Pain isn't always a pain. Sometimes it can actually feel good.
People experience pleasure during a painful stimulus if the stimulus turns out to be less bad than they were expecting, new research suggests.
"It is not hard to understand that pain can be interpreted as less severe when an individual is aware that it could have been much more painful," said study co-author Siri Leknes, a psychologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, in a statement. "Less expected, however, is the discovery that pain may be experienced as pleasant if something worse has been avoided."
The findings were published in the March issue of the journal Pain.
To see how people perceived pain, Leknes and her colleagues hooked 16 participants up to a device that applied a variable level of painful heat to their arms. At the same time, the researchers measured their brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
In the first setting, participants experienced a series of either a slightly painful stimulus — about as painful as grasping a slightly too hot cup of coffee — or no pain.
In a second setup, the participants experienced a series of either moderate or intense pain. On a screen, the participants could see what type of pain was coming up next in the series.
In the first scenario, the participants rated the moderate pain as unpleasant.
What a relief
But interestingly, participants rated the moderate pain as actually pleasurable in the second setup, when the alternative was the intense pain. During the moderate stimulus in the second setup, participants' brain activity also showed less activation in the pain region of the brain (the brain stem) and more activation in a region in the middle of the frontal lobes that's associated with pain relief and pleasure than during the same stimulus in the first setup. ...
You can probably predict most of what’s written in today’s New York Times story on the mainstreaming of kink. Fifty Shades of Grey made it so that everyone and their mom (especially their mom) could feel safe owning up to their desire to tie one another up, which makes the BDSM old-timers a little territorial, but mostly excited, because maybe our widespread enthusiasm will make their unjustly pathologized lifestyle more socially acceptable. (It would be nice if they couldn't lose child custody over it, for one.)
But what the Times story does reveal — though it never explicitly states it — is how fundamentally geeky BDSM is. Or rather, that the lifestyle shares many attributes of other nerd subcultures. Even safe words are kind of dorky, if you think about it — a word so silly you would never say it in the course of regular sex. One of the Times sources, “Deb,” is a lifelong Mets fan, so hers is “Yankees Rule,” because “she could only utter it under extreme duress.” It's enough to make you wonder if BDSM is just being DTF for the LARPing set. ...
There’s some actual overlap with science fiction and fantasy. Susan Wright, a community manager for bondage site FetLife and spokeswoman for kink awareness group National Coalition for Sexual Freedom quoted by the Times, is also the author of nineStar Trek novels. And let’s not forget that Fifty Shades began as Twilight fan fiction! ...
On a recent Friday night, a small group of people lined up in a cinder-block hallway inside an unmarked entrance to Paddles, a club on West 26th Street. Two men in their 60s were discussing real estate and a few women in their 20s were sending last-minute texts before going down two flights to the subterranean space.
Paddles is not another trendy table tennis emporium, but a “safe space” to live out erotic fantasies, specifically BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism), OTK (over the knee; in other words, spanking), and an alphabet soup’s worth of other sexual practices that, until recently, have gone largely unnoticed and undiscussed by the mainstream world.
But surely in part because of the blockbuster success of E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy (65 million copies sold worldwide according to Publishers Weekly), people who are drawn to power exchange in sexuality and may refer to themselves as kinky are finding themselves in the spotlight as never before.
In February, “kink,” a documentary directed by Christina Voros and produced by James Franco, had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. (The Hollywood Reporter called it “a friendly film about lots of seemingly reasonable people who do terrible things to each other on camera for money.”) Phrases like “safe word” are increasingly part of pop culture; on the IFC hit “Portlandia,” one sensitive character said hers (“cacao”) even when her boyfriend is sleeping. On Showtime’s “Shameless,” Joan Cusack plays a kinky mother trying to manage the enthusiasm and pricey toy collection of her younger lover.
And some real-life kinksters — a few of whom are appropriating the epithet “pervert,” much as gay activists seized control of “queer” — are wondering if they are approaching a time when they, like the L.G.B.T. community before them, can come out and begin living more open, integrated lives.
But that time, it seems, has not yet arrived. Though the Harvard Munch Club, a social group of around 30 students focusing on kinky interests, was officially recognized by the university in December, its 21-year-old founding president asked that he not be identified. (“I’m interested in politics,” he offered as one reason.) He said that he had “encountered zero negative responses on campus,” and received messages from alumni expressing solidarity and wishing there had been a similar group when they were undergraduates.
A 20-year-old college student and self-described submissive on Long Island who asked to be referred to only by her middle name, Marie, said that she was disowned by her parents when a partner’s lover outed her as kinky. “They were just beside themselves,” Marie said. “I think they were worried I would get hurt.”
She saw how telling people could be complicated. “It’s like being gay in that it’s a sexual preference, but it’s not like being gay in the sense that it’s not who you love, it’s how you love,” she said, adding, “The coming out is a little bit different.” Still, she said, “among people my own age, I haven’t found anyone who thinks I’m weird or doesn’t want to be friends.”
