Pain is a huge part of BDSM. We seem to talk about it all the time. But, language being the blunt instrument that it is, do we really understand each other when we say things like “hit me” or “i love pain”?
For some people, pain directly equates to “abuse” or “self harm”, and there is a core feeling of negativity surrounding it. For others, it is sizzling hot, a sexual turn-on, and possibly even spiritual or cathartic.
There are various different psychological and biological responses to pain. These different types of responses are what we engage with when we are discussing different shades of masochism.
Pain is an expressway to a space that exists outside of our physical world. It draws our attention to the present. Not necessarily the physical tangible present, but more of a philosophical, abstract, intangible concept of present.
When you had your first kiss, you may have felt like your mind stopped functioning mechanically and time slowed down. There is no past and future, and rationality, time and logic are suspended, and temporarily shuttles us into a space of present.
Pain does that, both negatively and positively. For instance, people who self harm desire a relief from emotional turbulence that can’t be resolved. A kid who falls down on the ground immediately cries and forgets about the toy they are playing with, because their attention is focused purely on “pain”.
Pain is a kind of shortcut to mindfulness: it makes us suddenly aware of everything in the environment. It brutally draws us into a virtual sensory awareness of the world, much like meditation.”
–Brock Bastian, psychologist
Ultimately, it’s “each to their own”. Every submissive has their own unique response to pain.
This article covers several approaches. Bear in mind that our own responses to pain change, just like our responses to life. We evolve and we do not necessarily fit neatly into boxes.
THE “BROKEN” RESPONSE
These individuals claim to love pain, because pain justifies their broken being. Some of us are dealing with mental health issues for various different reasons. Others just feel, for one reason or another, like they are broken psychological beings. Being shattered in the past, can make it very difficult to function in the normal everyday. The everyday life doesn’t engage and interact with someone who is psychologically broken.
BDSM practices of pain, allows the individual to feel “i exist in this world”. For some it is purely about exchange of pain sensation. The pain giver and the pain taker. For others it is part of a larger exhange of power. For example, between the Dom and the sub it is part of an intimate interpersonal relationship.
In a way, we all are irrational humans pretending to be rational to live in a logical world where everything is structured, ordered and systematic. We’re all slightly broken in some way or another. The “broken” response to pain isn’t a weakness. It’s no less valid that any other response. The truth is, we may think we are perfect, but we are not. There will come a time where we lose control over our emotions and it is OKAY to be broken and desire pain. Sometimes we just need to find another broken individual who’s broken shape fits into ours.
THE “PAIN IS PLEASURE” RESPONSE
Pain feels sexy, pain feels good. If that’s how you feel, you are not alone. Some of us like chilli or wasabi, some like bitter-gourd. There are so many kind of pain. Every whip feels different, there are rope burns, bondage ache, evil caning, the pinch of pegs, and the list goes on. Some people are turned on by floggers because they are heavy and thump the entire body, some prefer that slicing cutting sensation of a whip. Some prefer to prolong the experience in bondage for a soft, slow, boiling pain. Like food, every individual has different tastes.
THE “PAIN IS A SPACE” RESPONSE
The pain itself may not be the point. The point may be that pain can be the key that unlocks the door to a space. When we are in pain, our body releases chemicals to help us cope, and these chemicals can make us feel high. It’s the reason we like rollercoasters and bungy jumping. We want that rush of adrenalin and endorphins.
Many people will tell you they don’t like pain, or they don’t like to hurt themselves, but they like the space it takes them to. In BDSM it is often a shared journey. There is an intimacy in the space.
THE “PAIN AS SUBMISSION” RESPONSE
This response mainly focuses on TPE or power dynamics, and the pleasure feelings associated with sacrificing for the one we love. The pleasure is not derived from pain, and they don’t need pain to justify their broken psychological existence, nor do they desire pain as a space.
submissives focus on their Dominant. Pain is a way to show their devotion, submission and commitment. It is also a way to challenge their level of submission. An easy illustration would be something like this. Imagine a couple went for a trip, both of them facing a robbery with knife, and one of them moved their body as a shield to protect the other person, simply because of love. In the same way that one person might stand in front out of love, to shield another during a robbery, the sub will stay there, chest forward as his Dom/Master throws His whip. he bites his teeth, and tells himself, “i can do this, i am Your slave/sub, i love You, and i can take this for You, my Master”. This strengthens the TPE relationship.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Responses to pain change. Understanding and recognising different responses allows you to be aware of what is going on:
• For instance, the “broken” response is less sexual and often requires more aftercare
• The “pain is pleasure” response may have a limit, and once the pain goes beyond the threshold, the pain receiver may reject going further
• The “pain is a space” response may or may not be sexual, and may be more reliant on the setting, scene and other sensory input
• The “pain is submission” response is rooted in core concepts of TPE and stern commands and reminders of “I am Your Master” may help take the pain beyond perceived thresholds, and let Your Master enjoy his inner-Sadist.
• Wikipedia – Pain and Pleasure
• Psychologytoday – The Neurobiology of BDSM Sexual Practice
• Xeromag – Why Would you Want to Hurt Someone You Love?
• Huffingtonpost – The Connection Between Sexual Pain and Pleasure
• Friskybusiness – The Endorphin Levels in BDSM
• IFL Science – In Pursuit of Happiness: Why Some Pain Helps Us Feel Pleasure