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BDSM 101: Sadism & Masochism

By CAGE Staff​(staff)     May 5, 2023

S&M: Is It Required for BDSM?

You've probably heard the term "S&M" before. Even if you hadn't, a few music artists have recently really brought the term to the forefront (thanks Rihanna!). So, what is S&M? Do you have to like it to be kinky? Is it possible to do S&M safely, and do you even have to do it at all? Seems like everybody thinks you do! you?

First, let's talk about what S&M is.

What is S&M?

If you don't spend your free time learning the acronyms of kink, you might not be aware of the term S&M - and that's okay! 

The "S" stands for Sadism - and the "M" stands for Masochism. When discussing the two sides together, the joint word “sadomasochism” may be used.

A sadist (someone who enjoys sadism) is someone who gets pleasure - whether sexual or otherwise - out of seeing someone else in mental or physical pain. They may derive extra enjoyment out of being the person to cause aforementioned pain.

A masochist (someone who enjoys masochism) is someone who gets pleasure - whether sexual or otherwise - from feeling mental or physical pain.

As you can imagine, in a kinky world where spanking is a common activity, there are quite a few people who are sadists and masochists. 

(As a fun tidbit, the "SM" in "BDSM" stands for Sadism and Masochism!)

Spanking, flogging, caning, whipping, and paddling are all examples of physical S&M activities. However, it doesn't just end there. Any activity that causes physical pain can be S&M; this may include kneeling on rice, standing on your tip toes until your calves hurt, being pinched, being tickled to the point of pain, and more. For some S&M practitioners, it can even be as creative as using menthol creams or cold water to cause sudden, unpleasant sensations! 

However, S&M doesn't only pertain to physical sensations. While an advanced type of play, emotional sadism and emotional masochism involve unseen, mental pain. People into emotional sadism may insult their partners or bring up previous, negative experiences for the sole purpose of bringing up negative emotions from their partner. People into feeling emotional masochism may enjoy the overwhelming emotions or the cathartic release of having those things out in the open – or having a good cry session!

Again, though, emotional sadism and masochism is edgeplay, and it's not suitable for beginners. We do, however, want you to know that it is exists. S&M isn't just physical; it can be more than just spankings!

(Remember: all things kinky are also consensual. In emotional S&M, both partners consent to play with this type of activity after long and detailed negotiation. If someone is simply choosing to insult, berate, and bring you down without your consent, it's likely abuse – not a kink activity.)

Why Do People Like S&M?

Just like anything sexual or kinky, there are a whole bunch of reasons why someone may love S&M. If your partner confesses an interest or arousal in it, we highly recommend having a heart-to-heart conversation to find out your specific partner's reasons for it. That way, you both can enjoy S&M play in a way that best brings out their favorite aspects! 

Some common reasons people enjoy S&M:

It's Intimate: How often do you ask for - or intentionally give - pain? For most of us, we go through life trying to avoid pain as best as possible. This makes our surrender into receiving pain - or our request to give pain - even more special to the people we're close to. This intimacy of a shared request can be a big draw for many. 

It's Cathartic: Have you ever gone to the gym to work off an intense feeling - or curled up on the couch to watch a movie with the sole purpose of turning into a bawling mess? S&M can offer similar sensations. A good S&M scene can really build into an intense, almost-too-overwhelming experience that feels like a weight has been lifted afterwards. Especially for people into emotional S&M, the "weightlessness" afterwards can be a big part of it. 

It Can Induce Flow State: Have you ever been so absorbed in a task that it's the only thing you can think of? It might be because it's so mentally or physically overwhelming. S&M can provide similar mental states. If the receiver can only think about how to process the pain of one swat before the next one comes, it's hard to think of anything else. If the giver is only focused on how to best aim their next hit and reading the bottom's cues, they're not thinking about work. 

It Can Be Meditative: Especially if you're into the "receiving" side of things, the literal “feel” of physical S&M can be very meditative. The sensations can begin to blur into a thuddy, out-of-body experience - especially when partnered with the bass-heavy music many kinksters are into. This "floaty" sensation is often discussed in impact play circles as a big draw for S&M. 

The After-Spanking High: You've heard of a runner's high, right? And you've probably attended a social event or two that left you feeling energized for hours afterwards, right? Because of how the body processes pain, spanking scenes can leave a bottom with an endorphin-fueled happy state for a few hours afterwards. The physical activity and mental headspace from the top can also be an alluring headspace of its own. 

The Reactions: Quite a few people into the giving side of S&M love it because of the reactions. Most people have very visceral reactions to pain - whether that's swearing, a grimace, or something else. People into giving pain might be seeking out these reactions - and may especially be turned on by that moment where the "ouchie" reactions start turning into sexual ones. 

It's Common: Some people are into S&M simply because it's one of the most common kinks. You can't have a kink for something if you don't know about it! Because a lot of mainstream movies and TV shows tend to feature spankings and bondage as common "BDSM" tropes, many people find themselves aroused by S&M over other kinks because they simply had better exposure to it! 

But How is S&M Different than BDSM?

S&M focuses, entirely, on the giving and receiving of mental and physical pain. S&M doesn't care about what power exchange dynamics you're in, whether you call someone "sir" or not, whether bondage is involved, or even whether sex is on the menu. S&M simply focuses on the giving - and receiving - of pain. 

The world of kink is just so much larger than those two simple activities. 

Is S&M Required to Do BDSM?

