Following are the results of questionnaire data collected between 1981 and 1990. Although data from the research has been published in various scientific journals (see "Introductory Notes"), all of the data from all the questionnaires collected over the years has never been combined, analyzed and published on the 'net until the middle of 1999.
Background: How the questionnaire was created
Before I could create the questionnaire and begin to collect data, it was necessary to read everything published in the scientific literature on the subject of sadomasochism. Through my literature review I discovered that accounts of SM activities had been traced back to the earliest civilizations, and that SM wasn't considered a "perversion" until the late 1800's. At that time, Richard F. Von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis was published. Krafft-Ebing, a medical doctor, wrote about what he considered to be abnormal sexual practices. His book was written as a guide to enable other physicians to correctly diagnose and treat "sexual perversions". Krafft-Ebing coined the word sadism after the Marquees (actually, the Count) de Sade, who wrote about the sexual thrill of inflicting physical and psychological pain, and Krafft- Ebing coined the word masochism after the Baron Dr. Leopold von Sacher- Masoch, who wrote about the joys of receiving both physical and psychological pain.
After Krafft-Ebing's pronouncement that SM interests represented sexual perversions, these activities became the focus of other early "sexologists," such as Magnus Hirshfield, Max Hunter and Havelock Ellis. All of these writers used case histories, which often amounted to nothing more than hearsay, to describe sadomasochists and sadomasochism. Many of the myths and misinformation about SM that are part of our common knowledge today can be traced directly to these, and other, early writers. These myths include, but are not limited to: Sadomasochism is a male homosexual perversion; masochists are high level corporate executives who need to be dominated and humiliated in order to help relieve business pressures; sadists need to see blood and/or hear the screams of their victims in order to become sexually aroused; sadists are impotent; masochists become sexually aroused if they accidentally injure themselves, such as when they stub their toe; women do not have sadistic or masochistic interests; SM only effects the well educated; sadomasochists are uneducated, mentally deficient, and above all, dangerous; sadists are men and masochists are women; sadists are women and masochists are men; there are no sadists or masochists-- people change between the sadistic and masochistic roles freely, sometimes taking the role of the sadist and sometimes the role of the masochist, seemingly at whim; sadists are all rapists and/or child molesters, sadomasochism is caused by reading pornography, being punished as a child, from masturbating, from a sense of guilt, or from being sexually abused as a child. And the list goes on and on.
Many of these myths are mutually exclusive-- for instance, if it turned out that all sadists are men and all masochists are women, then it could not be true that all sadists are women and all masochists are men. And if either is true, then the myth that women are not sadomasochists can't be true, nor can the myth that SM is exclusively a male homosexual interest be true.
Although sadomasochism has become a much discussed subject, with books, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as governmental commissions, expounding "factual" information on the subject, and often relating it to sex crimes, it must be emphasized that almost no scientific research has been conducted into it. It seems that there is so much "common knowledge" about SM that most "experts" feel no need to take the time, effort or money to actually investigate the subject. It is much easier to state, "We all know that..." Even when research is done, it may tend to confuse issues instead of clarify them. Some writers take research conducted in one area, such as investigations of convicted criminal sex offenders, and use the findings to describe all sadomasochists, without making the distinction between consensual and non-consensual SM activities.
The research that I began in 1981 was designed to investigate both sadomasochists and the sadomasochistic subculture. The purpose was to get factual information that would help give answers to such questions as: Who are sadomasochists; how, and at what age, did they first recognize their SM interests; what roles (dominant, submissive, or both) are men and women apt to take; what actually takes place during SM sex; how do sadomasochists meet each other, etc. Additionally, I was interested in gathering information that would help determine which myths and common knowledge were based on fact, and which weren't.
It should be emphasized that this research was self funded. Your tax dollars didn't pay for it. The problems in getting funding for doing any type of research involving sex are many, as the long delayed Federal research project into sexual behavior and HIV/AIDS attests. Additionally, funding often involves committees overseeing the research, which might have meant that certain questions could not be asked, or certain means of contacting SMers could not be used. Thus, the path of least resistance indicated that I pay for the printing of the questionnaires, for postage, and for the computing necessary to analyze the data.
I think it will be of value to briefly mention why I decided to use questionnaires instead of using some other method to conduct the research. Other methods of gathering descriptive information are the sociological techniques of either observation or participant-observation. Most of the research previously conducted (and still being conducted) into SM used one of these two techniques. I decided to avoid them because I feel they have too many flaws. For example, I would only get to "observe" individuals in a small geographic area. How would I know if people who frequented a particular SM bar or club in Los Angeles were the same or different from sadomasochists in Indiana? How would I know if they were the same or different from SMers who went to different bars or clubs within the Los Angeles area? And how would I know if they accurately represented sadomasochists who didn't go to bars or clubs?
Using the observation method, I would never know if the people I observed were representative of all sadomasochists, and I would only know what they wanted to let me know, based on how they related to me. As an example, if I were a statuesque blond woman, I would gain the confidence of one type of person, and if I was a short, bald, "grandfatherly" looking man, I would gain the confidence of another type of person. Different people relate to different people differently.
Finally, even if I managed to become so strongly entrenched within the sadomasochistic subculture that I became a fixture, accepted and trusted by all, and even if I moved around the country, observing the sadomasochistic scene in different areas, all I would know is what my brain let me know. People literally see the world differently. You probably know of the classic psychological demonstration that sometimes takes place during a large college class. During the lecture, a confederate of the professor enters the room, and with some commotion calculated to get the attention of the class, takes a student's purse and runs from the room. The professor then asks the class to write down exactly what they saw. The observations of the students vary widely. It usually turns out that the culprit was a short tall fat skinny black brown Asian white man wearing or not wearing a hat and wearing black tan blue jeans and a plaid Hawaiian solid white shirt, who ran walked crawled... Each student feels that what he or she observed was accurate, but obviously, all their observations weren't. The same would be true if I did my investigations using the observation or participant- observation methods. I would be convinced that what I saw was what really took place, but someone else observing the same scene would probably come to different conclusions. Additionally, there is no way to replicate the results. Others couldn't redo my observations to see if my conclusions were accurate, since they would be witnessing different events.
The questionnaire method overcame these problems. Each person would receive the same questions; they would not react to me based on my appearance, the tone of my voice, etc.; people from all over the country (and the world, for that matter) could take part in the study; the results could be statistically analyzed, which would help eliminate my human biases, and the results I got could be checked (replicated) by anyone who wanted to take the time to contact a lot of sadomasochists living throughout the U.S, and ask them the same questions.
