What’s a Masochist, and Am I One?
In sex and in life, there are those who seek pain or self-denial as a means for pleasure. On the sexual side of things, masochism can be healthy when explored via BDSM play. However, when this spills over into your day to day life things can become complicated. Today we are going to contrast the two–sexual masochism and being a ‘masochist’–starting with a rundown of what sexual masochism entails.
If you’re a sexual masochist reading this right now, you will likely find this or any description of sexual masochism falls short, as each person’s masochistic desires play out individually. What we say here works for some, but likely not all.
Many masochists get off on experiencing pain, like pinching, slapping or burning (think nipple clamps, flogging or spanking, and hot wax) just to name a few ways. For the uninitiated or otherwise curious, they may wonder ‘how can pain be pleasurable?’ Well, physiologically speaking, pain and pleasure activate the same neural mechanisms in your brain, making them much more similar than not, according to a spotlight on this exact topic in Medical News Today.
“Pleasure and pain are both tied to the interacting dopamine and opioid systems in the brain, which regulate neurotransmitters that are involved in reward- or motivation-driven behaviors, which include eating, drinking, and sex.”
Maria Cohut, Ph.D.
So pain, especially when experienced in a controlled way and with a trusted partner, amplifies the sexual experience for many masochists. And as we just mentioned, controlling the experience is a big factor for many masochists; to experience pain, while safe, allows them to experience the sensation purely without worrying that they will come to any actual harm.
In fact, it is this change of context for pain (i.e., pain from a stubbed toe is unpleasant, while pain from being spanked is enjoyable) as it is being experienced during a time of pleasure, that seems to make all the difference in perceiving it as sexually arousing or gratifying instead of merely painful (source: NCBI).
To learn more about how to get started on your BDSM journey, this blog is full of great resources to be explored. However, the main question posed here is: how does sexual masochism differ from psychological masochism?
Psychological and sexual masochism are similar in that the person in question is gratified through pain, humiliation and (or) denial. And while in the sexual sphere this usually has strict limits of when this gratification plays out, the psychological masochist’s gratification comes out in ways that even they might not be aware of. The traits of these masochists can come out in the following ways, some of which we all can exhibit from time to time:
An Inability to Say No
Do you always find yourself agreeing to commit when someone makes a request of your effort or time? Do you find in these situations that you are pressuring yourself to say yes in order to seek approval or appear ‘good’? This feeds into the masochists’ self-flagellation cycle in which they agree to everything, and then agonize over doing so.
A Fixation on “Saving” Others
Outside of charity work or other collective action, a masochist may take it upon themselves to, for instance, try and save the environment and agonize over things like air pollution, if only to put further guilt on themselves. Masochists may commit themselves to ‘lost causes’ as a way to never actually solve anything and thus confirm their perception of not being good enough. This feeds into the victim, martyr and perpetrator roles that contribute to an unhealthy psychological cycle (source: Mental Health Today).
These behaviors, while on the surface appearing noble and self-sacrificing, put the subject right in the middle of many issues that they won’t be able to fix and might end up exacerbating. Outside of seeking professional help, anyone exhibiting psychological masochistic behaviors should try going easier on themselves, and examining their true motivations in order to step back and work on themselves.
Colin Hanna is a Volonté contributor and freelance writer who lives in Shanghai, China with his wife. He’s written extensively about sex and human sexuality for LELO since 2010.