Deutsch: Sadismus / Español: Sadismo / Português: Sadismo / Français: Sadisme / Italian: Sadismo

Sadism in the psychology context refers to the tendency to derive pleasure, particularly sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others. It is named after the Marquis de Sade, an 18th-century French nobleman known for his libertine sexuality and writings about violent and cruel sexual acts.


In psychology, sadism is understood as a pattern of behaviour where an individual finds enjoyment or satisfaction in causing physical or psychological pain to others. This behaviour can manifest in various forms, ranging from mild to extreme, and can occur in different contexts, such as sexual relationships, personal interactions, and even professional settings.

Sadism is considered a personality trait that can vary in intensity. When this trait is particularly pronounced and persistent, it may be classified as a sadistic personality disorder. However, in modern diagnostic criteria, sadistic personality disorder is no longer officially recognized, but its characteristics are acknowledged within other personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder.

Sexual sadism, a specific subtype, involves deriving sexual pleasure from the suffering of others. This is distinct from consensual BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism) practices, where activities are conducted with mutual consent and established boundaries.

Special: Distinction from Related Concepts

Sadism should not be confused with masochism, where an individual derives pleasure from experiencing pain themselves. When sadism and masochism are present together in an individual, it is referred to as sadomasochism. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between sadistic tendencies that are acted upon without consent (which can be harmful and illegal) and consensual sadistic practices within the context of BDSM.

Application Areas

Understanding sadism is relevant in various fields within psychology, including:

  1. Clinical Psychology: Diagnosing and treating individuals with sadistic tendencies or behaviours.
  2. Forensic Psychology: Profiling and understanding criminal behaviours that involve sadistic acts.
  3. Sexual Therapy: Addressing issues related to sexual sadism and ensuring safe and consensual sexual practices.
  4. Social Psychology: Studying how sadistic behaviours impact group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.
  5. Personality Psychology: Examining sadism as a personality trait and its implications for broader personality profiles.

Well-Known Examples

  1. Historical Figures: The Marquis de Sade, whose writings and actions epitomize the concept of sadism.
  2. Literary Characters: Various fictional characters, such as those in horror novels, who exhibit sadistic behaviours.
  3. Criminal Cases: Infamous criminals whose crimes involved sadistic acts, studied to understand the psychological motivations behind such behaviours.
  4. BDSM Communities: Consensual sadistic practices within BDSM, where boundaries and consent are strictly maintained.
  5. Therapeutic Settings: Cases where therapists address sadistic tendencies within a safe and controlled environment.

Treatment and Risks

Treating sadism involves various psychological and therapeutic approaches. However, there are significant risks and challenges:

  1. Resistance to Treatment: Individuals with sadistic tendencies may resist therapy due to the nature of their gratification.
  2. Risk of Harm: Ensuring that treatment prevents harm to others is a critical component.
  3. Complexity of Diagnosis: Differentiating between pathological sadism and consensual practices can be challenging.

Symptoms, Therapy, and Healing


  • Enjoyment in inflicting pain or suffering on others.
  • Persistent fantasies involving causing harm.
  • Acting on sadistic impulses without consent.


  • Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT): Helps individuals understand and change their harmful behaviours and thought patterns.
  • Psychoanalysis: Explores underlying unconscious motivations and past experiences contributing to sadistic tendencies.
  • Sex Therapy: Addresses issues related to sexual sadism within a safe and consensual framework.


  • Behavioral Modification: Techniques to replace harmful behaviours with positive actions.
  • Support Groups: Providing a supportive environment for individuals to discuss and manage their tendencies.
  • Mindfulness and Self-awareness: Developing strategies to increase awareness and control over sadistic impulses.

Similar Terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: A disorder characterized by a disregard for the rights of others, often involving sadistic behaviours.
  • Aggression: General behaviours intended to cause harm, which can be a component of sadism.
  • Masochism: Deriving pleasure from experiencing pain, often seen as the counterpart to sadism.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Sometimes overlaps with sadistic behaviours, especially in the context of manipulation and control.

Articles with 'Sadism' in the title

  • Sexual sadism: Sexual sadism refers to paraphilia in which sexual gratification or sexual Arousal is obtained through or associated with inflicting pain or harm and humiliation on one's partner


In the psychology context, sadism refers to the tendency to derive pleasure from inflicting pain or suffering on others. It encompasses a range of behaviours and can manifest in various contexts, from sexual relationships to interpersonal interactions. Understanding and treating sadism involves addressing the underlying psychological motivations and ensuring that harmful behaviours are managed and replaced with healthier alternatives. Differentiating between pathological sadism and consensual practices is crucial in providing appropriate support and intervention.