I want to highlight this comment because I’m pretty sure it’s correct and I was wrong earlier:
I think you’re misreading Sartre on the relation between sex, masochism, and sadism. Masochism and sadism are distinct from sexual desire. They’re related attitudes towards the Other but by no means identical. Actually, Sartre’s definition of sexual desire is different from the two precisely because it involves mutuality: “desire is the desire to appropriate a body as this appropriation reveals to me my body as flesh.” (pg. 506 in Hazel Barnes’ translation) In other words, the masochist tries to be “just flesh” for the Other, the sadist tries to make the Other be that “just flesh.” Sexual desire pure and simple in Sartre slams those two together — the desiring subject tries to make the other flesh while experiencing himself as flesh.
Obviously, in day-to-day life, we tend to think of sadism and masochism in sexual terms, but I think, in Being and Nothingness, sexualized sadism and masochism would actually have to be some kind of “composite attitude” that would be neither purely desire nor purely sadism/masochism.
Anyway, I don’t know if that makes Sartre’s views that much more plausible. It certainly doesn’t make them less bleak. But I do think it’s unfair to him to say that he casts sex in such strict terms of dominance and sado-masochism.
I’ll admit to being a little out of my depth when it comes to Sartre, and perhaps for that reason I shouldn’t have been so quick to try and critically evaluate him. When I studied him in class, I found him maddeningly elliptical and counterintuitive, and he’s still not my favorite existentialist philosopher (although No Exit is excellent) by a long shot—but it’s true that I didn’t do him justice here. Thanks to N.A. for the catch.