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Dear Heather: Can We Talk About Pain in Play

April 4, 2015 by Heather Cole

Sparks of blue water on a white background ...

 

Heather,
You have written about the pain you enjoy during play. Can you talk about / share tips on how to expand one’s pain threshold? How to find that quiet inner place and stay there?
Thanks!
Rachel

Dear Rachel,

The good news is that our pain thresholds are completely subjective. This means that with practice and training we can increase them. If you work at different pain coping techniques, you will be able to meld pleasure and pain into one or release the pain altogether. It’s within our control, as the receiver of the stimulus, to manage the pain in play. The Top who’s delivering the stimulus can help or hinder our processing, depending on their intention for the scene, but ultimately it rests in our hands. Er, brains.

There are three factors that impact how I process pain in BDSM: 1. my headspace, 2. the intention of the Top applying the stimulus, and 3. the type of stimulus. #3 is of lesser importance than the other two, because again, it’s going to be my brain and mindset that will be doing the heavy lifting of pain management in a scene. All three of these factors have places where they overlap and interconnect, and you’ll be able to figure out the ways they work together for you.

Finding your inner ‘quiet place’ takes practice, so I suggest exploring through visualization and meditation before you’re involved in a scene. This is the first step in stretching your pain threshold. My favorite quote from Dune is, “Fear is the mindkiller,” and you don’t have to ride giant worms through the sand to relate. The fear we experience anticipating the stimulus (regardless of whether it’s bondage, impact play, knives, needles, or whatever) is the checkmate to our freedom from pain. So the anxiety about how the cane is going to feel whacking your ass will counteract releasing those feelings and extending the experience. Let go of your pre-scene jitters through some deep-breathing/relaxation techniques, and the memory of how that feels to be peaceful and quiet can be your foundation as you begin a scene.

Have you ever meditated? The elements of meditation are simple. Focus on making your breath deep and even. Although your body is undergoing physical, consensual stress, centering your focus on how you breathe will allow you to shift your awareness away from the stimulus happening to your physical self. With meditation, it’s a combination of deep breathing and relaxing your body that allows you to shift awareness. Our overall goal is to feel the pain but not hold on to it. The more we can let it go, the longer we can experience the stimulus and extend our play. Quieting your mind and evening out your breath will aid you in accomplishing this.

Sometimes it helps me during a scene to visualize the impact as raindrops falling on water or bursts of colors that then dissolve into nothing. Think of it like fireworks. There’s the build of noise (which is the building stimulus), then a shot of color that bursts into stars (the pain of impact), and then the glittering light fades away into darkness (the pain goes away). Move that pain from the point of impact to nothingness. Again, it’s that shifting of awareness that transforms the pain into something other than this overwhelming thing that we’re desperate to escape.

When I play with others, sir and I typically negotiate a date and I have lots of time to prepare. This means visualizing myself processing stimulus easily, and most importantly, feeling the pain enter and leave my body easily. We want it to leave, right? What we don’t want is to become so overwhelmed that we have to “red” and call all action to a halt, unless it’s necessary for your emotional or physical well-being. My mantra is that pain is fleeting, and my focus is on breathing through it. My darling sir, however, often wants to keep me on the edge. His intention is to keep my awareness sharp, and instead of letting me drift away on a wave of endorphins, he wants to test my boundaries. Delightfully sadistic, right? Sometimes, I can’t find that quiet place no matter what I do. My emotions are tumultuous, and I can’t catch my breath. Those are the times that I can only surrender and endure the rollercoaster ride. Despite my best intentions, sometimes pain gets the better of me, and I end up pleading for mercy. Let’s face it, sometimes our Dominants want tears. And this brings me to the second factor: the intention of your Top.

If your Top is working with you to aid or train you to process pain, how they apply the stimulus can help tremendously. Several different chemicals are released naturally during the course of a scene, but the one that BDSM practitioners talk about the most is endorphins. Our endorphin friends are natural pain managers. The body releases them in waves, and your first hit can occur pretty fast with something as simple as nipple stimulation. Of course, everyone’s chemistry is different so the timeframe of release will vary. Generally you can achieve, with the Top’s help of course, your first endorphin rush within the first few moments of stimulus, and then it’s five to ten minutes to work up to the next release. In the example of a caning, the Top’s first hits will release endorphins into your bloodstream. Then it’s five to ten minutes of minimal stimulus, or a sensual caning, to allow your body to build up the supply, and harder hits to release it again. As more and more endorphins enter your bloodstream, your body will require more impact or stimulus in order to release more. It’s all about build-up, baby.

I’m guessing, Rachel, that you might process some stimulus easier than others. Do you have a favorite implement? Is the thud of a flogger more soothing than the sting of a metal spatula? Or do you favor sting over thud? Practicing with your favorite impact toy is the easiest way to begin stretching that pain threshold. For example, the rhythmic thud of my favorite, heavy flogger feels like a security blanket to me. The flip side of the coin is that something sharp like a knife. Not only does the keen edge give me the flutter of anxiety butterflies of anticipation, but the sensation of being cut isn’t soothing to me. That pain process is trickier for me to release, but I’m working on it.

The key to all of this, however, is consent and trust. I can’t stress this enough. I’m free to focus on my pain during play, because I trust that my sir isn’t going to do anything that will irreparably damage me. I trust that he wants my happiness as much as I desire to please him. We have spent a lot of time and effort discussing limits and giving consent to various activities. And if I play with someone else, the limits of stimulus are carefully negotiated. Nothing happens without consent from all parties involved, and during play, my sir or the Top checks in with me to see how I’m feeling during the scene. We use the colors “green,” “yellow,” and “red” to indicate how I’m processing physically and emotionally, and it’s that kind of clear, open communication that leads to a successful scene. Even though I may feel nervous about something we might do, I never fear for my safety. Neither should you.


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