Updated: Aug 22, 2022
There is the myth that the Inuit have some amazing number of words for snow. They don’t- but we have all heard the myth. The concept is that they live with so much snow they learn to distinguish types and have a variety of ways to describe it because it is such a huge part of their daily lives.
While the Inuit may not have 100 words for snow, I have dozens of ways to describe pain. I didn’t always have such a pain vocabulary, but pain has become such a huge part of my life, I have developed a nuanced way of thinking about it.
I was chatting with a friend from the kink world (who also happens to be a masseuse helping me with chronic pain) the other day and I had assumed other masochists and submissives thought about pain in ways which would lead them to develop a large vocabulary for it. I realized through our conversation that I might actually think about pain more than most folks.
Pain, a Taxonomy
Not all pain is the same. All of us have stubbed a toe and had abdominal cramps. It is part of the human experience. If you take a second to think about the different experiences, the pain varies. Sure, it all hurts, but the sudden unexpected pain of stubbing a toe is different than having stomach cramps after eating something that doesn’t sit well. It varies in the onset of pain, the location, the duration, and the emotional experience of pain.
Good v. Bad Pain
For me, when breaking down pain, the first division is “good” versus “bad” pain. Some kink practitioners would separate this into “hurt” versus “harm.” Some folks with chronic illness divide it into “healing” versus “harming” pain. Because I deal with both chronic pain and pain as a masochist, I separate it into “good” and “bad” pain.
For me, “good” pain is pain which results in some sort of growth, positive outcome, or healing. Yes, it is pain at its core. However, the experience of the pain is mentally and emotionally acceptable because the reason for the pain is positive.
When it comes to kink, this would be pain experienced during a scene which aides in reaching the ultimate goal of the scene. For example, if I am engaging in an impact scene with the goal of pleasure and possible orgasm, the pain of nipple clamps, floggers and canes are painful. However that pain is experienced in a positive way. I enjoy it. My body and mind appreciate it. The pain helps deepen the pleasure of the experience.
To get very specific, I would categorize nipple clamps during sex or a kink scene as “positive pain.” Yes, squeezing my nipples with a variety of types of clamps hurts- sometimes a lot. However, my body responds positively to this type of pain. I have long joked with the right set of nipple clamps and a flogger, my pussy could solve the California drought. The pain evokes a strong, positive sexual and emotional response from me. This is good pain.
Similarly, there can be positive pain associated with non-sexualized pain. For example, I recently underwent Lasik surgery. It hurt a lot more than I expected. The healing process hurts. However, the pain is tolerable both physically and emotionally because it is healing pain after the procedure.
Bad pain differs because it is not desired, it causes harm and distress. In kink this could be pain unintentionally caused by a poorly thrown whip, for example. Whipping is painful, period. However, there is a difference between a whip strike which lands properly and an errant throw. A whip which wraps around a thigh wrong or accidentally hits the base of your skull provokes a remarkably different emotional and physical response than a strike landed properly on shoulders or buttocks.
As a masochist, when I know I have been harmed by a strike of some kind, it often takes me out of the scene. I can go from moving into cathartic or into sexual arousal to being upset if a series of impact strikes are harmful (assuming I have not reached sub space).
The same things can be said about “bad” physical pain of chronic illness. I live with multiple conditions which cause chronic pain. At times, there are extended periods where I have aching, burning pain in my limbs. The longer this pain continues unabated, the more depressed and angry I become. The pain is not “healing” pain. I can feel the negative impact it has on my body (associated with osteoporosis and joint damage). It takes a negative physical and emotional toll on me.
Why Categorize Pain?
Why begin to break down types of pain? Because it can help you understand and communicate about your kink experience.
Not all submissives, bottoms or others enjoy the same types of pain. Not all scenes are the same. We need to be effective communicators about pain and what we experience.
Additionally, thinking about pain and learning to distinguish types of pain can help you shape your kink experiences into something you deeply enjoy and grow from. Weather you are a lifelong masochist like me or just occasionally enjoy receiving a good spanking, understanding pain can change your kinky world.
Kinky people often talk about pain in terms of “thuddy” and “stingy” and “sharp” and “dull.” These are good descriptors for the physical experience of pain. We need to expand the conversations to include “helpful versus harmful” or “good versus bad” pain.
If we begin to see scenes with masochists as more than technical demonstrations, it becomes easier to have the conversations of how the masochist experiences pain.
If you like a specific type of pain (e.g., thuddy pain) and dislike others (e.g., stingy) think about why you like one and not the other. What is the physical experience of each? What is the emotional experience? What is your tolerance for each? What imagery (if any) comes to you as you experience each type of pain?
Asking these types of questions will deepen your kinky experiences. I know for me, when I started really thinking about pain, it expanded my kinky practices. I was able to go deeper into cathartic scenes. I began to move away from the “thuddy” experiences of floggers and some paddles and learned to really love caning and whipping. I was able to expand my play to show deeper submission and release of control to my dominant.
There is much more to the taxonomy of pain. There are additional posts coming, dear reader! This is just the beginning of breaking down our understanding of pain.