The Sexual Sadist

The essential feature of sexual sadism is not in the feeling of sexual excitement resulting from the infliction of true pain on the victim, but rather it is from witnessing his or her suffering.


What do David Parker Ray, Robert Berdella, Lawrence Bittaker, Ian Brady, Mike DeBardeleben, Gary Heidnick, Leonard Lake, Hermann Mudgett, Gary Taylor, and Fred West have in common? They all made the list of the top ten worst sexually sadistic killers.

Sexual sadism is considered a mental disorder; it is one of several paraphilias. A paraphilia is characterized by an obsession with unusual sexual practices and/or with actual sexual activity with nonconsensual persons and animals. Pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are additional types of paraphilias. It is estimated that sexual sadists are responsible for between seven and ten percent of all sex crimes. Sexual sadists are predominately male, however there is a prevalence of female domatrixes in sadomasochism pornography.

A sexual sadist has intense fantasies and/or performs acts because he desires complete sexual, physical, emotional or psychological domination over another person. Sexual sadism may be either physical or psychological in nature. Sadistic acts range from behaviors that do not physically harm another, (although it may be humiliating to the other person such as, being urinated or defecated on), to criminal, violent, and potentially deadly behavior. The essential feature of sexual sadism is not in the feeling of sexual excitement resulting from the infliction of true pain on the victim, but rather it is from witnessing his or her suffering. In extreme cases, sexual sadism can lead to serious injury or death. Mental health experts agree that these catastrophic results are more likely when the sadism is diagnosed as severe, and when it is associated with an antisocial personality disorder (a psychopath).

Sexual sadism needs to be differentiated from normal sexual arousal, behavior, and experimentation between consenting adults. Some forms of mild aggression, such as love bites, pats or scratching, are within the range of normal behavior during sexual intercourse. With a consenting couple the sadistic behavior generally only involves mild pain and/or the simulation of more dangerous pain. The intent is mutual excitement.

The true sexual sadist is cruel and his actions are not wanted by the victim. For example, spanking involves only minimal pain; whereas whipping, shocking, burning, beating, stabbing, strangling, raping, mutilation and murder indicate torture and suffering. Restraint between adults is very different than imprisonment in a cage shackled with chains. Mild sadism is referred to as S&M and frequently involves bondage, discipline, dominance and submission. Mild sadists seek out masochistic partners, and their behaviors are consensual. Major sadism however is not consensual and can involve injury and death. The sadist wants not only complete control and compliance; he wants his victim to feel fear. It is this fear that turns him on.

Sexual sadists tend to relate to people in terms of power versus affection. In general, they commit more violent crimes than other offenders and are more aggressive. This corresponds with the psychopathy they display. Psychopaths are predatory; they lack the ability to feel empathy or remorse. They plan and they rehearse. Psychopaths are also traditionally charming and charismatic. The psychopathic sexual sadist usually has no problem finding a partner or several accomplices to his crimes if he so desires.

Dr. J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, provides additional characteristics of a psychopathic sexual sadist:

  • Impersonation of law enforcement
  • Abduction of victim to a pre-selected location
  • Binding of the victim
  • Emotional detachment during attack
  • Rape often leads to murder, usually by strangulation
  • Murdered victim is generally concealed
  • Offender records his activities
  • Victims are most likely strangers
  • Attack is methodical and repeated from one victim to another
  • In virtually all cases of sexual sadism, including sexual homicide rehearsal fantasy is a prerequisite
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