I read an article today on I Fucking Love Science (IFLS) about an interesting topic that reached out to me with its headline but failed to deliver in its content. Sorry IFLS, usually lady you wow me this time however you totally went somewhere I didn’t think it was going.
Anyway, the article in question is titled: In Pursuit of Happiness: Why Some Pain Helps Us Feel Pleasure. Feel free to read the article. I’ll be using some excerpts to make my case at least in a kinky way about using pain to make us feel pleasure. Both from a top and bottom view.
We need pain to provide a contrast for pleasure; without pain life becomes dull, boring and downright undesirable. Like a chocoholic in a chocolate shop, we soon forget what it was that made our desires so desirable in the first place.
I think what is being referred to in this is the pain that we go through in life. The losses, the aches, the bumps, the relationship issues… the emotional pain that gives us fullness to our lives. It makes us learn and grow.
But let’s flip that, let’s talk about the other pain that can help you, the physical pain that someone else can cause you through BDSM. I know I’ve mentioned cathartic flogging before and this is but just one spectrum of pain and how to use it to deal with emotional turbulence or to get past some grief or as a way to open up when those of us are so used to being steel traps that don’t let any of our squishy bits show. What does this mean?
Catharsis: a purification or purgation of the emotions that brings about spiritual renewal. (Taken from Webster’s Dictionary)
It means that you can use it to have a cleansing of your soul, or your brain, or your emotional inner workings. Whatever you want to call it it’s been used for years and years and years through various cultures for release of some kind. Apparently some Buddhists even believe it leads to enlightenment.
But what does that mean?
Basically I’ve had this twice only in my whole experience of BDSM in 13 years. How does it work? It works when you ask someone you trust implicitly to take your emotional wellbeing into their hands and give you something of yourself back missing the hurting bits. Daddy once did this to me, not sure if he meant to, but he did. He used a quirt. The hits were relentless. They were continuous. They landed whether I crawled away or not. He took breaks to pull me back down to bending over the bed when I crawled up it to try to get away and would go back to hitting me. I was in tears within the first 5 seconds. I wasn’t tied up. I wasn’t putting my hands up to get him to stop. I only started crawling away when I hit my first pain threshold. It hurt. Like a mofo. And those of you that read my take on my submission know that I have issues mixing my submissive and masochist together. It got to the point where I couldn’t crawl away after a while. I got past the great big heaving sobs as the hits kept landing. My arse went from being on fire to having a super charged line to the rest of my body. The burning sensation spread, my brain took a holiday, I had no thoughts going through my head anymore except getting through the next hit. I felt emotionally wasted. I was a raw open snotting sobbing mess. Emotionally I had no walls left, he broke them all, he pushed me to a place that I hadn’t been in a long time and haven’t been since. A place where you let go of who you are, what you are, your thoughts, your feelings and just feel. You can feel the hits landing, you can feel the fire spreading through your body, the pain ripples as they push out another sob. You feel the air caressing your burning skin as soft as a lovers touch. I guess in a way that’s subspace. But also in a way it’s not. Subspace for me is usually pretty fluffy and not so painful. Cathartic play takes the entire process to another level.
Some people find that confronting. I guess if I saw that at a play party I’d find it confronting. But people play in different ways, no one knows their dynamic.
What I think is really important to remember is that most scenes are negotiated. The d-type and the s-type usually have talked beforehand about what they expect from the scene. What they want from the scene and if it’s in a public play party and they are playing hard, would have approached the DM (dungeon monitor) and explained what is going to happen so that if anyone is concerned and approaches the DM about their play, instead of stopping the scene the DM can explain that their play has in fact been agreed to by both parties and they are aware of it. Which is why I believe it’s really important to approach the event organisers or DM’s if you are at an event and feel a bit weird about some of the play happening instead of approaching the people in the scene itself. Don’t ruin their moment because you aren’t comfortable with it.
So end of common sense talk and back into the using pain as a means to pleasure.
There is good reason to believe pain may be effective in achieving this same goal (of pleasure). Why? Because pain captures our attention.
Imagine dropping a large book on your toe mid conversation. Would you finish the conversation or attend to your toe? Pain drags us into the moment and after pain we are more alert and attuned to our sensory environment – less caught up in our thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow. IFLS article.
What I’ve just described is something that if I let my masochist out, she yearns for it. She begs to be back there, to let go. But I’ve kept a tight rein on that side of myself for a long time for good reason. I think there’s a trap waiting there for the uninitiated.
