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American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. These criteria are listed in the Paraphilia section, pg. 525.

Diagnostic criteria for 302.83 Sexual Masochism:

  • Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound or otherwise made to suffer.
  • The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Diagnostic criteria for 302.84 Sexual Sadism

Learn more about NCSF's work to depathologize BDSM in the DSM

Published in What is SM
Why do you call it SM instead of S&M?
The term "S&M" stands for Sadism and Masochism, and the historical definitions and depictions of S&M are often stereotyped and nonconsensual. The term "SM" stands for sadomasochism, which is a type of sexual orientation or behavior. Many people call it SM to emphasize the need for consent since both behaviors are united in a single word. SM is also sometimes referred as "leather," "Dominance & Submission," "D&S" and "BDSM".
 
Where did the terms Sadism and Masochism come from?
As the language has evolved, the contemporary definitions of sadism and masochism are changing. Sadism no longer implies non-consensuality, nor does it imply violence. It simply means that someone receives erotic gratification from the infliction of psychological or physical stimulation on a consenting partner. Conversely, a masochist is someone who enjoys receiving that psychological or physical stimulation.
 
The term 'sadism' was popularized by psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886 and stems from the writings of the Marquis de Sade (de Sade's writing style had been referred to as "le sadisme" for years, Krafft-Ebing was the first to use the term in a clinical manner). The case histories he reported primarily concerned nonconsensual sexual violence and were not about what we now call SM.
 
Krafft-Ebing also coined the term 'masochism' to describe the enjoyment of sexual servitude. He took the term from the writings of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a prominent Austrian novelist, who wrote about his own masochistic desires in novel form. Sacher-Masoch was alive at the time and not very happy about having a perversion named after him, as it defamed his grandfather. Sacher-Masoch was given his hypehenated name as an honor to his maternal grandfather; his mother was the only daughter of an esteemed public health physician. Dr. Masoch convinced the Austrian government to install the sewer system of Vienna, thereby preventing uncounted epidemics. It is ironic that this public health physician is remembered for a sexual diagnosis rather than for the good he actually accomplished.
 
Why do people do SM?
We do not know why some people are heterosexual and others are homosexual. We do not know why some people eroticize breasts and others legs. We do not understand how people develop any particular eroticism. We do know that no one has found any characteristic in childhood history, birth order, etc., that is more common among SM practitioners than the general public. Specifically, there is no indication that SM practitioners are more or less likely to have been spanked as children, or to have been the victim of sexual or other abuse as children.
 
Andreas Spengler did the first major study of those who identified as SM practitioners (1977). The only thing these devotees had in common was their high standard of living, social status, and education. 90% were perfectly happy with their sexual preferences, with their biggest burden being the social stigma attached to these acts. (A. Spengler, "Manifest Sadomasochism of Males: Results of an Empirical Study," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 6, pp. 441-56.)
 
SM is about love and pleasure
SM is about sensation and stimulation, exchanging power, trusting one's partner, and sharing love and pleasure. Some SM practitioners seek "pain" but they want the sensation administered in a way that is ultimately pleasurable to them.
 
Sociologists Weinberg and Kamel wrote in 1995:

"Much S&M involves very little pain. Rather, many sadomasochists prefer acts such as verbal humiliation or abuse, cross-dressing, being tied up (bondage), mild spankings where no severe discomfort is involved, and the like. Often, it is the notion of being helpless and subject to the will of another that is sexually titillating... At the very core of sadomasochism is not pain but the idea of control - dominance and submission." (Thomas S. Weinberg and G.W. Kamel (1995). "S&M: An Introduction to the Study of Sadomasochism," S&M: Studies in Dominance and Submission, Prometheus Books, pg. 19.
 
Havelock Ellis, M.D., produced a groundbreaking study of sexuality: Studies of the Psychology of Sex, in which he wrote that the concept of pain is much misunderstood:

"The essence of sadomasochism is not so much "pain" as the overwhelming of one's senses - emotionally more than physically. Active sexual masochism has little to do with pain and everything to do with the search for emotional pleasure. When we understand that it is pain only, and not cruelty, that is the essential in this group of manifestations, we begin to come nearer to their explanation. The masochist desires to experience pain, but he generally desires that it should be inflicted in love; the sadist desires to inflict pain, but he desires that it should be felt as love...." (Havelock Ellis, M.D. (1926). Studies of the Psychology of Sex, F.A. Davis Company, pg. 160.)
Published in What is SM

You do not have to be afraid of people who engage in SM. SM players are doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers, fire fighters, secretaries and everything else you can imagine.

 

In her 1983 book Erotic Power, sociologist Gini Scott examined the dynamics of the heterosexual SM subculture.

