“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
– International Association for the Study of Pain
As a sensation in general, pain (understandably) gets a bad wrap. If we accept the above definition, it’s the body’s way of letting us know that we’re doing something to it that it would rather we didn’t.
But, for some, feeling and/or inflicting pain isn’t always a negative experience. What about those of us who have a positive, healthy relationship with it? Who consider it to be an intrinsic part of our sexual selves and a consensual, loving relationship?
I have been trying to write this post for a while but it has proven to be rather difficult. Mainly because I’m not confident that I can fully articulate the nuances of erotic pain, it subtleties – its beauty – in any sort of way that will do it justice. Not to mention that I am fighting against the ridiculously outdated perceptions of sexual/erotic pain put forward in the late 1800s and early Twentieth Century by two well-known psychiatrists. (Yep, we’re still defining sadism and masochism according to theories that are now over 100 years old. How’s that for progress?)
So I’ve called in help – big time – in the form of four very awesome people, all of whom, like me, have a close relationship with sexual pain and view it rather differently to Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud …
THE RECEIVING END
That first touch of his hand or the flogger or the paddle is always a shock that makes me gasp for breath and often, for a split second, a little glimmer of hate for this moment will niggle at my brain. ‘Ow that hurts’ my knee jerk reaction but only for a moment. The smallest of moments, because then it is replaced with a heat, a strong powerful surge of chemicals that flood my nervous system but all too soon they begin to wane, disappearing alone my nerve endings and fluttering away to almost nothing until the next strike and then the next and onwards. My body greedily lapping up the sensation, riding on an ever building wave of heat and pressure making my muscles twitch and my skin throb. Nothing else exists in this moment, the pain (for want of a better word) is a consuming focusing point that dances through my body, emptying my mind of everything and making me feel. Everything is more when there is pain and yet everything is me. I am the centre of myself or should I say my body is. Alight with heat, hot electric pulsing heat that fills me up and consumes me, washing everything else away. I am raw, exposed, vulnerable and yet invincible. In that moment I feel so truly alive.
Words can’t really explain it, there is a risk of sounding like a complete lunatic, someone not quite balanced or else so full of woo woo type lovey dovey nonsense that you just can’t relate and my pain experience within kink won’t necessarily be yours. Like all physical reactions, they are unique to the person experiencing them. My orgasm isn’t like your orgasm and my ride on the adrenalin rush of pain is just that, mine. I have written about it so many times and yet it’s true strength and power eludes me here with words. Part of that is because our association with pain or what that word so often means in life is negative, trying to twist that with words into a positive moment always has to overcome that deep rooted association we all have that pain is a bad thing. Painful emotions, painful memories, painful experiences all register in our brain as a hard difficult moments and yet pain applied in such a way as to stimulate can bring about such amazing reactions and release.
So how did I discover pain as a positive erotic stimulus? The answer is someone showed me. He guided me to that moment and despite my protests and inexperience took control and spanked me and I mean really spanked me, leaving bright red handprints on my arse and a red hot throb between my thighs. I am so glad he did it, because in that moment I learned something completely new about myself and he opened a whole new world of sensation play to me. Pain in that moment isn’t really pain, it is something far more compelling and addictive than that. It is a strange and dark dance between pleasure and pain, that mingle together edging back and forth from one another but slowly coming closer together until the two are so blurred that you no longer know where one stops and the other starts. It is that moment, that pure physical experience, a loss of yourself into sensory overload, that I crave. For me pain, applied with a loving firm skilled hand is my drug of choice.
I understand that not everyone feels and experiences pain in the same way that I do and that the following will, to some, make about as much sense as a chocolate teapot.
As well as being a rather messy combination of bottom and submissive, I am a masochist. In the grand scheme of things, I believe myself to be a pretty lightweight one but, mild or not, erotic pain (amongst other things) defines a significant portion of my sexual self. Note the emphasis on the word ‘erotic’ here. To clarify, I do not find banging my shin against a table a turn-on. That just plain f*cking hurts and there’s nothing remotely sensual or enjoyable about that sort of experience. But tangle pain up with submission or bottoming, place it within a sexual context, and we’re suddenly talking about something entirely different.
Can I define exactly how it makes me feel to receive pain delivered with erotic intent? I can try. The best way I can think of to describe it is as an equation, the adding of certain things together to create a desirable sum:
sexual context + aroused brain + erotic pain = catharsis
Yep, for me, even though it is undoubtedly a sexual kink, receiving pain does not necessarily need to lead to a climax. Can pain cause me to have an orgasm? Not on its own. But it can certainly push me towards one or send me over the edge if it’s combined with more ‘standard’ forms of stimulation.
The type of pain is important, too. To get to that cathartic sum it must be of a sort that I enjoy and be delivered in a certain way. For example, I don’t like sharp sensations, but I love sting if I’m properly warmed up and experience it in bursts.
My perception of erotic pain itself is harder to describe. My brain registers that it hurts but then somehow transforms it into something else. You know when you lower yourself into bathwater that is way too hot but you gradually acclimatise until suddenly you’re sitting chest-deep and it feels wonderful and unbearable all at the same time? Well, that’s the closest analogy I can draw.
It would be pretty accurate to say that I crave erotic pain, in much the same way that other people might crave a bar of chocolate. It gives me both pleasure and satisfaction. Could I survive without it? Of course. But do I want to? No.
THOSE WHO GIVE
This is, I think a much more difficult subject for most of those who give pain as opposed to those that receive it. In my mind it is easier for most to understand how closely pain and pleasure are linked in the brain and therefore easier to understand how pain can be erotic. But what about those who find it erotic to give pain, how can hurting someone else give you pleasure? More importantly how can you not see that as a sickness?
