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Loewenstein, R.M. (1957). A Contribution to the Psychoanalytic Theory of Masochism. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 5:197-234.

(1957). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 5:197-234

A Contribution to the Psychoanalytic Theory of Masochism

Rudolph M. Loewenstein, M.D.


When we speak of masochism we refer to a tendency to seek physical or mental suffering in order to achieve, be it consciously or not, sexual gratification in the widest sense. Quite apart from their clinical importance, these phenomena are so challenging because they seem to contradict a basic characteristic of the human mind: the trend to avoid pain and unpleasure, i.e., the pleasure principle. Indeed, to some masochists "physical or mental suffering at the hands of the sexual object is a condition" for sexual gratification (Freud, 32). Because of this paradox, one might expect that the study of masochism should also lead to interesting considerations dealing with the problems of the human mind when faced with some painful realities of the external and internal world.

In "The Economic Principle in Masochism" Freud (36) noted that masochism "comes under our observation in three shapes: as a condition under which sexual excitation may be roused; as an expression of feminine nature; and as a norm of behavior."

Theoretical considerations on masochism thus can deal with several types of problems. The first and the comparatively best known of these are the cases of masochistic perversion. They have been most widely studied clinically; they were well described already in pre-Freudian psychiatric literature, and psychoanalytic research has contributed substantially to their elucidation.

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