Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 2, 2022

Honors society Psi Chi hosted sexual psychologist Park Dietz last night for a talk entitled Sexual Sadism: When Lust and Cruelty Merge. The talk was part of the G. Stanley Hall Lecture series.

Dietz opened his talk by asking the audience if they had heard of the popular book Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Out of approximately 200 students and faculty, the vast majority raised their hands.

Dietz believes that Fifty Shades of Grey has pushed into the mainstream what was once a subculture.

“It is a trashy novel that came about at the right time,” he said.

Dietz reviewed over a century of history, from the first mentions of sadomasochistic (S&M) tendencies in scientific publications, to contemporary advertisements that emphasize S&M and BDSM behavior. BDSM, which stands for bondage/discipline/slave/master, is defined by sadistic sexual behaviors that draw on thought, fantasy and imagination, as well as cruelty and a desire for power and control.

Dietz explained that material that would not have been acceptable to publish in a magazine in 1970 is, in fact, socially acceptable today.

After discussing works by the psychologists that pioneered the field in the attempt to understand it, such as Freud, Stekel and Hirschfeld, Dietz addressed the relationship between lust and cruelty in the imagination.

With case studies to support his assertions, Dietz said that such thoughts and experiences are not as statistically uncommon as many believe.

“[Most people] imagine it, but don’t necessarily act on it,” he said.

The statistic that most clearly represented the prevalence of this sexual preference came from a 1993 study of 2,765 U.S. adults. Of the random sample, 14 percent of men and 11 percent of women reported having had personal experiences that were sadomasochistic in nature.

“I don’t think the speaker realized how mainstream this topic really is,” sophomore Sophia Fleming-Benite said. “He seemed to expect more of us to be shocked and appalled by instances of consensual S&M.”

Dietz also touched upon the correlation, or lack thereof, between psychological disorders and S&M preferences.

“Based on the lecture, it seems that S&M practices and desires are much more common and frequent than we realize and almost none are connected to psychological disorders,” freshman Charlotte Johnson said.

“I think the main message was that those involved in consensual BDSM show no characteristic clinical conditions,” Fleming-Benite said.

In some cases, according to Dietz, pursuing such BDSM desires actually has a positive effect on those involved.  In an Australian study, men who reported having had BDSM experiences also reported less psychological distress than men who had not.

Attendees were visibly intrigued by the portions of the lecture that dealt with the S&M practices of U.S. college students, especially those practices that were not consensual and thus criminal in nature.

Students cited their curiosity about the topic as the main driver behind their attendance at the event.

“I thought it was interesting that sexual sadism is becoming more mainstream, at least as a conversation topic,” Fleming-Benite said.  “I was curious to see what the psychological aspects of this sexual preference are.”

Students also attended the event because of academic interests.

“I’m very interested in psychology, especially sexuality, so when I found out about this lecture, I was hoping to find out more about a subtopic I know little to nothing about,” Johnson said. “I was certainly surprised by how common the practice of S&M seems to be, but more so I was surprised by how biased the speaker seemed to be —especially how disgusted he seemed to be with the concept of S&M.”

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