What do you call someone who enjoys pain

Masochist Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

mas·​och·​ist ˈma-sə-kist 


 also  ˈmā-


: a person who derives sexual gratification from being subjected to physical pain or humiliation : an individual given to masochism

But Ksenia is a masochist who cannot experience sexual pleasure without first experiencing extreme pain. Christopher Rice


: a person who takes pleasure in pain and suffering

… a select group of cops, bikers, bodybuilders and other masochists who thrive on the deprivation that exercising in unfiltered 110 degree heat produces. Allison Glock

Some mathematical masochist has calculated that the brain was adding 150 million brain cells every hundred thousand years, the sort of useless statistic beloved of a tourist guide. Matt Ridley

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Bint Aamir was no masochist, but there’s a masochistic element to Zuhour’s ruminations. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 24 May 2022 Soccer fans have Who Are Ya?; Quordle is four times the fun; Crosswordle is a masochist’s dream. Matt Gardner, Forbes, 22 Apr. 2022 The last thing any Bengals fan/chronicler/card-carrying masochist wants is to be Charlie Brown-ed. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, 28 July 2021 In the corner was a large chair fit to be the throne of a king or a dictator or a masochist who enjoys cramps. Anthony Veasna So, The New Yorker, 5 July 2021 Krail, one of the Central Coast Section’s most successful coaches over the past 35 years, is no masochist. Mitch Stephens, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Apr. 2021 Within any sadomasochistic relationship, the masochist has a say in what’s being done to them. Yasmin Lajoie, refinery29.com, 1 Dec. 2020 Depression is a white supremacist, a malignant narcissist, a rape apologist, a gaslighter, Iago, a sadist, a masochist, a hot Lego underfoot, a mind made hell. Longreads, 10 Aug. 2020 That impression of sweatlessness is the masochist’s ideal—and writing, many writers will tell you, is masochism, a torture and a torment, an exercise in mental brick-breaking that justifies itself in pursuit of the apt and elegant line. Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, 5 Aug. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'masochist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from German Masochist, from Leopold von Sacher- Masoch †1895 Austrian fiction writer and journalist + -ist -ist entry 1, after Masochismus masochism

First Known Use

1892, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler

The first known use of masochist was in 1892

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“Masochist.Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/masochist. Accessed 3 Nov. 2022.

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Medical Definition


mas·​och·​ist -kəst 

: an individual who is given to masochism

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Masochist Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com

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[ mas-uh-kist ]

/ ˈmæs ə kɪst /

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Psychiatry. a person who has masochism, the condition in which sexual or other gratification depends on one's suffering physical pain or humiliation.

a person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others.

a person who finds pleasure in self-denial, submissiveness, etc.


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Origin of masochist

First recorded in 1890–1900; masoch(ism) + -ist


mas·och·is·tic, adjective

Words nearby masochist

masking piece, masking tape, maskinonge, maslin, masochism, masochist, masochistic, mason, mason bee, Mason City, Mason-Dixon line

Dictionary. com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use masochist in a sentence

  • “Y’all are into kink hiking—masochists,” the songwriter Laura Veirs recently quipped when I sent her a picture of Tina wading in the swamps of Big Cypress.

    What Did I Learn from the Swampy Muck of the Florida Trail? That I’m a Kink Hiker.|Patty Hodapp|February 27, 2022|Outside Online

  • There are masochists who are strictly pain-seeking for the sensation of it, but, in my experience, there are so, so many more who use pain as a tool to feel something else.

    What would possess someone to eat a Carolina Reaper pepper? This writer tried to find out.|Leigh Cowart|September 20, 2021|Popular-Science

  • I am feeling like a masochist, hanging out with him wishing for more, although I really enjoy our time together.

    Carolyn Hax: If you give up on the friend zone, is that winning, or quitting?|Carolyn Hax|May 7, 2021|Washington Post

  • Been dying to see that powerful sexual masochist woo and whip that mousy college student?

