“I enjoy getting my a— beaten until it bruises. It turns me on a lot.”
This statement isn’t strange in the kink community, but it can sound rather extreme for those who haven’t been initiated into the rituals and activities of BDSM (i.e., Bondage/Discipline-Dominance/submission-Sadism/Masochism).
“How can you enjoy being spanked like that? It hurts! Why do masochists like pain and rough sex?”
Most masochists would answer something like, “I don’t know why. It just turns me on.”
Not content with this answer, we decided to look a little deeper into the mechanism that can turn pain into an orgasm.
The Mechanisms of Noinceptors (aka Pain Receptors)
Pain perception, also called nociception, is the mechanism that triggers a response to potentially harmful stimuli through the nervous system.
Pain can have three sources:
- Chemical (like an acid burn)
- Mechanical (like crushing or cutting)
- Thermal (hot and cold)
Any of these three stimuli strong enough to activate the nociceptors (pain receptors) of the affected area will trigger the transmission of the stimuli to the brain. The reception and processing of the stimuli occur in different areas. The brain then gives you an impulse to move or do something to avoid or stop the pain.
So, when you put your hand on a hot stove, the nerves in your skin send a message to your brain to tell it that it’s burning. Your brain screams “Burning!” and you remove your hand as a result. That’s generally how it works.
Pretty simple, right? Except it isn’t.
Pain and Neurotransmitters
The way pain is processed by the brain also triggers other things in your body. Most importantly for our discussion, endorphins, serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine can all be released following a painful and/or stressful stimulus. These hormones act as an analgesic (painkiller) and stimulate the fight-or-flight response. So, when you get hurt, your brain makes its own Tylenol and gives you a boost of energy to fight your attacker or run away.
Remember how chemical cocktails influence our sexual and romantic behaviour?
By receiving pain, you are activating a lot of those same chemicals, especially serotonin and adrenaline. In other words, the same chemicals that turn you on when you’re sexually aroused flow into your body when you’re being hurt.
How do we actually get pleasure from pain?
If we follow this train of thought, applying painful stimuli the right way activates nice, floaty, pleasurable hormones in the brain. If the pain is applied gradually and for an extended period of time, you can get someone very high on endorphins.
In the BDSM world, this is called “subspace.”
Here’s how it works.
At first, the pain level is low: a nice flogging on the upper back usually gets people nicely started. It doesn’t hurt a lot, but there is a little sting. It feels a bit like pushing your body through a tough workout.
Then, when the intensity goes up, it can really hurt. It may hurt to the point of cringing or even screaming. Somehow, it’s bearable, because you already have a little flow of endorphins going. When you’re tied up and can’t fight or flee, the rush of adrenaline is also quite a rush.
As this pain is administered, there’s a point at which you start resisting. This is when the adrenaline has kicked in. You might start hissing, cursing loudly, kicking, trying to escape my bonds (If you like to be tied up when you get beaten). The pain rises to a peak, and so does your resistance.
Then, somehow, you give in.
Once another burst of endorphins floods your brain, you relax into the pain, and it suddenly — and literally — turns into pleasure. Your mind has found a new way to cope: by turning pain sensations into pleasure sensations you can withstand the “torture” longer.
Nobody is quite sure how pain can literally turn into sexual arousal. It may be one of the ways that the body interprets the sudden rush of endorphins because it is so similar to “typical” sexual arousal. What we do know, though, is that masochism is no longer considered pathological by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM 5— the bible of mental health-related disorders) and that masochism that’s expressed in a healthy and sane way doesn’t require intervention.
So, if you find that, after exploring some kink, you’re definitely getting a kick out of being creatively hurt by kind sadists, there’s nothing wrong with you.
Your body is reacting to what’s happening to you with hormones and chemicals that make you feel good.
You should enjoy every second of it.
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