The questionnaire method does have its detractors, and legitimate problems do exist with this technique. A major problem involves the degree of truthfulness of the respondent who fills out the questionnaire. People do lie, and it's not always easy to detect a lie, especially when someone just checks off boxes on a questionnaire. However, the assumption is that most people don't lie, and statistics are used to evaluate the answers to the questionnaires taken as a whole. It is believed that the answers of those people who for one reason or another intentionally give misleading information, will get "smoothed out" by the statistical analysis. To give you an idea of the potential accuracy of questionnaire data, keep in mind that political polls also use the questionnaire method, and with rare exception they have shown to be quite accurate, even though some of the respondents are probably less than truthful in their answers.
Even if the person filling out the questionnaire tries to be truthful in his answers, "truth" is subjective. People may remember their past less than accurately, or they may misinterpret a question, or various psychological defense mechanisms may result in inaccurate answers. No one has designed a means of adequately overcoming these problems, and so all questionnaire data, whether involving human sexuality or not, must be viewed with a grain of salt.
Once the questionnaire was designed, it was time to get sadomasochists to fill them out. I started off with two strategies: I wanted to send them to people who advertised in "contact" magazines seeking sex partners, and I wanted the questionnaire published in some SM oriented magazines so SMers who didn't advertise could also respond. Possibly because I didn't want to pay for the space in the magazine, only one magazine, Letters, of the numerous publications I contacted agreed to print it. As the years went by I got help from various SM organizations which distributed questionnaires to their members. I got much appreciated help from over 100 members of The Society of Janus in San Francisco, and from an SM oriented BBS in Colorado which printed my questionnaire online and sent me computer printouts from over 60 respondents. Additionally, questionnaires were photocopied and handed out by SMers to others they thought would be interested in helping with the research.
How many sadomasochists are there?
One question which I knew couldn't be answered by this research involves the number of sadomasochists in our society. Estimates vary from a low of about two percent to a high of twenty-five percent of the population. This wide range of estimates exists because sadomasochists don't wish to be counted-- they tend to be "in the closet." Being a sadomasochist is not considered by the general population to be proper, and since there is no flourishing SM rights movement, there is little, if any, support for individuals who openly announce that they are sadomasochists. Why be singled out for possible ridicule, or loss of a job? Most sadomasochists feel it is best to keep their sexual interests a secret from all except those they play with.
Although there is no accurate count, there are methods used to make estimates of the number of sadomasochists in America. One method is to see what percentage of people state that they have SM interests when responding to sex questionnaires published by major magazines. Publications such as Playboy and Cosmopolitan run surveys from time to time to find out about their reader's sexual interests and behavior. Because relatively few individuals who return these questionnaires report interests in SM, the authors of these surveys conclude that the percentage of those with SM interests in America must be quite low.
Another group that claims a low number of sadomasochists in our population is the religious right. They usually state that almost no one has these interests, and so banning (sadomasochistic) pornography really wouldn't effect many people, since only a very small number of crazed axe murders use SM pornography, which they shouldn't be allowed to use, for the protection of the greater population.
The high figures, which are in the twenty to twenty-five percent range, are given by some individuals who often have a personal and/or economic stake in having it be believed that many people have SM interests. For example, a guest on a talk show may state that twenty-five percent of the population are sadomasochists. If this person is a self appointed "spokesperson" for the SM community-- a person who claims to represent sadomasochists in some way, even if it is only to "tell the truth" about sadomasochism-- it would make him or her seem more important if he were representing about sixty-five million people, instead of four million. These high estimates are based on a very liberal definition of sadomasochism. For example, scratching and giving love bites during sexual intercourse are said by some to be examples of the widespread interest in SM, since these activities involve inflicting or receiving physical pain. Another group that claims high numbers of sadomasochists exist are those feminists who see all pornography as sadomasochistic in nature. Since the (great) majority of men enjoy looking at pictures of naked women, the (great) majority of men are labeled as being sadomasochists.
The true number of sadomasochists in America probably lies somewhere between the low estimate of two percent and the high estimate of twenty-five percent. Ultimately, the estimate depends on how one defines SM activities and interests, and so an accurate number may never be agreed upon. However, my guesstimate is that about five percent of the population, one out of twenty people, has SM interests. If this is true, then approximately 13,250,000 Americans are sadomasochists. My suggestion to straight people is: The next time you are in a room with twenty people, I think you can be certain that at least one of them is into SM. So watch those jokes you make at a party, because you may be offending your sister.
Although the questionnaires couldn't be used to determine how many SMers there are, it did give good data for many other questions I was interested in finding answers to. Over time I accumulated over 1000 questionnaires, which the following data is based on.
Results Of The Survey
Number and sex of respondents: Through 1990, over 1,000 completed questionnaires were returned from people living in all 50 states, as well as some from Canada, Europe (including some from then communist Poland and Hungary) and South America. There were 855 questionnaires returned by men, and 176 returned by women. Of the women, 43 reported that they were "professionals," 128 reported that they were not professionals, and 5 omitted answering this question. The term "professional" is a euphemism for SM prostitute. Because these professionals get paid for their sexual involvement in SM, some people argue that they really don't have SM interests, and just engage in SM for money. A statistical analysis between the non-professional women and the professional women indicated that the two groups are comparable. The only detectable differences were that the professionals engaged in a wider variety of SM activities with more partners than the non-professional women. Since these two groups of women were comparable in all other ways, their data has been combined.
For those of you who are not familiar with the statistics used in social science research, a total sample size of about 1,000, when investigating an estimated population of about 13,250,000 (5 percent of the population), may seem anemic. Actually, a sample size of 1,000 is on the large size. The statistics used for analysis of questionnaire data can accurately describe large populations from sample sizes of less than 100, and most social science research of this type uses samples sizes of between 35 and 100 people. The published papers resulting from this research have sample sizes much smaller than the final total of over 1,000 returned questionnaires.
While the number of men who participated in this study outnumbers the women by about 5 to 1, this ratio should not be seen as the actual ratio of male to female sadomasochists. It is not surprising that more responses were received from men, since most of the questionnaires were sent to people who advertised in SM publications, and these publications are found in "adult bookstores." Most women do not venture into these stores, and so they don't purchase or advertise in contact magazines to the same extent as men. This means that the number of women SMers who could be located was less than the number of men. (Remember, this research was done before the 'net was what it is today.)
The fact that 128 non-professional women responded to the questionnaire is important, since they aren't supposed to exist at all. This belief can be traced to the writings of Sigmund Freud, who argued that all women are masochists. However, their masochism so permeates their lives that it loses its sexual component. Freud coined the term moral masochist to describe this form of female masochism. Freud believed that only men could get sexual pleasure from masochism, which has two sexual forms: Erotogenic masochists are men who enjoy painful stimuli, and feminine masochists are men who enjoy acting in subservient ways, being humiliated, etc. These theoretical divisions were accepted by those who came after Freud as if they were fact. Thus, when a clinical therapist did find a woman who had sexual masochistic interests, he was obliged to explain her away-- "She's being forced to engage in these activities, and really doesn't enjoy them," or, "She's a prostitute, and so just does it for the money." Freud believed that it was possible for women to be sadists, but that this would be exceedingly rare, since sadism, he believed, was caused in part by the males natural aggression gone astray. Since Freud believed that women weren't naturally aggressive, they wouldn't be sadists, or at least not in any meaningful numbers. (Freud's explanation for Domme's was that they were lesbians, and therefore more man-like than "normal" women.) Regardless of Freud's Theory, women of all sexual persuasions do exist, in meaningful numbers, in the SM subculture. The myth that women do not have SM interests is not supported by the data, nor by the practical knowledge/experience of most people who have been involved in the scene for any length of time.
