Power and Love:
Sadomasochistic Practices in Long-Term Committed Relationships
The present study explored the meaning of consensual sadomasochistic (SM)
sexual practice to eight SM practitioners (SMPs) in long-term committed relationships,
and also examined SMPs opinions about the attitudes of psychotherapists towards SM.
Four heterosexual couples involved in SM within their committed relationships were
interviewed regarding (1) the nature of the relationship and commitment to partner; (2)
particular SM practice; (3) meaning of their sexual orientation within the relationships;
and (4) impact of the attitudes of others toward their SM practice.
Analysis of the interviews revealed the following results: (1) SM enactments can
be healing tools and tools for transformations; (2) SM may be regarded as a type of
sexual orientation of which many persons become aware early in life; (3) SM is a distinct
subculture; (4) SM relationships and SM community support promote liberation from the
repression and judgment of non-SM mainstream society; and (5) some SM practitioners
maintain and sustain committed long-term relationships and work through difficult
Participants reported that most psychotherapists showed negative, uninformed and
judgmental attitudes towards SM practice. The negative attitudes ranged from the
therapist asking ignorant and judgmental questions to an instance of client abandonment.
Some SMPs reported avoiding any reference to SM to their psychotherapist because they
feared the therapist’s reaction. All eight interviewees believed that there exists a need for
greater information in the mental health community regarding the SM sexual orientation.
An educational video of 75 minutes length was produced from the videotaped
interviews. In this videotaped presentation, the researcher provided a brief introduction to
SM (sadomasochism), BD (bondage and discipline) and DS (dominance and submission),
explaining terminology and activities. Pertinent segments from participant’s interviews
followed. Finally, the researcher closed the video with a brief summary.
Limitations of the findings were described and discussed, and the following
conclusions and recommendations were presented: (1) sadomasochistic sexual practice
may be regarded as a sexual orientation similar to homosexuality, and should not be
targeted for change in psychotherapy unless requested by the client; (2) unsafe or
destructive behavior within the SM context must be addressed in therapy once a trusting
therapeutic relationship has been established, based on knowledge of SM practice as well
as psychotherapeutic skill; and (3) graduate psychology students would greatly benefit
from education that does not pathologize sexually variant behavior such as SM.
Current research study
Abstract of Dr Hoff's recent research
Previous papers by Dr Hoff
Research by other authors
CARAS (research on alternative sexuality)