Dan Singer is a dungeon master, film director and BDSM educational author at Wasteland and has been actively involved in the BDSM scene since 1975. You can see more of his writings and films at Wasteland.com
Most people have a vague idea that sado-masochism (or as it is sometimes written, sadomasochism or sado/masochism) is named for two people; one of them into inflicting pain (sadism) and one of them into having pain inflicted (masochism). These two men are The Marquis de Sade, born in 1740 and author of many erotic writings including, most famously, Justine, about a man who enjoys inflicting pain upon his mistress. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, born in 1880, also wrote erotic stories, the most famous of which was called Venus in Furs in which he describes being whipped by a woman while grovelling at her feet dressed in furs like a dog.
The pleasure/pain dyad was certainly not unknown before this however; as far back as the Middle Ages, many Christian people flogged themselves as punishment during the plague. These “flagellants” took the Black Death to be a sign from God that the end of the world was near. They would process through the streets of towns, beating themselves with chains, rods and sticks, and scourging their flesh. They thought they could atone for their sins through pain, and be spared death by plague, or at the very least, gain God’s forgiveness before death in this way. Regardless of whether these flagellants felt sexual pleasure in this pain (and no doubt some of them did), they did take pleasure in the way their self-inflicted pain brought them closer to God. Continue Reading