Age: The average age for the men taking part in this survey was 39, with a range from 15-78 years. For the women, the average age was 34, with a range from 18-66 years.
Race: Almost all the respondents were White, with about 5 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women being comprised of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native American Indians. One could conclude that SM is a "white folks" thing, which it may or may not be. There is not sufficient evidence to say at this point. The reason why we cannot simply accept that the overwhelming majority of sadomasochists are Whites is as follows: Magazines, videos, etc., found at adult bookstores cost money, and are mainly targeted to Caucasians. Non-Whites, as a group, may not have the disposable income to allow them to afford these products, and/or they may not be turned on by the mainly White models found in the magazines and videos. Thus, non-White SMers may exist but were unreachable, although they may exist in meaningful numbers.
Occupation: The people responding to the questionnaire had a large range of occupations, including, but not limited to: Medical doctors, lawyers, college professors, psychologists, social workers, fireman, policeman, carpenters, computer programmers, communication systems analysts, forest service employees, members of the armed forces, artists, housewives, clerks, postal employees, as well as welfare recipients, etc. Although a myth exists that SM interests are limited to corporate executives who have high pressure jobs and need SM to "unwind," or "relax," it is apparent from this list that sadomasochists have a variety of occupations, which range across all socioeconomic groups. Another myth bites the dust.
Rank in family of origin: To see if birth order had any influence on the respondent's SM interests, they were asked if they were an only child, or the oldest, youngest, or somewhere in-between the youngest and oldest child. Seventeen percent of the men and 16 percent of the women reported being an only child; 36 percent of the men and 34 percent of the women reported being the oldest child; about 20 percent of the men and 29 percent of the women reported being the youngest child; the remaining 25 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women reported that they were in-between the youngest and the oldest child in their family. A statistical analysis did not reveal any relationship of birth order to any of the other questions asked in the survey. For example, birth order didn't seem to have anything to do with whether a person was dominant, submissive or a switch, or heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, etc.
Education: The respondents tended to be well educated. Over 63 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women reported either having a college or post graduate education. Both of these figures are well above the national average. Another myth about sadomasochists, (which goes hand in hand with them being corporate executives) is that they are well educated. My findings can be interpreted to support this belief. But caution should be taken when assessing these results-- it is assumed by researchers that people who take the time to fill out questionnaires and return them are among the better educated. This, because many college graduates have conducted some sort of research, if only for a college class, and so understand its importance. People who have less education, it is believed, often feel intimidated by questionnaires, and are prone to be more suspicious of the intent of the researchers. A small number of questionnaires were returned blank, with a short note stating that eggheads, nerds, etc., would never be able to understand SM and were only interested in making sadomasochists look bad. Taking this into consideration, the data indicting that sadomasochists tend to have achieved high levels of education may only reflect that a disproportionately high number of college graduates completed and returned the questionnaire. Regardless of the exact proportions, it is safe to say that sadomasochists range from the lower educated to the highly educated. The myth that all sadomasochists are highly educated is false, since 37 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women reported educations ranging from high school dropout to having completed some college.
Sexual orientation: As for their sexual orientation, about 65 percent of the men reported being either heterosexual or usually heterosexual, about 23 percent said they were homosexual or usually homosexual, and the remaining 12 percent reported having bisexual interests. The data from the "usually heterosexuals" were combined with the heterosexuals, and the data from the "usually homosexuals" was combined with the homosexuals, creating three groups: Heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual. A comparison between these three groups did show some differences in how they answered a number of the other questions in the survey, and these differences will be explained when necessary. About 48 percent of the women in this study reported being either heterosexual or usually heterosexual, and 48 percent reported being bisexual. I was unable to get a (statistically) meaningful number of lesbians to participate in this study. Questionnaires were sent to women who advertised seeking other women, but only 7 of these women responded. In an attempt to get more homosexual women, a number of lesbian SM clubs were contacted, and asked for assistance in getting their members to participate in the study, but none of these groups were willing to help. Therefore, all the information for the women comes from only two groups, the heterosexuals plus usually heterosexuals, and the bisexuals. How lesbians compare to these two groups is unknown, since the data from only 7 gay women could not be statistically compared to the heterosexuals and bisexuals.
Marital status: One of the myths that floats around the psychological community is that sadomasochists are very poorly "socialized," that is, they don't fit in, are loners, and that they don't marry or form meaningful relationships with others. I asked the respondents to report whether they were married, divorced, or never married. Homosexual men were left out of this analysis, since we can assume that most homosexuals do not marry, at least not in the legal sense of the word. Of course, there are male homosexuals who have married women for a variety of reasons, but for simplicity's sake, they were not included in this analysis. I found that the chances were about equal that a male sadomasochist will be either never married or married (including those who were divorced but remarried), but probably not divorced and remaining single. Statistically speaking, there seems to be two types of men identified by my studies- one that prefers not to be married, and one that prefers to be married, to the extent that if he gets a divorce, he will probably remarry again. When viewed by sex orientation, the heterosexual men were married to a greater degree than the bisexual men, who tended to be never married.
The chances are that a female SMer is married, rather than being either divorced and remaining unmarried or never married. It seems from this analysis that SMers are capable of committing to, and entering into, long term relationships. The myth that sadomasochists are incapable of entering into meaningful long term relationships with others is not supported by the data.
Significant other's knowledge: The respondent's were asked whether their spouse, boy or girlfriend knew about their SM interests. If sadomasochists, as a group, were isolated and withdrawn, then we wouldn't expect those who were involved in a relationship to be open enough to let their significant other know about their SM interests. Of those who had a significant other, about 70 percent of the men and over 92 percent of the women reported that their spouse, boy or girlfriend knew of their sexual interests. However, this doesn't mean that the significant other was necessarily pleased to find out, and it also means that about 30 percent of the men and 8 percent of the women respondents are "in the closet" with their significant other. Regardless, it seems that sadomasochists, as a group, let their significant others know about their SM sexual interests. (I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they were significantly more open about the details of their sexual interests with their significant other than "vanilla" people are with their significant other).
Friends with SM interests: About 88 percent of the men and 92 percent of the women reported having friends or acquaintances who have SM interests. This indicates that sadomasochists do manage to find others who share their interests, and that, as a group, they are not isolated. However, at any given time, a sadomasochist may feel isolated-- friends come and go, and acquaintances may only be pen pals (and today email pals) living in distant cities, who are not immediately available for either friendship or psychological support.
