Pain is an interesting subject for me to tackle.  Since I was rather young I remember thinking that pain

was just a feeling like any other, and that if I could hold onto that thought when I was experiencing it, I could probably tolerate more

A photograph from one of the most painful and invigorating play sessions I've had to date. Many of the bruises showed up a day later. I was sad to end this one

A photograph from one of the most painful and invigorating play sessions I’ve had to date. Many of the bruises showed up a day later. I was sad to end this one

Was my childhood particularly painful?  No, I don’t think so.  I was lucky enough to grow up running around barefoot and was pretty fearless in the backwoods of Maine.  I got cut, stung, bitten, burned, smashed, and injured a lot; pain was a pretty regular consequence of my play (so not that much has changed).

I’ve written before on the subject, “Some Beginning Thoughts on Pain Processing“, but today I want to talk more about the diversity of what the subject means to people.  I’ve taken a class with the amazing and wonderful Lee Harrington on the subject.  He also has some great thoughts on video at the Kink Academy (along with other excellent educators), so check that out if you’re interested in more detailed ideas or other points of reference on this subject.

So, what is pain processing again?  In short it’s how you live with pain.  In a kinky sense, it’s how you deal with the sensation of pain to allow yourself to continue on with a scene or activity that requires you to be with it to a certain degree instead of tapping out or safewording to end the activity.  A common reason for processing painful sensations is that the receiver of these sensations might want to tolerate pain for a longer amount of time or to a more intense degree.  There are a LOT of ways to process pain.  Think about how you already accomplish living with various types of pain – when you cut a finger or stub a toe, when you have the flu, when you are engaged in a painful activity to accomplish a particular end result, you might endure pain to test your boundaries, for the bragging rights, or because you are curious what the consequences to a certain action might be…  There are definitely common pain processing tools, but take a little time to think about what you do to endure pain in your life already.

What are some of these common pain processing tools you speak of?  I would say that the most common ones are breath control, movement, and vocal release.  These are probably the most common ones I employ, at least.  When you wiggle because you have to pee, you are managing your pain.  When you breathe slowly and steadily, sucking air through your teeth after being stepped on, you are pain processing.  When you moan or giggle or scream or mumble or swear, you are letting yourself let pieces of your physical sensations go.  It is common to clench and unclench your hands into fists, focus directly into the sensation, or focus on something – anything – other than the pain you are receiving.  It is common to intellectualize the sensation, telling yourself that everything is ok, your sensation is tolerable and not destructive and alright to experience.  It is common to try and turn the sensation you are receiving into another sensation or funnel it into an emotion.  People commonly invest in emotions and ideas to get through pain, feelings like love and adoration or ideas that might look like challenge and endurance.   Sometimes having an end goal is what allows you to suffer through it – there’s something more that you want at the end of the experience.  Some people have out of body experiences or regress…  like I said, there are a million ways to approach enduring painful sensations.  Some will work for you, others will not, and many will work sometimes or in particular situations but not in others.  There is no right or wrong about the ones that you choose as long as you are aware of the line that turns from hurt into harm.

Why is important to know how I process pain or how my partners might?  When we decide to play with pain we are deciding to give and receive sensations that are ultimately pleasurable in one way or another.  Surviving pain can flood us with chemicals that make us feel great! Endorphins are a natural high people have chased in a wide variety of situations for centuries, and there are other chemical rewards for survival as well.  Often people gain a sense of accomplishment from survival in an almost competitive way.  Sharing a painful experience with someone can be a beautiful connector as well as an amazing way to energy exchange.  Regardless of why you want to play with pain though, you should know how your partners tolerate it, what their experience of pain might be like outside your scene, and what their processing could look like.  If your partner goes limp and silent when they reach a certain point, yet this indicates they are in their own little zen bubble of feelings and drifting in subspace ecstasy, it isn’t ideal for the top in that scene to stop every couple minutes to check in or stop the scene altogether because they are worried.  Same goes for someone who might giggle loudly or seem angry…  Knowing how your partner might react to receiving pain will help you build a great scene and have the time and presence of mind to enjoy it.  When in doubt about what’s going on ALWAYS check in with your partner, and ALWAYS talk about what pain processing might look like in your pre-scene negotiations.  It’s not just safety on the line here, it’s connection, pleasure, good communication, and the opportunity to play again.

