Psychopathic Sadomasochism

“Psychopathic personality disorder and sexual
sadism share several common characteristics, such as
emotional detachment from the suffering of others or the
preparedness to inflict pain or injuries.” Mokros et al. 2011

Under most circumstances I am proud of the progression of work in the academy. The above quote from the abstract of a 2011 paper in the journal of Law and Human Behavior, published by the American Psychological Association is a circumstance where that is not true. The article has major issues in its construction because it is not measuring what it claims to measure. The article defines an unusual concept of “severe sexual sadomasochism”, which is absent of any concept of consent. In the majority of research into sadomasochism consent is a required qualifier before the behavior can be considered sadomasochistic. This is primarily based on the qualifiers that are used in the BDSM community to self-identify. People who “play outside the rules” of SM are considered deviations from the community and the identity, not a “severe” form of it. I believe the authors of the article attempted to describe and interact with a type of sexuality that they were unfamiliar with. The forms of BDSM that are described in the article do not even qualify as “edgeplay” in SM circles, they are considered to be completely outside the sphere of SM.

My biggest concern with the article is the use of the phrase “emotional detachment from the suffering of others”. I would describe participants of BDSM as many things, but emotionally detached would not be something I could ever agree to applying to the SM community in a general way. My experience and observation would have me to believe that emotional engagement is a key component of the experience. The authors of the article focus on the psychological/psychopathological of sadist desire only, ignoring the masochist aspects. A lot of people involved in SM have strong leanings toward either sadism or masochism, but have desire in both areas at least to a minor level. Sadomasochism is commonly written together as a single word and not as “sadism & masochism” because of the tight interconnection between the two and the requirements of a parallel desire and not simply a desire to do harm.

Another critique I have of the article is the use of narcissism and violence as components of sexual desire for sadist individuals. This I find to be an overgeneralization. While there are some narcissistic sadists, many are reserved and as concerned with those around them as their own interests. There are of course some that are overly confident and lack an understanding of what it is to be concerned about the emotional wellbeing of others (although I have not yet met one who disregards physical safety). Violence is a fuzzy thing when it comes to sadism. The actions themselves can be interpreted as violent, just as boxing or soccer can be seen as being violent. The difference between the violence of sport and sadomasochism is that in sadomasochism there are not opponents, only partners, and generally at the conclusion of a sadomasochistic “scene” there is either affectionate or friendly interaction.

From an academic perspective I just must simply ask what the authors were thinking when they decided to compare something as benign as sexual sadomasochism with mentally/emotionally unstable serial killers and then conflated sexually frustrated murders with sane people who engage in a consensual activity that is no more harmful than most sports?


Mokros, Andreas, Michael Osterheider, Stephen J. Hucker, and Joachim Nitschke. 2011. “Psychopathy and Sexual Sadism.” Law and Human Behavior 35:188-199.