Some Common Misconceptions about Sadomasochism
Some of these ideas are stated so often in books about sex that I sometimes start to think that they must be true.
There is a relentless human urge to explain things, and if we don't know the answer, we can always make something up.
Most of these explanations suffer from one major problem that I have mentioned elsewhere: a book will give one plausible explanation for leather/rubber fetishism, and another plausible explanation for sadomasochism, and completely ignore the fact that leather/rubber fetishists and sadomasochists are to a large extent the same group of people. In which case there should only need to be one explanation for both phenomena.
Fetishism is Sexual Attraction to Objects instead of People
This is sort of the dictionary definition, so in a sense it has to be true. Supposedly a leather fetishist is attracted to leather instead of people. But as far as I can tell, leather fetishists are attracted to attractive members of the opposite sex (unless ofcourse they are homosexual) wearing leather. And they are quite happy to perform normal sexual intercourse on someone dressed this way (or indeed on someone not dressed up).
Fetishists are Attracted to Objects because they are Scared of People
I don't think you have to be a fetishist to be scared of the opposite sex, especially if you are attracted to someone and somewhat uncertain as to what they think of you.
Fetishism/Sadism/Masochism and indeed Almost Any Sexual Preference is caused by Conditioning
Books that push this line sometimes give examples involving very unusual sexual fetishes, like the man who has to see women sneezing. But in the real world, certain fetishes are much more common than others. Sometimes a person can trace their sexual preference to some early incident in their life. But this fails to explain the frequent occurrence of certain fetishes overall. There must be some predisposition towards these fetishes, and this predisposition still needs explaining.
Sadomasochism and Fetishism are Mental Illnesses
One can get into endless arguments as to what is a mental illness, or even if there is such a thing. Certainly there exist many sadomasochists and fetishists who are obviously sane individuals.
If someone turns up at a psychiatrist's office complaining about their sexual preference, does that mean that that sexual preference is a mental illness? Compare depression: there is such a thing as depressive illness, or "clinical" depression, but depression itself is a normal aspect of human emotion and behaviour in response to certain situations. In fact someone who fails to get depressed probably has something wrong with them, and would suffer from problems resulting from their inability to become depressed.
The Explanation for Masochism is that Pain is a bit like Pleasure
Well actually they are opposites. There are many forms of masochism that don't involve any actual physical pain, so any explanation that depends upon a relationship between pleasure and pain fails to explain the whole phenomenon.
Sadomasochism and Fetishism result from Complex and Hidden Subconscious Thought Processes, Desires and Transferences of Suppressed Desires
This explanation is a consequence of the Freudian view that mental problems in general are caused by subconscious thought and suppressed sexual desires. There is no real evidence of its validity, and it is not very untestable (until such time as the "subconscious" can be observed directly in some way).
My suppressed response theory suggests that this explanation is quite wrong, because sadomasochism and all related forms of sexual arousal depend on a temporary suppression of normal instincts, desires and preferences. That is, masochism is exciting because normally we don't like being hurt, and being dominated is exciting because normally we don't want to be bossed about, and sadism is exciting because normally we don't want to hurt others, and so on.