Just what is it about some kinds of physical pain that has some of us writhing in pleasure?
We all know that pleasure releases chemicals, like dopamine, into your body to give you that blissed-out feelgood sensation but did you know that pain also releases these endorphins? Scans on the brain during orgasm have shown that both the pleasure and pain areas in the brain are stimulated. So if these areas are so closely linked, can pain really cross into pleasure and do some people feel it (or perhaps try it) more keenly than others? Perhaps this brain chemistry does go a long way to providing an explanation—during pain, the brain will also release pain killers such as adrenalin and anandamide (name derives from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means joy, bliss, delight). Sounds like a dream cocktail to me!
That feel-good pain—perhaps like finally itching that scratch—if you’ve ever had a midge bite, you’ll know the torture of keeping from scratching yourself to shreds but if you give in to the temptation, wow it sure hurts, but is it a good hurt? Can pain be euphoric?
Personally, I find it very hard to allow pain to wash over me without snapping back in utter fury. My fight and flight response is very acute—if I get a sudden smack on the bum or bump my hip into the side of a table for example, I absolutely Hulk Up. I can feel my ‘attack is the best form of defence’ response rising at
even the thought of a thrashing to release an orgasmic state. However, having said that, I have definitely felt a certain eroticism with slow pain I knew was coming. For example a ‘snakebite’ the art of taking an opponent’s (or lover’s) forearm in both hands and twisting hard in opposite directions back and forth to cause a burning sensation. Now those, I love. I can understand the erotic build-up of that particular
scenario. The heat, the apprehension, the knowledge that it could get much sorer and the ultimate fear that your skin might be ripped clean off! Yes, I get that could sound off-putting to some but it is a start for me to understand and make sense of seeking out that feeling for a sexual or pleasurable thrill. Actually just thinking about it has my juices flowing a little bit… so now I think I can understand a little more of how a slow build-up could be arousing for me. But when does full-on pain tip into pleasure or euphoria?
I’ve been to a few BDSM nights here and there and had my fair share of spanking but I have to be in a very particular headspace for that to happen (usually involving a couple of shandies) and it’s been more of a ‘let’s have a go’ style thing rather than a prolonged affair where I’m taken to new heights.
There are some people for whom pain is an intrinsic part of their pleasure experience.
In BDSM pain can be used to bring people to the euphoric state of subspace—many people who identify as submissive use pain to achieve that place.
I talked to two people who seek out pain as pleasure to find out just what it is that gets them off, and why nothing beats a beating.
I asked Missy, a sex blogger and lifestyle submissive to explain how pain and pleasure work for her.
“I have always enjoyed sensations and experimented with ones which others found painful when I was younger. I also self-harmed and used that pain as a way of controlling and managing my emotions. I would have said at that point that I was a masochist but I have learnt since exploring BDSM, that although I have masochistic tendencies, I am not a true masochist in the kink sense of the word.
I don’t translate extreme levels of pain into pleasure, I actually translate them into my own ability to take control and therefore it can be counter-productive to letting go as part of my submission. I have come to see that my responses to managing high levels of pain outside of kink, pain med free labours with each of my children for example, have meant that my psychology inhibits the letting go with pain that I would need for it to be a shared thing with my partner. Essentially it pushes me away from him and not into him.
However, pain which is sensation it is enjoyable for me. The rhythmic tap of the cane on my bottom, the pinch and pull of my nipples, the slight sting of the pussy flogger all seek to add to the pleasure I am feeling. These sorts of things can be built up slowly to a level where they would not normally be tolerated simply as sensations, but I will reach a point where I need additional pleasure to stop me taking control and withdrawing from the feeling so that it doesn’t hurt me.
This is something that we have worked on as a couple. My partner knows my limits and reads my body. By keeping me on the edge of my pain threshold, even as it grows and changes, he keeps the experience pleasurable for me. Nipple clamps which seem to slice through me on their own will dull to a pleasurable sting when he touches me, and a prolonged and heavy impact session will allow me to relax and drift closer to him through the use of the wand.
Experiencing the sensation as pleasure means that I let go and my mind is free from anything except enjoying the ecstasy. I feel like at that moment all that I want and all that I am is the pleasure that he is making me feel. The elements of pain that he uses seem to enhance the pleasure, and together they push me beyond the place where my mind would usually take control of the experience, protecting itself by trying to stop it.
