The Relativity of Pain

Facts about this rather prickly fetish, and why it may be more approachable than you think.

By Tess Dagger • 9 min read • ENGLISH

Last week’s spanking felt wonderful and turned me on. Today, it only hurts. Why?

I’ve received silly amounts of pain under the whip, belt, cane, and any other impact tool under the sun. Sometimes, I take it with stoic grace; my teeth clenched, and knuckles white from grabbing whatever’s in front of me as I slip into the mythical roams of subspace. Other times, just a few of a partner’s barehanded slaps on my bum can be enough to make me tear up and beg for mercy.

In my last essay on the connection between pain and pleasure, I ask why something can feel plain painful in one setting and pleasurable in another. Why can seemingly similar types of impact or stimulation be experienced as thrilling and euphoric in one scenario, with one partner, and unbearable in or with another?

I’ve pondered this a lot and have come to the understanding that the following factors determine my interpretation of pain:

Mindset | How am I doing overall and what’s my current life situation like?

Personal relationship | How do I feel about whoever’s administering the pain. Are they a romantic partner, play partner, or someone I just met?

Motivation | What drives me to want to receive pain?

Emotional wellbeing | How I’m doing mentally; anxious and stressed or calm and collected?

Physical health | How I feel physically; energetic or worn out, vital or sickly, underslept or rested? Where am I in my hormonal cycle?

Immediate environment | What are my surroundings, do I feel safe here, and are we playing privately or in public?

During an early phase of my BDSM journey, I sought out the most extreme experiences available to me, and, as a result, found myself chained to the ceiling of a play-space, blindfolded and whipped bloody. This happened a few times, but once, I also had electric stimulation devices stuck to my Adductor muscles, while my sadist—let’s call him Amir—slid a combat knife along my spine, and down my inner thighs. For the grand finale, he doused me in rubbing alcohol and lit me on fire.

Needless to say, we created quite a spectacle.

I have no memory of any of this being especially painful, instead, I remember it as intense, thrilling, and mind-expanding. I’m sure I was twitching and cursing all the way through, but not because I wanted it to stop. High as a kite on a delicious hormonal cocktail, I let my play partner embrace me for a few minutes before I, seemingly unfazed, joined the crowd of onlookers to float around the club on a fluffy cloud—grinning from ear to ear.

I’ve neither been able to connect as deeply to my masochistic side nor have I played at this intensity since. This is, in part, because I never came across anyone as sadistic, but also because I didn’t truly urge for it. The reasons can be found in all of the points above, and I’ll go through them below in more detail.

Where is my mind?

The sessions with Amir happened at a peculiar time in my life; I was fresh out of a long-term, toxic relationship and I realized after that I had utilized the physical sensations to transmute the other unpleasant emotions I was dealing with. The pain became a form of therapy, which—all though it’s not something I universally recommend—did wonders for me.

There might come a time when I feel the need to go back there again, but so far, I’ve been satisfied with somewhat gentler expressions of my masochism.

Where we’re at in our lives, and the things we’re going through, whether short- or long-term can have a tremendous impact on how we experience sensation, as well as the kind of intensity we crave.

The importance of relationships

Subsequent partners who knew how far I’d gone in the past would assume I’d be totally hardcore with them too. As a result, they were surprised when I backed out miles earlier than expected.

One lover, whom I saw for many months, was also quite sadistic and loved to make me squirm. But, because we shared a meaningful spiritual and emotional relationship and he happened to be an invaluable support during a challenging time in my life, I was often unable to enjoy receiving excessive amounts of pain from him. I associated him with someone who comforted me, and therefore, I couldn’t handle it when he hurt me. I’d quickly end in tears and tell him to stop.

When you have a deeper, yet day-to-day relationship and know each other’s ups and downs it can be difficult to flip the switch on a dime. It may be just as challenging for a dominant or sadist to hurt you as it is for you to get hurt after one of you had a hard day at work, your kid(s) are throwing tantrums and you had an argument with a friend, etc.

A casual play partner doesn’t know all of these things, and often we might be better off not divulging everything for this simple reason; to leave a bit of mystery, allowing space to transcend the mundane and really play.