    The ‘50 Shades of Grey’ Trailer Is Pretty Ridiculous, Right?|Kevin Fallon|July 24, 2014|DAILY BEAST

  • You either have to be a masochist or have an acute Messiah complex.

    Obama Really Seems to Be Looking Forward to the End of His Presidency|Dean Obeidallah|December 2, 2013|DAILY BEAST

  • Corporal punishment with a beneficial object does not satisfy the true masochist.

    The Sexual Question|August Forel

  • Rousseau, in his "Confessions," reveals the sexual feelings of the masochist.

    The Sexual Question|August Forel

The main questions of life. Why are people so cruel to each other?

  • Simon McCarthy-Jones
  • Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology

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Inflicting pain on someone who is unable to retaliate may seem like unacceptable cruelty, but it happens more often than you might think.

Our colleagues at BBC Future continue their 'Life's Big Questions' series with The Conversation. Another such question was asked by Ruth from London:

Why do some people act cruelly towards those who do not pose any danger to them - sometimes even towards their own children? Where does this behavior come from and what purpose does it serve? - Ruth, 45, London.

Answered by Simon McCarthy-Jones, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


"What a chimera is man, what a center of contradictions, what a monster! Judge of all things - and at the same time an earthly worm; a witness of truth - and at the same time a cesspool of ignorance and delusion; pride of the universe - and at the same time, its last dregs,” wrote Blaise Pascal, the eminent French philosopher and mathematician, in 1658.

Little has changed since Pascal's time. We love, we hate, we help, we harm. We reach out and we stick a knife in the back. We understand when someone snaps back in an attempt to protect themselves. But when someone hurts someone completely harmless, we ask the question: "How could he?!"

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People tend to do things that bring them pleasure or help them avoid suffering. Inflicting pain on another person causes most of us to feel their pain. And we don't like that feeling.

From this we can assume that there are two reasons why people make the defenseless suffer: they either do not feel the pain of others, or they feel, but it brings them pleasure.

There is another reason: even in the most harmless person, another can see a hidden threat to himself. Someone who doesn't pose a threat to your body or wallet can threaten your social status. This helps to explain the seemingly inexplicable actions of those who harm those who help them—financially, for example.

In today's liberal society, it is commonly believed that by making others suffer, we harm them. However, some philosophers reject this idea. (For example, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his book "Evil Wisdom": "The cruelty of an insensitive person is the opposite of compassion; the cruelty of a sensitive person is a higher potency of compassion.")

But can we understand and accept cruelty "for the sake of compassion" in the 21st century?

Sadists and psychopaths

He who takes pleasure in humiliating another and inflicting pain on another is a sadist. Sadists feel the pain of another person more than others and enjoy it - at least as long as this pain lasts. After that, they may feel bad.

In the public mind, sadism is associated with murderers and executioners, those who torture. However, there is a much less extreme, but much more common type of sadism - everyday sadism.

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Image caption,

Most of us would refrain from deliberately inflicting pain on another person, primarily because by injuring others, we partly share their pain

Domestic sadists enjoy inflicting pain on others or watching how they suffer. Usually they like violent films, they are delighted with fights, they are interested in torture. There are few such people - but not so much that they are not noticed. About 6% of the students surveyed admitted that they enjoy inflicting pain on others.

Domestic sadism can take the form of Internet trolling or bullying of a classmate. Domestic sadists are drawn to playing computer games full of violence. And in online role-playing computer games, such people are usually "griefers" - pests, dirty tricks that spoil the gameplay for others without any benefit to themselves.

Unlike sadists, psychopaths cause suffering to others not because they enjoy it (although they can get it), but because they want something. If inflicting pain on another will help achieve the goal, then so be it.

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Psychopaths do this because they are less likely to feel pity, remorse or fear. They may understand how others feel at the same time, but it does not touch them.

