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"Sadism is not a name finally given to a practice as old as Eros; it is a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century, and which constitutes one of the greatest conversions of Western imagination: unreason transformed into delirium of the heart, madness of desire, the insane dialogue of love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite." --Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization [...]

"Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory/defeat." ("Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", 1975, Laura Mulvey).

"When one of these great perverts such as Vacher [a French serial killer] or Kürten [a German serial killer] appears on the scene, men who kill simply for pleasure, a wave of excitement sweeps through the masses. Not only by the mere horror, but by a strange interest in the crime, which is our deep-rooted sadism's response to theirs. It is as though, civilized and wretched, with our instincts fettered, we were all, in some way, grateful to these great and disinterested criminals for offering us, from time to time, the spectacle of our most culpable, primitive desires at last enacted." --Marie Bonaparte, [...]

"There is some difference of opinion as to how "sadism" may be best defined. Perhaps the simplest and most usual definition is that of Krafft-Ebing, as sexual emotion associated with the wish to inflict pain and use violence, or, as he elsewhere expresses it, "the impulse to cruel and violent treatment of the opposite sex, and the coloring of the idea of such acts with lustful feeling."[83] A more complete definition is that of Moll, who describes sadism as a condition in which "the sexual impulse consists in the tendency to strike, ill-use, and humiliate the beloved person."[84] This definition has the advantage of bringing in the element of moral pain. A further extension is made in Féré's definition as "the need of association of violence and cruelty with sexual enjoyment, such violence or cruelty not being necessarily exerted by the person himself who seeks sexual pleasure in this association."[85] Garnier's definition, while comprising all these points, further allows for the fact that a certain degree of sadism may be regarded as normal. "Pathological sadism," he states, "is an impulsive and obsessing sexual perversion characterized by a close connection between suffering inflicted or mentally represented and the sexual orgasm, without this necessary and sufficing condition frigidity usually remaining absolute."[86]" --Havelock Ellis, Studies_in_the_Psychology_of_Sex,_Volume_3

"There is a suggestion by Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony that what Blake, De Sade, Nietzsche, Swinburne, Dostoyevsky, Gide, essentially have in common is that they were all sadists, sadism being at best a mere psychological quirk of certain personalities. But then it could well be that the kind of temperament here labelled 'sadistic' is the best equipped for the kind of insight that is at issue." --Introduction to Nietzsche, John S. Moore, 1974

 This page Sadism is part of the Marquis de Sade series  Illustration: Portrait fantaisiste du marquis de Sade (1866) by H. Biberstein
This page Sadism is part of the Marquis de Sade series
Illustration: Portrait fantaisiste du marquis de Sade (1866) by H. Biberstein

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Sadism is the achievement of pleasure, either sexual or not, by inflicting pain or suffering on others. Best defined as cruelty in the non-sexual sense. The article sadism and masochism explains sadism in a sexual context. For psychiatric views, see sadistic personality disorder and sadism and masochism as medical terms.



Named after the Marquis de Sade, famed for his libertine writings depicting the pleasure of inflicting pain to others. The word for "sadism" (sadisme) is forged or acknowledged in the 1834 posthumous reprint of French lexicographer Boiste's Dictionnaire universel de la langue française; it is reused along with "sadist" (sadique) in 1862 by French critic Sainte-Beuve in his commentary of Flaubert's novel Salammbô; it is reused (possibly independently) in 1886 by Austrian psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing in Psychopathia Sexualis which popularized it; it is directly reused in 1905 by Freud in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality which definitely established the word.


  1. (mainly psychiatric) the enjoyment of inflicting pain
  2. achievement of sexual gratification by inflicting pain on others
  3. gaining sexual excitement and satisfaction by watching pain inflicted by others on their victims
  4. a morbid form of enjoyment achieved by acting cruel to another, or others.
  5. (In general use) deliberate cruelty either mental or physical also applicable to the cruelty inflicted upon animals whether for sexual gratification or not.

Related terms

See also

See also
  • Marquis de Sade, an 18th-century French writer from which the term sadism is coined
  • Schadenfreude, a German word for pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others

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