Three studies assessed current understandings of sadomasochism (SM). In Study 1 questionnaires testing four academic views of SM were administered to individuals who self-defined as involved in SM. The psychoanalytic, psychopathology/medical model, radical feminist and escape-from-self perspectives were not supported. Study 2 examined "virtual" sadomasochism as a source of information about sadomasochists in the real life world. Cluster analyses indicated that real-life and virtual sadomasochists share unique sexual proclivities. Study 3 examined an alternative view that identifies power as the commodity of importance in SM play. Content analysis of online SM encounters indicated that both "top" and "bottom" role-players used several specific techniques to create a power differential. These studies suggest that, contrary to many academic theories, power, and not the giving and receiving of pain, is at the core of SM.