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Sadism is the deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others. A person who enjoys sadism is a sadist.

Leptosadism refers to mild sadism (from Greek leptos, small).


Derivation of the term

The term sadism is derived specifically from the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French soldier and writer. From the time that he was a young nobleman Sade consorted with prostitutes and developed a taste for sexual perversions.

He was imprisoned on several occasions for his harsh abuse of prostitutes and gross licentiousness. After arriving at the Bastille in 1784 he began writing erotic novels in which he gave full expression to his sexual fantasies. His most famous novel was The Adversities of Virtue (1787). His works are known for their graphic descriptions of sexual perversions.

His last years were spent in an insane asylum at Charenton, where he wrote plays for his fellow inmates to perform. His compulsion for physically and sexually abusing others gave rise to the concept of sadism.

In relation to BDSM

Within the BDSM community, the Dominant is most often the sadist, and the submissive is generally the masochist (who derives pleasure from receiving pain). Also in the BDSM community, unlike most societal descriptions in the medical and psychological community, sadism is widely accepted as a healthy expression of inflicting pain in a safe, sane, and consensual manner to a masochist who seeks such activities as a form of emotional release or sexual pleasure.

See Also


  • The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  • Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
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