Many people observe the sadomasochistic side of BDSM with little or no understanding of exactly how it works. Why would someone want to experience pain? Why would someone else feel pleasure by inflicting pain on another person? If I derive pleasure from physically hurting someone else, does that make me a bad person? Very good questions, and there are equally good answers to this often-misunderstood aspect of the BDSM lifestyle.
The sadomasochistic relationship is frequently confused in popular media with the Dominant/submissive relationship. Sadomasochism involves the giving and receiving/experiencing of pain. The masochist transforms this pain into pleasure, while the sadist allows the administration of pain to produce its own fulfilling forms of pleasure. It is as intense as it sounds. The Dominant/submissive dynamic, however, is about control. The submissive does whatever the Dominant asks: period. The submissive looks to the Dominant for complete and utter control, as the Dominant looks to the submissive for complete and utter obedience. Unlike the sadomasochistic dynamic, inflicting pain is not always a component of the Dominant/submissive relationship. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. There is frequently overlap between the roles of Dominant and Sadist, just as there is between masochist and submissive. This article is strictly about the sadomasochistic dynamic.
The most important thing to know is that the people who participate in sadomasochism play have agreed to everything in advance. Everyone participating wants to do this and they have put precautions in place in case it stops being fun, such as safe words. With that in place, they draw off of each other’s energy, reactions, and responses to build a dramatic scene and ultimately experience an intensely passionate experience together.
In the old days, most Sadists were trained first as masochists. This was a good thing, giving a potential Sadist the first-hand experience of a masochist’s feelings and experiences. After “graduating” to the role of Sadist, the former masochist knew exactly how to play with their masochistic charges to get the desired response. With this training, the Sadist could not only experience the pleasures of his own role, but also vicariously enjoy the masochist’s experience.
In modern BDSM, the role of the Sadist has become primarily an extension of the role of the Dominant, provided their submissive is also a masochist. (This is another way the lines get blurred between Sadist and Dominant, and masochist and submissive.) Through deep, probing discussions and question/answer periods, the Dominant learns what the limits and desires are of the submissive. While delivering the floggings, spankings, and other treatments that many submissives require for fulfillment, most Dominants discover where their own Sadistic leanings are over time, and they then usually start buying toys for those purposes. Their toy bags grow exponentially as their interests expand into new territories.
Exploring these new roles increases the intimacy and trust between the partners. As the intensity of play grows and the masochist is able to take more intense sessions, so does the depth of self-discovery and enjoyment for the partner performing the role of the Sadist. While the masochist has intense altered states of consciousness from the adrenalin and endorphins flooding their system, the Sadist experiences satisfying feelings from exercising their control and Sadistic leanings upon a very willing and consenting partner. The result is mutual satisfaction that heightens the connection the partners feel. Combine this with the depths of a Dominant/submissive relationship, the result can be close to miraculous for both parties, and definitely would be called by either an “ecstatic” experience!
So, keeping in mind the mutual dependency of the two roles and the vicarious experiences also often felt by the one performing in the role of the Sadist, it is understandable why some people like to “switch” between roles for the benefit of their partners or to allow a play partner to experience their other side. Learning the other role takes practice, and some people find one side more satisfying than the other but, as we’ve discussed, knowing firsthand what the other person experiences in that role leads to more satisfying play in the future.