I admit to enjoying masochistic fantasies. Does this make me different than most other people? Not the “admitting” part – that is definitely unusual – or the “fantasy” part – most people enjoy their fantasies – but the “masochistic” part.
Am I different or are ordinary people masochistic?
Masochism is “deriving pleasure from pain or humiliation.” What normal person could want that?
Athletes, for one. Running beyond a certain distance hurts. As does lifting more than a certain amount of weight or stretching past a certain point. People in the gym proclaim: “No pain, no gain!” And they pay for access to equipment that will give them the right kind of pain. And they pay for yoga instructors to bend them into painful contortions. And, the latest fad, they pay for “boot camps” that not only demand painful amounts of exercise, but throw in a handful of humiliation to spice up the experience.
If that’s not masochism, I don’t know what is.
Who else might be masochistic? Campers. If you have a perfectly warm, soft bed at home and you’re not a masochist, why would you hike far out into the bush and lay down on dirt and rocks and sticks to sleep? And to make certain that you have a miserable experience, you can do it in the middle of winter, do it clinging to the face of a cliff, or do it in a snake-infested desert. And, if you’re afraid that you might get a flash of common sense and chicken out, you can pay a premium to have yourself flown or boated to a remote trailhead where you have no option but to spend your days walking back to civilization.
Soldiers volunteer to do all of this for minimal pay. That looks like a species of masochism to me.
Who else? Avid gamblers who know that they’ll always lose more than they’ll ever win, yet keep playing. Political protesters who chase one lost cause after another. Religious adherents who willingly submit to the rituals and dictates of a self-proclaimed priesthood, including chastity, which has to be sexual masochism. Sports fans who know that their team has to fail to achieve championship ninety per cent of the time. Spouses who remain in mildly abusive marriages for years. Employees who keep working for abusive supervisors rather than looking for another position. Drinkers. Smokers. People with tattoos. It’s easy to see all of these people as willing masochists.
What’s so different about me?
Is it a matter of degree? Like most human qualities, masochism is not an all-or-none characteristic. Some people are so masochistic that they kill themselves. Anorexics starve themselves; extreme adventure enthusiasts die of exposure or foreseeable injuries; sex addicts expose themselves to dangerous diseases. I’m nowhere near that extreme, even in my fantasies. At the other end of the spectrum, some people are so fearful of pain that they avoid necessary medical treatments, refuse to travel beyond their home towns, or avoid meeting strangers.
Neither end of the spectrum is adaptive. A well-balanced person will tolerate some degree of minor pain and humiliation in order to achieve a desired result.
So, is that the difference? Do “ordinary masochists” tolerate some pain and humiliation in order to achieve an external goal – physical fitness, financial success, social approval – while “extraordinary masochists” do the same for internal pleasure?
Not always. In my stories, I have explored a number of different reasons why a woman might want to endure pain and humiliation, including manipulating someone else, social approval, guilt, a desire to conform, duty, and relief from boredom. In all these cases, the woman is pursuing an external goal. They do not enjoy their pain; they tolerate it. Yet my stories clearly present them as masochists.
A more obvious difference is that “ordinary masochism” does not have a sexual component in the way that my stories do. But that may be misleading. In cases where a person submits to pain and humiliation for a non-sexual reason, adding a sexual context and getting aroused ameliorates the suffering. It releases hormones and neurotransmitters that reduce the sensation of pain to a certain degree. In my own experience, fantasizing about a sexual relationship with my dentist while sitting in the chair helps me tolerate the pain of the procedure. Who says that sexual masochism isn’t adaptive?
Who knows how many people in the gym are sweating through their pain by fantasizing about having sex with the hot body on the Nautilus machine next to them?
If you look around, you will find that you are surrounded by ordinary masochists. And, if you examine yourself, you may discover that you are one of them.
You may not be as different from me as you think.