Religious upbringing: Some people believe that religion is a factor in causing sadomasochism. Is sadomasochism caused by not having a religious upbringing, or is it a rebellion against a strict religious upbringing? About 25 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women reported having had strict religious instruction, about 69 percent of the men and 57 percent of the women reported having some religious instruction, and about 6 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women reported having no religious instruction as children. It appears from these results that sadomasochists are like most Americans as far as their religious upbringing is concerned, and so the degree of religious upbringing does not play a role in the making of a sadomasochist.
Current religious convictions: As for the extent of their current religious convictions, 11 percent of the men and about 16 percent of the women reported having strong religious beliefs, 58 percent of the men and 57 percent of the women reported having moderate religious beliefs, and 31 percent of the men and about 27 percent of the women report having no religious beliefs. With a total of about 70 percent of both men and women having at least some religious beliefs, it cannot be argued that sadomasochists are atheists, and a good shot of religion will save them from themselves. And with a total of 80-85 percent of the respondents having either no or moderate religious beliefs, it cannot be successfully argued that sadomasochists are religious fanatics.
Political involvement: As for political involvement, there is an equal chance that a male sadomasochist will be either a liberal, moderate or conservative, and an excellent chance that he will have some political views instead of having none. The women tended to be politically liberal, with 41 percent stating that this was their position; about 28 percent stated they were moderates, and only about 17 percent stated that they were conservatives. In America, women do tend towards being more liberal than conservative, so these results are not surprising. Almost three times as many women as men reported that they had no political views.
Demographic summary: To summarize the demographic information, it appears that sadomasochists tend to be Caucasian and well educated, although you must keep in mind the cautions I gave against assuming that all sadomasochists are Caucasian, and that they are better educated than the average American. Besides this, they seem very average; most had some religious training as children and have some religious beliefs today; they are capable of entering into meaningful relationships with others, and they tend to tell their significant other about their sexual interests. (In this respect they may differ from the average American.) They are apt to have any occupation, and they tend to have political convictions. Finally, a sadomasochist may be male or female.
Questions specifically about sadomasochism
Age of first interest: The remaining questions were designed to find out about sadomasochism and the sadomasochistic subculture. For example, at what age do sadomasochists first discover that they have SM interests? About 50 percent of the men reported that they first realized that they had SM interests by the age of 15. For women, the average age was about 19. Of interest is that about 10 percent of the men and women first recognized their SM interests by the time they were 7 years old. About 5 percent of men and 15 percent of the women first recognized their SM interests after the age of 30.
Means of first interest: The respondents were asked how they first became interested in SM. One myth within the SM subculture is that sadomasochists are born with their SM interests, and another myth, from outside of the SM community, is that reading pornography turns people into sadomasochists. Besides these two possibilities, there are other ways a person could become a sadomasochist. For example, some people are introduced to SM by a lover, and the legitimate media may also play a role in developing these interests.
About 71 percent of the men reported that they believed their SM interests were "natural" ones from childhood. These were the earliest sexual fantasies many of them had, or, they found themselves playing games at early ages that involved such activities as tying up, or being tied up, and they noticed that they were sexually excited during these games. Compared to the 71 percent of men, only about 38 percent of the women reported feeling that their SM interests were "natural" ones from childhood.
About 54 percent of the women reported being introduced to SM ("turned") by a sexual partner, while only about 8 percent of the men reported being "turned". About 16 percent of men and 4 percent of the women reported first finding out about SM through pornography. Of these, almost all were in their late twenties or older at the time. Finally, about 5 percent of the men and about 5 percent of the women reported first recognizing their SM interests from the legitimate media, i.e., legitimate literature, movies, plays, comic books, etc.
This information is important for a number of reasons. First, it indicates that pornography plays only a minor role (and a statistically insignificant one at that) in the making of a sadomasochist. It could be argued that many of the individuals who first learned about SM through pornography actually had SM interests at earlier ages, but didn't recognize these interests as being sexual. For example, some women reported that they had fantasies of being tied up (or tying someone else up) when they were young, but didn't know what the fantasies meant (except that they were fun). They didn't talk about sex with their friends, and had no idea that other people shared their interests. It was only when, later in life, after they were exposed to SM pornography (at a friend's house, for instance), that they learned that their interests were sadomasochistic in nature, and that other people also had these interests. It seems, then, that some women (and men) who reported first recognizing their SM interests later in life really did have SM interests at an earlier age, but they didn't recognize what their feelings or thoughts meant.
Women tend to be exposed to pornography at a later age than men, and, apparently, they tend to talk less explicitly about sexual interests with other women than men do with men. So it may be that the difference in the ages that men and women recognize their SM interests is due to the different socialization process among the sexes. These differences, due to changes going on in our society, may be lessening. Keep in mind that this research was begun in the early 1980's and ended about 1990. The people in this study were growing up, on the average, in the 1950's and 1960's. This was well before the days of sexually oriented music videos on MTV, "porno films" on cable channels, etc., and before performers like Madonna display SM postures or openly talk about kinky sex. Because of these changes, if this research were conducted again, it may turn out that women report realizing their SM interests at the same age as men.
While the results show that pornography does not play an important part in the development of SM interests, this information will be "forgotten" or attacked on various levels by those whose political and/or religious motivations necessitate that all pornography be banned. To show how difficult this could be, I will share with them the following stories, reported to me by two of the respondents: One woman wrote that her earliest sexual fantasies involved imagining some pictures she had seen in a Mickey Mouse comic book. In the story, Mickey Mouse was tied up in the hold of a ship. The woman reported that she found the drawings, and situation, sexually stimulating. Another respondent, a man, reported becoming aroused by a cartoon in which a goose spanked her gooselings. He reported that, as an adult, he still fantasizes about that cartoon. So, to all those who wish to ban "pornography," I suggest that they will have to add Mickey Mouse comics and Granny Goose cartoons to their list.
Most of the women who were introduced to SM activities by a lover reported that they "took" to SM because they had such leanings, although their sexual interests were unrecognized until their sexual fantasies were put into a greater setting. Many women reported that they first recognized their SM interests after their fantasies were shown to them to be sexual in nature. This suggests that the 38 percent of women who reported feeling that their SM interests were "natural" ones from childhood may be a low figure.
Meeting other sadomasochists: If you have an "unpopular" sexual interest, meeting others who share that interest can raise some problems. The respondents were asked to report all the different methods they used to contact other sadomasochists: Through ads; at SM bars; at SM clubs; by introducing others to SM; not tried to meet others; or "other." Again, keep in mind that this research was conducted before the internet became what it is today- at the time it was in it's early stages and was being used almost exclusively by professors to communicate and share data with each other.
