Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 2007


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Ezequiel Peña

Committee Member

Daniel Burston

Committee Member

Jessie Goicoechea


Despite the lack of clinical evidence suggesting that sex is the primary passion behind sadomasochism and critiques which have debunked the idea of gendered polarities as intrinsic to its nature, the popular imagination of sadomasochism remains as a gendered sexual perversion. This dissertation explores how theories of sadomasochism became "dominated" by sexual themes along with some of the problems that interfere with a full understanding of sadomasochism as a psychological disorder.

In part one, starting with the theories of Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, and Freud, various theories of sadomasochism are examined guided by four principles that are explicitly and implicitly addressed. These are: internal theoretical consistency; how well a theory dialogues with perspectives from other disciplines; the presence or absence of prescriptive norms; and the economy with which a theory explains sadomasochism.

In part two, the focus turns to the development of Erich Fromm's theory of sadomasochism. Fromm's theory of sadomasochism blends a rare social-psychoanalytic understanding of human character development with principle of existential and humanistic thought. Jean-Paul Sartre's existential-phenomenology of sadomasochistic relations is also examined. Fromm and Sartre both de-emphasized sex as a primary cause of sadomasochism and placed human sociality (i.e., intersubjective relations) at the core of the sadomasochistic discourse. Each raised a challenge to the "factual" appeal of the natural scientific explanation of sadomasochism as articulated by Freud. A comparative analysis between Fromm's and Sartre's theories of sadomasochism is conducted.

This thesis anchors on Fromm's call for a theory of love and analysis of sadomasochistic pseudo-love. I argue that Fromm's theory of love has been overlooked in the history of psychology in general and by current psychoanalytic and post-modern theorists of sadomasochism in particular. In the conclusion, the concepts of love as articulated by Freud, Sartre, and Fromm are compared and analyzed. Fromm's theory of love emphasizes the mutual recognition of self and other which inserts a paradoxical consciousness to the understanding of sadomasochism that is an important counterpoint to other approaches towards sadomasochism. Reasons why Fromm's theory of love and analysis of sadomasochistic pseudo-love are undersold in current psychoanalytic and post-modern reviews of sadomasochism theory are addressed.