Updated: Aug 23
The submissive’s body is a unique thing. Our body is ours, first and foremost. We have the right and the responsibility to keep it safe. We also keep and prepare our bodies for a dominant’s use and enjoyment.
Many submissives, though not all by a long shot, enjoy some form of pain, be it mild or more extreme. Our relationship with pain is different than people who do not receive some form of satisfaction or enjoyment from certain types of pain. This means in caring for our bodies, our relationship with pain and understanding of bodily pain is different than the vast majority of people.
I am a classic example of a masochist. I get sexual satisfaction from certain types of pain. I get a great deal of emotional satisfaction from certain forms of pain which communicate obedience and dedication to a dominant. I need pain for some forms of sexual pleasure and satisfaction.
The universe with it’s infinite jacked up sense of humor has also cursed me with chronic, debilitating pain. This is not good pain. This is not pain which indicates healing. This is not pain that brings enjoyment. It is demoralizing, debilitating and to be honest, sucks ass (and not in a good way).
Living with chronic pain has changed my relationship with my body and with masochism. I am far from the only masochist who has to deal with debilitating pain. As kinksters of my generation age dealing with undesirable pain becomes a bigger issue in the community. There are some great resources out there for us (see Andrew Gurza, Kinkly “8 Tips for sex with a chronic illness” and “Bondage and Disability” to start). I have also included a few things I have learned from lived experience.
1. Good Pain vs. Bad Pain
Kinky people sometimes like to distinguish between good and bad pain, or “hurt verses harm” in some lingo. There is a big difference in types of pain a person experiences, especially those of us living with chronic pain.
I know many people, even non-kinkly folks, who make a distinction between types of pain. When a good friend underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer, she said that the pain afterward was intense, but tolerable because it was a “healing pain.” This is something those of us who have experienced pain kind of understand. When pain is associated with healing and getting better, it lacks the physical and emotional drain of “bad pain.” Yes, we still hurt. Yes, it can interfere with our ability to function. But knowing it will end and we will be better makes this pain tolerable.
Bad pain is often associated with damage, lack of healing, or something which is chronic and unchangeable for the better. Bad pain, over time, makes everything hurt more. If I have been in pain for a long time, stubbing my toe by accident hurts much more than if I have had a few days with low pain.
People who live with chronic pain develop a language about it. I know organ pain and joint pain, muscle pain, bone pain, achy, throbbing, stabbing, acute, chronic, neurological, itching (a type of pain), and more.
If you have a partner who has a pain condition, learning what these types of pain mean to them will help in communication.
2. Our bodies are not always safe places.
Chronic pain makes me (and other people I have talked too) feel like their body is attacking us. Our bodies become unsafe. In my case, this is amplified because it comes from an autoimmune condition so high pain literally means my body is attacking itself as a foreign object.
For a masochist, this can mean pain-based kinks are very threatening. I am generally someone who really enjoys heavy impact, especially stingy pain like caning. I enjoy it when I feel grounded and safe in my body. This type of play when I am in a lot of physical pain can trigger a panic reaction in me. I have had to learn to communicate with partners when I can and cannot engage in types of play.
3. Pain can make you feel like a failure.
I take great pride in the amount of heavy impact play I can enjoy and withstand. I have very proudly displayed black and purple bruises, skin split open from caning, and welts. When I cannot take even a basic caning, there is a great deal of shame. I feel like I have failed as a submissive.
This has nothing to do with a partner’s demands or reaction. I have been lucky to play with dominants who understand and have a good deal of empathy for my condition. They have never shamed me. In fact, I get gold stars for scenes I would normally consider mild. It is my own internal issues that make me feel like I have failed.
This is not uncommon among masochists. When we have to give up something which is important to us (pain-based play) and we cannot perform for our partners in ways we have in the past, a lot of us feel like failures.
It is important to develop alternative types of play with partners we feel good about. I have developed a greater liking for sensation play and bondage now that I cannot do extreme impact on most days. I generally shunned these types of play for my preferred impact play until recently. Now, I focus on creativity, sensation, and other aspects of my kink to develop.
4. Pain can be demoralizing.
I accept I am getting older. I accept that I should (slowly) be able to do less and recover more slowly than I did at 20. I never thought at 43, there would be days where the 150 foot walk to the mailbox would leave me winded and limping. I am not okay with that type of aging and pain.
Waking up in the morning and having to evaluate if my hands are strong enough and flexible enough to pick up a coffee mug can reduce me to tears. Four years ago, I was traveling 20 days a month around the state, running a State agency, hitting the gym five days a week, and throwing parties on weekends. To move from that to not being able to make myself a cup of coffee in four years is a crushing blow.
There are days I am fine. I can function like a normal 43 year old. I get one or two a month if I am lucky. Those days are great. Waking up after a couple of good days and limping to the bathroom, feet burning with nephropathy and too exhausted to stand up in the shower is demoralizing.
I don’t want to be seen as someone who cannot take care of themselves, who’s pain dictates other people plan around me and cater to me. Sometimes I can’t hide the pain. When I can’t walk from the parking lot to a grocery store without limping and engaging in Lamaze style breathing, it is deeply embarrassing. All of this can lead to a depressive spiral if I am not careful.
Living with a partner who has chronic pain requires a balance. There are days I want to bitch about my pain and days I want to ignore it. I know talking about my pain makes my partner feel bad. He can’t solve it, he can’t fix it and he has a lot of empathy for me. I don’t want to be a burden so I don’t always want to talk about how I feel.
Every couple has to figure out where this balance is for them. I know some people develop a code or simply an agreement that “not today” signals the partner with chronic pain can’t or doesn’t want to talk about how they feel. Living with pain requires that both people in the partnership figure out the boundaries and ways to talk about and address pain when it is important and let it be when it is not.
6. Corollary to 5: Pain can make you insecure.
I do not live with my partner. We are separated by 90 miles, enough to prevent a daily pop-in. The longer I am in pain, the more severe it is, the more depressing it is. I have learned over time that feelings of depression and insecurity mount the longer I have to tolerate a stretch of pain.
This translates into me feeling insecure in our relationship. I know that I am not physically capable of doing what I need to do to be a full partner when my pain is high. I can become demanding of affection and reassurance from him. This is annoying to him (to say the least).
Acknowledging where these feelings come from is a good self-check for me. We are still working out a way to balance my emotional needs when I have had a long stretch of pain and his desire and ability to provide the increased levels of reassurance I need that I am not useless. Every couple will have to find their own balance.
The irony of living with chronic pain is that as soon as I have a couple of good days without much pain, the first thing I want to do is re-engage my pain-based kinks. This can freak out certain partners. For me to move from “I can’t tolerate sitting up for 20 minutes,” to “Please Sir, bend me over and whip my ass!!” can feel like whiplash.
I have come to understand it can make my partners feel guilty about inflicting enjoyable pain. When they see me limping, struggling to walk down a block or bracing before I get out of a car, the last thing they want to do is inflict more pain.
This is where communication is critical. Many dominants don’t enjoy receiving pain themselves. They don’t necessarily understand that for a submissive, finally receiving the pain they enjoy can feel healing and positive. Talking this through helps. Getting really wet when they spank you is even better.
Develop a language to communicate about the different types of pain you have.
Develop alternatives to pain-based kinks.
Be patient with yourself and your partner.
Recognize the source of depression and insecurity.
Find a balance in how you cope with long-term pain.
Accept its okay to inflict pain when your partner says its okay.