The Aristocratic Sadist: The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) by Sara Niles

Many of the common words in the English language have a story behind them, quite often the story itself is as graphic as the meaning of the word itself; for example sadism and its origin.

Sadism is associated with pathological behavior in which one person derives pleasure from the act of inflicting pain upon another living human. The degree of the pain and the degree of the pathology are closely related, such as in the more moderate degree of pathology associated with those who choose to have consensual sex with partners in which one, if not both partners inflict mild pain such as in biting and pinching as opposed to those who like to torture others. Extreme sadists inflict serious pain and harm that sometimes include murder and is a trait of sadistic rapists. Regardless of the degree of pathology involved in the sadistic practice, the word ‘sadism’ has a bad connotation with most people because of its inherent meaning.

Where did the word originate? It may surprise many to find the word origination with a French aristocrat and intellectual: the Marquis de Sade.

The French aristocrat, author and politician Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade spent over thirty years of his life in prisons and asylums mostly as a result of violence and sexual depravity involving prostitutes, the mistreatment of servants and writings involving extremely dark and  violent pornography.

A few details from the Marquis de Sade’s childhood could provide clues as to what went wrong:

  1. During de Sade’s formative years sex was reported treated as recreational pursuits and women as expendable by key male figures involved in de Sade’s upbringing
  2. De Sade reportedly showed violent tendencies as early as age four
  3.  Religion was introduced in the context of a relative who was both promiscuous and hypocritical
  4. The child de Sade was overly indulged by female relatives
  5.  Uprooted often and abandoned by his father
  6. De Sade was sent to a Jesuit school in which public beatings and humiliation were employed

In short: the disrespect of women and the combination of sex and violence in the context of religion were integrated into de Sade’s upbringing. The Maquis de Sade’s may have been   predisposed toward violence as a child and this trait was no doubt cultivated by the negative factors listed above.

The value of a loving and stable home in which respect for others and healthy boundaries are modeled as well as taught, can never be overstated. The children of today become the adults of tomorrow.


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