1. Masochism has nothing to do with abuse. Although pain is commonly associated with nonconsensuality in other social contexts, masochism is the practice of consensual receipt of pain. As a BDSM practice, inflicting pain involves significant negotiation, definition of limits, and agreement by all parties. In many situations, pain is conjoined with emotional and sometimes spiritual scenes that result in intensely pleasurable cathartic experiences.
2. All pain is not created equal. “If you’re such a masochist, why do you hate it when you stub your toe?” So goes the usual attempt to “debunk” masochists. Disliking sudden, unexpected pain disproves masochism about as well as disliking a pie in the face disproves a love of food. Most masochistic acts include mental and physical warm-ups that render a person much more ready to process pain, and that’s often the crucial difference between an enjoyable masochistic experience and cussing up a blue streak at knocking your funnybone.
3. Masochism isn’t submission. The old trope goes that liking pain goes hand-in-hand with an exchange of power—the masochist gives up control to the one making them hurt. While that does happen frequently, it’s just as possible to get your hurt on without handing over the reins at all. A clothespin or two during masturbation can work. So can tweaking your own nipple during a hot fuck, whether you’re on the top or the bottom or in some other fabulous position. You can even be a dominant masochist and order someone to hurt you to your specifications!
4. Your therapist will tell you: Masochism is healthy! In the late 1800s, Austrian psychiatrist Richard Krafft-Ebing invented the term “masochist” based on the “perversion” he saw in popular author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Freud later jumped on the bandwagon, and being a masochist anywhere near the field of psychology was pretty dangerous for decades. Finally, in 1994, the DSM-IV—the Bible of the psychology set—determined that masochism is not a disorder or illness in itself. You’re good to go as long as you don’t overindulge; the same way you’re clinically fine playing video games as long as you don’t play so long that your eyes fall out and you call in sick to work for a month.
5. Masochism is in the eye of the beholder. Plaintive Yahoo! Answers user “Curious” wonders what people mean when they refer to rough sex: “Does fast or high-frequency thrusting always mean rough? Is it the force of thrusting? What does it mean, anyway?” At the risk of sounding like a Jeff Foxworthy routine, if you like the pinch of a sharp thrust, an ass-slap during sex, or a bite on the neck during a make-out session, you might be a masochist. Or you might not. There’s no hard-and-fast (so to speak) definition outside of the one you create for yourself.