Sadism is a Freudian term denoting a sexual perversion in which erotic pleasure is gained by inflicting pain on another.¹
The term is derived from the surname of the French nobleman Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), who candidly wrote about the alleged pleasures of pain and sex in works like The Philosophy in the Bedroom.
The term “Sadistic Personality Disorder” was included as an appendix in the American psychiatric manual for mental disorders (DSM III) but disappeared in subsequent manuals (DSM-IV, DSM-IV-TR, DSM-5).
The current version of the American Psychiatric Association‘s manual, DSM-5, excludes consensual BDSM from diagnosis as a disorder when the sexual interests cause no harm or distress. Section F65 of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) indicates that “mild degrees of sadomasochistic stimulation are commonly used to enhance otherwise normal sexual activity”. The diagnostic guidelines for the ICD-10 state that this class of diagnosis should only be made “if sadomasochistic activity is the most important source of stimulation or necessary for sexual gratification”.²
Here we have another example, along with homosexuality, of a preference and associated behavior once pejoratively described by psychiatrists as a “disorder”only to be later designated as “normal.”
It doesn’t take rocket science to see that social and political factors come into play here. Some regard this historical change as evidence that psychiatry is a pseudo-science. Others maintain that psychiatry’s willingness to change is scientific and evidence of its strength.
Strength or weakness, one thing seems clear. Psychiatry reflects and informs the status quo. It is both an indicator of, and influence upon, social attitudes, beliefs and practices at a given point in history.
Lasting innovation in psychological theory is usually spearheaded by individuals holding fast to a vision,³ those willing to withstand the inherent inertia of a social institution that seems to follow and, by virtue of its legal power, shape how everyday people tend to see themselves.
¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 145.
³ From a theological perspective, it probably helps if God is on the innovator’s side, this being a perspective usually dismissed by the worldly wise.