Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 403–416 | Cite as

Sadistic Offender or Sexual Sadism? Taxometric Evidence for a Dimensional Structure of Sexual Sadism

  • Nicholas LongpréEmail author
  • Jean-Pierre Guay
  • Raymond A. Knight
  • Massil Benbouriche
Original Paper


Severe sexual sadism is a disorder of sexual preferences that focuses on humiliation and domination of the victim, sometimes causing grievous injury or death. Because offenders with high levels of sadism represent a risk to both reoffend and cause considerable harm should they reoffend, a diagnosis of sexual sadism has serious implications. The actual diagnosis of sexual sadism is fraught with problems (i.e., low reliability and validity) and exhibits poor consistency across assessments and studies (Levenson, 2004; Marshall, Kennedy, & Yates, 2002a). Various authors have proposed that sadism should be reconceptualized and have suggested that a dimensional approach may be more effective than a classificatory one for diagnosing sexual sadism (e.g., Marshall & Kennedy, 2003; Nietschke, Osterheider, & Mokros, 2009b). The dimension versus taxon question also impacts debates about the etiology and treatment of sadism. We assessed the taxonicity of sexual sadism by conducting a taxometric analysis of the scores of 474 sex offenders from penitentiary settings on the MTC Sexual Sadism Scale, using Meehl’s taxometric methods (Meehl & Yonce, 1994; Waller & Meehl, 1998). Findings indicated that sexual sadism presents a clear underlying dimensional structure. These results are consistent with earlier research supporting a dimensional assessment of sexual sadism and indicate that the diagnosis of sexual sadism should be reconceptualized. The theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.


Sexual sadism Taxometrics Dimensional approach Latent structure DSM-5 



The authors wish to thank Professor Andreas Mokros from the Department of Psychology at the University of Hagen for his methodological advice and for his help. Furthermore, the authors would like to thank Professor Eric Beauregard and Jean Proulx for their help.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. For this type of study formal consent is not required.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology, International Centre for Comparative Criminology, Philippe-Pinel InstituteUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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