Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This post discusses my personal sex life, extensively, and in quite a bit of detail. If that’s the sort of thing you don’t want to read, then you really, really don’t want to read this one. Trust me on this.
This piece originally appeared in the Blowfish Blog.
Why does pain feel good?
Why, for some people, under some conditions, do certain kinds of stimuli that my body would normally process as unpleasant get processed as pleasant instead? Not just pleasant, but hot and dirty and intensely desirable?
Iâve been a practicing masochist (and sadist) for so long that I sometimes forget what an odd thing this is. Pain is pretty much by definition the body saying No. Why is it that in certain conditions, with certain kinds of pain, my body says Yes instead?
Not just Yes, but More, Harder, Please Don’t Stop?
And I am talking about pain. Not “intense sensation.” Sometimes I’ll experience a mild spanking or a sweet flogging as more like a massage or something. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about P-A-I-N Pain, the kind of pain that my body is screaming No to at the exact moment it’s screaming Yes.
It’s a little odd. What is it about?
First, let me state for the record: Iâm just talking about myself here. I’m not proposing a Unified Field Theory of Sexual Masochism. I’m trying to figure out what’s true for me, on the assumption that it might be true for some other people as well.
Okay. So what’s this about?
A lot of it is about context, of course: emotions, fantasies. If you have fantasies about power, subservience, force, what have you, pain can intensify the fantasy and make it more immediate, more believable. It’s the enforcer of the power, the reminder of who’s in charge.
But for me at least, the fantasy isn’t necessary. I can get off on a spanking in a completely egalitarian, “this is the two of us doing things together that we both get off on” context, with no power games even in my head. The context does need to be sexual — if someone hit me across the ass with a cane out of nowhere, I’d experience it as purely unpleasant badness, and I’d be pissed — but it doesn’t need to be about subservience or power or any of that. It can be about two (or more) equal people having sexy fun.
So there’s clearly a big component of this that is purely physical: a physiological crossing of the wires so deeply ingrained that I sometimes think it’s genetic.
Of course you’ve got your endorphins, the natural feel-good opiates produced by your brain when you’re in pain, etc. etc. But that doesn’t completely explain it, either. Endorphins are why a spanking or whipping will generally make me high and happy over the course of a scene. They don’t explain why the moment of pain itself — the instant the lash hits my skin — gets translated into ecstasy.
I think there’s something else going on as well, something that works both in my body and my heart.
It’s that pain gets through.
I can be a fairly distant person: frightened of strangers, lots of defenses and barriers, more comfortable alone than in a crowd, more comfortable expressing myself and connecting with people at a distance (hence the writing. and double-hence the blogging!), with a powerful need to withdraw into my head dozens of times a day. Intimacy and connection are hard for me, and during intense moments of intimacy I have a tendency to get distracted, space out, change the subject, crack a joke. Not that uncommon, I suppose.
And I’m also a person who has a hard time being here now. My inner chatterbox is always going a mile a minute, fretting over the past and making elaborate algorithms for the future (“if she says X, I’ll say Y; if B happens, I’ll do C”). Living in the moment, being completely present and conscious in the here and now: not my specialty. Again, probably not that unusual.
Even during sex. I love vanilla sex too, and once I get lost in the moment of my tongue on a clit or of fingers on mine, I can get well and truly lost. But it takes more concentration for me to get there, more conscious effort to stay in the moment and not space out or get distracted by some weird mental tangent.
Which brings me back to pain.
There is no distraction from the lash of a cane. There is no spacing out, no changing of the subject, no cracking of jokes. The pain brings me into the here and now more effectively and reliably than almost any other experience: more than music, more than exercise, more than art. (The only other thing that really compares is food — and it has to be astonishingly good food.)
And the pain reminds me that there’s another person out there. The moment that the lash lands on my skin is the moment that another person is touching me. And it’s a touch that gets all the way through. It’s a touch that cuts through my defenses and distractions and the ceaseless running commentary in my head, to land directly in my heart. It’s a touch that makes me know, just for a microsecond, that we are both here now, and that weâre here together.