For those who find hostility in the wider world, though, there are plenty of welcoming environments to be found. Inside Paddles, there are black walls and a mural featuring a cartoon woman in thigh-high red boots standing with a stiletto heel on a man’s back. The bar, called Whips and Licks Cafe, does not sell alcohol, but coffee, sodas and Italian ices, giving the atmosphere an unexpectedly wholesome feeling. Opposite it was a display of paddles, floggers and other equipment for sale. The club’s various nooks and crannies featured rigs, chains, cages and benches where participants could pair up and play out whatever “scenes” they agreed upon.
Tucked away in one room, a man and woman were sharing fire play, which involved accelerant placed on strategic points of the woman’s body and set ablaze in short, dramatic bursts. In another area, decorated to look like a dungeon, a middle-aged man was lashing a middle-aged woman’s bare back with a single tail whip. Intercourse and oral sex are not allowed at Paddles, but many people had their shirts off, mixing comfortably without any apparent self-consciousness.
The crowd was mixed-age and multiethnic, and the mood was friendly and upbeat. If you ignored the occasional yelps and moans and stripped away the exotic gear, it could have been a gathering of any hobby group, albeit one where photos were prohibited and participants mostly used aliases.
“One out of five people these days who come to our events are novices who say they’ve read ‘Fifty Shades’ and it triggered something and they wanted to explore,” said a man identifying himself as Viktor, 49, who works in marketing and is a founder of DomSubFriends, a BDSM education group that organized a lecture on jealousy that night. “In the beginning I thought, ‘They took away my BDSM,’ ” he said of the newbies. “But then I thought, ‘No, more people are enjoying it.’ ”
Fetish shops like Purple Passion/DV8 on West 20th Street, which sell rope, paddles and other accouterments familiar to BDSM aficionados, are also getting more visits. “We always had people coming in looking to explore, but now there’s a lot more people experimenting and trying things out,” said Lolita Wolf, who works behind the counter and teaches classes like beginner rope bondage and how to play with needles at the shop.
For those not ready to explore kink in public, dating sites like Alt.com and social networks like FetLife let them do so from their own homes or mobile devices. Founded in 2008 and based in Vancouver, British Columbia, FetLife added 700,000 members last year, bringing its total membership to over 1.7 million, according to Susan Wright, a community manager for the site as well as a spokeswoman for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a nonprofit group based in Baltimore that is working to raise awareness of kinky people and defend their rights.
It’s understandable that kinky people would seek the anonymous refuge of the Internet; their preferences can be made an issue in custody battles (even if both parents have participated) or contribute to employees losing their jobs. Valerie White, a founder of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit advocacy and education group based in Sharon, Mass., points to one man whose ex-wife sought to change the terms of their joint custody when she learned of his interest in kinky sex through his blog (the parties eventually settled).
Ms. Wright said the coalition receives 600 calls a year from individuals and organizations seeking help navigating legal minefields. Founded in 1997, the coalition has lobbied to have the American Psychiatric Association update the definitions of certain sexual practices so they can be depathologized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. “We’re perfectly ordinary people except that we like kinky sex,” said Ms. Wright, 49, who is a science fiction writer and has been married 19 years. “We should not be discriminated against.”
The group also maintains a database of “kink-aware” clinicians and spiritual advisers. Some therapists say “something is wrong with you, that it’s a pathology,” said Dr. Charley Ferrer, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan and Staten Island and the author of “BDSM: The Naked Truth.” (That perception is reinforced by the “Fifty Shades’” protagonist, Christian Grey.) “Most people look at BDSM as being abusive: ‘How can you tell someone to beat you and be happy with that?’ Domestic violence and dominance and submission are totally different.” ...
The mood is set: lights are dim, candles are lit and the champagne has been flowing.
You are lying on the bed, waiting for your lover to return when, to your surprise, he or she pulls out some handcuffs. You’re feeling adventurous so you let them lock you in. He or she asks if they can flog you…you have no idea what this means.
BDSM or bondage/discipline, Dominance/submission and sadomasochism/masochism carries a stigma of violence and pain. It’s frowned upon in mainstream society although most people don’t realize they are already interested in it.
The use of handcuffs or blindfolds – even spanking - is a form of BDSM and is commonly accepted as rough sex. According to the 2005 Durex Global Sex Survey, 22 percent of people admitted to using handcuffs or blindfolds during sex. Nineteen percent liked spanking during sex, also known as flogging. The survery involved 317,000 people in 41 countries. Twenty percent of people have used some kind of bondage utility and five percent identify as being involved in the BDSM community.
Dungeon owner Brittany Delta said the biggest misconception about BDSM is that it’s serious.
“People think there’s no humor in it - they are dead wrong,” Delta said, “It’s whips and chains, yes, but it turns to wrestling and Stone Cold Steve Austin head locks. It’s lots of fun.”
People assume those who are into BDSM must have a psychological issue and desire to inflict pain onto another person. Charles Moser found, via survey, “There is no evidence at all supporting the theory of BDSM practitioners having any special psychiatric problems or even problems based solely on their preferences.”
Researchers presented data in 2007 to the World Congress of Sexology which showed that “BDSM is simply a sexual interest attractive to a minority, not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with normal sex.” Although some members of the BDSM community joke that they all have problems that brought them here.
