Just as it doesn’t take a formal psychiatric diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) for one to be affected by its traits, it also does not take a full-blown BPD for promiscuity and sexual masochism to affect a person. Therapists have long been seeing clients that presented with borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits and at the same time had their relationships affected and destroyed by promiscuity and random sexual relations. Some of them are affected more than others with some also affected by sexual masochism (often accompanied by sadomasochism).
(Related article: Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships)
Recent psychological research is now confirming what we have been seeing in therapy space with our clients for a long time. There seems to be a statistically significant relationship between borderline personality disorder (BPD) and sexual masochism (you can find the original research article here). The research finds that sexual masochism is about ten times more likely with women that have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) than the ones that have not. Despite the fact that the study includes women that have been diagnosed psychiatrically, we can see that individuals that do not have BPD diagnosis can still have traits of sexual masochism along with promiscuity and impulsive sexual urges and these traits can be more severe, depending on the person.
One of the causes of sexual masochism that is also suggested by the research—when we are considering individuals with traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD)—is childhood abuse. Such abuse can take many forms, however, in general what we can see is that sadism of the parent (or sadistic traits of the parent) can reflect in submissive and masochistic traits of the child. This process can be very subtle, with sadism even taking the form of verbal abuse, not only physical.
A child needs parent’s recognition as she or he grows up. If this recognition is in the form of either physical or verbal abuse—such as devaluing, expressions of rage and hate, offensive remarks and other negative statements—the child will still see this abusive behaviour as recognition and will even prefer it to being ignored. To a kid anything is better than being ignored.
Individuals with traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD) seem to cling to this archaic form of gaining personal recognition and will also bring it to their relationships as adults. They will hence be sensation seeking in the form of promiscuity, casual sex and impulsive sex, which can also include sexual masochism.
However, masochism can also take other, more subtle forms—not only sexual. And it usually does. We can observe masochistic traits in other self-destructive behaviour, such as putting oneself in the position of humiliation, rejection, devaluing of others, making sure others are pleased and even going out of one’s way to do so.
The result is that a person that thinks, acts and feels in such a way will put themselves in situations where they will confirm to themselves their own view of self. And this is usually that they are not worthy as people and that they only exist if others acknowledge them, notice them and potentially hurt them. This is usually where they will get their sense of self from and this is usually, for this precise reason, the main focus of therapy—should they decide to change.