Ads: About 60 percent of the male and 55 percent of the female respondents replied that they had used ads at least once. It can be assumed that the percentage of those who do use ads is actually higher, when the answer to this question is viewed over the lifetime of the sadomasochist-- at the age of 22 a person may not have placed an ad, but by the age of 35, or 55, the same person may well have. Of all the possible ways sadomasochists use to meet each other, placing ads was the most popular, and still may be. However, from follow-up questionnaire responses, it appears not to be the most successful method. While placing ads may be popular, the chances of getting a response is only slight. In a conversation with the publisher of a well known SM contact magazine, I was told that most advertisers were "lucky to receive even one" response.
If placing or answering ads is not the best way to find others who share similar interests, why are they used so often? Probably their greatest appeal is anonymity-- one does not actually have to meet another, but just have the fantasy of trying to make contact, or correspond, with others who have similar interests. One can anticipate (fantasize/masturbate) about a successful meeting, without actually having to put the fantasy into reality. For some, fantasy is more fun, and safer, than reality. For others, the chance of meeting someone and actualizing a sexual fantasy is well worth the few dollars it costs to place an ad.
One of the objectives of this research was to try to see if those SMers who didn't advertise were the same as those who did. This was an important question to answer, since a criticism of the research could have been that only those sadomasochists who were "horny" enough to place an ad were in the study, and they might not be representative of those sadomasochists who didn't place ads. A statistical analysis of the responses, comparing those who had placed ads to those who had not, indicate that the two groups can be considered to be the same. This means that future research into SM can depend on answers from those people who place ads, and the problems of getting the cooperation of members of the porno industry to place questionnaires directly into their publications, as I tried to do, can be avoided.
SM clubs and bars: A more direct way to meet others is through SM clubs and bars. About 16 percent of the men and about 11 percent of the women reported going to SM bars, and about 17 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women reported attending clubs. There was a great difference between the heterosexual and homosexual male sadomasochists in this regard. About 8 percent of the heterosexual males said that they went to SM bars and clubs, while about 42 percent of the homosexual men did. The reason for the great difference between these groups is that there were relatively few such establishments for heterosexuals, while there are many gay "leather bars" and bath houses for homosexuals. It seems likely that if heterosexuals had the same opportunity to go to SM bars and clubs as do homosexuals, the percentages would rise greatly from the 8 percent that do. Similarly, more of the bisexual women went to SM bars and clubs than did heterosexual women. Today, in larger cities at least, there are heterosexually oriented SM clubs that can be found without too much effort. One, located in Los Angeles, has a once-a-month cocktail party at a very legitimate hotel, and another organization holds an annual "spanking" social at the same hotel.
Haven't tried: About 21 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women reported not having tried to contact others. These responses may represent couples who are not looking to bring others into their sexual activities, or who prefer to restrict their SM interests to fantasy, as well as those married to an unsympathetic vanilla mate who don't want to take the chance of marital problems if they did try to meet someone and got caught at it.
Other: Another 14 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women reported that they tried to make contact in "other" ways. When I asked some of these respondents in a follow-up questionnaire to explain this answer, some mentioned that their lovers (Dom(me)s or slaves) found partners for them; that their association with the porno industry brought them into contact with other sadomasochists on a regular basis, or that they used prostitutes.
Turning: The final category involves those who introduce others to SM sex. About 30 percent of the men and women reported having done this on at least one occasion. To get more insight into how the respondents introduced lovers to SM, I asked, in follow-up questionnaires, those respondents who were involved in an SM relationship how they let their partner know of their sexual interests. Both male and female submissives stated that they preselected or screened their potential SM partners, looking for a domineering person. One woman wrote that she was only interested in men who "took charge" in their relationship-- those who seemed self assured, who made decisions concerning what to do on a date, who had a "no nonsense" approach. A man who let her know that he didn't like her to be late for a date, and who scolded her when she was, became "interesting," and someone she began to think of as a potential "master." Not surprisingly, I found more than one dominant who stated that he (she) looked for a person who seemed subservient, who waited for him to make decisions, and whom she could "test" by making subtle demands, and eventually, less subtle ones.
A number of other respondents wrote that they had developed a type of radar that permitted them to find others who had SM interests. For many, there is a feeling that those with SM interests put out certain "cues" that can be detected, if someone is looking for them. These cues run from "a manner of walking or talking, or just looking," to "offhand comments", such as, "If you're not good, I'll spank" or "naughty children, like you, get stood in the corner". Often, statements like these are "feelers"; messages being broadcast at a party for anyone to pick up on, or possibly directed toward one individual, to see whether he or she will respond favorably. If the person such remarks are directed to is not interested in SM, the remarks will probably go over his or her head, and the conversation will go in one direction, but if the person does have SM interests, then the conversation will take a different direction.
After the initial screening, the subject of SM is usually brought up during "pillow talk." At this time sexual fantasies are often discussed. Those who were questioned on this point stressed that they did not "blurt out" an elaborate SM scenario. On the contrary, a gradual confiding to their lovers of their SM interests was the usual method used. Something as innocuous as, "I've often fantasized about being tied (or tying someone) to the bed and being helpless during sex," would probably not be too shocking a statement. If the partner responds with something like, "That sounds like fun," the relationship will probably proceed in the desired direction. If the response is negative, and some gentle questioning about possible objections does not get the desired results, then the subject is dropped.
Although a screening technique followed by "pillow-talk" seems to be the preferred method used by those who have been successful at introducing others to SM, a number of other techniques have been reported which apparently have some merit. One woman, for example, stated that she left spanking magazines around her house, where her boyfriends could easily find them. When asked, she would mention that spanking excited her. A dominant woman reported that she told her new boyfriend that she really got turned on by men who wore her panties. He put them on, and she rewarded him with what she described as "great sex." On their next date, she was aloof when it came to sex, until he suggested that he put on her panties in order to excite her. Again, she rewarded him with "great sex." Over a period of time, he agreed to more and more of her demands.
Intensity of SM interests: Another question involved the level of commitment sadomasochists feel toward their sexual interests. Are they living an SM lifestyle, that is, do they eat and breathe SM; do they merely see SM as a means of foreplay, a game to be played before sex; or do they vacillate between these two extremes, sometimes being consumed by their sexual interests, and other times taking a more relaxed view of them? About 36 percent of the men and 31 percent of the women reported that they were interested in SM only as a form of foreplay, about 15 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women viewed SM as a lifestyle, and the remaining 50 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women reported that they vacillated between viewing their interests as foreplay and as a lifestyle.
SM and orgasm: Another way to determine how important SM is to people is how they view SM in relation to their sexual pleasure. About 62 percent of the men and 52 percent of the women reported that they felt SM activities made it easier for them to reach an orgasm; about 26 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women reported that SM sometimes helped them reach an orgasm; and about 9 percent of the men and 17 percent of the women reported that SM activities played no role in their orgasm.