Once we realize that S&M focuses entirely on the giving and receiving of pain - and we know that there's more kinky activities out there that have nothing to do with pain, we can see S&M for what it is: an amazing way to enjoy kink but in no way required for BDSM at-large

Let me say it again: you do not have to enjoy receiving - or giving - pain in order to be kinky.

Pain is just one facet of hundreds of emotions and sensations that we elicit in the world of kink. You can play with anticipation, arousal, fear, restriction, joy, temperature, longing, and desperation just as readily as you can play with pain. 

Just like someone may have no interest in any type of kink play that makes them feel terrified, they may not be interested in any type of play that involves pain - and that's okay!

We also want to point out that S&M is not role-specific. A dominant/master can enjoy receiving pain - and a submissive/slave can enjoy giving pain. Within a power exchange dynamic, the master can "order" the slave to spank them if they want. A master may also request the slave to bite them or use their nails in the midst of passion; this can provide some of the enjoyment of pain within the pre-existing dynamics. 

Either partner may fulfill some of their sadistic or masochistic tendencies outside of their dynamic too. Some non-kinky activities even offer opportunities! Wrestling and boxing are known for their pain exchanges, and many sports offer some version of self-induced pain with deeper involvement (like rock climbing, pole dancing, ballet, and more!)

All that's to say: S&M is not required to call yourself kinky, and you can enjoy giving or receiving pain entirely independent of your power exchange identifications. You can be a shy submissive who loves seeing a bottom scream in pain under your impact toys. That's totally normal! 

How to Safely Explore S&M

Think S&M might be for you? It's a very common kink - it might be one for you too!

Luckily for all of us, it's also relatively easy to explore. You need virtually no equipment, and you can explore it by yourself too; there's no need for a partner to give S&M a try. 

Simply spank yourself on the butt or inner thighs with your hand. That's it!

Okay, so we have a few more tips to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible:

Be aroused ahead of time. Painful sensations are still painful for masochists. Most masochists find pain to feel pleasurable because of the context and because of their current arousal. Just because you're a masochist doesn't mean you like stubbing your toe! Instead, painful sensations can translate into erotic, arousing ones while already turned on - and while in a headspace that processes the activity as a hot, sexy one. So make sure you're already turned on and excited to spank yourself.

Start softly and slowly. A single, hard-as-you-can smack is probably going to feel painful in the bad ways. Even among the most-practiced spankers in kink, a "warm-up" is a thing! Start softly and gently with your spanking to get the area warmed up and prepare it for harder, swifter swats. This might mean that your spanking lasts 10 minutes - or all the way to 45 minutes! Remember: there's no rule that says you must be actively spanking yourself at a 5-second pace the entire time! Take breaks as you want.

Touch yourself (optional!) If you're sexually aroused by the idea of S&M, adding sexual pleasure alongside the spanking can be a great idea. Especially as you're only using your hands, you can easily swap between swats on your own body and pleasuring yourself. The constant back-and-forth between orgasmic pleasure and a bit of pain can be an intoxicating combo for many!

Stick to the Fleshy, Bouncy Parts. In general, spankings will feel best on the thickest, fleshiest, squishiest parts of your body. Not only would an elbow spanking be dangerous, but it'd also just be plain unpleasant. Instead, stick to the juiciest parts of the booty and thighs. Trying to spank in a way that makes the most flesh "jiggle" can be an easy shortcut to remember to keep your swats in the good zones. 

Communicate with your partner. If you're trying S&M with a partner, there should be a lot of back-and-forth discussion going on. Especially when starting, we recommend encouraging the receiving partner to respond with "Harder!", "Lighter, please!" or a moan after each swat to help the spanking partner determine what intensity to play at. Especially when you're new to S&M and might not realize how intense a smack feels on your partner's skin, this can be a great way to ensure the spanking stays as a pleasurable-for-everyone level. 

Know the No-No Zones. There are a few areas on the body where you never should do spanking or impact play. That includes the spine, anything near the face, the tailbone, and all of the joints. In general, if there's a bone that can be easily felt by your fingers underneath their skin, it's a bad place for spanking. Not only does it increase the risk, but it also just doesn't feel as good. And isn't "good feelings" the entire point?

Now You Know a Bit About S&M!

To sum it all up:

  • S&M stands for Sadism and Masochism (or Sadomasochism, depending on who you talk to!)
  • People enjoy S&M for various reasons including the taboo aspect, the ability to please their partner, the intimacy of the exchange, and plain ol' sensations!
  • S&M is NEVER required to be kinky. You do not need to like giving or receiving pain in order to be kinky. It's just another thing you can explore!
  • Dominants can enjoy receiving pain - and submissives can enjoy giving pain. It isn't limited to a single "role".
  • You can explore S&M all on your own with the magic of your palm and some spanking.

Mistress Kay lives in the world of sexuality and kink. With a house that's quickly running out of space for things that aren't sex books and sex toys, she spends what free time she has writing femdom help articles (, trying the latest and greatest in sex toys, and exploring the sexual universe with her partners. She can be reached at Kinky World (

Great article! Sums up the feelings of sadomasochism articulately and accurately. It helped me understand my feelings better. Thank you for this article.
Aug 17, 2023, 1:21 PM
peter pan
Its refreshing to have S&M explained so vividly.Lt Refreshing article, good to have S&M so vividly described.
Oct 25, 2023, 8:02 PM
Belle de jour{submissive}
Thank. you for this - love it.
Nov 23, 2023, 1:36 AM