Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 9, Nov. 23, 2006


Power and Love: Sadomasochistic Practices in Long-Term Committed Relationships

A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies

Gabriele Hoff

February 2003


The present study explored the meaning of consensual sadomasochistic (SM) sexual practice to eight SM practitioners (SMPs) in long-term committed relationships, and also examined SMPs opinions about the attitudes of psychotherapists towards SM. Four heterosexual couples involved in SM within their committed relationships were interviewed regarding (1) the nature of the relationship and commitment to partner; (2) particular SM practice; (3) meaning of their sexual orientation within the relationships; and (4) impact of the attitudes of others toward their SM practice.

Analysis of the interviews revealed the following results: (1) SM enactments can be healing tools and tools for transformations; (2) SM may be regarded as a type of sexual orientation of which many persons become aware early in life; (3) SM is a distinct subculture; (4) SM relationships and SM community support promote liberation from the repression and judgment of non-SM mainstream society; and (5) some SM practitioners maintain and sustain committed long-term relationships and work through difficult relational issues.

Participants reported that most psychotherapists showed negative, uninformed and judgmental attitudes towards SM practice. The negative attitudes ranged from the therapist asking ignorant and judgmental questions to an instance of client abandonment. Some SMPs reported avoiding any reference to SM to their psychotherapist because they feared the therapist’s reaction. All eight interviewees believed that there exists a need for greater information in the mental health community regarding the SM sexual orientation.

An educational video of 75 minutes length was produced from the videotaped interviews. In this videotaped presentation, the researcher provided a brief introduction to SM (sadomasochism), BD (bondage and discipline) and DS (dominance and submission), explaining terminology and activities. Pertinent segments from participant’s interviews followed. Finally, the researcher closed the video with a brief summary.

Limitations of the findings were described and discussed, and the following conclusions and recommendations were presented: (1) sadomasochistic sexual practice may be regarded as a sexual orientation similar to homosexuality, and should not be targeted for change in psychotherapy unless requested by the client; (2) unsafe or destructive behavior within the SM context must be addressed in therapy once a trusting therapeutic relationship has been established, based on knowledge of SM practice as well as psychotherapeutic skill; and (3) graduate psychology students would greatly benefit from education that does not pathologize sexually variant behavior such as SM.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Review of the Literature

Chapter 3 Method

Chapter 4 Results

Chapter 5 Discussion


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