A handful of significant sociological studies have been done to determine percentage of the population engages in SM activities.
The 1990 Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex reports:
"Researchers estimate that 5-10 percent of the U.S. population engages in sadomasochism for sexual pleasure on at least an occasional basis, with most incidents being either mild or stage activities involving no real pain or violence. Most often it is the receiver (the masochist), not the giver (the sadist), who sets and controls the exact type and extent of the couple's activities. It might also interest you to know that in many such heterosexual relationships, the so-called traditional sex roles are reversed -- with men playing the submissive or masochistic role. Sadomasochistic activities can also occur between homosexual couples."
June M. Reinisch, Ph.D. with Ruth Beasley, M.L.S (1990). Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, St. Martin's Press: pg. 162-163.
A new Playboy poll by Dr. Marty Klein appeared in November, 1998, p. 81:
A survey by Hunt (1974) of 2,026 respondents found that:
These numbers are probably underestimates, because the erotic response to "pain" is only one aspect of SM. (M. Hunt, Sexual Behavior in the 1970s, Chicago: Playboy Press.)
A mid-1970s independent research organization poll funded by Playboy surveyed 3,700 randomly selected students from 20 colleges found that 12% women and 18% of the men had indicated a willingness to try bondage or master-slave role-playing. (Playboy, "What's Really Happening on Campus", October 1976.)
A survey by E. Hariton (1972) found that up to 49% of women fantasize about submissive scenarios during sexual intercourse with 14% doing so frequently. (E. Hariton, "Women's Fantasies During Sexual Intercourse with their Husbands: A Normative Study with Tests of Personality and Theoretical Models'" unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York.)
Paul H. Gebhard, is an anthropologist and was the executive director of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University from 1956 to 1983. Gebhard noted in Fetishism and Sadomasochism (Dynamics of Deviant Sexuality, 1969, pg. 79.) that "consciously recognized sexual arousal from sadomasochistic stimuli are not rare." The Institute for Sex Research found that one in eight females and one in five males were aroused by sadomasochistic stories.
In 1929, Hamilton's marriage habits survey reported that 28% of men and 29% of women admitted they derived "pleasant thrills" from having some form of "pain" inflicted in them. (G.V. Hamilton, A Research in Marriage, Boni, New York.)