In these times of fifty shades of media saturation, credit is due to the author whose name inspired the term masochism, Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch. His name and proclivities were used as examples in the early psychiatric community, but his 1870 novella Venus in Furs laid the grounds of the importance of consent in BDSM (Bondage and discipline/dominance and submission/sadism and masochism).
She drew back her lips a little so that her small white teeth became visible then said lightly, as if she were discussing some trifling matter, “Do you want to be my slave?”
“There is no equality in love,” I replied solemnly. “Whenever it is a matter of choice for me of ruling or being ruled, it seems much more satisfactory to me to be the slave of a beautiful woman. But where shall I find the woman who knows how to rule, calmly, full of self-confidence, even harshly, and not seek to gain her power by means of petty nagging?”
“Oh, that might not be so difficult.”
Venus in Furs concerns the relationship between Severin and Wanda von Dunajew. Severin wishes to be dominated by a woman wearing furs. They enter into an agreement in which he adopts the servant name Gregor and becomes Wanda’s slave. In return, she will always wear furs in his presence.
“Have you actually lost your senses?”
“Possibly. But let me go on. I developed a perfect passion for reading stories in which the extremest cruelties were described. I loved especially to look at pictures and prints which represented them. All the sanguinary tyrants that ever occupied a throne; the inquisitors who had the heretics tortured, roasted and butchered; all the women whom the pages of history have recorded as lustful, beautiful, and violent—women like Libussa, Lucretia Borgia, Agnes of Hungary, Queen Margot, Isabeau, the Sultana Roxolane, the Russian Czarinas of last century—all these I saw in furs or in robes bordered in ermine.”
“And so furs now arouse strange imaginings in you,” said Wanda, and simultaneously she began to drape her magnificent fur cloak coquettishly about her, so that the dark shining sable played beautifully around her bust and arms.
The arrangement was based on a contact between Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and the Baroness Fanny Pistor (pictured above) on December 9, 1869. For six months, he would act as her slave and she would wear furs for him. For the sake of privacy, she would call him Gregor and they traveled in Italy where they could protect their anonymity.
In 1890, the psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term masochism in Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study). It referred to a desire for physical or emotional punishment. Krafft-Ebing considered any sexuality that was not aimed at procreation as deviating from the norm. This attitude continued through Sigmund Freud’s 1905 Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie (“Three papers on Sexual theory”), which discussed masochism and sadism. Sadism derives pleasure from the application of physical or emotional punishment. In 1913, psychoanalyst Isidor Isaak Sadger forged a link between the two in Über den sado-masochistischen Komplex (“Regarding the sadomasochistic complex”).
These works tainted BDSM sex play by portraying it in the terms of psychiatric patients. They failed to grasp the importance of consent in the relationship. Krafft-Ebing defined masochism in terms of one party’s pain. This neglected the pleasure of both parties and the reciprocity of the relationship. By entering a contract, Sacher-Masoch and Pistor set up conditions by which both of them would be able to abide. This seems sensible and sane, allowing passion and protection.
Sacher-Masoch died on March 9, 1895, of unknown causes. In his last five years, he opposed Krafft-Ebing’s appropriation of his name for what was deemed a pathology.
“How beautiful you now are,” she exclaimed, “your eyes half-broken in ecstasy fill me with joy, carry me away. How wonderful your look would be if you were being beaten to death in extreme agony. You have the eyes of a martyr.”
(Quotes are from Venus in Furs.)