Friday, December 6, 1996

Who Put The “M” in SM? Leather and SM In History

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #40, December 6, 1996)

“The New Joy of Gay Sex,” by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano (published by Harper Perennial) is a fascinating gay-sex encyclopedia covering everything from “AIDS” and “Bars” to “Wills” and “Wrestling.” While not specifically targeted at the leather community, it contains a wealth of leather- and SM-related information (as well as some spectacular illustrations). Here’s one interesting SM tidbit:

SM, in leather circles, stands for “sadomasochism.” It is relatively common knowledge that sadism (achieving sexual pleasure by inflicting pain) takes its name from the Marquis de Sade. The origin of the name of the opposite practice, masochism (achieving sexual pleasure from receiving pain), is much less well-known.

According to “The New Joy of Gay Sex”, masochism takes its name from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, “a historian and novelist. All his novels contained whipping scenes, and he himself preferred to be whipped by women wearing furs, especially if the women were older.” (It’s an interesting comment on society’s values that the Marquis de Sade has become a household name and archetype, while von Sacher-Masoch languishes in relative obscurity.)

Some other items of historical interest from “The New Joy of Gay Sex”:

• The flagellants were a twelfth-century mass movement within the Catholic Church that encouraged people to flog themselves until they bled.

• Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was a seventeenth-century nun who “carved the name of Jesus on her chest with a knife.” Because the carving didn’t last long enough, she subsequently burnt it in with a candle. (She was canonized in 1920.)

• Saint Mary-Magdalen dei Pazzi “used to roll in thornbushes in the convent garden, then go into the convent and whip herself. She also forced novices to tie her to a post, insult her, whip her, and drop hot wax on her.”

(The above examples are not intended to be disrespectful of the Catholic Church, but rather to show that SM impulses have been around a long time and in many different and unexpected segments of society.)

• The Chicago Hell Fire Club is an organization of men who are into heavy SM play; their annual Inferno run is a social and sexual highlight of the SM scene. Where did the name of the club come from? It was “probably borrowed from the Hell-Fire Club organized by Sir Francis Dashwood in late eighteenth-century England.”

On a more local note, the Atons leather club of Minneapolis take their name from Akhenaton, the Egyptian Pharoah just before Tutankhamun. His theory was that there was just one divine being instead of a myriad of gods. He called that god the Aton, the Sun God, and symbolized it as a sun disk with rays streaming from it. He closed the old temples and built new ones for the Aton. After he assumed the throne he installed a man named Smenkhare on the throne of Queen Nefertiti, his wife. Smenkhare was given all Nefertiti’s royal titles, and the inscriptions that remain make it clear that Akhenaton and Smenkhare were lovers. Eventually the old priesthood overthrew Akhenaton, installed the boy prince Tutankhamun (whose name was originally Tutankhaton) as his successor, and tried to obliterate Akhenaton’s name from the earth (primarily because of his religious heresy, not his sexuality).

Now you know.

Upcoming Leather Events

Leather Knights

Wednesdays in December, 8 pm to close, Town House Country
Leather/levi/uniform attire encouraged. Drinks are $1.50 all night with a $5 cover.

Atons Holiday Fund-raiser
Sunday, December 8, 5-10 pm, The Saloon
Help the Atons fill a few baskets by attending this fund-raiser benefiting The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program. $7 at the door or $5 with donation of food shelf items or new unwrapped toys. Free food, 75¢ tap beer & soda, other drink specials. Net proceeds benefit The Aliveness Project. For more info: call or e-mail

Steve Kelso Aliveness Project Fund-raiser
Friday, December 13, 9 pm, Town House Country
Come meet the legend himself! Buy a calendar or poster and Steve will autograph it for you on the spot. $5.00 at the door, net proceeds benefit The Aliveness Project.

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