4 Theories on the Origin of Sexual Masochism

Masochists are people who find certain types of pain--such as biting, spanking, and flogging--to be sexually arousing. It has long been thought that finding pain to be a turn-on is an atypical desire. In fact, psychologists formally classified masochism as a paraphilia (i.e., an unusual sexual interest) long ago, lumping it in the same category as things like fetishism, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. However, recent research suggests that masochism isn't so rare after all. As some evidence of this, a recent survey of over 1,500 Canadian adults found that more than one-third of women and more than one-quarter of men reported having previously fantasized about being spanked or whipped (learn more about this study here).

So how is it that so many people have developed masochistic desires? Psychologists have advanced at least four theories to date, which is the subject of my latest column over at Playboy. One of them argues that masochism is simply a behavior learned from past experience. By contrast, other scientists have argued that masochism might have a much deeper meaning. For example, some theories state that masochism is a way of escaping self-awareness, others claim that it's a powerful way of achieving a spiritual state, and yet others suggest that masochism is way of finding meaning in life.

Check out the full article for a closer look at all four of these theories. While you're over at Playboy, check out the rest of my Hard Science column to learn more about the science of sex. Some of my other recent articles include: 

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