Behind Closed Doors: Finding pleasure in a painful paradox

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March 16, 2010

2:29 AM

You’re naked, kind of. Wrapped around your body — and, bien sur, your junk — is a black cord. It’s holding your arms in the air and your legs to the ground. Come to think of it, it’s kind of tight. There’s probably going to be a mark there in the morning. A masked man emerges out of the darkness in front of you. He’s got a whip in one hand, and he’s smacking it into the other. He smiles as he comes closer.

Are you having a nightmare or a wet dream?

It all depends on where you draw the line between pleasure and pain. Although the two are purported to be opposites, many people find that in the heat of the moment, they are indistinguishable.

The example above is an extreme. Most people draw the line before whips, chains and welts, but everyone has a threshold, and most people are titillated by a little bit of pain now and then.

Many of us associate these themes with BDSM, which refers to bondage, dominance and sadomasochism. We write off the value of a little pain while in bed. We must give up the notion of the sexual divide — the myth that some people are into pain and others aren’t. Sexual differences are quantitative, not qualitative. It’s not if you like pain, it’s how much pain you like.

Disagree? Consider the case of spanking: You’re doing it like Fido, and your arms are on her hips. Suddenly, you notice her nice, firm butt. Go ahead, give it a little smack. Light spanking is pretty vanilla, but it is nonetheless a mixture of pleasure and pain. Other painful sex acts include hair pulling and biting.

So why mix it up? Pleasure is pleasure; leave it alone, right? Wrong. Adding pain to the equation provides a nice contrast. If your partner nibbles your nipple then starts sucking on it tenderly, you’re likely to enjoy the sucking more than you would have if you hadn’t been bitten.

Rough play can be a sign of passion. Bringing your animalistic side out for a little while to ravish your bedmate is often a good idea. Many people, given a safe environment, appreciate the idea of a partner being so turned on they can hardly control himself or herself.

Additionally, the idea of incorporating pain is considered very naughty. And who among us doesn’t want to find themselves occasionally on Santa’s bad list?

For me, the realization that many people mix pleasure and pain was surprising. One of my close friends revealed to me that he’s into being choked during sex. My first reaction was, “Why would you do that? You seem so normal.” The truth is, he’s not that aberrant. Choking isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s not my place to judge where he draws the line.

Now if I were to hop into bed with him, we might have a bit of an issue. What would be the appropriate way to bring up such a fetish? Would it be best if we stopped during foreplay to decide that later on in the night my hands would be around his neck? Or should I just spring it on him in the moment (“Surprise! You can’t breathe!”)?

As with any sexual preference, it’s all about feeling your partner out. First-time sex tends to be pretty bland, but once you’ve hooked up a few times, it’s alright to let your freak flag fly. If you’re too embarrassed to ask, consider the source of the shame. Sex is an adult activity for many reasons. One of them is that you have to be mature enough to speak openly about your fantasies.

One critical note: Trust is essential. This is true in all kinds of sex, but especially when pain comes into the picture. There’s a huge difference between your long-time girlfriend attaching electrodes to your nipples and asking you to call her “Big Mama” and a one-night stand you found at the Green Leafe Cafe doing the same.

Now go buy some candles and drip them all over your privates. Let your woman scratch her nails down your back. Go nuts. Go crazy. Flout the idea that pain and pleasure are separate entities. And could you maybe choke me a little, too?

__Maya Horowitz is the Flat Hat sex columnist. She prefers sandpaper sheets to satin ones.__

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