It’s a question that seems to be debated over and over again in BDSM circles: “Do sadists dislike masochists?” Yingtai, after reading what one of the many excellent books about BDSM had to say on the matter, asked the sadists she knows online for their views:
This being a perennially debated topic, the following is just my view today. I don’t think it varies much, but if I came at the topic from a different angle, I might come up with a different response. I shall drop in the responses of some of the others Yingtai asked as well, to illustrate my points or introduce new ones.
I initially wrote, “Yes and no. Two different kinds of pleasure. Need bottom to want it to be not fun, or, if fun, then looking for initial ‘ow’ reaction to make it fun for sadist.” Yingtai asked for that to be unpacked, which is the reason for writing a blog post about it.
To start with, some terminology.
A masochist is someone who gains (sexual) pleasure from pain stimuli; not all pain stimuli may be pleasurable, and the stimuli that give pleasure versus those that don’t, vary from masochist to masochist. I am a masochist who loves hitty things, some kinds of pinchy things, hot, and scratching. I am less keen on cold things, and cutting or needles are very much not pleasurable. Some people love needles, cutting and so on but hate certain types of hitty things or, say, hot wax.
A sadist is someone who likes causing pain. There is a commonly discussed distinction between (my terminology) “service-sadists” who only like to cause pain that they know is directly pleasurable, and “cruel-sadists” who also like to cause pain that is not directly pleasurable – they like to cause suffering as much as pain. In terms of BDSM, the cruel-sadist is only interested in pain they know is wanted, but it’s wanted by the bottom even if it causes suffering in the immediate term. I self-identify as a cruel-sadist. A service-sadist is not quite the same as a “service top”, and neither term should be viewed as derogatory.
The key terms I’ve introduced are “masochist”, “sadist”, “cruel”, and the distinction between “pain” and “suffering”. For clarity, a further distinction should also be made between “suffering” and “harm” – it is never the intention to cause harm, even when suffering is intended.
The perception that, in the words of Yingtai’s tweet, “a masochist is a sadist’s worst enemy” comes from the conception of “sadist” as being specifically a “cruel-sadist”. The reasoning is that someone who gains direct enjoyment from pain stimuli, will not suffer in the way that a cruel-sadist would enjoy.
At this point, it is worth taking a moment to look at what goes on for a bottom receiving pain in a BDSM scene. A masochist, we have declared, gains an immediate-term reward from the pain, in terms of arousal response. But why would a non-masochist agree to receive pain? Given that we are discussing consensual sadism only here, in order for a cruel-sadist to operate there must be a bottom who consents to suffering.
I was careful to describe masochistic pain as involving an “immediate-term” reward, or a “direct pleasure”. But it is possible for non-masochist bottoms, and Subs in particular, to derive other rewards that are indirect or delayed. For instance, there is the “endurance” reward: “I suffered, now I feel tough and strong because I could take it!” Almost as the flipside of that coin, there is a possible “vulnerability” reward: “You broke down my defences, and didn’t destroy me” or “You broke down my walls and saw me exposed”. There is the “gift” reward: “It pleases me to give you pleasure, even if I have to suffer to do so”. Each of these rewards can be delayed or can be achieved in the immediate aftermath; some can be achieved during a scene, between individual stimuli or changes in stimuli (for instance, nipple clamps that stay on can be processed as “you’re breaking down my walls!” or “I am enduring this and am tough”, or other reward-forms, even while they are in place). If you think these are somewhat ephemeral or nebulous rewards in comparison to the harsh, physical fact of pain and suffering, it is worth noting that outside of kink it is possible to find healthy and strong examples of each of these: a classic example would be physical sports – contact, or endurance.
A masochistic bottom, even when zie takes direct sexual pleasure from the pain stimuli, will not always experience that as the initial response. Some pain stimuli need to be “processed” first; others are of a nature that evinces an external reaction that combines conventional, instinctive, “suffering” response with sexual arousal. And some, of course, are such that the sexual arousal drowns out the instinctive response. Which is to say, you generally still get an “ow!” from a masochist, but it’s followed by “mmm, yes!”
The next question is to ask what goes on for a sadist (either consensual variety). It is easy to say that a service-sadist is out to cause pleasure, but why through that medium? I would guess that the answer (or at least, part of the answer) is common to both the service and the cruel: pain is one of the most visceral and deep-rooted responses we have. To key into that as a route into a partner’s responses and mind is a potent attractor. The service-sadist looks more for the pleasure response but the drive is similar, at least in these terms.
A cruel-sadist is seeking the core reaction. At least part of the reward is the converse experience for the non-masochistic bottom: wanting to break down those walls or defences, for example. Wanting to test you and prove you’re strong. Wanting the proof of your willingness to please. We get to that by witnessing the immediate moment of suffering, and extending that or repeating it to see your reactions. And above all, being proved effective by those responses.
But, a masochist will give those kinds of rewards as well, in different ways. Sexual arousal is another form of lowering defences or breaching walls. It is certainly proof of being effective. And, as mentioned, there is often the initial pain response as well as the arousal response when a masochist plays. It’s a different kind of access and a different way of receiving pleasure from a masochist than from a non-masochist bottom, but both are valuable and rewarding:
The assumption on which the thesis is based, is that a cruel-sadist cannot also access the rewards that a service-sadist does. This, however, is false.
The truth is that the greatest enemy of a sadist is the person who is indifferent or unresponsive. As Yingtai’s correspondents put it:
That seems to be an emphatic “NO!” to the thesis, so why did I say “yes and no” in my initial response?
In part, it’s the point expressed by Ferns:
but her follow-up (quoted above) about still seeing conflict and struggle in a masochist counters this. On the other hand, I got a demo on my arm of a metal claw from a sadist Domme at a munch once. I went back and asked for another go, she said, “No, you enjoy it too much!” (It left welts that lasted for days – yum!)
There is, sometimes, a perception I have with a “whee!” kind of masochist (or, more accurately, a “whee!” kind of response) where the dynamic seems to shift. Initially, I wanted to cast this in terms of control: when a masochist says, “Harder!” I often feel an urge to ease off – even when, a moment earlier, I wanted to go harder. But I think it is less about “who’s in control” and “who gives the orders” than it is about the “giving” dynamic. In a curious twist, it can be hard to feel as though the pain I give to a masochist is a gift from me. If zie seems to demand more, then it feels as though it is no longer mine to give. (Asking or begging for more, is, however, quite hot.) This, in turn, challenges the feeling of potency or “effect-having”. (There’s a list of “un-safewords” that goes around every so often – it’s essentially words or phrases that a bottom can use to challenge or belittle the efficacy of the top, the implication being that using them will spur the top to greater and perhaps more vicious efforts.)
So, the “yes” is essentially the combination of ways in which control, or “giving”, and efficacy, can sometimes seem to be challenged by an enthusiastic masochist’s engagement. I like being asked or begged to go harder. Gasping or panting, “Please… harder…!” because you’re enjoying it a lot, will always be welcome (ideally with the appropriate honorific thrown in as well).
The “no” is the more substantial answer, because it’s based in desiring above all, a response. A masochist of any variety is going to respond, usually in deep and rewarding ways. The true enemy of the sadist is the person who won’t respond.
(Of course, there is also the old joke: “A sadist holds a cane, the masochist pleads ‘beat me!’ while the sadist shakes hir head, ‘Nope!'” Surprisingly accurate…)