Living with many shades: what is a “sadist”?

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From almost white to dark gray
Sadists live with many shades

By Solveig Bach

Millions of viewers have seen the sadomasochistic romance “Fifty Shades of Gray”. In real life, they break out in a cold sweat at the thought of meeting a sadist. Very few sadists are heartless killers.

In Lydia Benecke, Christian Gray, with his sexual inclination towards slavery, dominance and sadism, would find an understanding interlocutor. The criminal psychologist has been working for years with different models to better estimate the dangerousness of psychopathic or sexually sadistic people.

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In “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a sadistic man does not always act in harmony with his partner.

For the psychologist Benecke, a sadist is primarily a “person who feels sexually aroused when he hurts and/or humiliates others and/or invokes a little fear in them”. But even when trying a definition, the shades of gray come into play. Because there are people who are very dominant and not very sadistic. “So these would be people who find the humiliating element in role-playing very arousing and need only the infliction of pain as a secondary source of arousal,” Benecke describes. “And there are some very sadistic people who hit their girlfriends on the ass and have an erection right away. But they’re not particularly dominant, so the power imbalance in the role play isn’t that important to them.” Plus, there’s everything in between and that’s just the world of consensual sadists who indulge their inclinations in the BDSM scene.

As is so often the case, the amount makes the poison. “The criminal psychopath simply has more characteristics that together significantly increase the chance of committing crimes,” explains Benecke. This means that they are less able to control their impulses, can hardly act purposefully in the long term, are easily distracted and quickly become frustrated. In addition, because of burdened families where they always come from, they have a serious attachment disorder. On the one hand, interpersonal closeness scares them, they are unable to form normal trusting relationships.

On the other hand, like all humans, they have – often unconsciously – a need for closeness. Psychopathic, dangerous sadists, in particular, resolve this conflict by exerting excessive sexuality, extreme power, and control over people they find sexually interesting. In order not to be insulted, rejected, or otherwise hurt by people they are sexually interested in, they relegate them to objects they live on and then throw them away — emotionally or physically as with murders. All this means that criminal psychopaths and criminal sadists cannot live up to their inclinations within a socially acceptable framework.

When sadists become serial killers

In her recently published book “Sadists,” Benecke describes both consensual sadists, as found in the BDSM scene, and dangerous sadists, who often go down in criminal history as particularly vicious serial killers. That’s why she devotes a detailed chapter to David Parker Ray, the killer of the toy box. Ray tortured and killed what he believed to be about 60 victims in a $100,000 self-built torture chamber. He soundproofed the space he called his toy box and equipped it with, among other things, a gynecologist’s chair, whips, chains and many instruments that he had developed himself. After their kidnapping, he played a tape for new victims explaining that they would be held as sex slaves in the future.

Ray is narcissistic and also has antisocial personality disorder. This, combined with his sadistic tendencies, makes him a particularly dangerous psychopath. He meets his victims without any sympathy, he does not feel guilty. He completely replaces real closeness in relationships with power and control. Thus he forms an extreme pole of the sadistic personality.

For a consensual sadist, Ray is still a loser. Because he has to force control over his opponent with brute force. Non-criminal sadists with stable positive self-image let their sexual partners “pull boundaries for them and all”. An important point is empathy with the sexual partner. “If the other person expresses his displeasure even non-verbally, then the sadist also doesn’t like the BDSM game. Without the feedback effect of the partner’s lust, they don’t get aroused either.”

Sadists can behave immorally

Still, Christian Gray would probably stand out negatively in the BDSM scene. Because Gray ignores the safe word, which would normally lead to the immediate termination of the session, and mostly looks for an inexperienced partner who isn’t masochistic to push her through emotional dependence into experiences she doesn’t like and has really bothered by it. That would hardly be tolerated in the BDSM scene. Drinking alcohol or using drugs is also considered a no-go for most people.

Gray confirms what Benecke has often found in her previous research: “Medium psychopaths – sadists or not – can manipulate their fellows relatively unscrupulously much more quickly to take advantage of it themselves. Or also with the values ​​and beliefs of others. However, as long as they only act immorally, but in a legally irrelevant or hard-to-prove framework, they usually get away with their scams for the rest of their lives.”

Order “Sadists” on Amazon

(This article was first published on Sunday, September 25, 2022.)

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