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Celenza, A. (2000). Sadomasochistic Relating: What's Sex Got to Do with it?. Psychoanal Q., 69(3):527-543.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 69(3):527-543

Sadomasochistic Relating: What's Sex Got to Do with it?

Andrea Celenza, Ph.D.

The sexuality in sadomasochistic relating is most often viewed as defensive, functioning to erotize the repetition of earlier trauma, as a defense against painful affect, or as masking early, nonerotic needs for recognition and autonomy. However, this emphasis on the nonerotic dimension of so-called sexualized experience leads to symbolic interpretations of sexuality; this “deliteralization of sexuality” requires some embodiment in the concrete and literal, or metaphor is delinked from that which it is derived.

Without discounting the validity of such formulations, this paper aims to put the drive (libido) back into formulations of sadomasochistic relations, and discusses the erotic dimension in sadomasochistic relations as an irreducible, hidden structure that both threatens and sustains the destructive attachment. It is suggested that sexuality is a driving force behind sadomasochistic interplay, while aggression may be recruited for defensive, concealing purposes. Through a case illustration, this paper demonstrates how sadomasochistic relating is symbolically penetrating, teasing, withholding, and intensifying in hate-inducing ways, all of which are designed to gratify and simultaneously harden the other. In many cases, sadomasochistic

sexuality may be viewed as aggressivized, paradoxically, to maintain safety under the regressive pull of sexual and preoedipal longings.

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