Why Do People Like Pain During Sex? Here’s What Experts Say
As someone whose sexual tastes run pretty vanilla, I’ve never personally understood the appeal of BDSM. Now let me be very clear: I don't think it’s weird, shameful, or wrong if someone does. I don't judge anyone's personal preferences or kinks, so long as they're practiced consensually and safely. In that case, I will be the first person to cheer you on. It’s all a part of having autonomy over your body and your sexuality, and that's amazing. But that doesn't stop me from being curious about it. Why do people like pain during sex? It's a valid question, and one worth exploring. Whether that's because you just want to better understand the appeal, or because it’s something you've been considering exploring yourself.
To help answer these questions, I reached out to sex expert, educator, and professional domme Lola Jean and Dr. Jess O’Reilly, host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast, to help explain what it is about pain during sex that can be so enjoyable. Honestly, after talking with them, I totally get it now.
According to Jean, enjoying pain during sex has become fairly commonplace now thanks to the influence of porn, which has, to some extent, "normalized it," she tells Elite Daily. "Impact play is a gateway when it comes to kink and BDSM. Add in fetishization in pop culture and spanking almost becomes repertoire in sex." That’s all the more reason to be unashamed if pain is something you enjoy during sex. But there is a difference between knowing what you like, and knowing why you like it. Here are the reasons the experts say folks get turned on by pain.
1. It’s All About The Brain Chemistry
The appeal of pain during sex may just come down to brain chemistry, Dr. O’Reilly tells Elite Daily. “Your body releases hormones including endorphins in response to pain, and these are the same hormones that surge during sexual pleasure and promote bonding between lovers.”
According to Jean, there really is a thin line between pleasure and pain, neurologically speaking. “Pain and pleasure receptors can react similarly, promoting melatonin and serotonin release in the brain,” explains Jean. However, she says that not everyone will have the same reaction and, in her experience, it tends to divide down gender lines. “I find most of the time, women tend to respond more to the physical and men more to the verbal. Women also tend to have higher pain tolerances. That doesn’t mean there aren’t outliers, but overall I find this to be pervasive,” she says.
2. Pain Can Increase Sensation
One reason why some people enjoy pain during sex is that it actually heightens the pleasure by increasing sensation. “As with many kinks or sexual interests. It's important to acknowledge if it is the physical reasons versus the mental reasons you are attracted to it,” explains Jean. “Physically, pain can be tantalizing. When pain or impact is inflicted, the blood rises to the surface of the skin making it more receptive to touch. Also similar to arousal where blood flow increases in select regions.”
3. It Can Be Psychologically Healing
“More often, deriving pleasure from pain can be a psychological reason,” says Jean. In fact, she adds that the experience can be surprisingly healing. “The experience of taking pain for a partner, seeing how much your body is capable of handling, taking an experience that was or should be painful and changing the script.”
“Using pain to create feelings of pleasure can help to rewrite our scripts with regard to pain,” adds O’Reilly. “ If you’ve experienced pain in your past, you likely consider it a bad form of pain; by using pain as a source of pleasure, you can create a new type of pain — good pain. The ability to differentiate between the two can help you to better understand the bad pain and reclaim specific types of pain as sources of pleasure,” she explains.
4. Breaking Taboos Can Be Very Hot
It can also be that simply exploring sensations and activities outside the “norm” can be a huge turn on. “Acting on the taboo itself — pain during pleasure — can be sexualized in its own right,” explains Jean.
Dr. O’Reilly agrees that the element of the forbidden can also create a connection between pleasure and pain. “Sex can be a form of escape from reality and this is a part of its appeal. If your lifestyle or relationship are stable and predictable, you may be drawn to escape from this reality by incorporating more subversive elements into your sex life,” she explains.
How To Explore BDSM Safely
“Most of us have experimented with some light rough play in the bedroom,” says O’Reilly. “From pinching nipples and nibbling on earlobes to lighthearted spankings and deep penetration. As you become more aroused, the endorphin release may increase your pain threshold, so if you want to learn more about erotic pain, take some time to get all riled up before you bring on the rough stuff.”
If you want to explore BDSM, Jean says you should do it safely. “It is important to first recognize why or how you or your partner finds it pleasurable,” advises Jean. “Is it the physical or psychological? What is your/their desired result or feeling to be derived from this?” Once you know that and are ready to move forward, she suggests doing so with caution. “With any more intense or dangerous play it is important to always build up and not start at extremes. Even if the person receiving is very experienced, the other partner is new to that person and a slow build up over multiple sessions is still necessary.”
It's also essential to check in regularly with your partner, keeping lines of communication open at all times, says Jean. She adds that it’s important to establish a system of communication for when something is going too far or needs to stop. Jean suggests a “red/yellow traffic light system and a set of non-verbal communication.” She also suggests seeking guidance from professionals if you want to explore something more extreme. “Attending classes and workshops is important when engaging in anything more than light play to understand medical risks or areas to avoid on the body.”
Jean also stresses the need for after-care. “I don’t care if it is a one-night stand, a casual lover or your long-term partner. After-care is an important element to any play. Even if it is so much as a ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you for sharing that with me,’ especially after play that falls outside of social norms, the acknowledgment is necessary,” she concludes.
The takeaway here is that there are many reasons why pain during sex may appeal to someone. It could be just that they enjoy the physical sensation, or it may run deeper. Regardless of the reason, there is nothing wrong with it exploring pain and pleasure if that combination speaks to you, just so long as you’re following Jean’s advice to practice it safely and consensually. Beyond that, anyone with an unwelcome opinion can put a (ball) gag in it.