Sadomasochism is a taboo subject. A dark subculture mainstream folk shy away from. Once you move past the preconceived notions, sadomasochism occurs all around us. What I mean is that power structures and relations exist and infiltrate our society. I will focus on the American Pentecostal religious experiences of my past, and the parallelism and correlation to sadomasochistic concepts and experiences.
Sadomasochism is a broad topic inclusive of many different practices triggering physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual senses. I will centralize on the major assumption that womyn are typically the masochist. There are several theories and reasonings behind this redundant, oppressive ideology. Psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Richard von Krafft-Ebing suggested that all womyn were innately masochistic meaning they received pleasure from the pain inflicted upon them. Freud also believed that womyn desired to be in pain. Not just any pain, but pleasurable suffering inflicted upon them by the opposite sex (male). This seems contradictory given it was considered improper for womyn to expressively speak about sex. Womyn wouldn’t dare be human and sexual like men! That would affect the intricate configuration of patriarchy and capitalism.
Sadists take pleasure in inflicting pain unto others which, according to theorist Deleuze, the sadist must have a non-compliant masochist to truly enjoy him/ itself. If the masochist–one who takes pleasure in receiving pain from another–is compliant, that subsequently defeats the whole purpose of the sadist’s desire. Now, sadomasochism can also take place in a fantasy realm where both parties are performing roles and have mutually agreed to the act/s. That doesn’t sound too taboo right? Some couples tend to go too far like when a womun is hung for too long and both accidentally lose track of their safety codes, because they’re enveloped in their orgasmic experiences.
I want to take this a step further. Let’s consider that womyn are the masochists which appoints them as the passivist, the subservient, the submissive ones. Men, on the other hand, are the sadists: dominant, aggressive, in control. Now, I will centralize on one form of fantasy of sadomasochism my colleague has partaken in which is quite common. She submits to his power, his words, his actions. She is enthralled with his physique, violence, controlling demeanor. There is a physiological response in taking on the masochistic role. One gets light-headed, aroused, irrationally excited, mesmerized. Some have explained it as a certain high, a spiritual awakening if you will. Consider this, orgasms are a powerful mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual experience. Combine that arousal and desire in receiving physical pain from someone you completely trust and have entirely surrendered your body, mind, and spirit to. Who in complete awe, in utter subservience allows our most private (body, sexuality, mind, spirit) to be consumed and possessed by someone else in control.
Pentecostalism was born in the United States during the 19-20th century. It was a movement branching from Protestant beliefs. Its foundations and beliefs lie in being baptized by the holy spirit (a mediator if you will between God and Jesus, also gender neutral). In addition, it is grounded in speaking in tongues, demonic possession/oppression, gaining/receiving spiritual gifts, being ‘slain’ in the spirit, and intense worship.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-4).
The sound of the blowing violent wind is presumably an act of God. God is the sadist. ‘He’ is the one who controls, ordains, appoints. According to the Old Testament, God is jealous, violent, and in some cases quite heartless. He causes and ordains battles, war, famine, death, and suffering. One example is the book/story of Job. On the other hand, God loves unconditionally. He asks for us–His people–to surrender, submit, trust, and obey. The day of Pentecost is a sadomasochistic act. Essentially, God used a ‘blowing, violent wind’ to get His people’s attention. To whip them under his dominion. To lure them into a phantasmic realm of masochism. There were ‘tongues of fire’ that fell upon them. Again, that conveys an intense, powerful picture of a power relationship.
I witnessed a congregation of holy-spirit filled folk speaking in a language that truly sounded like gibberish. In clinical terms, it’s called glossolalia. I remember feeling uncomfortable at the emotional impact it was having on these people I had normal conversations with. Their eyes would roll back, they began to shake, some fell down, some looked as though they were in agony, weeping and sobbing took place. It was a mixture of emotional trauma and mental chaos for long periods of time. It didn’t look peaceful, but apparently it was. Some explained it as an emotional release that God imparted upon them. Others claimed it was a spiritual awakening; yet they appeared tormented to me. Children and teenagers were encouraged to partake in this seemingly sadomasochistic act.
We were encouraged to put ourselves in a parapsychological, trance-like state. The church called it a ‘cleansing period.’ Basically, it was a way of helping your mind and body revive and recover. After speaking to many proclaimed masochists (mostly womyn), they claim to have had very similar responses and experiences to what I have described. They usually feel an intense high and awakening; yet feel as though they need to recover from a traumatic experience. It ‘s addictive. You feel as though you have overcome/experienced such an odd, special occurrence. God is the sadist. He is regarded as a male deity. We are the masochists submitting to His will and power because we trust in His love and punishment. Concurrently, the fantasy realm of sadomasochism operates in the same way. Most sadists are male. They need a masochist (womun) to submit and obey them. Masochists undergo a stimulated and passionate adventure which transcends their realities and succumbs them to the control of a male deity.
In conclusion, I don’t wish to minimize people’s religious experiences. I realize the actual trances are not necessarily a negative experience. My point is that these experiences in both the pentecostal church and in sadomasochism are constructed in a way where power and patriarchy co-exist. Oppressive gender roles are intact. Control and submission are organized through an unclear, unaware, and uneducated form of denigration. These experiences can be beautiful, transformative, and compelling, but religious institutions do not educate people about the meaning of such an encounter. Sadomasochism is still a dark subculture we don’t wish to discuss. Thus, we lack understanding that the structure of such a phantasmic realm can be harmful to womyn. Both are controlled by authoritative social constructions of patriarchy with minimal explanation of what these experiences actually entail. What I wish to achieve in this post is to clarify what these experiences actually entail, and the scientific reasoning behind them. In addition, I hope to deconstruct the authoritative, subconscious oppression behind such seemingly beautiful, life altering affairs.