Also titled, why we let people hit us consensually.
What are they?
BDSM involves all sorts of sensations, but overwhelmingly when thinking of BDSM we think of pain. Pain is part of many scenes, especially impact play, whips, needles, and many more. It can make us wonder – if pain is something to tell us to keep away from danger, then why are those of us in BDSM attracted to it?
The short answer: Endorphins. Endorphins are peptides that release opiates into the system. Essentially, endorphins make us feel good. We can get endorphins a lot of ways – exercise, eating, sex, and, of course, pain. How many endorphins should be released and are released during pain signals varies from person to person, but all of us have some endorphins released when we feel pain.
The brain knows we do better (and survive better) when we feel better, so when the hippocampus gets a pain signal, it sends endorphins to block the transmission of pain signals (and also stimulate the brain’s limbic and prefrontal regions). It’s like a pain reliever. “Hey.” the brain says, “It doesn’t hurt that much.” It’s trying to protect us from our own body, while still allowing us to feel the pain. I know that seems like our brain is confused, but it’s really not.
The brain has a lot of evolutionary functions that we cannot even begin to imagine, but this big one is KEEP THIS MEATBAG ALIVE. Pain tells us what is a danger, but endorphins make it bearable enough to get out of danger. But that is not the only chemical it releases. It also sends anandamide and adrenaline through our nervous system. We all know that adrenaline jacks up our heart rate and excitement, but what you may not know is that anandamide makes you mellow. Anandamide is the “bliss chemical,” and uses the same receptors as marijuana and gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling. If you have ever played in BDSM, you know this feeling.
How do they work?
Alright, enough of the science, how does this work in BDSM?
Something is causing us pain, and even though it isn’t a threat, our senses still feel the pain. In addition, we go through something called ‘benign masochism’ – where we have tricked our body into thinking there is a threat. Think of eating a hot pepper, jumping out of a plane, that sort of thing. In BDSM it’s the pain in our scene. Even though we’ve tricked our brain and our brain is onto our trickery, that doesn’t stop our brain from kicking out the endorphins. The bliss from the endorphins starts to set in making us feel good. Then another painkiller kicks in – anandamide. It the mix of happy chemicals, mild pain killers, and go-go juice (adrenaline). To say that this is intoxicating would be a vast understatement.
Now add this to sex, turn-ons, orgasms and your good feelings can hit the stratosphere.
Many people who bottom in a scene call this rush of feelings ‘subspace’. Part of our aftercare for scenes is to stay with a bottom/ sub because they can have the reactions of someone impaired. Really good tops/ Doms will check in with their sub a couple of days after a scene. The reason for this is explained by The Journal of Sex Research. “Pain, can focus attention on the present moment and away from abstract, high-level thought. They argue that feelings of depression days after erotic play correspond to a feeling of loss of the “peak experience” of rough sexual play that grants a person psychological respite in the moment.”
Why am I telling you all this? A few reasons.
First, a lot of people ask why we do what we do. This is one of the reasons. It feels fantastic.
Two, to give a little bit of understanding of the science behind this whole thing, because I’m a nerd at heart.
Three, because I run a blog and I have to write something.
This glimpse into endorphins is by no means an authority on the complex sexual roles, kinks, and fetishes that we have but it does, at a very basic level, explain why those of in the lifestyle love it so much.
In addition, most of these feelings are felt by the bottom/sub in the scene. But a top can have adrenaline and endorphins too but to a much lesser degree. I hope to explore the psychology of why we inflict pain in a future post.
Until then, keep it kinky!