After a great deal of thought on this matter I have decided that the problem with those questions is how they are phrased. The way that it make sense is that I am not “hurting” her. Hurt implies damage and I never injure her, what I do is give her pleasure through the controlled application of pain. That turns her on, and it turns me on too.
It is not just the moments of delivery that make it erotic, but all the moments afterward as well. When she rushes off to see the marks that I have left on her body, when she sits down and winces, when I grab her bottom and she groans, all of that turns me on.
Now to the part that is a bit darker. How it can work for me with the right person and consent. I have the opportunity to let a bit of the primeval part of me loose just a little. I get to express the strength of being a man to hold her down and use her as I desire, to bite and hit and mark. This doesn’t mean that I lose control, quite the opposite. I have to keep a tighter rein on what I am doing because there is a greater chance of things going wrong. It is the dichotomy of being Dom. I can express that aggressive imperative that still lives within us all… But I need to keep it from spiralling into darkness. That is why it is never done in anger, not even when she is being punished. All that we do together is done with love, complete consent and explicit communication. We all have that dark side within us and together she and I get to explore and learn that part of ourselves together with smiles and tears and passion. That makes it a journey worth taking.
My introduction to erotic pain was through Jane and her interest in it. Personally speaking, I don’t find being on the receiving end of it a turn-on, nor do I consider myself to be a sadist. But I do find dominating Jane very erotic and arousing – and because it is a hot button for her, pain plays a big part in that process. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I don’t find actual pleasure in giving pain for pain’s sake, as a sadist would, I love her reaction to it. It turns her on, and her being turned on turns me on.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of doing things that were fundamentally going to ‘hurt’ Jane when we first started exploring her masochistic side, despite the fact that she wanted me to and had given her consent. But as time has gone on, that’s definitely changed – mainly because I better understand her reactions to erotic pain and love the way she responds to it. I’m also far more confident in my ability to ‘read’ her, because experience and communication have taught me what she wants, what she needs, and what I need to do to get her there. I have absolutely been in charge of the pace of exploration, though. That’s partly a the control thing, but has also been driven by my need to be confident in my judgement and that everything we do is safe.
It’s fair to say that Jane and my experiences with her, have turned the way I would normally think about pain on its head; in an erotic, consensual context, I think it is about power exchange, the brain, and a certain level of release more than anything else. Yes, finding pleasure through pain will be outside of ‘the norm’ for a lot of people but for us, it is something that’s a fundamental part of what I consider to be a healthy, loving relationship.
As a Dom with a sadistic streak a mile wide, my take on pain is rather … complicated.
First, I think some clarification is in order. I am not a ‘sexual sadist’ as described clumsily in modern psychology in reference to serial killers or the like. I’m nothing of the sort. These persons are truly dangerous in that they are incapable of deriving pleasure without inflicting terrible pain (and often death) on others. They have no empathy for their victims, and seek to inflict this pain on others solely to fulfill their own selfish desires. I’ve simplified things greatly here, but I needed to make sure that that was clear, as some people are frightened by the very word ‘sadist’.
I am a ‘sadist’ when you define the word as someone who enjoys, takes pleasure in, giving pain to a woman who wants said pain. The woman must consent, must enjoy that pain – otherwise, it’s not going to ever happen. That consent is paramount and non-negotiable, and is the key to everything regarding sadism/masochism — at least as I define it.
Pain, to me, can all be boiled down to two ingredients: sensation and control. The attraction to pain for a sane sadist – a label I would apply to myself – is that it can be used to overwhelm the sub/masochist with sensation. Many masochists report that the pain transforms itself into something else. Perhaps it’s the work of endorphins, or perhaps it’s something deeper, more conscious on the sub’s part? I suppose nobody will ever know, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.
For me, the pain must be given in a sexual context; Jane’s example of a shin bash being utterly non-sexual was a wonderful example. As in so much else, context is everything. There is a world of difference between scalding your hand on hot water, and having your ass roasted by a hard spanking. Yes, both involve serious pain, but the context renders them two sensations that couldn’t be more different as experienced by the recipient.
The control aspect comes into play in the context of Dominance and submission. Part of the control a Dominant may choose to exert concerns whether or not he will give his sub pain, be it as a punishment for some infraction of their “rules”, or simply pain given both for his pleasure, and for her pleasure at being compelled to undergo said pain. Deciding when, where, and in what form his sub feels this pain is one of the aspects of D/s that is rarely spoken of in frank terms, but one I suspect is an undercurrent in many, if not most, D/s relationships.
When a Dom decides his sub shall have a spanking, it is not merely the physical pain of the punishment that she may crave and fear in equal measure, but the control he’s exerting upon her in making her endure the pain of the spanking holds its own separate, yet intertwined, attraction for her.
He’s compelling her to expose her naked flesh to his gaze, surrendering her body for both his pleasure and hers. She’s submitting to his will, and accepting his right to give her both pain and (if she’s a good girl) pleasure. In a sense, pain itself is actually subordinate to the real appeal of the entire D/s dynamic: the unequal power relationship and its implied and explicit exercise of control. Pain in the D/s relationship is really a tool, a way to make her experience overwhelming sensation, a means to compel, to punish, or even, to reward.
For the subs/masochists brave enough to embrace those sensations, those adventurous souls who are ready to take that journey, it can be a magical trip indeed!
*An enormous and heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Molly Moore (Molly’s Daily Kiss, @Mollysdailykiss), DomSigns (@DomSigns), Trent Evans (Trent Evans Letters, @TrentEvansTales), and my husband, M, for taking the time to help me out with this post; I couldn’t have written it without them. Please, please do take the time to go and check their very excellent online selves out – in short, they rock!