And this is a very dangerous set of qualities. For thousands of years, mankind has tamed itself. As a result, many of us find it difficult to hurt another person. For those who torture or kill, memories of this haunt them all their lives. Yet psychopathy is a powerful predictor of future unprovoked violence.

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Image caption,

Some scientists believe that having sadistic traits helps people to gain influence, to break through to power

We need to be aware when we encounter a psychopath. This conclusion can be drawn by observing the facial expression of a person or having a short conversation with him.

Unfortunately, psychopaths know this and try very hard to disguise themselves, to make a good first impression on you.

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Fortunately, most people do not have psychopathic character traits. Only 0.5% can be recognized as psychopaths. At the same time, among prisoners there are about 8% of men and 2% of women.

But not all psychopaths are dangerous. Antisocial psychopaths may seek the thrill of drugs or dangerous activities. Prosocial psychopaths can act in the best interest of society, enjoying the pursuit of new ideas.

Just as inventions and innovations change our society, prosocial psychopaths can change the world for all of us. Both for the better and for the worse.

Where do these character traits come from?

No one really knows why some people are sadists. Some believe that sadism developed as a reaction to the need to kill animals while hunting. Others believe that it helps people achieve influence, break through to power. Neuroscience suggests that sadism may have been a survival tactic in times of trouble.

When certain foods are scarce, the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the “hormone of happiness,” in our body drops. This makes us more inclined to want to harm others because it becomes more enjoyable.

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Image caption,

There are "softer" forms of sadism that give people the cheap pleasure of watching someone in a vulnerable position.

Psychopathy can also be opportunism. A number of studies have associated higher levels of psychopathy with greater fertility (although the opposite has also been found). The reason for this may be that psychopaths have a reproductive advantage in aggressive environments.

Indeed, psychopathy thrives in an unstable world of fierce competition. The abilities of psychopaths make them skilled manipulators. Impulsivity and lack of fear help them take risks and achieve short-term goals.

The fact that psychopathy is alive and well in the modern world can also be explained by its connection with creativity.

Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and economist who applies the theoretical achievements of mathematical physics to traditional economics, argues that in general people with a difficult character are the engine of progress.

However, when the environment is conducive to creative thinking, the benefits of psychopaths are no longer so obvious.

Sadism and psychopathy are usually closely related to other character traits - narcissism and Machiavellianism. These aspects of the human personality have a common denominator - the so-called D-factor, the "dark triad" factor.

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The hereditary component in these traits can be either moderate or strong. Some people are born that way. Or parents who have high D-factor levels can pass on these traits to their children by being rude in the family.

It is clear that observing how others behave can teach us to behave in the same way. So each of us has a role to play in the fight against cruelty.

Fear and dehumanization

It is often said that it is possible to be cruel by dehumanizing other people, depriving them of human qualities. Potential victims are called dogs, cockroaches, lice, so that later it would be easier to infringe on them, to hurt them.

This makes some sense. Research shows that when someone breaks societal norms, our brains paint their face as less human. This makes it easier for us to punish those who break the code of conduct.

Of course, it is nice to think that if we see someone as a person, then we will not harm him. But this is a dangerous delusion.

Psychologist Paul Bloom believes that our most cruel acts are not based on the dehumanization of others. People can hurt others precisely because they see them as human beings who do not want to endure pain and humiliation.

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Image caption,

During the Holocaust, the Nazis killed millions in concentration camps

For example, the Nazis dehumanized the Jews, calling them parasites and classifying them as an inferior, inferior race. However, the Jews were humiliated, tortured and killed precisely because they were seen as living people who could be made to suffer.

Belittling a benefactor

Sometimes people harm even those who help them, including financially, although at first glance such actions do not make any sense. Why hurt someone who does you good?

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This phenomenon is known as "belittling benefactor" and is found all over the world.

"Benefactor's belittling" exists because we tend to resist domination, in whatever form it manifests itself - in the form of help "from the master's shoulder" or in the form of a categorical know-it-all on the UN platform.