SM Roles: There is some debate over the SM roles the sexes take, and whether there really are different roles at all. Some myths state that dominants are men and submissives are women, others state the reverse, and some argue that there is no fine line between dominants and submissives: All sadomasochists are versatile (switches), sometimes taking the dominant role, and sometimes taking the submissive role.
About 30 percent of the men and 32 percent of the women reported being dominant or usually dominant, about 44 percent of the men and 38 percent of the women reported being switches, and the remaining 26 percent of the men and 33 percent of the women reported being submissive or usually submissive. Taken at face value, we can say that there are different roles (dominant plus usually dominant, versatile, and usually submissive plus submissive), that men and women tend to fill these roles in roughly the same proportions to each other, and that there is a significantly greater chance that any given sadomasochist will be versatile, instead of being either a dominant or a submissive.
While the responses to the questionnaire showed that there are three SM roles which people fit into, arguments about how the data should be interpreted, and whether the sadomasochistic subculture is made up of three distinct roles (dominant, versatile and submissive) or just one role, versatile, still persisted. Part of the conflict centered on how the "usually dominants" and "usually submissives" were grouped-- should they be treated as separate groups, or combined with the versatiles, or combined with the dominants and the submissives? Each of these different approaches creates different statistical results.
If there are really three groups, then there must be some reason why individuals choose one over the other two. It occurred to me that these reasons, if they existed, might be detectable if the respondents filled out additional questionnaires that tested for differences in how the respondents viewed issues of control. In 1985 I started including two standard psychological tests with the questionnaire. The first detects whether a person has an internal or external locus of control (developed by Rotter in 1966). Some people, as an example, believe that it is who you know and not what you know that is important, while others believe that being prepared and competent will lead to success in life. The latter type is said to have an internal locus of control, that is, this person believes that he or she is in control of his destiny. The former type of person is said to have an external locus of control, and feels that he or she is not in control of his destiny, and is at the mercy of fate, or of the "system." There is no right way to believe, simply because no one knows which view is correct. There probably is some truth in both positions. The test simply detects which belief system the person taking the test has.
The other test was the Desirability of Control scale (developed by Burger and Cooper in 1979). Some people want to be in control of their lives and destiny, while others are more than happy to let someone else make all the decisions. I decided that differences in locus of control, and especially in desirability of control, may be detectable among the dominant, switch and submissive groups. The dominant sadomasochist, for instance, is (apparently) the one in control of the relationship, and therefore would have a greater desirability for control than the submissive. The switch, I hypothesized, would fall somewhere in between the dominants and submissives when measured on the desirability of control inventory. Finally, I assumed that the submissives would show a lower desire to be in control than either the dominants or the switches. For simplicity sake, questionnaires returned from "usually's" were not used in the analysis.
The results of this investigation led to another technical publication (Breslow, 1987, see Introductory Notes). In summary: All sadomasochists, regardless of their SM role (e.g., dominant, switch or submissive), tend to have an internal locus of control. They believe that they are in control of their destiny, and no statistical differences could be detected among these groups. The results for the desirability of control inventory showed that again, all three groups had a high desire for control-- they all wanted to be in control of their lives. However, there were statistically significant differences among the three groups. The dominants had a higher desire for control than the switches, and the switches had a higher desire for control than the submissives. This finding supports the position that there are three distinct SM sex roles, and not one large "switch" or "versatile" group, since it shows psychological differences among dominants, submissives and switches. It can be assumed, at least until shown otherwise, that SMers choose the roles they take based on how high a need for control they have in their lives.
Humiliation or physical pain oriented: Of all the questions asked, this was the one that was most difficult for the respondents to answer, based on the number of questionnaires returned with this question left blank, or with both answers marked. Mental pain (humiliation) and physical pain form a continuum, with an interest only in humiliation at one extreme and an interest only in physical pain at the other. Some sadomasochists seem to have a greater interest in one or the other, but many seem to be equally interested in both, and thus were not able to make a decision between the two possible answers, "Pain" and "Humiliation." Of those who did answer the question, approximately 50 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women reported being pain oriented, and the remaining 50 percent of the men and 56 percent of the women reported being humiliation oriented. From the sexual fantasies of, and correspondence with, the respondents, it became obvious that the terms "humiliation" and "pain" are not absolutes. Humiliation for one person is not necessarily humiliation for another, and pain for one is not necessarily pain for another. Additionally, humiliation and pain are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so the same activity can be both pain and humiliation oriented. For example, if a submissive is spanked, he (she) may find the self image of an adult being spanked humiliating and sexually arousing, and also find the pain of the spanking arousing.
Rate of SM sexual activity: The respondents were asked to report the approximate number of times they had engaged in SM activities during the previous twelve months. About 12 percent of the men and 10 percent of the women reported having had no such activities. Of those who had, slightly over 40 percent of the men and about 25 percent of the women had between 1-10 SM "sessions," while 12 percent of the men and slightly over 20 percent of the women had more than 50. The remaining 48 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women had somewhere between 11-49 SM sessions. The average number of sessions for all men was 22 (averaging about twice a month) during the preceding twelve months, with a range from 0-350. For all women, the average number of sessions was 69, with a range from 0-365. For just the non- professional women, the mean number of sessions dropped to 52 (about once a week), but the range remained the same, 0- 365.
When viewed from the sex role perspective, the numbers change for the men. Homosexual men had considerably more sexual encounters than the heterosexual men. This can be understood when we keep in mind that there are more gay leather bars and gay bath houses where homosexuals can meet, than there are similar means for heterosexual men and women to meet. However, the bisexual men had about as many sessions as the heterosexual men. This is surprising, since bisexual men would have the opportunity to make contact, and thus have opportunities for sex, with members of both sexes.
The results of the female respondents are similar to those of the males, when viewed from their sex roles. Heterosexual non-professionals had an average of 45 sessions, while the bisexual non-professionals had an average of 58 sessions. Both the heterosexual and bisexual professionals had considerably more sessions than the other women, with an average for the heterosexual professionals of 126 sessions, and for the bisexual professionals, an average of 158.
Number of different partners: The respondents were also asked to indicate how many different people they had SM sex with during the preceding twelve months. Of those who had engaged in SM sex, about 65 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women reported having between 1-5 different partners, and less than 1 percent of the men and slightly more than 3 percent of the women reported having more than 20 different partners. The average number of partners for both men and non-professional women was 6, and the average number for all women, including the professionals, was 21, with a range from 0-900. When viewed by sex roles, homosexual men had significantly more partners than both the heterosexual and bisexual men. The reason the bisexual men were statistically the same as the heterosexual men, in both the number of different partners and the number of SM sessions they had during the past year, cannot be explained by this research. Logically, bisexual men should be able to have more sexual activity than either heterosexual or homosexual men, since they have both sexes available as possible sex partners, as well as having access to gay leather bars and bath houses. However, logic and facts don't always agree. Logic does explain why the professional women had more partners and more sessions than the non-professional women.
