has put up the entirety of its interview
with philosopher Arnold Davidson.
AD: It’s interesting. Some students will say, “Well, OK, homosexuality isn’t a disease, that’s clear. But what about sadism or masochism? Those are diseases.” And you say, “Well, OK, but then tell me, what does the disease consist in?” And they have great difficulty with that. Technically, we don’t require that one actually harm someone to be considered a sadist, or that one actually be physically harmed to be considered a masochist, but rather that one can only achieve sexual satisfaction by provoking some form of suffering, or by receiving some form of suffering, even symbolically—not necessarily physical pain, but humiliation, anything that would count as a form of debasement. That’s the technical definition of sadism and masochism.
So you ask students, “How are sadism or masochism diseases?” And you add, for example, that some people only get sexual satisfaction if they have sexual relations with someone very tall, or with a certain hair color, or a certain body type. And they don’t consider that a disease. Well, of course not. And you say, “Then why is masochism a disease, where you can only get sexual satisfaction through humiliating yourself?” The answer is often, “Well, that’s bad, that’s wrong.” And again, you have the reinvocation of a moral category.