The trick, I think, is to be able to find that place where pleasure meets pain and they merge for you. As I get used to the level of each stimulation and adjust, it is increasingly taking me beyond the usual tolerances my body has. It feels like a little bit too much of this, and then a little bit too much of that, and on and on it goes until I lose the ability to make any rational sense of what I am feeling, and just roll from one to the other in a state of what could probably be described as delirium.
Our play tends to be quite sexual so there is always an element of sexual play, even in a spanking scene. Being Dominated is one of my kinks so I find an over the knee spanking an erotic thing. I also enjoy humiliation play, so that alone could allow me to let go and relax into him. For heavier pain play, however, we would always get to the point that sexual pleasure was introduced, either simultaneously or by alternating between episodes of pain tempered by episodes of pleasure. Both of these can lead to the sort of over-stimulation which allows me to let go and give up control.
I think that ultimately for me, while I know some of the things that we do are about causing pain, I see this as pleasurable because that is how we use it. The pain combines with and enhances the other sensations at work and it becomes one with them. If it is too harsh then it could push me out of my submissive headspace but if it is right then it will pin me there and will send me closer and closer to my partner who is orchestrating and controlling my body through his management of the stimulation.”
This explanation of the different types of pain definitely struck a chord with me as I mentioned before. And it’s to do with setting the intention of the pain—being able to switch into pleasure and abandoning yourself to the sensation, riding the wave of euphoria without the fear of pain as actual harm. It’s a tricky one to get right, fighting against your own deeply natural defences and allowing them to open up to something else. It demands a deep level of trust between parties and something I witnessed earlier this year.
I was lucky enough to be invited to an exclusive performance. Well perhaps performance isn’t quite the right word—I was invited to watch a live sex show.
And I was nervous.
The theme of the show was watching a gentleman come undone at the hands of his dominatrix.
I was nervous. It felt a little clandestine. Going to a gentleman’s room in a hotel to watch a sex show? I wasn’t sure who would be there and if it was secret so I was glad when I met some others in the lift who helped ease my nerves. We were handed champagne on arrival by B and the room was full of familiar faces, people I know from sex blogging and those I admire online. I was a little starstruck to see Mistress Elita looking every bit as elegant and commanding as she seems online, sipping orange juice while we were getting giggly on champagne. She was of course, here to work.
We were mingling and chatting and didn’t notice Elita slipping out the room. We certainly noticed her re-emergence. Everyone fell silent when she came back in. Dressed in heels and black lingerie, stockings and all, long hair cascading down her back, she strode over to B and bade him strip. He did. The energy was thick and static, the atmosphere charged. My nerves rose and a friendly hand reached out and gave mine a squeeze. I was grateful. This was very real.
When B stood facing the wall wearing a leather jockstrap, Elita leant in behind him and pinched his nipples so hard he yelled out, groaned. It didn’t sound like pleasure, it sounded like torture. Again and again, his flesh was twisted in this goddess’s grip. I let my gaze flit to the other observers, wondering which role each of them imagined themselves in. I remember the fluttering of his stomach, the sound of his breath, ragged and gasping as the action moved from pinching to spanking, then Elita reaching for a flogger and sweeping it across B’s back. With a flick of the wrist, she administered the sting of a hundred tiny tails. We watched on as heat and colour rose on his flesh. The sounds were still coming. Elita was utterly commanding, an image of perfection and poise.
There was one moment when she took B and turned him to face us—making him look us in the eye as part of a humiliation. He made contact with his gaze but he was somewhere else completely. His look was at once tortured, pleading and vulnerable, he was showing us a side of him that he’d only shown to his dominatrix before. My heart leapt. It was a moving moment, I couldn’t tell by his expression if he was happy or turned on, or even enjoying himself. Equally, I couldn’t tell if he wasn’t. Elita caressed and stroked him, making gentle unintelligible noises and whispers in his ear.
