Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch: The Father Of Masochism, Explained

By | June 26, 2020

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Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Fanny Pistor Bogdanoff, c. 1870-1880 (note the whip). (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Human sexuality is a vastly complicated subject. While taboo to talk about in polite society, sex is the reason we're all here today! However, things aren't always so straightforward when it comes to lovemaking, as many people enjoy exploring, shall we say, less traditional means of experiencing pleasure. For example, sadomasochism (A.K.A. S&M, the sexual act of inflicting or receiving pain) is one of the most common fetishes on Earth. You've likely heard of (or maybe even explored) S&M, but have you ever wondered what it means? You might assume it has its roots in Latin or Greek, but the word is actually a portmanteau of the names of two particularly freaky dudes. We owe the word "sadism" to the Marquis de Sade, a violent French nobleman known for his many brutalities and raunchy writings, but the namesake of "masochism," Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, is far less famous.

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Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, before 1895. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch

Also a nobleman, Sacher-Masoch was born in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (present-day Ukraine) on January 27, 1836 to Leopold Johann Nepomuk Ritter von Sacher and Charlotte von Masoch. The couple were early pioneers of the hyphenation trend: Since Charlotte was the last of her family, they agreed to hyphenate so the Masoch name wouldn't die out. It's a good thing, too—"sadosacherism" is a bit of a mouthful. 

Due to political unrest in Eastern Europe at the time, Masoch moved around a lot but wound up at the Austrian University of Gratz, where he studied law. He became a professor after graduation but moonlighted as a writer and social activistMost of his work had to do with local legends and short stories of the various ethnic groups of his region, specifically the Jewish population. In a time when Jewish stereotypes were rampant in European literature, Sacher-Masoch's work always depicted Jewish life with realism and complexity.