Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Sadomasochism, Bondage (Sexual behavior), Object relations (Psychoanalysis), Queer theory, Feminism, Paraphilias, Sex, Rubin, Gayle, Benjamin, Jessica, BDSM, Kink, Object relations, Psychoanalysis, Psychoanalytic theory, Sexual deviance, Queer theory, Sex-positive feminism, Sexuality, History of sexuality, Kernberg, Otto F., 1928-, Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984, Theoretical


This theoretical thesis explores the phenomenon of BDSM. BDSM is a type of consensual erotic experience that covers a wide range of interactions between or among people. Referencing the compound acronym BDSM, these interactions encompass: bondage and discipline; dominance and submission; and sadism and masochism. This project investigates psychoanalytic conceptualizations of BDSM, often called sadomasochism in analytic literature. In particular, object relations theory conceptualizations of BDSM are explored. Object relations theorists have tended to identify sadomasochism as pathology. This thesis explores and uses queer theory and sex-positive feminism to analyze two important object relations authors' writings on sadomasochism (i.e., Otto Kernberg and Jessica Benjamin). Additionally, a history of sadomasochism's entry into the psychological lexicon is given; its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is discussed; the findings of empirical research on BDSM are reviewed; and discrimination against BDSM practitioners—including adverse experiences in psychotherapy—is described. Through this analysis, problems with object relations pathological framework regarding sadomasochism are discussed, and new adaptive object relations conceptualizations of BDSM are offered. Implications for clinical social work theory, research, and practice concerning BDSM and its practitioners are presented.




iv, 90 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, 2014. Includes bibliographical references (pages 82-90)