Photo by M

Photo by M

My life with pain:  I’ve pain processed in a bunch of different ways and the ways I’ve processed my pain have largely been a product of what is going on in the scene or situation.  On top of being a rough and tumble kid I was also a classical ballet dancer who danced en pointe by the time was twelve.  My feet were bruised, blistered and bloody frequently, yet I still made it through class twice a week.  I am female bodied and have enjoyed a wide range of wildly painful sensations monthly, from a dull ache to full on crippling seized up impossibility.  I am what I describe as a “body person”, I have always been very in tune with what’s going on with me physically.  I care about my sensations – all of them – and what they mean, I do not use pain killers or pretty much any western medicine unless an illness gets to a level I can no longer tolerate.  I have had a piece of iron rebar puncture halfway through the bottom of my foot and had to dance in two shows less than a week later, I’ve had a tree fall on me, I’ve been punched to the point of having the rib below my clavicle break (and not taken pain medication in the healing process that followed), I’ve scened with people who describe themselves as serious sadists, I’ve been set on fire, I’ve been poked with needles (on purpose and because I sometimes don’t notice all the pins I drop while sewing), I’ve had my skin broken multiple times from a good singletail whipping, and I’ve had solid black and blue ass cheeks for a couple weeks after many a play session, I’ve found myself in turns pleading to end an activity because I couldn’t tolerate the sensation, and I’ve found myself giggling or deeply and loudly belly laughing at the painful sensations I’m on the receiving end of. I can go on…  Most of these examples were consensual, some the product of my “grace of a clown” disposition.

What has worked for me consists often of breathing and movement, with a good dose of vocal reaction to help out.  I can be pretty loud (actor trained lungs and all) when I’m receiving a good beating, and find the release of my voice helps turn the painful sensations I’m receiving into something distinctly pleasurable at times.  Breath has works for me this way too, allowing me to take a moment and recalibrate before moving on often.  Wiggling, jerking, shaking out, tensing, dancing, bouncing, all these things are probably a primary level of pain processing I enact.  I will employ a good intellectual debate at times and that does the trick quite nicely.  I trust myself when I say to me

You’re going to be ok.  You can take this.  Your body is strong and you can survive this…  Oh look, shiny chemical bliss feelings over there!

And I know.  I trust my instinct, and I work on having a pretty solid one.  I know when it’s time to call it, to say stop/red/to tap out.  I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them.  I pick good play partners who are willing and able to listen to me, to check in, and who have been wonderfully supportive in their ability to talk to me and to notice when I’m getting tired or have reached a peak.  When we play, we all pay attention and the result has consistently been pretty rewarding.

Last thoughts:  Playing with pain can be a really fun, informative, very connecting and powerful activity to (consensually) explore with yourself and partners.  You need to have explicit consent to hurt another person, and it’s really important to know the difference between hurt and harm.  Hurt implies sensation exploration that does not have permanent nor destructive physically, emotionally, or psychologically negative consequences.  Harm is going past hurt and causing negative or lasting damage to the person receiving.  Those practicing the more painful side of BDSM strive hard to stay in the realm of Hurt without Harm.  Research so that you are clear on pertinent physiology, biology, and the consequences physical, emotional, and psychological manipulation can wreak on a person.  It is not just good form, but the mark of a respectful and responsible player.  It will ensure you and your partners have a much more pleasurable (and hopefully repeatable) time.  Take care of one another.

To Breath and Being,
~ Karin

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~Thank you.


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