There's sadism, then there's sadism
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The "SM" in "BDSM" refers to either sadism and masochism, or to sadomasochism, depending on who you talk to. I think it can be a point of pride for some people to be able to say that they're a sadist or even a "heavy masochist" when they're talking about their BDSM or leather pursuits. But are they really sadists? And are the "masochists" we see wandering around dungeons really masochists?
Well, no. Er..., well, probably no.
You see, the point about sadists is that they get their rocks off by inflicting pain and suffering. At the end of a serious session with a victim, the common garden variety sadist would be revelling in the tormented, broken husk of a human they have brought into existence. In BDSM-land however, the outcome of a typical "sadism" session is a submissive, bottom or slave who is seriously sated, who feels some sort of resolution has been achieved and who has a feeling of intimate connection with their partner. This is exactly the opposite of what a real sadist looks for. A real sadist, if stuck with a BDSM submissive or bottom in a dungeon, would be infinitely frustrated and be forever crying out, "Stop having a good time!"
I suspect that there's a bit of linguistic convenience going on when we talk about "sadist", "sadism", "masochist" or "masochism". Externally, people who wear these labels in BDSM-land might look like they're going about their business doing the same sorts of things as everyday psychopaths, but what's happening internally is very different. In BDSM-land there's an almost explicit recognition that intense stimulation leads to profound satisfaction and if intense stimulation means strong pain, tight restraint or deep surrender and submission then so be it.
"Sadists" in BDSM can and do often use pain, torture, discipline and punishment with their partner, but the goal isn't to diminish the partner. It isn't to leave a whimpering shell as the end result, though this may be part of a larger process. No. The goal is to have a better, brighter, happier, more complete partner as an end result. Being "sadistic" in BDSM terms refers to making the partner more, not less.
Likewise, being a BDSM "masochist" usually isn't only about a bit of whacking followed by an orgasm. Nor is it about diminishing or degrading oneself. It's true that these two things can be part of a larger process, but BDSM masochism is really about growing. This isn't just personal growth, but also growing the intimacy and bonds in the relationship with your partner.
What we can observe is that for real sadists and real masochists the journey stops at the pain, the suffering and the submission. For BDSM folk this is where the journey actually begins. Everything up to this point for us is just packing the bags and getting ready to go.
When we look at pain, suffering, torture, surrender, submission, restraint and service, all of these important and vital words in BDSM-land represent departure points. They are the places from which we set off on our respective travels looking for surprise, excitement and self-discovery.
I don't actually like the way the words "sadist" and "masochist" are used in BDSM because they have dark and negative connotations while I find BDSM to be a bright, exciting and positive thing remarkably full of hope, promise and joy.
I suppose it doesn't help that we all tend to wear black, does it? Maybe bright yellow T-shirts are the way to go...