one thing remains constant: Sex should always be consensual and safe. If something does not make you comfortable, do not do it!
What humiliation play looks like
For most people, humiliation is an unpleasant experience. Think about some times you’ve been embarrassed—your face heats up, your heart pounds, and you feel a little panicked that everyone is looking at you. So it makes sense that real humiliation would make us feel bad. But what if something causes your body to react in the precisely opposite way? That’s right; I’m talking about sexual arousal. Those with sexual masochism disorder (SMD) can experience sexual arousal from being humiliated or otherwise suffering.
SMD is thought to be much more common than we realize. Some estimates suggest that as many as one in five women has experienced masochistic sexual fantasies and around three percent of men admit to experiencing pleasure when receiving pain during sex (Lehmiller, 2021). So what does it mean when someone says they enjoy feeling humiliated during sex? And how does it work?
First, let’s look at what happens inside our bodies when we are sexually aroused by humiliation play: it is important to understand what humiliation means for those who enjoy it. Those who experience sexual masochism find enjoyment in enduring or causing humiliating experiences that cause them physical or emotional pain, such as being spanked, hit with objects like whips and paddles, or forced into positions where they are exposed or made fun of while naked. Most will engage in other types of BDSM practices along with their humiliations kinks, but there is no set pattern for how these activities occur together.
What matters most is what feels suitable for each person. What gets you hot? What makes you wet and causes your mouth to water? What you might like or find pleasurable may not be the same experience for another.
Why do we want it?
It seems counterintuitive to feel pleasure from being humiliated, but people with sexual masochism disorder experience euphoria and other physical reactions associated with sexual arousal when they are humiliated. Understanding SM helps to be familiar with BDSM—bondage, discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism. A submissive (or masochist) gets off on giving up control in an erotic context and can be aroused by forms of degradation, including verbal abuse or flogging. Most people into SM enjoy both top-and-bottom roles—sadists and masochists both want to give and receive pain in a sexual context. Nevertheless, how does someone get turned on by humiliation?
Let us review: Humiliation is a specific form of domination where one person is forced to do something degrading or embarrassing. For example, consider spanking; if you are spanked for pleasure rather than punishment, that's not humiliating; it might hurt, but it won't humiliate you. Humiliation only happens when you have no choice about what happens to your body—you don't consent to be spanked because you like getting spanked; you're getting spanked because someone else wants you to get spanked, and there's nothing you can do about it. This lack of choice is essential for humiliation play because if your partner has no power over what happens next, then he isn't controlling anything at all—humiliation requires passivity on your part.
Getting into roleplay
Before engaging in humiliation play, it's best to make sure you and your partner are on board. Start with a shared experience that doesn't include humiliation, then work up to it by engaging in playful degradation talk. That can involve dirty-talking or describing what you would like your partner to do to you—make sure that neither party feels degraded. Humiliation play also may not be for everyone; if you are easily embarrassed or feel degraded during sex, it might not be for you. If that's the case, don't worry—there are many ways to express sexuality beyond intercourse alone!
It's important to communicate openly with your partner about what you want from sexual activity. First, be open about what turns you on and makes you uncomfortable. Then, when everything is out in the open, try talking about specific things that turn both of you on. For example, start by saying, " I think I'd enjoy doing [insert act here] because [insert reason here]. It could be as simple as saying I'm turned on when my partners tie me up, or It turns me on when I dominate someone. You never know until you try! After all, experimentation is a big part of healthy sexual expression.
Can you be non-consensually humiliated?
It is impossible to be non-consensually humiliated. This means that every situation where someone says I feel humiliated is a situation where partner consent was not given. A person can permit some things and not others, so if you both agree to a certain kind of play but stop agreeing to it because one party wants to change what they're doing, then humiliation kink has been negotiated into sex acts within an agreed-upon framework. The only time anyone feels like they have been non-consensually humiliated is when their sexual interests have been ignored or invalidated by someone who thinks they know better than them. Communication is key. It should never be an afterthought.
Does anything about this sound wrong to you?
Humans are wired to experience sexual pleasure. It's a means to get our genes out and into future generations. So what do you think? Is it possible that some people are so wired that they are turned on by receiving pain during sex? If you have never heard of humiliation kink before, don't be surprised—it isn't something most people discuss freely with friends and family because it isn't exactly mainstream.
Humiliation kink is what many call these types of fetishes; however, not everyone who experiences them would describe them as such. It doesn't matter how one would describe how they receive or give pleasure; what matters is how it makes you feel. We all have different tastes regarding sex, and we should respect each other's boundaries regarding what we will or won't do.
If you're interested in trying out humiliation kink for yourself, make sure your partner knows your boundaries. You may want to start slow, perhaps with name-calling or dirty talk instead of full-on degradation. As always, though, consent is essential!
And if you ever find yourself feeling uncomfortable while engaging in acts involving humiliation kink, use your safe word immediately. You can also ask your partner(s) for their thoughts on why they enjoy these acts and whether they'd be willing to change anything about their behavior towards you to make things more enjoyable for both parties involved.
Remember to always play safe, my friends.
De Neef, N., Coppens, V., Huys, W., & Morrens, M. (2019). Bondage-discipline, dominance-submission and sadomasochism (BDSM) from an integrative Biopsychosocial Perspective: A systematic review. Sexual Medicine, 7(2), 129–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2019.02.002
Lehmiller, J. (2021, October 7). How common are sexual sadism and masochism? Sex and Psychology. https://www.sexandpsychology.com/blog/2014/5/18/how-common-are-sexual-sadism-and-masochism/