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Pain

I had to vent. I’m friends with maledoms. A few of them. Lately their wives and girlfriends have been showing a lot of jealousy. They’ve made new rules, baiting remarks; I’ve made reassurances that ought to be unnecessary. “I just don’t see why they think I’m a threat. They do understand that their partners stay with them for a reason, right?”

“They’ve seen you play. They think that because you like more pain than they do, that you’re better at kink.”

That’s wrong. The conclusion is wrong: more masochistic does not mean better at kink. Want better at kink? Be awesome at knowing and communicating what you want and how to do it safely and well, from either side of the slash. That’s how you do better at kink. Which kinks you like and in what doses are all personal preference. There should be no value attached.

The underlying assumption is wrong. I like heavier impact than most, but there’s no reason to assume that means more pain.

Pain is not a simple response to stimulus. If you line up a dozen masochists in front of tennis ball launchers, hit them all with the same force over the same muscle, they will not rate the pain the same. Do this to the same masochist in different contexts, different moods, after exercise or after rest, s/he will not rate the pain the same.*

Part of this is the subjectivity of pain scales. Ask someone to rate their pain on a scale of 0-10, and two things happen: people exaggerate because they want to be taken seriously, and you realize that 10 (“the worst pain you can imagine”) varies a lot from person to person. I’ve experienced a lot of pain. Look at Hyperbole and a Half’s pain scale. A correctly administered injection usually just grazes over a 1. Having my cervix forcibly dilated was about an 8. Having part of my lip torn off by a dog bite was a 9 or 10. A long, heavy impact scene might hit a 6-6.5. Most don’t. Someone who’s never experienced higher thresholds of pain probably can’t imagine it. If my 6.5 is the most they’ve ever felt, they’ll call that a 10. This is perfectly legitimate; pain scales do not use objective units of measurement.

Beyond the subjectivity of the measurement, we also need to consider the subjectivity of our responses. A punch in a scene feels “ooh yes ow,” I lean into it, want more. An unexpected slap on the shoulder will be “ow! What’s wrong with you that hurt!” Less impact, leads to more of what a non-masochist would call pain. This can be true for a non-masochist in other ways as well. Exercise hurts, but the context convinces us that it’s a good pain, a type of reward. Getting a piercing or tattoo is also somewhat painful, but most of us sit quietly through that even though we’d cuss up a storm if we stepped on a roofing tack. This is in part because reward contexts extend dopamine signals to unrewarded stimuli. If pain is giving us something we want, it makes brain go happy place (I am good at science talk, right?).

We masochists know pain isn’t just one sensation. I said needles were barely a 1, right? But I hate-hate-hate needles. They freak me out. Needle play is “oh hell no” unless I can get a permanent piercing out of it because needles make Nic go to an on-edge and unhappy place. But if someone wants to whale on me with a steel pipe? Yes, please!

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, pain is an interpretation. The stimulus provides sensation, but you interpret that off-site to decide whether it tickles or stings or hurts; whether to cuss or giggle or moan. The same physical sensation feels very different if we want it, if our muscles are tense, if it reminds us of past trauma. This video does a good job of explaining the process.

So even if the king of crazy town were correct in thinking higher pain tolerance=more better at kink, the stimuli that cause pain are not the things that hurt. Your body is, and your nerves. Stimulus response is variable. This without even discussing nerve damage and sensitivity from a physiological standpoint–you wouldn’t call someone with CIPA the best-ever masochist because nothing hurts them, right? They’re not taking more pain. They’re taking zero pain.

I’m a masochist. The sensations I seek out do genuinely hurt. But it’s not just pain I’m after. It’s what that pain comes with. It’s the dopamine surge, it’s the exquisite ability to come out of my own head, it’s the connection to another person and the way we have to open up to each other. Pain is a route to this, and to the bruises (which I love). People who think it’s important to experience the most pain without concern for what that pain does for them seem to be rather missing the point.

*Oh my goodness. Please? I can do this for science?

(More about pain here. I love so many lines from this page.)

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,
  1. March 1, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    “If you line up a dozen masochists in front of tennis ball launchers, hit them all with the same force over the same muscle,”

    I realize this wasn’t your larger point, but can we make this happen please? Can we do some sort of a Kickstarter? Paypal? Something…?

    • March 1, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      I can run it past my university’s IRB but god only knows where to find a granting institution willing to fund this. I’d need a hell of a rationale…

  2. writingthebody
    March 3, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    What a great post…..so nice to see you here again….and yes you are right in all you say!

    • March 7, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Well hello there! Thank you!

  3. writingthebody
    March 3, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Reblogged this on writingthebody and commented:
    This is a great analysis of pain. I posetd on this theme a while ago, but I really like the way my dear Switch has put it here….
    My post is here – and I was intrigued then at the discussion it triggered….http://writingthebody.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/masochists-are-people-truly-and-we-have-feelings-really/

  4. March 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Reblogged this on I'm Not Anastasia and commented:
    This is one of the best write ups on the perception of pain that I’ve seen. I must have looked like a bobble head reading through it, I was nodding so much.

    I have also caught myself sharing in the “If I’m not hard core, if I don’t ‘take enough’, then I’m not ‘real'” school of thought. It is a seriously messed up way to gauge worthiness. I wonder how much of my pushing myself to take more is because I truly want more and how much is because I need to be ‘hard core’.

    • March 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

      It is a messed up way to gauge worth, and it’s not as though any of us needs yet another thing to worry about in terms of sexual adequacy; the idea that we need to be the perfect partner whether we enjoy it or not is just awful. If you’re worrying about being masochistic enough or thin enough or making the “right” sounds or whatever in bed, how much fun can it be? We do deserve to enjoy sex and kink, right?

  5. mrmodigliani
    March 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Mmmmm

  6. annabianca2014
    March 4, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Reblogged this on Finding Me and commented:
    Very interesting

  7. March 24, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Yes and yes and yes some more. I love receiving pain in a BDSM context. I hate it when my chronic migraine acts up badly – although I have, over the years, learned how my migraine pain scale is calibrated. I detest it when I have other physical (medical) pain, like my current hip issues, as I’m always asked what my pain is on a scale, and I have no way of being able to tell if my pain on that scale is a) an accurate measure for me, and b) any help when telling them! Either way, this is a great post, and I’m delighted you wrote it :)

    xx Dee

    • March 24, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      Exactly! I love the kinky pain, but back pain from mopping is just awful. I also have some peripheral nerve damage–limited/intermittent pain sensation in my feet–so it seems ridiculous that folks are impressed that I can just walk all day in stilettos. (“Your feet must be killing you!” “Nope, don’t hurt a bit.”) Pain isn’t a thing shoes do to feet, it only exists in the neural pathways. Kind of awesome when you think about it.

  1. March 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

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