Sadists: not actually the devil

I’ve been seeing some posts on Fetlife lately that make me wonder what people think the word “sadist” means.

Here’s the common definition in the kink community: a sadist is someone who enjoys inflicting pain. That’s it. Note that there is nothing in that definition about inflicting lots and lots of really intense pain, drawing blood, causing damage/leaving marks, making someone cry or scream, hurting someone in ways that don’t turn them on, ignoring limits, or being dominant.

What the word sadist does not mean is “scary evil person who is literally out for blood and wants to hurt you in nonconsensual ways”. There’s a handy word for that, it’s “abuser”.  Some abusers are sadists, and some may try to hide the fact that they’re abusive by saying “I’m a sadist, this is just how we are”, but that absolutely does not mean that all sadists are abusers.

Sadists aren’t all about inflicting as much pain as they can get away with. Some of us have very intense tastes, and others are much more mild. I think I’m on the more mild end of the sadist spectrum, but the people who’ve bottomed to me are better judges of that than I am. Anyway, the point is that there are lots of different types of sadists. Some of us just want to  scratch you with our nails a little and maybe do some gentle biting. Some of us think that waterboarding people with plain old water doesn’t suck enough and use ginger-ale (credit where it’s due, that’s Scott Smith’s idea,  not mine). There’s a huge range of tastes and intensities that all fall under the umbrella term of sadism.

For many people, sadism isn’t about the the amount of pain being inflicted at all. It’s quite common for people to be more interested in getting a reaction than in the particular action it takes to get that reaction. For me, if someone has a low pain tolerance, that just means it’s easier for me to get the reaction I want. That’s not to say that I never just want to bite someone really hard, but I don’t have to do that all the time or with everyone I play with.

Not all sadists have any interest in blood. For fuck’s sake, people. Where are you finding the word “blood” in the definition of  “sadist”? Breaking the skin is fun for some people, but there are plenty of painful things you can do that don’t break the skin. There are also largely painless ways to draw blood if that’s what you’re interested in – it’s called venipuncture. There is simply no correlation at all between being interested in blood and being a sadist.

Some minor physical damage is often a side effect of using particular tools to inflict pain, but there are plenty of ways to inflict pain without doing physical damage. Not all sadists are out to whip you until your back is raw and bloody, or to leave bruises that will last for a week.

Same with making people cry or scream – it’s not unusual for sadists to enjoy that, but not all of them do. Not everyone enjoys the sound of screaming (seriously, have you ever been at a play party with a particularly… ‘vocal’ bottom? it’s not a good time), and even people who do may not have anywhere they can make someone scream without anyone calling the cops. Some sadists prefer the sound of their bottom struggling to stay quiet, some like whimpering or begging, some think it’s funny when their bottom swears at them, and yes, some like screaming.

Sadists’ opinions on hurting people who enjoy or hate pain differ. Some sadists can only enjoy hurting people who are very clear about enjoying the sensation of pain. Other sadists prefer the devotion shown by someone enduring pain solely to please them. Still others enjoy helping people push their own limits or using pain to get the bottom into a particular headspace. What none of them are interested in is hurting people who don’t want it on any level. That’s not kink, that’s abuse. So is ignoring people’s limits. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you play for long enough eventually something will go wrong, but responsible perverts make every effort to respect each other’s limits.

Finally, not all dominants are sadists, and not all sadists are dominant. It’s not unusual for those things to go together, but that does not mean there is no such thing as a submissive sadist, a sadistic switch, or a sadist who has no interest in power exchange. It doesn’t even mean that you can assume a dom is a sadist. There are plenty of doms who aren’t interested in pain at all, or who will only use it occasionally as a punishment that neither they nor their sub will enjoy. Not only is pain just one of the ways you can heighten a power dynamic, but it’s not even a particularly creative way to do that. Rules about clothing, eye-contact, or use of furniture (just to give a few examples of the many many things you can play with) work just as well to remind everyone who’s in charge.

If you’re bright enough to use a computer, you’re bright enough to stop making stupid fucking assumptions about sadists and dominants.

5 thoughts on “Sadists: not actually the devil

  1. When I was young, around teens, I thought dominant and sadist always went together. I’m not sure why, or what lead me to believe, it just seemed to be the normal way to think.
    You’ve an excellent point that people really need to learn and understand that they are not the same, and that there is a great difference between abuse and kink.

    • When I was young, around teens, I thought dominant and sadist always went together.

      I did too, which is part of why I’m ranting about it now. It’s just so easy to get that impression, whether or not it even resembles reality. Doms can even be masochistic, which I should’ve mentioned in my post.

      The conflation of kink and abuse makes me so angry. If we don’t understand the difference between kink and abuse, how can we stamp out abuse disguised as kink?

  2. The most sensible thing I’ve read on the topic for a long while, especially the penultimate paragraph.

    The BDSM corner of the Elysian Fields is a place of wondrous illusions that reside essentially in the mind, and the scenarios and signifiers that we use to get there are a means, not an end in themselves.

  3. Yes, yes, and thank you! May I add to this that sadists like inflicting pain, but not necessarily all the kinds of pain or all the time? And that we can be sadists even if are not riggers or fond of humiliation or wearing domly boots that day? Most of my kinky circle consists of stable, intelligent people, but occasionally there will be someone new whose only experience with kink is bad porn, and they seem so crushed to learn that “I’m a sadist” means “I want to hit you but only if I like you and we both are in the mood for fun hitting.” It’s like the evil sadist is the desired fantasy for some, which is kind of scary.

  4. “If you’re bright enough to use a computer, you’re bright enough to stop making stupid fucking assumptions …”

    I was with you right up until here! The internet provides too many fine examples that the exact opposite is true, I think.

    But otherwise, great rant and well said!

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