Masochism and Where it Comes From

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Ever since I was about twelve, and possibly earlier (I remember pretending to be a mouse that was being suffocated to death by a snake when I was around nine), I have had sexual fantasies about being kidnapped and tortured… For a long time they bothered me and I was worried there was something seriously wrong with me, up until I discovered that there’s a whole S&M community… But I’m still somewhat worried and very curiously about what can stem these ideas, especially at such a young age. I didn’t have any kind of abusive childhood, the only unusual occurrence growing up was that I was raised by my father, who was widowed, since the age of three. Throughout my school years, however, I was harassed and picked on by my classmates, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I hope I can get some kind of answer for where these feelings come from, then maybe I won’t feel so guilty or wonder what exactly is wrong with me.

A. No one is sure from where masochism originates. What is known is that females commonly engage in sexual fantasies much like what you have described and males to a lesser degree. Research shows that one of the most frequent sexual fantasies reported by women is that of being overpowered or forced to do something against their will. Studies also show that among women who have forced sex fantasies, there does not seem to be a link between their thoughts and real-world behavior. What this means is that those women who entertain forced sex fantasies do not typically attempt to engage in the activity. The thoughts arise for the sole purpose of fantasy or to enhance their sexual pleasure.

Studies of force fantasies among women also show that those who engage in these fantasies tend to be more sexually open. This may mean that those who have force fantasies feel less guilt regarding sexuality. From a mental health perspective, those who are more open-minded and psychologically healthy are less likely to be constrained by guilt and thus may be more likely to engage in ideas or fantasies of a masochism or sadomasochism nature. According to human sexuality researchers, this is one theory used to explain why some women engage in masochism-themed fantasies.

Another theory is that females who have been sexually abused may be more likely to engage in force fantasies than females who were not sexually abused. This does not mean that only or all women who have experienced sexual abuse have forced sex fantasies. It only means that there may be a greater incidence of these types of fantasies among sexually abused women. Regarding your specific situation, you said that you were never sexually abused. Because of this, it seems that your fantasies are not based on past sexual abuse. Research has shown that non-sexually abused women engage in forced sex fantasies as well.

You mentioned that you feel guilt about your thoughts regarding forced sex. It may be that the guilt you feel stems from the belief that “something is wrong with you.” While you may never know the origin of your fantasies, one thing seems certain, based on scientific, human sexuality research, not only are your fantasies “normal” but they’re relatively common.

Hopefully, knowing this information can help you stop feeling guilty about your fantasies. You should feel free to think or fantasize about anything you want. Remember they’re only thoughts. You never mentioned that you were attempting to or that you had a desire to live out your fantasy. If you did write this, I might have a different response for you. It would be unhealthy for you to place limits on what it is that you let yourself think.

I would recommend that you read more about this subject. There are many academic studies conducted regarding masochism or sadomasochism. There are also many other books written on the subject. One great resource on the Internet is the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). Thanks for your question.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Aug 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Masochism and Where it Comes From. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/08/11/masochism-and-where-it-comes-from/