Essays

Pleasure of Pain

Pain internalizes the here and now so that other problems become secondary. You could see it as a meditation to meet the body with the mind on an expanded level.

By Anne Lomberg on December 5, 2023

Also available in German
Lust am Schmerz

Throughout their lives, many people discover certain sexual tendencies that stand out, let’s say, from the mainstream experience. These tendencies are usually unleashed by fantasies, stories, visual stimuli, or even encounters, so the curiosity to live such an experience becomes ever greater. BDSM is probably one of the most well-known sex practices, which has fascinating and, at the same time, off-putting components, at least if you realize that you feel particularly comfortable in this terrain and don’t know how to integrate special preferences into everyday life; since BDSM lovers are partly stigmatized when it comes to finding pleasure in masochistic and sadistic types of play. Prejudices such as “They’re all traumatized otherwise, they wouldn’t let themselves be beaten or feel satisfaction when they torture someone” are, in my opinion, just excuses to avoid having to deal with the matter in greater depth. Because one thing is certain, psychological and/or physical pain can be a real source of pleasure, even a booster, and acting out as a self-chosen submissive can trigger enormous feelings of freedom.

In this article, I would like to focus more on the role of the sub because they are the ones who perceive and enjoy the pain on their own body, while the dom or dominatrix enjoys the infliction of pain.

Trauma and pain

The desire for pain can be based on a traumatic history, but it is not a basic requirement. Very early on, psychosexual development is in full swing as a result of events in childhood, even if we can’t remember anything about them. These events do not always have to be associated with sexual abuse. Still, they can be psychological triggers, such as a mother or father figure who was very dominant, absent, cold, or perhaps rejecting. As a result of these painful experiences, which may linger unconsciously or consciously, we embark on a journey, one we call Identity search, to explore and develop our personality. BDSM offers an ideal playful setting to reconstruct the events associated with a traumatic experience, namely to overcome past traumas by reliving actions under controlled and safe conditions. Pain, whether physical or psychological, is, therefore, a catalyst that is perfect for confronting trauma and learning to live with it instead of ignoring it.

As for the role of the sub, we often think that she takes the passive part and all the pain and humiliation, but she is the one who controls what happens and what doesn’t happen during the sessions. A feeling of empowerment that can have an incredibly healing effect if she or he is aware of the traumatic experiences and has thus discovered an outlet to deal with it in a playful setting. But be careful because, for some, the traumatic events may be too extreme, so pain experiences can also have the opposite effect; instead of freedom and pleasure, a feeling of emptiness and lovelessness is added that reactivates the trauma as such. In a protected setting, boundaries are respected, and trust is restored, which is particularly important for people who have had a traumatic experience. The pain helps to feel better or to feel again.

Pain and pleasure are neurologically linked

There is a close connection between pleasure and pain in the brain. Brain researchers have discovered that pain also activates pleasure centers. Endorphins and dopamine are released, which leads to an intoxicated state. Incidentally, endorphins are the same hormones that are released during sex. Both sensations, pain and pleasure, activate the reward system; even if they feel completely different, they are only slightly different from a neurological point of view.

Apart from the scientific facts, there are many other reasons to use pain as an outlet and pleasure tool. I have already mentioned some of them, but another major advantage is the distraction from psychological stress. Pain internalizes the here and now so that other problems become secondary. You could see it as a meditation to meet the body with the mind on an expanded level. It is also not uncommon for successful people who feel a lot of pressure to slip into the submissive role in order to relinquish control for once in their lives. Some BDSM practitioners mention that dealing with pain helps them to relax in other areas.

Establishing pain in relationships

Openness and communication are the be-all and end-all for satisfying sexuality in relationships. Silence, on the other hand, encourages lies, insecurities, and distance. That’s why it’s so important in any relationship to discuss your sexual preferences with your partner, regardless of whether they involve BDSM practices or not. Since a fetish always deviates from the norm and is socially stigmatized, it is, of course, not so easy to be totally open about it. However, there are now many BDSM forums, events, and even dating apps to fill this gap and make it socially acceptable.

It doesn’t mean that if you desire certain kicks, you immediately slip into a BDSM role. Anyone who enjoys bondage games and candle wax is not necessarily keen to live out this practice permanently. It’s about remaining curious, developing yourself alone and with your partner, not judging them for certain sexual tendencies, but remaining open and listening. If pain is desired, it is important to do this consensually. This means setting boundaries, naming a safeword, and adhering to clear agreements. This shared experience can then be wonderfully fulfilling and further strengthen the bond between partners.

Anyone who feels the need to use pain as a pleasure tool in their sex practices is by no means abnormal; quite the opposite. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that pain does have its justification and can lead to a more fulfilling existence, although to what extent varies from individual to individual.

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