This contribution presents a reconstruction of the way the concept of sadism was introduced and anchored in psychoanalytic metapsychology. It focusses on the first two editions (1905 and 1910) of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Freud’s singular indebtedness to Krafft-Ebing is emphasized. Subsequently, it is argued that Freud’s selective reading of Krafft-Ebing is determined by his model of hysteria. Freud seems unable to give an adequate account of sadism in his Three Essays and in his later work, sadism remains a conceptual “problem child” becoming an oversimplified passe-partout concept used to discuss the theme of human aggressiveness.