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Feminine Masochism


Feminine masochism, "an expression of the feminine being nature" (p. 161), is one of the three forms of masochism described by Sigmund Freud in "The Economic Problem of Masochism" (1924c), along with moral masochism and primary, erotogenic masochism. Based "entirely . . . on the primary, erotogenic masochism" (p. 162), feminine masochism, according to Freud, is clinically accessible through the fantasies of masochistic men, who obtain sexual satisfaction primarily through masturbation. Behind such men's need for punishment and humiliation (which form a transition with moral masochism by way of guilt) there is an infantile staging of a "characteristically female situation" that signifies "being castrated, or copulated with, or giving birth to a baby" (p. 162).

In Freud's view, the passivity of masochism is linked to femininity, and the active nature of sadism to virility, as he wrote in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933a [1932]). He first described this connection between active/passive and masculine/feminine in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d). However, in 1933, taking bisexuality into consideration, he relativized this opposition and stressed the role of the instinctual aim: "to achieve a passive aim may call for a large amount of activity" (p. 115). He also acknowledged that the social repression of aggressiveness in women could lead to secondary masochistic impulses, "which succeed . . . in binding erotically the destructive trends which have been diverted inwards" (p. 116).

Freud's discomfort on the issue of woman's sexuality is apparent in his description of feminine masochism in men, even though his 1924 essay rehabilitates masochism as a form of protection in the individual against the death instinct and as a factor in the organization of the ego. Yet we can deduce from his thinking that he thought that a woman's intimate acquaintance with passivity, and thus her capacity for masochism, also play a part in her strength, and not just in her weakness stemming from her need for love. Masochism is part of the intensity of her sexual pleasure, but also of the strength of her love as a woman and mother.

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.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

Further Reading

Bernstein, Isidore. (1983). Masochistic pathology and feminine development. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31, 467-486.

Blum, Harold P. (1976). Masochism, the ego ideal, and the psychology of women. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 24, 157-192.

Bonaparte, Marie. (1935). Passivity, masochism and femininity. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 16, 325-333.

Deutsch, Helene. (1930). The significance of masochism in the mental life of women. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 11, 48-60.

Horney, Karen. (1935). The problem of feminine masochism. Psychoanalytic Review, 22, 241-257.

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