Love Hurts: Sadomasochism's Dangers

The AP also reported on a case in which a man allegedly died under circumstances not unlike those that led to Benjamin slipping into a coma. In January 2006, dominatrix Barbara Asher, 56, was acquitted of manslaughter in Massachusetts in the death of a man who allegedly suffered a fatal heart attack while strapped to a replica of a medieval torture device.

S&M Clubs Spring Up

Some forms of sadomasochism and the related fetish of bondage sex have gained a certain degree of normalcy. Clubs have sprung up across the country along with shops catering to fetishists in most major cities.

Every year in San Francisco, some 400,000 people attend the Folsom Street Fair, an outdoor festival dedicated to the safer and more commercial aspect of sadomasochism, according to the event's Web site.

"There are multiple organizations across the U.S. and internationally that educate people about safe play and kinky sex," said Vincent Andrews, president of the National Leather Association, a network of S&M community organizations.

"Almost every major city in the U.S. has a BDSM (bondage-sadomasochism) event geared towards safe play," he said.

But for some, "safe play" is the opposite of what they're looking for.

Enhancing Orgasm

"Some people cannot experience pleasure. They can only experience deep feelings when they are truly painful," said Judy Kuriansky, a sexologist and psychology professor at Columbia University. "Everyone is looking for some sort of sensation. For true masochists that experience becomes distorted and they can only feel something when it hurts."

Kuriansky said masochism is more about power than sex and that events in one's early childhood could prime a person to associate pain with sexual gratification.

In addition to pain, she said many masochists find pleasure in choking themselves or being choked, because the sudden rush of blood to the head can produce a euphoric high and enhance orgasm.

Benjamin told the Post that the experience of being comatose was enough to scare him off from dangerous sex in the future.

"It's like when you crave turkey," he told the paper. "You eat it and you it and eat it, but you still want it. But now I've had enough. I don't want turkey anymore. I'm full … I don't want to go to clubs anymore. I'm trying to learn to control myself and my emotions."

But simply having a wake-up call, no matter how startling, is not always enough. Kuriansky said it was rare for a masochist to finally become capable of associating sex with pleasure and love instead of pain and danger.

"There is a triumvirate of guilt, embarrassment and fear of intimacy for these people," she said. "It is rare that all of a sudden they can give up on being interested in pain and suddenly be capable of being loved."

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