From the 1st Sexual Revolution of the Roaring Twenties, to the counter culture 2nd Sexual Revolution of the Sixties, to the Sexual Liberation of the Seventies, to the Casual Sex Culture (remember the club scene, despite STDs & AIDs) of the Eighties, to the anything goes Nineties (the scandal & debauchery decade), there is an undercurrent of “spank & tickle” hiding in plain sight.

Last week we looked at the early history of S&M, from 1749-1889. This week let’s turn to S&M in the twentieth century.

The 1920s to 1970s is sometimes referred to as the “golden age of “spanking in comics.” Desi regularly husbandspanked Lucy on I Love Lucy (which aired 1951-1957). “Spank while you sell” advertisements actually showed husbands spanking their wives!

More recently, The New Yorker (1996) ran a piece entitled, “Unlikely Obsession,” by Daphne Merkin who confessed her desire for spanking.


Take a look at this chronology of S&M gradually moving from the psychological to the social to the mass media sphere of influence:

1929 – British psychologist Havelock Ellis refuted Freud and Krafft-Ebing by arguing that there is little distinction between sadism and masochism — the two are complimentary emotional states. Ellis created the modern conception of SM, noting that sadomasochists use pain to create pleasure and violence to express love. Ellis also refutes Freud and Krafft-Ebing’s claims that sadism is a stereotypical male sexual response and masochism a stereotypical female sexual response.

1947 – Alfred C. Kinsey founds the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in Bloomington (now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction). One year later he publishes the infamous Kinsey Report, in which 12% of female and 22% of male respondents say they experience an erotic response to a sadomasochistic story, and 55% of females and 50% of males report having responded sexually to being bitten.

1954 – French author Pauline Rage publishes The Story of O, a fantasy of female submission to unknown sexual dominators. The work wins the French literary prize Le Prix des Deux Magots and spurs a revival of popular sadomasochistic fiction common in the early 1800s.

1963 -The Servant is Harold Pinter‘s film adaptation of a 1948 novelette by Robin Maugham. It is a tightly-constructed psychological dramatic film about the relationships (“master” and the “servant”) exchange roles among the four central characters examining issues relating to class, servitude and the ennui of the upper classes.

1967 – “Venus in Furs” is a song by The Velvet Underground, written by Lou Reed and originally released on the album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Inspired by the book of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the song includes sexual themes of sadomasochism, bondage and submission. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FPTBrBGZGY

1972 – A survey by E. Hariton found that up to 49% of women fantasize about submissive scenarios during sexual intercourse with 14% doing so frequently. (E. Hariton, “Women’s Fantasies During Sexual Intercourse with their Husbands: A Normative Study with Tests of Personality and Theoretical Models’” unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York).

1972 –  Last Tango in Paris is a Franco-Italian romantic erotic drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci which portrays a recent American widower who begins an anonymous sexual relationship with a young betrothed Parisian woman. It starsMarlon Brando, Maria Schneider, and Jean-Pierre Léaud. The film’s raw portrayal of sexual violence and emotional turmoil led to international controversy and drew various levels of government censorship in different venues.

Last Tango in Paris

1974 – The Night Porter is a controversial art film in whichDirk Bogarde plays Maximilian Theo Aldorfer, a former NaziSS officer, and Charlotte Rampling plays Lucia Atherton, a concentration camp survivor who had an ambiguous sadomasochistic relationship with Aldorfer.

1975 – Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom is based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade. The story is in four segments, inspired by Dante‘s Inferno: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. It was Pasolini’s last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released.

1983The Correct Sadist by Terence Sellers reverses the dominant-submissive roles of The Story of O to create a post-feminist American myth about power.

1983–85Anne Rice wrote the sadomasochistic trilogy The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure and Exit to Eden (1985) under the pseudonym of Anne Rampling.

