No Pain, No Gain? Understanding Erotic and Non-Erotic Pain

Today I went to see my Physical Therapist for a Rotator Cuff injury rehab session. After we spent some time getting acquainted and starting the exercises, he asked me “what are your thoughts on pain?” and well, you know me, I just had to respond with, “oh, I have LOTS of thoughts on pain! First I think there’s a strong mind body connection and that pain can teach us lot about how we accept extreme sensation. I think that certain types of extreme sensation, aka pain, [notice how I started schooling the PT on my lingo?], can announce danger but also teach us how to relax around the sensation to accept the circumstance. I personally notice that as a strong self sufficient woman who starting working at the age of 14 and does not have a well resourced family or partner to fall back on, I start to feel urgency and impatience around healing as I psychologically fear I will never be able to work again, make money, or take care of myself. It’s brutal and self defeating, and yet it’s part of the process of “sitting with the pain”. I have so much more to say, oh wait, I’m sorry, is that too much?” He paused for a moment, concentrating on stretching my wrist, and then looked at me and smiled saying, “um, most people just say how they don’t like pain. Clearly you’ve thought about this”.  

To which, of course, I smiled to myself, because really, if I didn’t think about or have knowledge around pain, than surely I’m not doing my work. Let me share with you what I didn’t share with him.

There is a great difference between non-erotic pain and erotic pain.

Let’s be clear, the main difference between erotic pain and non erotic is lack of intention.  “Pain” or intentional extreme sensation built up by the top and thrown in at crucial moments during scene to create excitement, build the high, and keep the energy flowing create pleasurable sensations. Non erotic or unintentional/accidental pain, (eg., stubbing your toe or when the Top wraps the whip), are not part of the desired effect and usually create unpleasant sensations, i.e., what we classically call pain. Ouch!

Because erotic pain is a desired extreme sensation built up slowly in the body to help the receiver, (bottom in this case), achieve a state of “high” as their dopamine and endorphin levels are elevating and their desire to receive more and more intensity increases, it also drives  arousal levels to the nth degree, making the bottom want, yes, MORE. So, in sum, non erotic pain is not desired but erotic pain is. You may recall my favorite adage: “make them want it, make them want it more.”

Here are five aspects of erotic pain to bear in mind:
Desired/Intentional – refer to this nifty [video interview with me] on the topic of desire.
Consensual – check out this [great link to a Kink Academy] compilation on consent or refer back to [my piece on consent and safe words].
A great place to achieve surrender/climax/release


So, for those of you who ask why people would hurt each other, let’s bear in mind that the eroticization of extreme sensation with an appreciative, or as [Dan Savage] might say, a Good, Giving, and Game partner is entirely different than stubbing your toe.

Finally, a small note on the difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt each other in relationship, usually unintentionally, but we do, it’s part of our growth. No matter how much we love each other, unintentional hurt happens. Hurt may be painful and it is also reparable over time (an accidental wrap of the whip, harsh words in the heat of the moment). Time heals these wounds as does the active practice of apology and rebuilding trust. Harm, on the other hand, has longer term effects and is not reparable (putting out an eye with a single tail, lying with malice and intent, especially repeatedly, eroding trust). Although time may soften the effects, or redirect them, it carries more long term effects. Harm is simply that: harmful due to its lasting effects.


When you go to play, I hope you bear in mind the wonderful boundaries you can cross when pushing up against pain and pleasure and I trust you will do no harm.


In Love and Kink,