Sadism and masochism in fiction  

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"Each day, the master can only notice the maid's failures and so must, in obedience to his "manual," administer her punishment, assuring her that it is an obligation to an ideal of a higher order that compels him, an obscure compulsion from which neither, seemingly, can escape."--Spanking the Maid (1982) by Robert Coover

"I read: 'Dear Mr Garvy: I am very grateful to you for referring …' He began spanking me as I said 'referring.'"--"Secretary" (1988) by Mary Gaitskill

"I Wanna Be Your Dog" (1969) by The Stooges

"After wading through so many dull, insipid, if not absolutely repulsive books on the subject, it is a relief to alight at last upon one which tact and clever writing render almost readable."--Catena Librorum Tacendorum (1885) by Henry Spencer Ashbee

This page Sadism and masochism in fiction is part of the human sexuality seriesIllustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.
This page Sadism and masochism in fiction is part of the human sexuality series
Illustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.

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Sadism and masochism in fiction goes as far back as the Medieval "power of women" legends. If we consider Michel Foucault's dictum "Sadism ... appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century," we must accept that Marquis de Sade (Justine, 1791) was the first author of sadism.

However, there have been descriptions of sadomasochist practices in literature before that date, see sadism and masochism as medical terms.

The word sadism originates from the works of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, and the word masochism originates from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs (1870). However, it is worth noting that the Marquis de Sade describes unconsented abuse in his works, such as in Justine and Venus in Furs describes a consented domme-sub relationship.

Although examples of literature catering to BDSM and fetishistic tastes were created in earlier periods, BDSM literature as it exists today cannot be found much earlier than World War II.

However, Georges Bataille wrote Histoire de l'oeil (1928) and Madame Edwarda (1941) between the wars.

In 1954 the Story of O by Pauline Réage gave voice to female masochism, followed closely by The Image (1956) by Catherine Robbe-Grillet.

Other notable works include 9½ Weeks (1978) by Elizabeth McNeill, some works of the writer Anne Rice, Spanking the Maid (1982) by Robert Coover and "Secretary" (1988) by Mary Gaitskill.

In general, the contemporary depiction of sadism and masochism in fiction tends to be portrayed from the viewpoint of masochist.

This was also the case in immensely popular Fifty Shades of Grey (21st century) novels by E. L. James.



Titles are sorted in chronological order.


The following is a chronological list of notable sadomasochistic literature about or involving BDSM, both fictional and non-fictional. Both written literature and comics are included, but not films or video. Series are listed as one item; where publication date is ill-defined, the earliest date is used.

16th century

17th century

  • 1639 De Usu Flagrorum
  • In Samuel Butler's satirical poem Hudibras (Part II, Canto I, line 833- ) a lady urges the knight to submit to a whipping as proof of his devotion to her. This is the origin of the maxim "Spare the rod and spoil the child", not the Bible as is often thought, although the maxim is clearly based on Proverbs 13:24 ("He that spareth his rod hateth his son.")
  • Thomas Shadwell's play The Virtuoso (1676) includes an old libertine named Snarl who entreats a prostitute, Mrs Figgup, to bring out the birch rods. It is unclear if he is to flog her or be flogged.
  • In Thomas Otway's play Venice Preserved (1682), Act III, Scene i, an old senator, Antonio, visits the house of Aquilina, a Greek courtesan. Antonio pretends to be a bull, then a frog, begging her to spit on him, and then a dog, biting her legs. She whips him, then throws him out and tells her footmen to keep him out.

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

In the cinema

Consensual BDSM is not generally depicted accurately or sympathetically in mainstream films. However, film-makers often find some way to incorporate BDSM imagery into many films. The following films feature BDSM as a major plot point, not just as an exploitative add-on.

Art movies:



List of films Dec 2021 from the Wikipedia category:

24/7: The Passion of Life, 8mm (film), 9½ Weeks, À l'aventure, A Woman in Flames, A Woman's Case, American Psycho (film), Año bisiesto, Baba Yaga (film), BDSM in culture and media, Be My Slave (film), Belle de Jour (film), Bettie Page Reveals All, Bettie Page: Dark Angel, Bibliothèque Pascal, Bitter Moon, Black Box (1978 film), Black Dynamite, BloodSisters (1995 film), Blue Velvet (film), Body of Evidence (1993 film), Broken (1993 film), Colour Blossoms, Cool Devices, Cruising (film), De Sade (film), Deuteronomium - Der Tag des jüngsten Gerichts, Dogma (studio), Dogs Don't Wear Pants, Downloading Nancy, Eating Raoul, Entrails of a Virgin, Eugénie de Sade, Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, EuroTrip, Exit to Eden (film), Fashionistas (film), Fetishes (film), Fifty Shades (film series), Fifty Shades Darker (film), Fifty Shades Freed (film), Fifty Shades of Black, Fifty Shades of Grey (film), Fireworks (1947 film), Flower and Snake, Flower and Snake (2004 film), Frank Booth (Blue Velvet), Fred Halsted, Fruits of Passion, Going Under (2004 film), Good Little Girls, Hellraiser, Ichi the Killer (film), In a Glass Cage, In the Realm of the Senses, Iris (2016 film), Jill Rips, John Thompson Productions, Just Before Nightfall, Kelly + Victor, Kick-Heart, Kink (film), Kinky (film), La Bonne, La Prisonnière (film), Lady Libertine, Lies (1999 film), Life Is Sweet (film), Little Deaths (film), Liza (1972 film), Looking Glass (film), Ma Mère, Maîtresse, Mango Kiss, Mano Destra, Marquis de Sade: Justine, Matador (film), Melancholie der Engel, Mercy (2000 film), Miley Cyrus: Tongue Tied, Moonlight Whispers, Mulher Objeto, My Mistress, Niggas' Revenge, Night Terrors (film), Nymphomaniac (film), Of Freaks and Men, Open House (1987 film), Payback (1999 film), Personal Services, Piercing (film), Preaching to the Perverted (film), Prison Girl, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, R100 (film), Red Nights, Romance (1999 film), S&M Hunter, S&M Sally, Sade (film), Secretary (2002 film), Seduction: The Cruel Woman, Shogun's Sadism, Short Cuts, Shortbus, Shrimp (film), Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, Silver (film), Singapore Sling (1990 film), Sorority Party Massacre, Spanking Love, Story of O - Chapter 2, Story of O (film), Submission (1976 film), Succubus (film), Suite 16 (film), Swept Away (1974 film), Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom, The Amityville Legacy, The Belt, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Bondage Master, The Cell, The Cell 2, The Chambermaid Lynn, The Christmas Season Massacre, The Clairvoyant (1982 film), The Comfort of Strangers (film), The Duke of Burgundy, The Embryo Hunts in Secret, The Image (1975 film), The Killer Inside Me (2010 film), The Laughing Woman, The Maids (film), The Night Porter, The Notorious Bettie Page, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak, The Piano Teacher (film), The Punisher (1989 film), The Slave Ship (film), The Story of Joanna, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Torture Club, The Whip and the Body, The Zero Years, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Tightrope (film), Tokyo Decadence, Tops & Bottoms: Sex, Power and Sadomasochism, Venus in Fur (film), Venus in Furs (1967 film), Venus in Furs (1969 Dallamano film), Venus in Furs (1995 film), Vlees, Vomit Gore Trilogy, Walk All over Me, Wife to Be Sacrificed, Wild Orchid (film), Yes, We Fuck!, Zipperface

In art

See also

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