A wide range of sexual behaviors falls under the umbrella of sadomasochism, or S&M (also known as sadism and masochism). Sadomasochism describes when pain and pleasure are taken to extremes to achieve sexual satisfaction. Though many people may associate sadomasochism with bondage, discipline, and other BDSM-related practices, the truth is that it can include a variety of sex acts that do not necessarily involve bondage at all.

What Is Sadomasochism?

Sadomasochism is a consensual practice involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and role-playing. It can be part of foreplay or an entire sexual experience by itself. Some people say it’s all about control—being under someone else’s control—but those in a power exchange relationship will tell you that it isn’t about domination so much as mutual exploration. Those who practice BDSM understand that pain can be enjoyable if both partners consent to it; otherwise, it would just be abuse. 

Though women tend to dominate men in BDSM play, things change with their dominant roles. As a result, kinksters report feeling more empowered than ever before with confidence when engaging in some BDSM play. It’s a safe bet that most people you know have no idea that BDSM exists, or they might even view it as some deviant behavior. But with Fifty Shades of Grey making waves in mainstream culture, more and more people recognize kink for what it is: a viable form of sexual expression that can bring about tangible benefits for those who practice it (Lammers & Imhoff, 2015). 

The Difference Between Sexual Sadism and Sexual Masochism

Most people equate sexual sadism with violent, even criminal behavior. And although cases of severe violence or abuse can certainly be a manifestation of sexual sadism, it’s important to distinguish between consensual S&M activities—commonly referred to as BDSM (short for bondage-discipline/dominance-submission/sadomasochism)—and non-consensual ones. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain; however, both partners in a consensual relationship should take precautions to avoid violence or severe injury. 

Fortunately, statistics indicate that consensually engaging in S&M has no bearing on one’s likelihood of committing acts of violence against others. For instance, findings from one study revealed that 99 percent of participants had never acted violently while practicing bondage-discipline/dominance-submission/sadomasochism, and more than half reported they were markedly less aggressive towards others outside of their dominant-submissive roles (De Neef et al., 2019). Although research regarding individual variations within normal ranges is sparse, experts agree that such behavior typically originates during childhood development through experiences involving trust, dependency, and control (2019).

Is There A Difference Between Sadomasochism and BDSM?

The terms sadomasochism and BDSM are often used interchangeably, but there's a difference between these two words. One of them refers to sexual practice, while the other refers to an erotic preference. Some people who practice sadomasochistic activities may prefer not to call it BDSM, as they feel that method has nothing to do with domination, submission, or bondage; instead, it is about psychological power exchange between two consenting adults (Weierstall & Giebel, 2016)--And when asked if they identify as sadomasochists, some say no because they don't like that term at all.

Either way, you want to call it, there is one thing we can all agree on: Consent is sexy! Don't start pulling your partner's hair without asking first. You wouldn't walk up to someone and punch them in the face out of nowhere, so avoid doing anything physically provocative without asking for permission first. 

Your "yes" counts just as much as anyone else's, so treat it like gold before making your next move. Just because someone consents to something once doesn't mean they're down for everything in eternity; taking away their ability to say no is often dangerous since most serious injuries occur during playtime when partners are tied up or blindfolded. Make sure both partners have ample space to voice concerns in a safe environment before putting your kinky moves into action.

How Does Sadomasochism Work In A Relationship?

To begin with, let's consider how S&M would play out in a relationship. For starters, both parties need to be into it! While you may be fascinated by your partner's involvement in S&M, they won't be doing anything if they don't have a desire to do so. They might engage in bondage or discipline scenarios when their partners initiate them or for exhibitionist reasons – but there will never be an absolute pleasure for them if they don't want to participate. Remember, consent is critical. 

In relationships where one person is dominant, S&M can quickly become unhealthy. After all, one person being in control doesn't mean that they know what's best for their partner all of the time! Therefore, only after getting input from your partner about whether bondage and discipline scenarios are a good idea should you get started with them on an ongoing basis. This helps ensure that both people involved are 100% happy with these actions in their lives together.

How Does Sadomasochism Affect Relationships?

Sadomasochistic individuals (people who enjoy both giving and receiving pain) rarely develop deep relationships with other people. While some couples might be interested in one partner being dominant, bondage discipline will not work with those with intense trust issues. One of the main motivations behind masochism is to obtain power, so when you no longer have control over your partner, you may stop feeling pleasure from it. However, if you're like most people who practice BDSM, your trust issues would likely play a significant role in why you began it in the first place. Therefore, unless a considerable amount of time has passed since then, it's likely that the same trust issue will remain there for quite some time in any relationship or partnership involving masochistic acts.

If bondage discipline works out well between two partners, they'll find a way to sustain their enjoyment together by only using certain types of activities during sex or acting out specific scenarios together (for example). The challenge lies in finding partners who can do it - as far as we know. Only 18% of women and 15% of men say they'd be okay with tying up their partner at least once. Many more women than men say they'd be interested in allowing their partners to tie them up during sex; 44% vs. 26%. Once again, men were much more inclined towards liking vanilla sex than women (De Neef et al., 2019).

How Do I Know If Sadomasochism Is Right For Me?

Bondage and discipline won't harm you but heighten your pleasure when done correctly. Enjoy yourself as much as possible by listening to your body and making sure your partner knows what gets you going. Even if it's painful at first, remember that pain and sex don't have to go hand-in-hand—you can experience plenty of pleasures without having to endure any discomfort or cruelty.

Though it might sound taboo, sexual masochism can be a healthy part of one's sexual life. While it may seem strange, many people who enjoy pain benefit from experiencing it—both physically and emotionally. One way to do so is through bondage and discipline. If you're interested in trying these activities out for yourself, here are a few tips for how to get started: read up on techniques; explore different toys; partner with someone knowledgeable; take things slow and use lots of lube—and have fun! The goal isn't to hurt yourself or your partner but rather to feel an intense sensation that you like.

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

Lammers, J., & Imhoff, R. (2015). Power and sadomasochism. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(2), 142–148. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550615604452

Weierstall, R., & Giebel, G. (2016). The sadomasochism checklist: A tool for the assessment of Sadomasochistic Behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 735–745. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0789-0