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Sadist vs. Masochist: The Differences Explained

Like it rough? You aren’t alone! We’ll compare sadists versus masochists and explain how society has gotten it wrong about these prevalent kinks.
Editorial team
April 22, 2024
May 21, 2024
min. read
Table of Contents

There’s an old proverb: Inside you, there are two wolves. One loves getting spanked. The other loves spanking. Who will win? The one you feed.

At least, we’re pretty sure that’s how it goes.

These days, people are becoming increasingly open about their interest in various kinks and fetishes. We’ve expanded our sexual horizons well beyond the foreplay of our forefathers. And some of the most common expressions of kink fall under the umbrella of sadism and masochism — the S and M in BDSM.

But what do these terms truly mean? What distinguishes a sadist versus a masochist? Let’s examine the relationship between pain and pleasure.

What’s a sadist?

A sadist is someone who receives pleasure from inflicting pain or discomfort on others, typically in a sexual context. This can be achieved in various ways, whether it’s torturing a partner with hot candle wax or eating the last bite of their favorite ice cream. What one considers painful or uncomfortable can vary wildly. Something that seems tame to you, like spanking, could be an extreme sadomasochistic practice to a partner. 

Sadism can include elements of domination, wherein a willing partner is under the sadist’s control, but this dynamic is not required.

What’s a masochist?

A masochist is someone who enjoys pain being inflicted upon them. They’re the ones who get a dopamine hit when they open the freezer to see their ice cream gone. It’s the other (typically submissive) side of the coin — the side that prefers to be face down so it can barely breathe.

What about a sadomasochist?

When comparing sadism versus masochism, some struggle to choose a favorite. They’re just as happy on either end of a riding crop. If this sounds familiar, you might be a sadomasochist. The textbook sadomasochistic definition is someone who enjoys both giving and receiving pain or discomfort in a sexual setting.

Is it OK if it hurts so good?

Provided both parties consent to the kind of pain play you’re exploring, there’s nothing wrong with exploring sadomasochism. People have been doing it for centuries and leading full, happy lives. Don’t believe us? Just ask around any retirement community, and you'll be sure to find some freaky silver foxes.

That said, consent is the keyword here. We’re always preaching about consent; it’s crucial in any sexual scenario. But it goes doubly for sadists and masochists. Whether physical or emotional, any pain someone endures without their consent is not healthy sadomasochism. It’s abuse.

In addition, boundaries, safe words, and aftercare are a must in any sadomasochism practice, so ensure you have plenty of each before you break out the nipple clamps. 

Examples of sadism and masochism

What do sadism and masochism look like out in the wild? Here are a few examples of how this kink plays out:

1. Impact play

Impact play includes slapping, whipping, or spanking. A sadomasochistic person might use their hands or opt for a paddle or belt for spanking or whipping. Everyone has a different pain threshold for their erotic experiences.

2. Biting

What sadist hasn’t looked at their partner and thought they were cute enough to eat? Biting is a typical example of sadism that lets you easily adjust how tame or intense you want an encounter to be. It’s a fun way to ramp up your curiosity surrounding sadomasochism that only requires an eager set of pearly whites.

3. Scratching

It’s time to put that new manicure of yours to work. Scratching is another way sadists may inflict erotic pain on a willing masochist. Like biting, it doesn’t involve any props, but it does require you to kick your nail-chewing habit. Or you could invest in a pair of spiked gloves — a staple of BDSM gear.

4. Bondage

Bondage is probably the first thing everyone thinks of when considering S&M. Bondage can involve ropes, chains, or even testicle cuffs. The purpose is to physically restrain the masochist, usually to the point of discomfort (at a minimum) or pain (if you’re doing it right).

5. Rough sex

Generally, sadists and masochists seek to blur the lines of pleasure and pain by making them equal to each other. While making their partner’s eyes roll back in their head, a sadist may also slap, stretch, or (very carefully) choke their masochistic muse. Throw in some biting and scratching while you’re at it for good measure!

Everyone has a different idea of what “rough” sex looks like, so we recommend filling out a BDSM checklist before you begin.

6. Orgasm control

This falls more under the umbrella of discomfort, but boy, is it uncomfortable. Edging your sadomasochist partner with orgasm denial is a fun and relatively harmless way to dip a toe into sadism. You could even switch it up and overstimulate him. He’ll quickly learn that there can be too much of a good thing.

7. Degradation or humiliation

Who said the pain had to be physical? Your therapist knows just as well as you do that emotional pain can sting more than a slap across the face. But for the serial masochist, nothing sounds sexier than being told they’re a dirty little piggy over the intercom at a Costco. Just to, you know, brainstorm ideas…


Common misconceptions

Many people unfamiliar with sadomasochism automatically assume those who engage in it must be “twisted” or strange. It’s not a charitable assessment — but who cares if they are? Part of the joy people get from sadism and masochism comes from the taboo.

Still, misconceptions about sadomasochism can hurt those who participate in it — and not in the way they like. Let’s cover some preconceived notions people have about sadomasochism and why thinking this way isn’t always quite right.

Regarding paraphilia

Paraphilia is a clinical term describing sexual desire revolving around dangerous or extreme activities or situations — sometimes without consent. It’s not fair to diagnose anyone who likes sadomasochism as having a harmful paraphilia. That take is utterly devoid of nuance and doesn’t consider just how vast the world of sadomasochism can actually be.

In fact, some research suggests that not only are people who engage in sadomasochistic practices no more likely to have mental health disorders, but they may actually have better psychological health than those who don’t.

When inflicting pain becomes abuse

Contrary to what many think, the line between pain for pleasure’s sake and outright abuse is extremely, purposefully thick.

Although sadistic play can look like abuse to an outsider, critical elements of this kink mean it’s anything but. In fact, many see sadomasochism as an expression of love between two adults who share an intimate level of trust and knowledge about each other’s bodies.

All sadomasochistic play should include the following:

  • A discussion about boundaries
  • Informed consent
  • Safe word(s)
  • Aftercare

As long as participants practice these throughout their sadist or masochist journey, they can maintain mutual respect and trust, ensuring everyone is happy with the results.

Pain is the name of the game

There’s a lot to unpack about sadomasochism — if you want to. It’s an intriguing topic steeped in controversy regarding how and why it shows up in the bedroom. But in truth, you only need to consider whether it’s right for you and how to safely perform sadistic sex activities.

Find a partner who will communicate their needs and boundaries with you, establish a safe word to keep things from going too far, and research the risks before participating in dangerous activities. Once you’ve got that, you’re free to tape your lover to the wall and tickle them with a feather duster.

You can find like-minded kinksters on Grindr! Download the Grindr app now and get started.

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