Unlike the results for the heterosexual and bisexual men, differences were found for the number of partners for the heterosexual and bisexual non-professional women. The average for the heterosexual non-professional was 2.8 partners, and for the bisexual non-professional, the average number of partners during the preceding 12 months was 9.5. The heterosexual professionals had an average of 38.5 partners, and the bisexual professionals had an average of 115 partners during the previous 12 months.
The analysis showed that the heterosexual men and non- professional women tended to have a fairly constant SM relationship with one other person. However, those who had been "playing" with each other for some time did tend to want to expand their sexual activities to include others, that is, they wished to participate in some form of group sex with other sadomasochists. This seems to be important to many, since it adds new excitement. Having others watch, or join in, is for many SMers very stimulating, and can help revive the initial passion that may have grown stale over time.
A minority of the heterosexual males and non-professional females did engage in numerous relationships. These individuals seemed to have a "knack" for finding other sadomasochists with whom to play, or possibly they went to SM sex clubs and engaged in group sex. The homosexual males tended to have many relationships with many different partners, when compared to the heterosexuals and bisexuals. Gay men who are not sadomasochists also tend to have more frequent sex with more partners than heterosexual non-sadomasochistic males, so it could be said that the homosexual sadomasochists are acting in a manner consistent with their sex role.
Sexual activities: The questionnaire contained a list of 21 sexual activities and interests. The respondents were asked to indicate all of those that they had an interest in. Below, are the percentages of the male and female respondents who have these interests.
Oral sex: Females 87.1; Males 77.3 Spanking: Females 80.6; Males 80.9 Bondage: Females 77.6; Males 57.1 Restraint: Females 74.6; Males 58.7 Master/slave relations: Females 71.8; Males 56.8 Erotic lingerie: Females 71.2; Males 45.9 Masturbation: Females 66.9; Males 72.0 Humiliation: Females 64.2; Males 55.3 Anal sex: Females 55.3; Males 54.7 Whipping Females 52.4; Males 39.2 Verbal abuse: Females 52.1; Males 34.4 Rubber/leather: Females 48.2; Males 34.9 Boots/shoes: Females 46.5; Males 32.1 Stringent bondage: Females 45.6; Males 29.9 Pain: Females 42.9; Males 41.7 Golden Showers: Females 42.4; Males 29.4 Torture: Females 36.5; Males 22.9 Enemas: Females 28.2; Males 31.1 Transvestism (TV): Females 22.4; Males 18.8 Petticoat Punishment: Females 17.6; Males 17.9 Toilet activities: Females 15.3; Males 14.6
The SM prostitute: About 32 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women reported having used a professional dominant or submissive at least once. Most SM contact magazines have ads placed by "professional" dominants and submissives. Some sadomasochists prefer to use SM prostitutes rather than to try to find non-professional lovers. Such people are more often than not married men who have not confided to their wives about their SM interests, or, if they have, they are those whose wives do not approve of or enjoy such activities. These men often resort to the use of professional dominants or submissives, since these relationships are of the "no strings" variety-- no long term commitments are necessary, and the professional is easy to find through their ubiquitous ads in SM contact magazines. Others, such as single men without an SM partner, also make use of professionals. Many of these men have the fantasy of becoming "full time slaves" to such women. Sometimes, couples use the services of a professional, usually as a way of enacting a fantasy. For example, a dominant wife may humiliate her submissive husband by forcing him to submit to another dominant woman. These encounters are relatively rare, but they do take place. The rarest of all the professional's patrons is the single female.
There are at least three types of professionals. The first is the prostitute who will engage in SM sex. It appears that these individuals have little sympathy or empathy for sadomasochists-- they tend to see sadomasochists as "sick" and they are reluctant to engage in anything except "play" SM. For example, if the prostitute is to be spanked, it must be done with a soft fabric belt, which she supplies to make sure that she won't feel any discomfort, and to insure that no marks, no matter how temporary, will be left. Additionally, she is interested in the activity taking place as quickly as possible-- time is money.
The second type of SM prostitute could best be described as the "phony pro." This person may be a man or woman who places ads in adult publications, possibly with a photograph of someone else, stating, "Mistress (any name will do) will correct naughty boys and girls. Send humble letter stating your needs along with $5 as a token of your sincerity, and a large, self addressed stamped envelope." For the most part, such ads are scams. What one usually gets in return for a token of sincerity is a poorly written, poorly photocopied form letter "demanding" more money for a more personalized letter. Anyone can go into this business. A few of these pros were sent questionnaires. Instead of returning them filled out, most sent their form letters telling me how good a time I would have with them once we got together, and to get another more personalized letter, I should send $20. Others sent personalized notes asking for money to fill out the questionnaire. One pro filled out six of the forty questions, and returned the questionnaire along with a note asking for payment for the time it took her to answer the questions.
The third and final type is the "legitimate pro." These (usually) women tended to be very helpful in this research, often giving detailed answers both to the original questionnaire and to follow-up questions. They differ from the phony pro in that they are not fast buck artists. They have SM interests of their own, and as one of these pros put it, "[I] can think of no better way to make a good living and have fun at the same time." Although these women advertise in the same SM publications as the phony pros, their ads differ in that they don't ask for money as a "token of sincerity," and often their ads contain a telephone number, instead of a post office box number, to aid in making an appointment for a "session."
Some legitimate pros work alone, or with another pro, while others work at "houses of dominance and submission". Of those who work alone, most are dominant, although in their personal (non-fee) relationships, they may be submissive to their lover. In their correspondence with me, many described seeing their professional activities as being a form of therapy, with them acting as a therapist. They do not see themselves as prostitutes, but rather as concerned and interested human beings who are in the business of helping others fulfill fantasies, learn more about themselves, explore secret thoughts, etc.
I asked these pros how many repeat customers they had, and I asked respondents who reported using pros how often they returned to the same one. The answers from both were the same: Rarely. This, because any particular dominant may not fulfill a particular fantasy to the satisfaction of the customer, even if the pro gives it a legitimate try. One pro may be "too dominant" while another may not be dominant enough. Sort of like Goldie Lock's problem with the porridge. Finding the one who is "just right" might take quite a lot of looking. Even if a professional is found who is "just right," the fees involved might be prohibitive for a continuing relationship. Of those pros who responded to the question, the fees ranged from a minimum of $35 per hour to $150 per hour (in 1981-1990 dollars). However, many female pros reported that they were bisexual, and would be happy to wave the fee for a submissive female, just because she would be extra fun to play with. These pros are definitely into the scene, and not just involved for the money. Finally, no matter how skilled a particular dominant (or submissive) may be, fantasy, for some sadomasochists, is more fun than reality, and so no pro will be able to meet that persons needs.
