Hang around kinksters for a while, and you’ll soon learn that the term “sadism” is attributed most often to Marquis de Sade. But how much do we really know about the father of BDSM? Fetish.com writer Kayla Lords takes a look.

The early years of the Marquis de Sade

Donatien Alphone Francois, the Marquis de Sade was born in France in 1740 and died December 2, 1814 in a mental asylum. His written works were banned in France until 1957. His name was erased from his family history until the 1940s when historians made their way to his family home, the Conde-en-Brie castle in the Champagne region in France.

The Marquis' sexual proclivities and willingness to push BDSM barriers and explore the darkest parts of our sexuality began at a relatively young age. In 1763, at the age of 23, he locked a prostitute in a room with him and, among other things, demanded that she whip him with the cat of nine tails. Five years later, in 1768, he was the one doing the whipping and apparently dripped hot candle wax on a prostitute’s back.

Marriage and family for the Marquis de Sade

The Marquis de Sade married a woman named Pelagie and had two sons with her. By most accounts, it was a loving relationship. In the 20th century when the family decided to embrace their wayward predecessor, they discovered his family bible and loving notes he’d written to his family.

However, some kinks can’t be tamed. In 1774, the Marquis de Sade is said to have trapped five women and a man in his home for six weeks. During which time, he subjected them to unnamed “depredations.” Furthermore, it apparently happened while his wife was there and aware of what was happening. While you’d think that would have endeared her to the Marquis, he later ran off with her younger sister.

His wife may have been able or willing to forgive, or maybe they were poly, swingers, or just both into BDSM. We may never know, but her mother, Madame de Montreiul was not. She had the Marquis tracked down and arrested. He would spend the remaining 29 years of his life either in prison or mental asylums.

Written works of the Marquis de Sade

During his multiple imprisonments, the Marquis de Sade wrote. He wrote letters, opinions, and yes, the erotic and BDSM texts that continued to get him jailed, banned and hated by so many. One historian theorises that the Marquis wrote about sex and pain so he would never be forgotten.


Justine (The Misfortunes of Virtue) is an erotic novel showing how badly life can go for someone who hides behind virtue, at least that was the Marquis de Sade’s thinking. The heroine is forced to become a sex slave to monks, she’s raped, and more. In the end, she winds up in court and publicly humiliated with no good way to defend herself.


The Marquis de Sade published Juliette in 1797, anonymously. Napoleon demanded the immediate arrest of the author. Juliette, Justine’s sister, is an amoral nymphomaniac who, by the age of 13, is introduced to her sexuality and uses it to bring about pain and mayhem to people. While her sister wound up with a life of misery, her later years were good and not necessarily a reflection of her wild youth.

BDSM bible: 120 Days of Sodom

120 Days of Sodom was written just before the Marquis de Sade died. The book was thought to be lost until 2015 when it was returned to France. Although still considered gruesome, even by today’s standards, it now has a place in history. The Marquis de Sade has his own exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay. The book seems to mimic his escapades of 1774. Instead of six people trapped in a castle, four libertines trap 46 people, mostly teenagers in a secret castle for their pleasure. Additionally, four brothel keepers are hired to tell their personal stories which inspire the sexual torment and death of the victims. BDSM at its best.

The Marquis de Sade and BDSM revisited

Some modern-day historians argue that Marquis de Sade is a misogynist of the highest order. They say that he purposely caused physical and mental pain to women in the name of his pleasure. However, as kinksters, we know that’s not always true. In fact, in Juliette, the heroine is the one in control, causing pain to countless men. While in 120 Days, men and women are treated equally and are on the same level when it comes to BDSM.

As a kinkster myself, the horror I have in the descriptions of the Marquis de Sade’s writings is not in the horrific acts (Your kink isn’t my kink and all that), it’s the sheer lack of consent. But he had no idea some in the future would consider him a “father” of BDSM. Essentially he holds no responsibility for setting an example for those of us who would follow him.

History is most often told from a very vanilla, very proper perspective, as it should be. What would the Marquis de Sade’s story be if it was told from a non-judgemental perspective? By someone who looks past the BDSM, degradation, and pain (or at least doesn’t judge the acts themselves as wrong or evil)? How would his story change?

Kayla Lords is a freelance writer, sex blogger, and a masochistic babygirl living the 24/7 D/s life. Follow her on her website or on Twitter @Kaylalords.

What's your opinion on the ever-controversial Marquis de Sade?  Misunderstood genius or misogynist? Let us know in the comments below or on the Fetish.com forum


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