She stated: "Unlike the psychiatrists and psychologists who deal primarily with psychologically troubled individuals who are also interested in D&S [Dominance and Submission], I did not find them to be psychologically troubled or socially inept; rather, a spirit of good humor and fun prevailed, and the participants appeared to be mostly attractive, quite ordinary-looking people who had ordinary relationships outside the D&S scene... A vast variety of people with a diverse range of erotic interests participate in sadomasochiSM. Their backgrounds, activities and attitudes are quite unlike the social stereotype that depicts sadomasochiSM as a form of violence, mischief, or mayhem perpetrated by the psychologically unstable who seek to hurt others or to be hurt themselves... At the core of the community are mostly sensible, rational respectable, otherwise quite ordinary people. Thus, quite unlike its public image, the community is a warm, close and supportive one."

Gini Scott (1983). Erotic Power, Citadel Press: pg. x.

Published in What is SM
October 20, 2005 - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced that his office will specifically target "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior" in pursuing new obscenity prosecutions. The Department of Justice began recruiting in late July for a new anti-obscenity squad to pursue obscenity prosecutions, and the FBI announced in September that it was forming an anti-obscenity task force to crack down on pornography.

Any website that has content containing "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior" should be forewarned that prosecution is possible. Additionally, Federal sentencing guidelines state that any obscenity- related punishment should be "enhanced for sadomasochistic material."

Forty people and businesses have been convicted of obscenity since 2001, and 20 additional indictments are pending according to Andrew Oosterbaan, chief of the Justice Department's child exploitation and obscenity section. There were only four obscenity prosecutions during the eight years of the Clinton administration.

Though adult content is, in theory, protected by the First Amendment, only a jury can determine if a work is obscene or not under the subjective set of standards that vary from one community to the next established in the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. California.

Text is not inherently more protected than images when it comes to obscenity charges. The erotic fiction website Red Rose Stories is facing obscenity charges after federal agents raided the owner's home on October 3rd, taking computer equipment and diskettes that contained all of their files and site information.

The Department of Justice is clearly hoping that websites will self-censor or remove their content entirely. Midori, a fetish model and SM educator who teaches classes on bondage, has removed her website, BeautyBound.com, citing fear of obscenity prosecution. The owner of three SM websites, known as GrandPa DeSade, removed his websites from the Internet. SuicideGirls.com also announced they are self-censoring their materials over concerns about a possible obscenity crackdown.

Recent prosecutions of obscenity on websites include: A former police officer in Lakeland, Florida, was arrested on October 7th on over 300 obscenity-related charges for the sexual content posted on his website. The same day, webmaster Chris Wilson, owner of amateur website NowThatsFuckedUp.com, was raided on charges of obscenity by a local Sheriff's office.

"I think it's crucial for us to stand up for consensual sadomasochism and other alternative sexual practices," says Barbara Nitke, fetish photographer. "This is a battle worth fighting, and I hope everyone who can will just censor out the most provocative material from their websites, but keep them up. I also appeal to the lawyers in our community to help us find ways to keep people's websites up."

Barbara Nitke and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) have proactively challenged federal obscenity laws as applied to the Internet, arguing that obscenity laws based on "local community standards" are too vague and their existence burdens protected speech, resulting in self-censorship due to the fear of prosecution. A district court three-judge panel in New York ruled that while Nitke and the NCSF members were at risk, more proof was needed that obscenity laws cause otherwise protected speech to be restrained through acts of self-censorship. The case is currently on appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

"The effect of silencing alternative lifestyle speech was exactly why we brought the lawsuit," says attorney John Wirenius, lead counsel for NCSF. "The self- censorship we are seeing underscores the importance of supporting our ongoing obscenity challenge."

To contribute to the appeal of the CDA lawsuit, go to: www.ncsfreedom.org/donations.htm


Barbara Nitke - www.barbaranitke.com

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DSM-V in the News

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Resources
Learn More about DSM-V
ACT Now - Request a workshop about the DSM Revision project
Request a workshop from our Education Outreach Program on this issue.

DSM-V: We're Making a Difference

  • Over 3000 signatures on DSM-V Revision Petition submitted APA
  • NCSF Letter to the Editor published in Archives of Sexual Behavior
  • NCSF has helped successfully lobby for the new proposed changes to the DSM-V which depathologizes BDSM

About DSM-V Revision Project

The DSM Revision project is attempting to depathologize BDSM in the APA Diagnostic and Statistic Manual.

Goal:
The goal of the DSM-V Revision Project is to keep people from being discriminated against and persecuted because the current APA guidelines say BDSM is indicative of mental illness.

Contact:
Susan Wright
,
NCSF Board Member
Director of the DSM-V Revision Project.
susan@ncsfreedom.org

GIVE Now - Support NCSF DSM Revision work
Help fund education efforts to the APA and therapeutic professionals
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Join NCSF and help support our work to depatholigize BDSM