Self acceptance of SM interests: How do sadomasochists feel about themselves and their SM interests? About 75 percent of the men and 77 percent of women reported rarely or never feeling "dirty" or "perverted" about having SM interests. About 19 percent of the men and 16 percent of the women reported that they sometimes have these negative feelings, and the remaining 6 percent of the men and 8 percent of the women reported that they often or always have negative feelings about their SM sexual interests. Considering the "bad press" associated with SM, it appears that sadomasochists are remarkably well adjusted to their SM interests.
Length of depression: Another question asked how often the respondent felt depressed for over a week. Having lengthy bouts of depression would be a sign that the person is having psychological problems. About 75 percent of the men and 77 percent of the women reported never or rarely feeling depressed for over a week; about 20 percent of the men and 18 percents of the women reported that they sometimes are; and about 6 percent of the men and 5 percent of the women reported that they always or often are depressed for longer than a week. These figures do not indicate that depression plays any greater part in the lives of sadomasochists then it does in non-sadomasochist's lives. It can be concluded that, on the whole, sadomasochists seem to have accepted their SM interests, and adjusted well to being the butt of jokes on television and in movies.
Feeling's about their children having SM interests: The final question designed to get insight into the respondent's self image concerning SM asked how they would feel if their children grew up to have these sexual interests. Of the three choices, "Approve," "Disapprove" and "I don't know," about 37 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women who answered this question reported that they would approve, about 18 percent of the men and 6 percent of the women reported that they would disapprove, and the remaining 55 percent of the men and 54 percent of the women reported that they weren't sure. A number of respondents who didn't answer this question wrote that it wasn't up to them to approve or disapprove of their children's sexual interests. While both the men and women reported that they would approve of their children having SM interests in far greater numbers than disapprove, indicating a positive acceptance of their sexual interests, a majority of both the men and women were unsure of how they would feel if it turned out that their children were sadomasochists. This could be interpreted as indicating some negative feelings concerning their sexuality, but it can also be interpreted to mean that the respondents would hope that their children wouldn't have to face the same problems in life that they had, due to their SM sexual interests.
Sexual and emotional abuse: Another myth to be investigated concerns whether sadomasochistic interests develop because of sexual or emotional abuse in childhood. Five percent of the men and 16 percent of the women reported that they believe that they were sexually abused as children, and 27 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women reported feeling that they were emotionally abused as children.
There is no one accepted figure representing the number of children who have been sexually abused in America. Depending on the definition of sexual abuse, the percents could run from almost none to everyone. The figures of 5 percent for men and 16 percent for women do not seem high when compared to some figures that have been reported for the population as a whole. However, the responses for feeling emotionally abused do seem high, although there are no published figures of how many people in our society have these feelings. Once figures for emotional abuse of children are established, assuming that they ever are, it may turn out that these numbers for sadomasochists will be within the average of the population as a whole.
Fetishes: Another myth is that sadomasochists are really fetishists, and have only one sexual interest which they like to engage in. The respondents were asked whether they had only one SM fantasy, or if they had many. About 20 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women reported having only one SM fantasy, with the remaining 80 percent of the men and 87 percent of the women reporting that they had many different fantasies.
Summarizing the data
It is tempting to draw a composite from these data of the "typical" or average sadomasochist. However, such a composite would result in a very atypical sadomasochist, just as a composite of the average American would result in the description of a person who probably doesn't exist. It is possible to say that the average sadomasochist is unremarkable, that is, he or she is just like anyone else, with the one exception of having an interest in SM. Instead of creating a composite sadomasochist, it will be more helpful to take another look at some of the myths and common knowledge about SM, and see how they stand up in light of this research.
The myth that women don't have SM interests doesn't stand up to examination. While there is not enough information to say what proportions of sadomasochists are women, it is evident that there are enough to allow many men and women to find each other and enter into long term relationships. Additionally, since women do have SM interests, the myth that SM is exclusively a male homosexual activity does not stand up to scrutiny, nor does the myth that heterosexual male sadomasochists must use prostitutes or engage in homosexual activities, due to a lack of female sadomasochists.
While some SMers may be corporate executives, they may also be a clerk at your grocery store, or a teller at your bank. They don't look or act differently than anyone else (although some sadomasochists believe that they have developed "radar" that allows them to pick up subtle signs SMers give off).
Sadomasochists marry or enter into long term relationships, and have friends and acquaintances who share their interests. The myth that sadomasochists are poorly socialized "loners" doesn't hold up, although, of course, there are bound to be some who are poorly socialized loners, just as there are non- sadomasochists who fit that description.
Sadomasochists, as a group, are not atheists, and, as a group, do not come from homes that were either non-religious or very religious. As a group, they do not seem to have been sexually abused to any greater extent than children in general, and less so than some published papers report are average for our society.
The myth that using pornography causes sadomasochistic interests has been shown not to be true. About 71 percent of the men reported feeling that SM was a "natural" interest from childhood, with their earliest sexual fantasies and thoughts centering around SM themes. Thirty-eight percent of the women also believed that their interests were natural ones from childhood, with another 54 percent first learning about their SM interests after being "turned" by a lover. However, a large number of women who were introduced to SM by another person reported that the SM activities they were introduced to were the same, or similar, to thoughts and fantasies that they had as children. Further, they believed that they were the only ones who had those thoughts, and often didn't recognize them as sexual until they found out about SM from a lover. Only about 15 percent of the men and 4 percent of the women reported first having learned about SM through pornography, and again, many said that the pornography only helped explain to them that their previous thoughts were sexual, and that other people had similar thoughts and interests. Differences between the socialization of boys and girls may account for the differences in the ages that men and women report first recognizing their sexual, sadomasochistic, interests.
Most SMers will place an ad in an SM contact magazine, (or now, on the internet), trying to meet others who share their interests, at one time or another. However, the most successful method for becoming involved in an SM relationship is by introducing an existing lover to SM sex.
The myths that dominants are men and submissives are women, or that dominants are women and submissives are men, or that all men and women are switches, do not stand up. For all practical purposes, there are three sadomasochistic roles: Dominant, switch (versatile), and submissive, with men and women filling all of these roles. Dominants have a greater desire for control than versatiles, who in turn have a greater desire for control than submissives, and all these groups have both a high desire for control and a high internal locus of control.
Sadomasochists don't seem to be the guilt ridden self-hating people many articles in scientific journals paint them to be. Sadomasochists seem to be remarkably free of negative feelings about their SM interests, nor do they report, in large numbers, being depressed for long periods of time.
There is variability among sadomasochists. Some keep their interests a fantasy, for use during masturbation or during sexual intercourse. Others have a great number of sexual contacts with other sadomasochists. Most, however, tend to have about as many different partners as their sex roles would indicate that they would have: Male homosexuals have more sex with more partners than the heterosexual males, and bisexual females have more sessions with more people than heterosexual females. It is unknown why bisexual males are closer in their number of partners to heterosexual males than to homosexual males.
End of report describing primary questionnaire data.
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