They moved through to the bedroom where even more items of torture were laid out. Whips, floggers, straps were all used. There were moments where the rest of the world fell away and all I was aware of was the tip and sting of the end of a crop or whip. This was all in the build-up to the finale. A caning. Mistress Elita talked gently to B, soothing and reassuring before she took the cane and held it high as we watched in silence. Thwack! B’s body clenched and tensed and released with a quiver as the first stripe bloomed on his buttocks. It was so strange to see this happen right in front of me. I was observing as if from afar or through a screen, I’m not sure my brain could handle this level of intensity. The growly shrieks coming from B and the reassuring mewls and cooing from Elita added to the rich tableau.
Afterwards, we chatted and mingled drinking more champagne and snacks. It was like a dream. When B came through fully clothed, he looked different. Relaxed, high, on a different plane. It felt like, that although we’d been invited to watch him become ‘undone’ at the hands of his mistress, the very opposite was true.
Now how, you might ask, did I ever get an invitation like that? It all happened back while attending Eroticon sex blogging conference. I follow a blog called Pain as Pleasure and B, the author of the blog, shares his kinky experiences. His writing is honest, sexy and this blog is his way of understanding and explaining his journey into BDSM and Pain as Pleasure. In this post, B describes the experience of caning.
It seems that it’s not so much the caning itself that brings pleasure but the anticipation, build-up, then the bliss afterwards. The bit that’s left when you’ve been battling with every ancient defence system in your amygdala. It’s a fascinating read.
He very kindly agreed to talk to me about his relationship with pain and pleasure.
There’s a beautiful phrase in this post where B describes ‘the endorphin induced boundless calm’. I asked B if it is these after sensations that he seeks, the pain being something that has to be endured for the rewards, or do the kicks come from the pain itself?
“Either can be true: Often, if I get in the right headspace the experience of the pain is pleasurable, the sharp sensation, the challenge of it, the way my body reacts to it. I love the feeling of being able to control all those forces and manage them—not that it doesn’t hurt (a cane is always a serious undertaking) but the feeling of getting on top of it, if I do, is incredibly powerful.
But for me, the pain never happens in isolation and it’s difficult to analyse my experience of it without considering the context. The Mistress is there too. This beautiful powerful woman is causing the pain and deriving her own pleasure from doing so. This sets up an incredibly powerful interaction between us that is such a deep experience that I will let myself be taken beyond the point where the pain is pleasurable, in order to experience that interaction and the feeling that I am pleasing Mistress.
However, I have let myself be hurt quite badly because the bit of me that was still capable of rational thought knew that those “after” feelings would make it worth it. Somewhere in the blog, I quoted a mountain guide who I once did a ski tour within hideous questions “With risk sports, enjoyment isn’t always available, on those days, we make to with a sense of achievement” I find that powerful thought.
The Eroticon event
I still find myself back in the accounts of that evening. In a way, it marked the culmination of three-and-a-half years of seeing Elita, and all the things I’ve learned about myself through doing so. The final part of what she wrote perfectly captured what it meant to me to be so exposed and vulnerable in front of my friends, to show the very core of me in public after hiding it for 50 years.
“This felt more like standing by his side whilst he stepped over a line, into a world where he no longer has to be ashamed of who he is, and what he likes. And I’m so excited for him to stay on this side of the line, with his friends standing with him.”
Beforehand, I imagined that evening might be a bit of fun and that people might like to see Elita at work (who wouldn’t?) but it was an experience with so many layers for me and, judging by the writing, for many of those present. I love that I have such a great pictorial and written record.
What is pain? What is pleasure? Is it always sexual?
Certain types of pain are instantly and almost always immediately pleasurable for me. Having my nipples squeezed, being slapped on my arse, a flogger on my back mmmmmm (where was I??? Oh yes…). Other things too. However, I hate the dentist as much as the next person. I think different people are able to eroticise different kinds of pain. For me some types of pain are always erotic, others require the erotic context.”
To find out more about B’s journey into Pain as Pleasure – check out his blog perhaps starting with this brief history
I find the whole thing fascinating and certainly in researching this article I feel that pain is definitely a huge part of unlocking ways to pleasure but there’s one thing that really struck me—the complexity and trust of those involved in administering and receiving of that pain. That deep respectful relationship that means one can open up in the first place to voice those desires. The need to be at the mercy of someone else, to give over to them completely and put your trust in them that they will hurt you, good, is incredible. Knowing that you will be taken to the heights you seek while being in such a vulnerable position, must be part of the euphoria. That is one hell of a human connection, I’m in awe.