BDSM & ORGASMS: WHY PAIN CAN BE PLEASURABLE

Guest written by Rain Andersen (@wearenotfriends_) a veteran sworker with eight years in adult entertainment and three years working for Lovers.

Between the box office success of the 50 Shades of Grey series and the depiction of sex workers in shows like Bonding, BDSM has undergone somewhat of a transformation in the public eye. The media’s stylized portrayal of BDSM culture has softened the edges of this deeply stigmatized community, creating a social commentary on the ethics of BDSM rituals. BDSM practitioners are quick to point out the flaws in these syrupy representations of kink, which frequently neglect to mention core values of the BDSM community. Rather than discuss the nuances of BDSM play (such as the safe, sane, consensual mantra), we’re confronted with tense and awkward interactions, characterized by a lack of communication or consent. We get it, healthy partner dynamics don’t quite satisfy or align with our desire to be entertained, and accurate depictions of BDSM culture, sex work, and relationships have a long way to go in Hollywood. BDSM, as it’s portrayed in pop culture, spurs a powerful dialogue about the complexities of BDSM play.

BDSM
\ bē-ˌdē-ˌes-ˈem \
: acronym for bondage, dominance/disciple, sadism/submission, masochism.

Kink and fetish have been historically frowned upon, minimized, and misrepresented in the public eye. BDSM encompasses a wide umbrella of sexual activities, but is often reduced to its more physical forms. The word we are focusing on today is pain. Physical pain is a common component of BDSM, which can contradict our perception of how pleasure is commonly experienced. Pain is our bodies built-in warning system, designed to alert us when we are in danger. Naturally, this can conflict with our ability to experience pleasure. Consequently, the desire to overlap the sensations of pain and pleasure is viewed as indicative of some sort of physiological distress or shortcoming. The question persists: “why do some people find pain pleasurable?

A 2008 study on the neurobiology of pain and pleasure found that pain receptors and pleasure receptors trigger the same neural mechanisms in the brain. We see these same neurotransmitters interact when we experience an exercise high or get a tattoo- allowing us to balance and manage sensations of pain when they result in a perceived reward. Similarly, as our body becomes fatigued during sexual intercourse, this can sometime bolster our pleasure.

The idea of pain resulting in pleasure has a psychological influence as well. A 2015 study on The Role of Positive Affect in Pain determined that the sensation of pain decreased when it occurred in positive circumstances, such as a comfortable setting or with a trustworthy partner. Voluntary pain is associated with higher instances of interpersonal bonding, allowing partners to establish trust and repour in their most vulnerable state.

Many individuals report an interest in BDSM because it offers a sense of escape… an opportunity to shed the responsibilities and roles that we maintain in our day-to-day interactions. For these individuals, BDSM can be a source of relief, helping to moderate stress levels by diverting our attention to physical sensations. The power dynamics built into many BDSM practices help to provide structure, allowing us to reframe the ways that we experience and provide pleasure to our partners.

For others, the sensation of “pain” as it is traditionally defined, activates a sort of meditative state. Think about the sensation of pressing your finger to a bruise. Our body recognizes this sensation as a dull, achy pain- and yet, some of us feel compelled to continually press on our bruises. Just as there is a spectrum of pleasure, there is also a spectrum of pain- from sharp and stingy sensations to deep and tender ones. Ultimately, how we experience pain in a sexual context varies from person to person. While our motivations for experiencing pain should still be reflected on, its my hope that a better understanding of the pain-pleasure continuum will help us to provide members of the BDSM community with some grace. By educating ourselves on the commonalities between pain and pleasure, we create more opportunities for sexual enrichment in our personal lives.

How to Have a BDSM Orgasm: A Guide to BDSM Tools

Now that we have an understanding of how pain can translate to pleasure, lets take a look at the different tools used in the BDSM community that help to create some of these sensations. Your ability to become aroused and tolerate pain will vary based off of your needs, body chemistry, and desires. Experiment with the products that you find most compelling- this is a great starting point to help you to identify what turns you on.

Shop Impact Items

Paddles: Paddles provide broad and dull sensations when they make impact with the skin. The broader the paddle, the more spread out the sensation will be, making them an excellent option for people exploring impact play. Some paddles will feature rivets, studs, or cut outs that create intricate patterns along the skin. These style of paddles can be more painful, and should be considered for advanced impact play.

Crops: A crop is a thin and narrow whip, usually rigid in nature. These devices, originally used for riding horses, provide a sharp and stinging sensation that is focused in a small area.

Floggers: A flogger is a multi-tasseled whip that allows impact to be spread in a variety of directions. It creates a colorful pattern across the skin and can provide both stinging and dull sensations depending on the density and weight of the tassels, and the motion of impact. A flinging motion that grazes the skin can feel stingy, while a downward strike that makes full contact with the skin can feel dull.

