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Simple Definition: A practice in which sexual gratification is derived from pain or degradation.
The term is derived by Richard von Kraft-Ebing a Victorian writer of sexuality who wrote Psychopahtia Sexualis. Kraft-Ebbing derived Sadism from Marquis de Sade adn Masochism from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Sacher-Masoch (1836-95) was an Austrian novelist best known for Venus in Furs (1886). In Venus in Furs is a thinly veiled account of Sacher-Masoch's real life occurance involving a Dominatrix-woman named Anna.
The Sacher-Masochs were prominent in Austrian society and when the coined term masochism got out they inflicted a libel suit on Kraft-Ebing. Which Sacher-Masoch won a small amount of money. Sacher-Masoch witnessed many atrocities by the Polish as a child which some say spurned his love for masochism.
Masochism was considered a grave disorder, a 'paraphilia', and spoke that masochists could not be excited by any other means. Kraft-Ebing used the term to describe a pathological perversion involving an otherwise impotent male's obsession of submission to a dominant woman. The seeking out of physical pain formed only a rare sub-category.
Masochism: the views today
There has been a slight shift in today's views of masochism. As masochism was associated with the "death-drive" in past times, the recent idealism is now shifted towards life. Being stronger than the pain, glorifying in the pain.
There has also been little talk of masochism as its own entity. Sadomasochism (S&M;) is now the title used by many. Sadomasochistic is the term preferred by Clubs, Support Groups and people themselves.
A writer on contemporary sexuality, Anita Phillips, has come out with a new book called In Defense of Masochism. Her goal of the book is to 'is merely to emphasize their symbolic import, not to reduce masochism to an acceptable form of kinkiness. Instead, she hopes to simply take the pejorative sting out of the word, and examine the way in which masochism can infuse a single individual with multiple possibilities'.
Most self described masochists are every day people holding jobs, ranging in age and very happy and satisfied in their daily lives. Masochism has expierenced a semi-outing. It has been popularized by such films as Sick. While some people still consider it a disorder or 'paraphilia', it can be a healthy, safe expierence.
'Despite Krafft-Ebing's original distinction, today most people on the BDSM scene who describe themselves as 'sadists' intend to emphasise the enjoyment they obtain from inflicting pain, and those who describe themselves as 'masochists' to emphasise the enjoyment they obtain from enduring it, within certain limits'. (from the Deviants Dictionary)
Steps for starting out the Safe, Sane, Consensual Way
Rule 1: Practice with someone who knows what they are doing - You are involving yourself with some practices that can harm you very badly. Never take that lightly. Discuss scenes with your partner and also ask to be aware of your health problems.
Rule 2: Know your body - health problems, sensitive spots, etc... These can affect your ability to play. Someone who has very sensitive nipples will probably need a lighter nipple clamp than someone who can take stronger clamps.
Rule 3: Negoiate the scene - Discuss the articles you want to use (clothespins, ball gags, diapers etc...) and also make stop, slow and go words.
Rule 4: Start out lightly, build up - So you have fantasized. Good! But realize this will be painful and long-term! You may have fantasies of being tied up for hours, but in reality you really on want 15 minutes :) A good hint is to have an egg-timer around to control the length of time.
Fantasy vs. Reality
You have ready all the fantasy novels gotten excited. I assure there is a dramatic change once everything is started in real life. The tools may become frightening and not exciting. Only you can decide when and if it is time to take that fantasy into reality. Going to a Professional Dominant is a good idea because they are very trained and have years of expierence in sensing limits.
Another way is to go to a Munch or Support Group of BDSM in your area. In a play situation a Head Dom will be running the party and can set you up with someone expierenced in play.
Do not go into masochism thinking you will be excited by all
Most masochists work slowly up to the comfort zone they are at now. No one goes into a suspension without long periods in bondage and in good health. Even if you think you are a heavy masochist chances are certain things will bother you and make pain just plain BAD. Flogger, paddle or hot wax are good ways to start out.
Remember always Safe, Sane and Consensual.