Delta said she’s learned to accept others for who they are through owning a dungeon. ...
Two men dragged a screaming woman off the dance floor at Evolution Nightclub Saturday night, covered her mouth with a rag and bound her in the fetal position with green plastic wrap. A brief kiss later, they left her whimpering in the corner as a security guard with an earpiece and studded boots guarded her from the crowd.
To an unsuspecting bystander, it appeared the woman was assaulted. In reality, she knew it was going to happen; it was a planned fetish performance-art piece.
Such performance pieces are common at Sanctuary Above the Crypt, a monthly event typically held at Evolution Nightclub.
Sanctuary Above the Crypt owner and promoter Daniel Fukken Denial (a stage name) said goths aren’t the only ones who come to his events.
“My crowd is still even mixed,” Denial said. “There’s geeks, nerds, hippies, goths, punks, drag queens. You name it, I’ve seen them all there.”
The performances are often led by Jack D. Nimble, the alter ego character of Julian Wolf, who is an educator on topics such as bondage, domination and sadomasochism.
“It’s a quote that’s not original to me, but ‘Fear is an underestimated aphrodisiac,’” Wolf said. “And it’s true. It stimulates all the same cortexes in the brain as other sorts of stimulation.”
Wolf, a former sexual-health lecturer at CNM, travels the country giving demonstrations on flogging, wax play and role playing. She said sadomasochism is often confused with abuse, but in fact, the nonegalitarian relationships are based on consent.
“If you are being coerced, it’s abuse,” Wolf said. “If you do not want to do it, it’s abuse. If at any point you said, ‘no,’ and it was ignored, it’s abuse. If you’re engaging with someone under the age of 18, it’s abuse. It’s kind of a long and hazy list.” ...
Mercury takes presentation very seriously. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie, he keeps his hair cropped close, and the narrow gap between his two front teeth underscores his symmetrical features. He folds his long hands into each other when he's listening, and he moves them in circles around his wrists when he's making a point.
Right now, his point is safety, which he says is the most important thing about this place. But later, he'll show off his pommel horse and the 700-pound stainless steel surgical table he keeps in the back room. By then, his point will be pure seductive theater.
"What you'll find," he explains, "is that our crowd is interested in symmetry. We are educated in the physiology of safe play. So we're not going to strike joints — the knees, the ankles, the wrists, the spine — because that's where you cause harm. In S&M play, we don't mind hurting, but we don't like to harm. There's a huge difference."
The Mark is Nashville's BDSM dungeon, and Mercury is its executive director. It is, according to Mercury, inarguably one of the top 10 dungeons in the United States, and arguably among the top five.
In the old days before the Internet, you had to snoop around to find a club like The Mark. You had to answer cryptic personal ads in the newspaper, or scour seedy adult bookstores for clues. These days, the Internet, including social media websites like FetLife, seems tailor-made for BDSM. FetLife has a subgroup dedicated to The Mark, which counts more than 1,900 among its members.
But if you really want to know more about his lifestyle, Mercury says, all you have to do is ask.
"We have, in the Nashville area, at least six munches that meet a month." Mercury says, his demeanor both guarded and charismatic. A munch, in BDSM terms, is a casual social gathering in a public place where people can be introduced to the lifestyle over food. After the munch, sometimes play parties are scheduled. ...
On Valentine's Day, images of couples are everywhere. They're buying each other diamond rings, making eyes over expensive restaurant meals and canoodling over chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. But two-by-two isn't the only way to go through life. In fact, an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans are looking outside their relationship for love and sex — with their partner's full permission.
These consensually nonmonogamous relationships, as they're called, don't conform to the cultural norm of a handholding couple in love for life. They come in a dizzying array of forms, from occasional "swinging" and open relationships to long-term commitments among multiple people. Now, social scientists embarking on brand-new research into these types of relationships are finding that they may challenge the ways we think of jealousy, commitment and love. They may even change monogamy for the better.
"People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death," said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont. All of that negotiation may hold a lesson for the monogamously inclined, Holmes told LiveScience.
"They are potentially doing quite a lot of things that could turn out to be things that if people who are practicing monogamy did more of, their relationships would actually be better off," Holmes said. [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]
The study of consensual nonmonogamy is a relatively new field. In the 1970s, partner-swapping and swinging (recreational sex outside of a relationship) came into the public eye, and psychologists conducted a few studies. But that research was limited to mostly white, heterosexual couples who engaged in swinging for fun, according to Elisabeth Sheff, a legal consultant and former Georgia State University professor, writing in 2011 in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.
That means little is yet known about who participates in consensual nonmonogamy and why. Research is largely limited to self-report and surveys, in which people can be tempted to present themselves in a positive light. There are, however, some key definitions to understand. Consensual nonmonogamy contains multitudes. It includes sex-only arrangements, such as two committed partners agreeing that they're allowed to seek no-strings-attached sex with other people. It also includes polyamory, which involves multiple committed relationships at once with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved.
Consensual nonmonogamy does not include cheating, in which one partner steps out without the permission of the other. ...