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Is SM Sexual Orientation or Behavior

SM is a sexual orientation or behavior among two or more adult partners. The behavior may include, but is not limited to, the use of physical and/or psychological stimulation to produce sexual arousal and satisfaction. Usually one partner will take an active role (top or dominant) and the other will take a passive role (bottom or submissive). SM practitioners can be heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, transgendered or intersex individuals.

 
SM is not easily defined; the range of behaviors are quite broad and most participants do not enjoy all of the activities or roles. The problems with the definition are discussed at length in an article by Weinberg, Williams and Moser. They found five features present in most SM interactions they studied:
  • Dominance and submission - the appearance of rule and obedience of one partner over the other
  • Consensuality - a voluntary agreement to enter into SM "play" (interaction) and to honor certain "limits" (ground rules of how involved and in which direction the play can proceed);
  • Sexual content - the presumption that the activities have a sexual or erotic meaning;
  • Mutual definition - the assumption of a shared understanding by the participants that their activities are SM or a similar concept;
  • Role playing - the participants assume roles either for the interaction or for the relationship that they recognize are not reality.
 Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J., & Moser, C.A. (1984). "The social constituents of sadomasochism." Social Problems, 31, pg. 379-389.