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Sadism is a term which describes the experience of taking pleasure in inflicting pain, humiliation, degradation, cruelty, or watching others inflict these behaviors on someone else. Often this pleasure is sexual in nature although this isn’t always the case. People who take pleasure from these acts are known as sadists.
The term sadism comes from the name of the French writer Marquis de Sade who was famously imprisoned after performing sadistic acts on prostitutes. German-born psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing coined the term in his landmark work Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study).
While sadism can be part of a healthy personality, particularly if it only occurs in a sexual context, it may also be a symptom of Sadistic Personality Disorder.
In a sexual context, sadism is a fetish or perversion in which sexual gratification is gained from inflicting physical or mental pain on one's partner, or witnessing the infliction of such pain. Many healthy individuals enjoy elements of sadism in their sex lives, including members of the BDSM community and even vanilla couples looking to spice things up. These people may enjoy spanking their partners, playing with whips or floggers, or dressing their partners in humiliating costumes, for example.
However, when individuals can only become aroused through sadistic behaviors, or if they have persistent and disturbing sadistic thoughts, they may suffer from sexual sadism disorder. In some cases, these individuals may commit illegal acts such as rape, torture, and murder for sexual gratification.