Whips & Canes: A whip is a narrow strip of material that produces a focused, prickly sensation. A cane, similarly uses a narrow strip of wood or metal to create a focused, prickly sensation.

Thumpers: A thumper is a paddle or flogger that is embedded with hard, dense balls- typically made from rubber, wood, or metal. Thumpers are particularly aggressive and create large, circular bruise patterns.

Shop Restraints

Cuffs: Cuffs come in a variety of styles and can be used to limit the mobility of the wearer. Cuffs are a popular starting point for those new to BDSM, as the act of restricting motion is relatively low risk. Remember to never leave your partner unattended while cuffed to ensure that every moment is pleasurable. Cuffs are a useful tool in BDSM because it can prevent us from pulling away or muting our pleasure, as we sometimes instinctually do when our arousal is at its peak.

Blindfolds: Blindfolds are a type of restraint designed specifically to obstruct our vision. Blindfolds are perhaps one of the most approachable forms of restraint, plunging us into darkness, allowing our other senses to magnify.

Gags: In addition to restricting an individuals ability to speak, ball gags offer us the opportunity to explore elements of breath play. They are often used in power dynamic scenes for the purpose of 'face fucking' that can help to add an auditory and textural element to blowjobs. 

Harnesses: Harnesses and collars are designed to be worn around the body or neck. Worn alone, they add dimension and texture to any look. When paired with a set of handcuffs or leash, they take on a much more practical purpose. Use the metal o-rings and d-rings on your harness to affix your favorite sexcessories to. Once attached, your partner can guide you around the room, pamper you with attention, or tease you.

Restraint Systems: Restraint systems use a combination of cuffs and tethers in order to restrain or spread your partner. Our most popular restraint systems include our door jams, under the bed restraints, and spreader bars- each designed to open up the entry points on the body and reduce movement.

Shop Sensation Tools

Ticklers: Ticklers are a style of sensation tool used for, you guessed it: tickling. These feathery devices can be grazed across the surface of the skin to produce a light and titillating sensation.

Wheels: Sensation wheels are small, metal devices that can be rolled across the skin to stimulate the nerves. Depending on the number of wheels and the pressure used, sensation wheels can offer a range of sharp and ticklish sensations. Single row sensation wheels can be more focused and intense, provided that they are targeting individual nerve endings. Multirow sensation wheels, while more visually intimidating, are gentler on the skin.

Clamps: Clamps are used to apply pressure to or expose the nipples and genitals. Some clamps are equipped with chains that can be tugged on to add stimulation. Clamps come in a variety of styles; tweezer style clampsbull nose clamps (alligator clamps), and string clamps are all wonderful styles for beginners. Magnetic clamps and clover clamps offer a more intense grip, and are recommended for more experienced users.

Pumps: Vaginal pumps, penis pumps, breast pumps, and nipple pumps are used both in and out of the BDSM community, and are designed to draw blood flow to a desired region. A spike in blood flow helps to increase sensitivity of those nerve endings, allowing for more stimulation. Pumps are a fantastic foreplay tool, that can be paired with other BDSM tools to maximize touch.

Shop Stimulators

Electro Stimulators: Electro stimulation technology is built into a variety of sex toys and has even been used to help stimulate and tone the Kegel muscles! Sold independently, you can find E-stim pads and violet wands that can be applied directly to the skin to deliver small currents of electricity. Keep in mind that most of these devices have a relatively low wattage, and the sensation is often equated to micro spasms in the muscles.

Cages: Penis cages and chastity belts are often used in orgasm denial scenes, in which an individual is aroused by their inability to orgasm- either because of biological reasons, or the instruction of a partner. In the case of penis cages, the wearer may experience mild pain as they become erect, forcing their body back to a flaccid state.

Sounding Rods: Sounding rods are a silicone or metal stick that can be inserted into the urethra. The urethra is lined with sensitive nerve endings, that for some individuals can be incredibly erotic. Because the urethra passes by the same channels that contain the prostate muscle and G-spot, urethral sounding can stimulate a number of regions at a single time.

Crushers: The testicles are another area of the body that is rich with pleasurable nerve endings. Some individuals find that applying pressure to the testicles helps to heighten sensation, a thus will opt for a ball crusher- acrylic or metal plates that flatten the testicles between them.

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Further Readings

Physical Pain as Pleasure - A Theoretical Study: The Journal of Sex Research
When Pain Equals Pleasure - Understanding BDSM: PsychCentral
Why Some People Enjoy Pain During Sex: Medical News Today

WITH PLEASURE,

LOVERS