The best is the enemy of the good, says the popular expression attributed to Voltaire. In addition, there is one hidden positive side to belittling a benefactor. After we dethrone a benefactor from his pedestal, we are more likely to listen to what he has to say.

For example, one study found that when people are allowed to say that they don't like vegetarians, they subsequently become less supportive of meat-eating.

Execution, crucifixion, or simply harsh criticism of the evangelist may ultimately help his words find new listeners and supporters.

Cruelty for good

In Whiplash ( Rev. ), a jazz band leader brutalizes his apprentice drummer in order to encourage him to achieve a high level of mastery of playing on percussion. Through psychological stress, he tries to reveal talent, to give a chance to achieve real greatness.

This tactic may disgust us. However, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that we have an undeservedly great disgust for such cruelty.

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Photo caption,

The history of mankind is darkened by violence and cruelty against those who bring the good news

From Nietzsche's point of view, the teacher is cruel to the student for his own good. People can also be cruel to themselves in order to become what they want to become.

Nietzsche believed that the experience of cruelty can help develop courage, fortitude, fortitude and creativity.

Are we ready to develop good qualities in ourselves and others through suffering?

Probably not. We already know the potentially devastating consequences of experiencing abuse from others, including on physical and mental health, and we are increasingly recognizing the benefits of treating ourselves with compassion.

And the very idea that we have to suffer in order to develop raises more and more questions. Positive events in life - falling in love, having children, achieving a cherished goal - may well lead to personal development.

Learning through cruelty provokes abuse of power and selfish sadism.

Buddhism offers an alternative - in the form of an angry manifestation of compassion. True compassion, Buddhists believe, can take on confrontational forms that look like anger but are not (such as the compassion of angry deities). And then we enter into a confrontation with others, acting in the name of love, protecting them from their own greed, hatred and fear.

Life can be cruel, truth can be cruel. But we can choose not to be cruel ourselves.

Why is pain pleasant? - BBC News Russian service

  • Zaria Gorvett
  • BBC Future

Image copyright Thinkstock

Image caption

Exercising to the limit causes pain that borders on pleasure

Why do some people enjoy spicy spices, extreme physical activity, or sadomasochistic sex? Correspondent BBC Future set out to find out what pain and pleasure have in common.

His opponent was famous for his cruelty - for many, a fight with him ended in convulsions, a heart attack, or even death. But, entering the arena, Jason McNabb looked surprisingly calm. The whistle sounded. The battle was swift and terrible - tears immediately flowed onto the swollen lips of the daredevil, wet with sweat.

It was an unusual competition. McNabb set the world record for eating "ghost pepper" Bhut Jolokia within two minutes. “It seems like I got a mouthful of wasps, and they all started to sting me at the same time. Hell of a pain, to be honest,” the thrill-seeker admitted.

The Ghost Pepper's Scoville hotness index exceeds one million units - in other words, it is 200-400 times hotter than jalapenos. This pepper is one of the hottest in the world, and even a small piece can cause unbearable pain in a person. This begs the question: who would think of torturing themselves like that?

(More BBC Future articles in Russian)

Common sense tells us that people tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain. However, this is not always the case. Some enjoy pain-inducing activities such as running, hot stone massage, tattooing, piercing, and even BDSM (short for psychosexual practices such as bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism).

Hunting more than captivity

For McNabb, the pain caused by hot pepper causes a wave of pleasure, comparable to the pleasure of food, drugs or sex. According to him, "the pain subsided rather quickly, leaving only the pleasure of adrenaline rush and a feeling of euphoria."

Image copyright Guinness World Records

Image caption

Champion chili eater Jason McNabb called this pain hellish

The connection between pleasure and pain is rooted in our biological makeup. To begin with, any pain causes the central nervous system to release endorphins, pain-blocking proteins that act like opioid drugs like morphine, causing a state of euphoria.

This phenomenon is familiar to runners. Intense physical activity promotes the release of lactic acid, a product of the breakdown of glucose in the absence of oxygen in the body.

