Sex Question Friday: Why Are Some People Aroused By Sexual Humiliation?

A reader submitted the following question:

“I wanted to inquire into a ‘strange’ fetish where the man likes his woman to convince him he has undersized manhood. ‘Small penis humiliation’ as it's known. Why is this arousing for some men?”

Thanks for this interesting question. While I have heard of small penis humiliation before, unfortunately, there isn’t any research focusing on it specifically (at least not yet). As far as I can tell, this term is one that seems to be restricted in use primarily to porn websites. However, what I can do is tell you what the research on sexual humiliation more broadly has to say.

Deriving sexual arousal from some type of humiliation is a form of sexual masochism, the umbrella term used to describe the phenomenon of experiencing sexual pleasure in response to receiving sexual pain. Although most people think of masochism as primarily involving physical pain, psychological pain such as humiliation frequently accompanies it (and, in some cases, psychological pain may be the primary or only type of pain desired).

Just how common is humiliation in sadomasochistic practices? In one study of 184 sadomasochistic practitioners from Finland, 70% reported having recently engaged in verbal humiliation [1]. Likewise, in an informal survey of readers of this website, I found that, among those who had previous experience with sadomasochism, 33% reported having practiced verbal humiliation before. The difference in numbers between surveys can likely be attributed to the fact that participants in the Finnish study were all recruited from kinky sex clubs, whereas my reader survey reflected a broader online sample. Nonetheless, both surveys suggest that humiliation is a common component of sadomasochistic activity. And it is not just men who sometimes enjoy sexual humiliation—many women derive pleasure from it as well. So, small penis humiliation is just one of many ways this might play out.

Where might a masochistic desire for humiliation or other forms of pain come from? There is unlikely to be a single explanation that would apply equally well to all cases, which is probably why numerous theories have been proposed. Perhaps the two most prominent theories are that masochism either 1.) represents a learned behavior, or 2.) serves as an escape from self-awareness. The idea behind learning theory is that if an individual has repeated prior experiences in which pleasure and pain co-occur (or, if pain happens to coincide with a particularly powerful orgasm), an association might be learned that the individual then seeks to repeat in the future. In contrast, the self-awareness view is based on the idea that some individuals may be drawn to sexual pain because it provides an opportunity for psychological escape—that is, pain serves to distract us from everything else that's on our minds that might interfere with sexual performance [2]. To put it another way, sexual pain may be a way of helping you to lose yourself in the moment.

In short, verbal humiliation is a common component of sadomasochism and there may be more than one psychological root to this sexual interest.

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[1] Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39-54.

[2] Baumeister, R.F. (1988). Masochism as escape from self. Journal of Sex Research25, 28-59.

Image Credit: 123RF.com

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