I’m certain that this is not true for all, or even most; some might only be able to relax and trust enough with someone they’re emotionally close with.

But, that being said, it’s far from impossible (for me) to get there with a close partner, but it tends to take a bit more effort to reach the right mindset; a conscious decision to schedule a play session perhaps, or a reservation at a tastefully designed playroom (…) And, when you arrive, a long, slow, warm-up to get the blood flowing!

Eyes on the prize

In my experience with masochism, it’s almost always mind over matter, and my ability to endure, and thus truly savor, depends on my motivation.

There are certain scenarios in which I’m eager to push myself and others where I’m simply not able to. My kryptonite is my competitive streak, in which I compete exclusively against myself. Equipped with an almost child-like urge to prove myself (again, mostly to myself), the best way to get me under the whip is to challenge me—make me want to show you.

Add thrill and playfulness

The last time I received significant pain during impact play was in a spanking competition at a play party. When they announced the game I’d already won in my head and nothing was going to change that.

Flanked by a handful of other spankees, I stubbornly bit my teeth, not making a peep until I was the last one standing. Because I was so dead set on the prize—which had nothing to do with the free tickets I could win for the next party, and everything to do with holding up to my own promise to myself—little could have made me safe-word out. I won with pure determination, all while enjoying it immensely.

Challenges, in general, get me riled up and puts me in a playful mood. Besides, I’m more of an exhibitionist than I usually admit to, so this is a perfect example of an instance where I’ll step it up, multiple notches.

It’s not just in a public setting where this works for me. A simple comment from a sadistic and/or dominant partner, such as I bet you can’t take much of this…, generally begets the response: Well, I’ll show you! (Insert overly cocky snarl).

In this context, as a somewhat infamous sadist in the scene, Amir also proposed a challenge for me to conquer.

Motivation can vary hugely from person to person, and not everyone is a thrill seeker or challenge junkie like me. Many are motivated strictly by the sensation itself, the high that follows, or a number of other factors.

Mind, body, soul

Our physical and mental states are in constant flux, even when we feel more or less stable. Those of us who menstruate are often affected by where we are in our cycles which can play a part in how we interpret pain. Most commonly, we’ll be more sensitive in the days before our periods and less so in the first half of the cycle leading up to, or just past ovulation.

Stress, anxiety and other psychological strain also affect us physically, which can amplify when venturing into the roams of sadomasochism.

About myself, I’ve learned that I’m more likely to want to play hard when I feel physically and mentally fit, and less so when I’m not at my best. But, there are exceptions to this rule too; sometimes a hard spanking can be just the way to get out of my overactive, stressed head and back into my body.

The best way to go about this is to check in with yourself and your partner, both beforehand and during play. Some days you might even think you want one thing, just to discover half-way that you need something else. Communication is key here!


I’ve admitted to being somewhat of an exhibitionist, therefore, public play can add extra motivation, given that I feel otherwise safe and comfortable in the setting. Having a partner that knows how to hold space and command a certain respect, also by keeping unwanted participants at a safe distance, makes all the difference.

Further, exhibitionism is only appealing to me in intended spaces where a show is welcome and I, therefore, wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy an impromptu spanking session in a public park, for example.

When it comes to what the environment looks and feels like, an aesthetically pleasing setting with nice lighting and music can feel just right, but so can an abandoned warehouse, or a secluded place in nature. What matters most is feeling safe to let go, which can mean any number of settings for different people.

In the end, I don’t have a clear recipe for when, where, or how I most enjoy pain, or when I don’t. Even less can I tell anyone else what’s right for them. What I do know is that I’m a largely circumstantial masochist in that I don’t tend to like pain just for the sake of it, but only when it comes with a deeper meaning and context.

All of this might differ from person to person, or from one day to the next. The most important thing to remember is that we’re not just all unique, but we’re dynamic and versatile beings with individual needs and desires. Whether you play with someone new, or with your partner for the hundredth time, always keep communication open and be ready to adapt.


Ena Dahl | Writer for SPNKD

Multidimensional creatrix & muse
seeking to unite sexuality & spirituality,
instigate alchemical healing & ignite the wild (wo)man
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