The acid irritates the pain receptors in the muscles, which send electrical signals through the spinal cord to the brain. At the sensory level, these signals are perceived as a burning sensation in the legs, which usually causes the runner to slow down or stop.

But then the hippocampus, the control center of the nervous system, intervenes in the process. This brain structure, shaped like a seahorse, responds to pain signals by stimulating the body to produce its own drug, endorphins.

Proteins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent the release of substances involved in the transmission of pain signals.

This not only blocks pain, but also stimulates the limbic system and prefrontal cortex—the same areas that get excited by passionate love and music—producing pleasurable sensations similar to morphine or heroin.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Image caption

Runners enjoy themselves after a long run. What happens at this time in the brain?

In addition, the pain of intense physical activity stimulates the release of another pain-relieving substance produced by the body, anandamide, which is also called the "bliss molecule".

Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals, inducing warmth and pleasantly clouding the mind, similar to the action of marijuana, which binds to the same receptors. Excitation is enhanced by adrenaline, which is also released in response to pain and increases the athlete's heart rate.

It is believed that the burning sensation in the legs helps to avoid overload, while the pleasure of running, apparently, helped our ancestors overcome fatigue during long hunts. In general, scientists believe that the pleasant sensations that replace pain evolved to help people cope with the effects of trauma.

The theory of "mild masochism"

But why do some types of pain give pleasure, while others bring only torment?

One of the explanations is based on the theory of "mild masochism", which suggests that people tend to feel pain, provided they are constantly aware that this pain is not a signal of serious harm. Animals are not capable of this.

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Image caption

Hot chili peppers can be pleasurable... end up being

Chili peppers are one example. Its active ingredient capsaicin is completely harmless. It causes pain by binding to the TRPV1 receptor, a family of temperature-sensing receptors located on our tongues that warn the body of potentially dangerous heat or cold. When TRPV1 is activated, the brain receives the same signals as if the tongue were on fire.

Most young children refuse to eat chili, but after tasting it a few times, they learn to enjoy hot peppers as they no longer associate them with actual physical harm. At the same time, the tongue of a hot pepper lover is just as sensitive to capsaicin as that of any other person.

Only humans can experience pleasure from pain. Attempts by scientists to instill a love of chili in rats have not been successful.

Animals can be trained to hurt themselves, but only through "positive reinforcement" when they associate pain with reward. "Usually, if an animal gets a negative experience, in the future it tends to avoid it," explains Paul Rozin, an associate at the University of Pennsylvania (USA).

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Image caption,

Professionals in the sex industry distinguish useful from harmful pain

For those who are into BDSM, the concept of "mild masochism" is not surprising.

Ms. Alexandra, a professional sadist from London, says: “We distinguish useful pain from harmful pain. Harmful pain tells us that something has gone wrong, and we immediately pay attention to it. But there is also useful pain that gives pleasure. For example, if during bondage the shoulder begins to pull, it may not be safe, and we loosen the knots.

This theory is also thought to explain why people seek and enjoy notoriously unpleasant experiences, such as chilling rollercoaster rides and watching sad movies. "If an animal were to ride the rollercoaster, it would get scared and never climb it again," says Rozin.

Secrets of paracetamol

The relationship between sex and pain is not limited to the world of BDSM. A study was conducted in which scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains of women while they brought themselves into a state of orgasm.

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Common sense says that people tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but that's not the case

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This experiment revealed that 30 areas of the brain were active at the time of orgasm, including those associated with pain. In another study, researchers found that cancer patients who had nerves removed from their spinal cord to relieve chronic abdominal pain lost the ability to experience orgasm. At the same time, with the resumption of pain, this ability was restored.

Barry Komisaruk, a researcher at Rutgers University and the author of a CT scan of the female brain, believes there is a deep connection between the metabolic pathways of pain and orgasm. "It has also been observed that facial expressions during orgasm are often indistinguishable from grimaces of pain," says the scientist.

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