1986 – 9½ Weeks is an  erotic romantic drama film directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. It is based on the memoir of the same name by Elizabeth McNeill, about a New York City art gallery employee who has a brief, yet intense affair with a mysterious Wall Street broker.

9½ Weeks

1986 – Blue Velvet – The whole movie is laced with sadomasochistic undertones: from age play to mommy play.

maskedwoman1990 – Thierry Mugler combined fashion, fantasy and festish to create a new kind of glamour. This ultra-feminine look strikes some observers as over-the-top, even “high camp.” But Mugler achieved great success with fashion-forward clients.

1992 Sex by Madonna, was written from the point-of-view of a fictitious sexbookcharacter named Mistress Dita who was inspired by 1930s film actress Dita Parlo. Throughout the book Madonna wrote poems, stories, and essays unabashedly exploring sexuality.  She writes about her fantasies, explaining why she loves bondage while the camera celebrates her body in provocative photos.  

1991 – Jean Paul Gaultier French designer has earned himself a reputation as one the fashion world’s enfants terribles — most famously with the conical bra he designed for Madonna for her Blonde Ambition tour. Many suggest that Gaultier’s genius stems from a relentless juxtaposition of forms: metal and leather paired with chiffon, strong women depravedly strapped into S&M-inspired cuts of leather.


1992Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness byLynn S. Chanceradvances the provocative thesis that sadomasochism is far more prevalent in contemporary societies like the United States than we realize. According to Chancer, sexual sadomasochism is only the best-known manifestation of what is actually a much more broadly based social phenomenon -from personal relationships to school, the workplace, and other interactions.

1993 The Attendant, Isaac Julien‘s short dialogue-free film. Memory mixes with desire as a museum attendant is caught up in sado-masochistic fantasies inspired by a 19th century painting of slaves in chains called Scene on the coast of Africa.

1995 – In Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism,Philip Miller and Molly Devon think that S/M is fun, and “that reading about it should be fun, too.” There’s clear explanations and detailed tutorials for beginners, as general as “safe, sane, and consensual” and as specific as “you will be swinging the whip with your arm pivoting at the shoulder.”

220px-Fetishes_documentary_DVD1996 – Fetishes is a documentary by Nick Broomfield filmed at Pandora’s Box, one of New York City’s

most luxurious SM/fetish parlours. The film contains interviews with professional dominatricesand their clients including the New York filmmaker Maria Beatty.

1997 – The Sadomasochism of Everyday Life: Why We Hurt Ourselves — and Others — and How to Stop by noted psychologist John Munder Ross, examines the many ways in which people make themselves miserable and endure the self-inflicted suffering of everyday life, and offers readers a chance to break free of self-destructive behavior and find happiness.

1998 – A Playboy poll by Dr. Marty Klein gleaned the following stats:

  • 18% of men and 20% of women have used a blindfold during sex.
  • 30% of men and 32% of women have tied someone up or have been tied up during sex.
  • 49% of men and 38% of women have spanked or have been spanked as part of sex.

1998 – At Home with the Marquis De Sade: A Life by Francine Du plessix Gray is a groundbreaking account of the scandalous life and the violent times of the Marquis de Sade, resurrecting this legendary man’s relationship with his family — his devoted wife, his iron-willed mother-in-law, and his three children.

The proclivity toward S&M has no easy answers ─ Nature vs. nuture? Reward vs. Discipline? Whatever school of thought you prefer (Freud, Kinsey, Jung, etc.), Sadomasochism is no longer considered deviant, but rather a reasonable, emotionally cathartic sexual preference.

Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we dive into S&M in the 21st century! But for now, try this dommercise!

Dommercise: Challenge your perception of sadomasochism as a edgey leather/latex clad subculture that’s into handcuffs, whips & chains, versus the reality of suburban parents or enlightened couples, including possibly your neighbors, who want to spice up their vanilla sex lives with a bit of harmless blindfold, bondage & paddling. How would you react if your partner suggested it? Would you be open minded, or shut down? Check yourself and your inhibitions.


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