Erotogenic Masochism

views updated


Erotogenic masochism is the primary, biological, and constitutional masochism that results from libidinal excitation, which provides the physiological basis. It is the psychic superstructure that supports the other forms of masochism, feminine and moral, that Freud described along with it in "The Economic Problem of Masochism" (1924c).

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) Freud noted that "it may well be that nothing of considerable importance can occur in the organism without contributing some component to the excitation of the sexual instinct" (pp. 204-205). Earlier, he had specified that in the case of pain, in particular, a quantitative factor was added to the qualitative factor characteristic of the erotogenic zones.

Freud explained in "The Economic Problem of Masochism" that erotogenic masochism, as "pleasure in pain," subverts the pleasure principle, which would otherwise tend toward the zero excitation characteristics of the Nirvana principle and would be "entirely in the service of the death instincts" (p. 160). He further elaborated that the portion of the death instinct that the libido has not diverted outward toward objects remains inside the organism and "with the help of the accompanying sexual excitation . . . becomes libidinally bound there. It is in this portion that we have come to recognize the original, erotogenic masochism" (pp. 163-64). It is thus vestigial evidence of the earliest fusion of the instincts, which, by a kind of assimilation, binds the essential core of the death instinct that continually threatens the individual's existence.

According to Freud in this essay, erotogenic masochism is present in all of the developmental phases of the libido: the oral stage, as manifested in the "fear of being eaten up by the totem-animal (father)" (p. 165); the anal-sadistic stage, especially with the erotogenic role of the buttocks (the wish to be beaten by the father); the phallic stage, as shown by the traces of (disavowed) castration in masochistic fantasies; and finally the genital stage, in "characteristically female" situations, namely, "being castrated, or copulated with, or giving birth to a baby" (p. 162).

It can be noted that in this libidinal sequence, Freud mentioned only the father as the object of masochistic desire, including during the oral stage, when this is manifested in the form of a defensethe fear of being devouredwhereas it is the wish to be beaten that is used as an example for the following stage. This attests to Freud's difficulty in conceptualizing early relations, including masochistic ones, with the mother. However, the fact that he was dealing with early developmental stages is not what caused the difficulty, as he did not hesitate at the time, in 1924, to posit erotogenic masochism as being primary in psychic life.

Melanie Klein did not concur with this explanation, which construed anxieties about being devoured in terms of an erotogenic masochism that would cause the subject to wish for them. Given her emphasis on projection onto an object, conceived as present almost from the outsetand despite both her taste for the archaic and her agreement with the second theory of the instinctsshe theorized them as anxieties about retaliation for oral sadism, in a view that is thus closer to secondary masochism, the existence of which, moreover, Freud recognized.

Denys Ribas

See also: Masochism.


Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

. (1924c). The economic problem of masochism. SE, 19: 155-170.