Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Pain is an intense physical sensation. It has evolved as a warning – the body’s way of telling you that you are in danger or something is wrong. That burns, this is broken, that is cut: you’d better do something about it, and fast! As well as more immediate dangers, pain is associated with chronic and acute illness: infection, dysfunction, cancer… Little wonder then that pain has ingrained negative associations. The fear of pain is deep within us all, which is why the threat of pain can make such an effective deterrent
This horror of pain is a rather low instinct and if I think of human beings I’ve known and of my own life, such as it is, I can’t recall any case of pain which didn’t, on the whole, enrich life.
But as an intense physical sensation separated from actual harm or illness, pain can be a liberating and enriching experience. Safe, sane SM is, I believe, a place to find out about yourself, to extend your experience of yourself. It’s a place to grow, to mature. It is also a place to play, to explore your psychology, dramatise your fantasies and face your demons.
I guess that if we think about it, we all know that we experience pain differently depending on context. Lying back in the dentist’s chair, your mouth wedged open, the slightest twinge becomes magnified in your mind. Playing a rough contact sport like rugby, with the adrenalin pumping and the focus on winning, you get kicked and mauled and thumped, and hardly notice until you see all the bruises in the bath after the game. SM Play can employ this phenomenon very effectively. A fast rough highly sexual encounter can be like contact sport, the rush of blood, an adrenalin surge and a rigid cock ensure the clamps squeezing your nipples or the belt raining blows on your ass are just aspects of a ferociously hot fuck. But tied up, naked, with a Top who knows how to heighten your sense of vulnerability and dramatise the threat of pain, then even the light scraping of you skin with the rough edge of a paddle will have you whimpering
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
Of course, the body only needs so much pain to know it’s time for action. After that, pain just gets in the way. The wounded hunter fleeing the sabre-toothed tiger was not helped by debilitating pain. So the body produces adrenalin to speed his escape, and later endorphins are released to subdue the pain. Endorphins are the body’s own euphoric pain-killers, giving you a high which can be subtle or intense depending on the level of pain and the nature of your own physiology. Play SM games with a slow build up of intensity and you stimulate the endorphins to flow, raising your tolerance to pain as the pressure is increased. There can be great subtlety and finesse to SM when a Sadist plays the rate of increase of painful stimuli against his perception of the build up of endorphins in the masochist’s bloodstream. Too slow and the scene remains unsatisfyingly mellow. Too fast and the endorphin release is not adequate for what is being dished out. Get it right and the pain is always just around the limit of what is tolerable, sliding over the edge and back in an exquisite interplay of pain and pleasure.
Punishment is another matter. Here the Top must administer as much severe punishment as possible BEFORE the endorphins kick in, and then ensure the severity of the beating is such that the dulling effect of the body’s opiates does not undo the serious discomfort he is working on the bottom. If there is a pleasure to a punishment scene (and in my personal experience there is) it is shortly after it is over, when the combination of an almighty endorphin rush and the intense sense of personal achievement at having made it through meet that wonderful calm you feel after you’ve bawled your eyes out with not a shred of shame or self-consciousness.
Personality is born out of pain. It is the fire shut up in the flint.
J B Yeats
Crossing your pain barrier is at the heart of SM. It is a heightened experience. It lets you know you’re alive and not trapped in some anodyne prescription for an uncritical consumerised comfort zone. It’s a way of resisting the inevitable group-think that pain should be feared, because the fear of pain can reduce you to less than you really are
The speed of crossing over and the duration spent on the dark, far side of your pain threshold is what distinguishes SM play from punishment. But all SM should involve some time in the ecliptic void of your own pain, just beyond what you would choose to find tolerable. It’s here, I believe, you come face to face with yourself, your fear of pain and your need for comfort, and meet the wilder child of your true nature. And, through that, there is a maturing and growing self-confidence. I have always found experienced masochists to have an enormous inner stillness and composure when you meet them socially. They have nothing to prove and little to fear. They’ve been there, they’ve endured it and they have survived.
It is a tremendous turn-on to have a masochist’s trust, to push him through his limits and share the intimacy of the moment when he faces his demons.