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4. When is pain not pain?

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This article is from the Bondage FAQ, by numerous contributors.

4. When is pain not pain?

Often people outside the scene don't see the appeal in any of the things
SM people do that look painful. What's enjoyable about being hit?
Where's the fun in getting bruised? Well, think about this. Have you
ever had intense sex and afterwards noticed bite marks on your neck of
which you had no memory? What happened was your love partner bit you,
HARD, hard enough that it bruised you, and all you felt was another jolt
of pleasure. If they bit you that hard when you _weren't_ having sex,
you would scream "OUCH!!!" because it would hurt a lot! But when you are
sexually aroused, your pain tolerance goes way up, and stimulation that
you usually feel as pain is now actually pleasurable.
This is common knowledge. Another usual explanation is that the brain
produces endorphins, natural opiates, to compensate for pain. You
actually get high off the sensation. The "runner's high" comes from
pushing the body painfully for so long that the endorphins kick in; the
rush you get after eating chili peppers comes from the same source; and
that's what makes it enjoyable for SM players to be whipped or spanked
or whatever. It's not pain, it's pleasure! All athletes that are
"hooked on exercise" are essentially masochists who enjoy stressing
their bodies to get that chemical response. So your friend who enjoys
being spanked may actually be a lot _less_ masochistic than your
average marathon runner! For just this reason, one well-known local
dominant uses pain as a reward, when she's topping a masochist. Pain as
a punishment can have the reverse effect, when your bottom _likes_
getting whipped! Endorphins are by no means The Single Explanation for
why masochists find intense sensation to be desirable. Not every
masochist floats away blissfully while being whipped, nor would they
all even _want_ to. The ways to experience intense sensation vary from
dreamlike rush to stinging ouch to irritating maddening burn to
soothing warmth to tears-in-the-eyes throbbing... and whatever the
sensation, there is likely someone who enjoys it. Also, pain is a
continuum. There are many different kinds of sensation that you can use
in your lovemaking--light scratches with fingernails, open-hand
spankings, pinches, squeezes... there are many many ways to touch
someone, and all of them can be enjoyable. Different people enjoy
different levels of sensation; "different strokes for different folks."
What may be a wonderfully sensual caress to one person may be
practically unnoticeable to another, and what may be a delightful
flogging to one person may be no fun AT ALL to someone else. Ongoing
negotiation is the secret to finding the happy medium. Some people
consider all this absurd. "How could you WANT pain?" The best answer I
can give is that some people simply seem to be calibrated differently.
They want _more_ sensation; they find the intensity thrilling and
exciting, whereas someone else might find it overpowering and agonizing.
People like different amounts of spice in their food; why not in their
sexual encounters? Each person experiences sensation differently, and if
you want more, there are safe ways for you to get it. Getting what you
want, safely, can make your life much happier. (For much more about
sensations and sensation play, I strongly recommend Pat Califia's book
_Sensuous Magic_. See the resource list at the end of this FAQ.)

 

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