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pain, n. [OED]
  • Physical or bodily suffering; a continuous, strongly unpleasant or agonizing sensation in the body (usually in a particular part), such as arises from illness, injury, harmful physical contact, etc.
  • The state or condition of consciousness arising from mental or physical suffering (opposed to pleasure); distress; (occas.) an instance of this. Freq. with in. Also in pl. in same sense.
  • Mental distress or suffering; anguish, grief; an instance of this.

Pain has an important role in BDSM, and one of the main reasons for this is the potential intensity of the experience of pain. From the list in the article on motivations, we can note that this intensity can lead, amongst other things, to:

It's important to note that pain is not an end in itself, but is instead a gateway to possibly more intense experiences (such as those mentioned above). Indeed, it may be the case that the pain needed to get "there" is more symbolic than actual, enough to trigger the necessary psychological or emotional process rather than actually cause or sustain it.

Transformation of pain into pleasure

While pain is pain and the body and mind will continue to register it as such, the psychological and emotional consequences of the pain may be so intense as to drown it out. In other words, the pleasure, catharsis, or other reactions triggered by the use of pain may be so strong that any pain still being experienced is overwhelmed. So, rather than being transformed, the pain is instead displaced by the pleasure.

Not all pain is good pain

While all sorts of pain inflicted in the course of BDSM scenes can be processed positively, a lot of the time this is due to the state of mind of the person receiving it. Pain which accidentally occurs may not be right for the submissive's current state of mind and instead of being positive and useful will be disruptive and unpleasant instead. For example:

  • If you have tied up your partner and an unplanned fold of clothing is uncomfortably pressing up against their skin this can spoil their focus or prevent your submissive achieving subspace,
  • While you are undressing your partner if you catch their foreskin in the zip of their jeans as you undo it this can really break any mood you're trying to create.
  • Knicking someone's skin with a knife as you're trying to access their private parts after mummifying them can distract you with their whimpers of pain (which they weren't expecting) and your attempts to prevent their blood from seeping through the wrappings.


As BDSM is a two-person activity, and that the goal of engaging in it is frequently to experience one's partner, we should consider how pain fits into this. There are a number of ways this can happen. For example:

  • Intimacy - by allowing one's partner to inflict pain, and see us suffering pain; by being allowed to see our partner suffering
  • Power - by feeling the pain inflicted by our partner causing us to react; by using pain to cause (or force) our partner to respond how we decide
  • Fear - by experiencing fear of the pain our partner is about to inflict, or is inflicting on us

See also