You see, I’ve known people who use their pain play as a way of dealing with life. They have to be high on endorphins to function. They have to have a play session weekly, or twice weekly to be able to go to work and be a person who contributes to society. It would be easy, oh so easy, to let my masochist out to deal with life that way. To have the pain make things easier to deal with. To let my brain’s chemical imbalance rule my life.
But I can’t. I won’t. I enjoy pain. As Cern will tell you, I run away most times, yet I’ll come back into position when the pain peak relents. Yet unlike Daddy, he lets me crawl away to catch my breath – and that’s not a bad thing at all. It just shows that various types of pain play can be different.
A note, however, that is you do want to engage in this type of play, to really truly make sure that you’re doing it with the right person because you’ll need a few days of hand holding and TLC before you’re “normal” again. Which isn’t normal for most types of play. Usually I walk away and get pretty irky if people want to force aftercare into my lap. However when you’ve been stripped emotionally raw, you don’t turn away the cuddles and pats. The showering of affection and words of how well you did. Cathartic play isn’t just about the stripping away of one’s self-awareness, it’s not like pealing an onion and then walking away. As a d-type your job isn’t over once you put the flogger or implement of torture down. You have to put back together what you tore apart. Or at least make sure that the s-type has the support they need to be put back together again as they come back to their senses.
Like most scenes, this comes in the form of checking in with your s-type. Yet in a cathartic scene checking in resulted in my just sobbing harder. It was relief that it was over, that I made it, that I was still hurting and that even though I was wrapped up in a blanket that I was still feeling the hits as if they were landing. Just make sure that your s-type has the support. Whether that’s from you or their friends, their lovers, or whoever. And if not, then offer them a cuddle and the option of taking that support from you.
In the cathartic flogging article they mention that both parties need to surrender to the experience. Not submit, but surrender. It’s not the d-types responsibility to “take” you somewhere. It’s not the s-types responsibility to entice the d-type. It’s about letting go all of the expectations and just both feeling the swing, hit. Swing, hit. Swing, hit. Many people say that they usually start by hugging their s-type before play to match their breathing. Once matched and relaxed they step away and begin. I think in a way, it outlines how things will go. It’s not about getting to subspace, it’s not about giving someone a journey, it’s not about anything else but your matching breathing and the swing… hit. As the d-type they have to not let their mind wonder at all, unlike the person getting flogged they don’t have the repeated hits bringing them back to the present. So they need to not be distracted by emotions, or their own reaction to what’s happening to the s-type. Whatever you are feeling you need to be able to acknowledge but not let it later your focus. Don’t stop or change the rhythm of your hits, just keep going. Surrender.
Let me just end with a quote from Officer Wes’s article on cathartic flogging:
There’s a wonderful parable that illustrates the subtlety quite nicely. It seems that when a guest at the monastery volunteered to do the dishes after dinner, the Master said “Are you sure you know how to wash dishes?” The guest protested that he had done the dishes all his life. Said the Master, “Ah, I have no doubt of your ability to make the dishes clean. I only doubt your ability to wash them.”
Joy exists only in the moment. The divine exists only in the moment. Mindful attention allows us to remain in the moment. If you are able to flog in the moment, you will experience joy and quite possibly a direct connection to the divine.
I love that the article differentiates between “heart work” and “head work” and to avoid catharsis to play out some fantasy role-playing. I don’t agree with the fantasy role-playing but I think he hit the nail on the head when he described a cathartic play scene as heart work. Because it’s not just about the heads anymore, it’s about the heart.
An excellent example of how pain may enhance pleasure is the experience commonly referred to as “the runners high”. After intense physical exertion, runners experience a sense of euphoria that has been linked to the production of opioids, a neurochemical that is also released in response to pain. IFLS article.
There’s also a masochists high. And a sadists high. Both similar yet different beasts as they use different methods to get to the same point.
And that’s just one small itty bitty slither of the BDSM spectrum when it comes to play. Especially to pain play. There’s many ways in which we all use pain to gain pleasure. My way is a just a wee bit different to the non-kinky varieties way. And it might be way more fun … ok so I’m biased, don’t hold it against me.
But I think, like most things in life, pain to pleasure is about letting yourself feel and be in the moment so you can let go and experience something different. Whether that be pain from pushing yourself in sport or from something kinky.