Feedback reconciling BDSM and painful sex

05/25/2010 at 6:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Last week, I wrote up a post about my impressions of The New Bottoming Book, a beginner bottom’s guide to BDSM. I’m becoming interested in BDSM, but I still have questions about it. I’m particularly apprehensive about pain – since I have a history of sexual pain to begin with, I need some help understanding the difference between incorporating pain into sex play vs. painful sex.

So I decided to ask for help!

My interest in BDSM is new, but it’s not coming from out of the blue – I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. A few months ago, I contacted Ms. Sexability from the eponymous blog, SexAbility [NSFW.] Then I got sidetracked for like 5 months, which is terrible on my part I know… Ms. Sexability and her co-contributors have been blogging for several years now about sex and sexuality, BDSM, queerness, and disability. I had been reading her blog for a few months when I started thinking about BDSM, and she was kind enough to take the time to help me out with some tricky questions.

We corresponded, though it took awhile longer before I felt ready to start talking about this topic here. With a scaffolding of understanding provided by The Bottoming Book though, I think now is a good time.

I wrote up an e-mail to Ms. Sexability: [The link and non-italic parts may be triggering:]

What’s on my mind is, one of my blogger-friends posted a link to one of those “What kind of person are you?” quizzes, and the topic of interest for this particular quiz was what kind of BDSM (if any) you are into…

This is the quiz.

I was struggling with some of the questions about pain though. Since I have experienced unwanted sexual pain, when the quiz asked things like, I enjoy the idea that my partner wants to inflict pain on me. I like being threatened with pain. After sex, I enjoy seeing the evidence of the pain I experienced during sex… I was really struggling with those questions. I’m sure the author means wanted pain & wanted marks, but all I could do was flashback to the dyspareunia… I couldn’t get around it. It’s not a trigger, per se; all my sexual experiences have been consensual, but I hear the word “Pain” in the context of sex and, bam, I’m right back at the ring of fire.

I’m interested in both topping & bottoming. But I feel like, if I can’t get around the memories of sexual pain, I won’t make as good of a bottom as I’d like to be. Or as good of a top, if my partner wants to inflict pain on him… I’m likely to go too easy on him. Rationally speaking, I know BDSM isn’t a contest and I’m not going to be compared to anyone else. And I know that if I’m not into pain at all, it shouldn’t be a problem – I can talk to my partner about that & he’ll honor whatever I want.

To boil it down, how do I reconcile a history of sexual pain with the painful aspects of BDSM?

Any ideas?

To which she responded (e-mail response is being used with permission:)

Well, I’m no expert on this topic, because I’m actually into D/s and Bondage more then into SM, and generally do sensation play, and use SM techniques like flogging, waxing, beating with nerf bat etc. for physiotherapy reasons and as a form of pain management, but I’ll give you my ideas and instincts anyways, for what they are worth.

Since I have a chronic pain condition, I find I have a real problem with the “are you into pain,” question, because I’m always replying, “Uh…what do you mean by pain?”  There are many types of pain similiar to there being many types of touch. Imagine if we asked a young girl or boy, “are you into touch?” Well, they’d say, “yes of course,” but that doesn’t mean they want their genitals touched by an adult. So, in the way that we’ve come to talk to children about “good touch,” and “bad or icky touch,” that’s how I’ve come to talk about pain. There is Good Pain and there is Bad Pain.

There is Good Pain, like getting a really deep massage, or flogging, etc. that makes you scream out BUT also makes you go, “Ahhhhhh,” and “Mmmmmmm,” in relaxation or sexual response.

There is also the type of Good Pain that hurts like hell, like the pain during childbirth, but that you withstand and accept it even while cursing and screaming because you know it’s a signal of life and not just life, but life being born. And so this pain makes you feel awful, but mentally you know, somewhere, before and perhaps after the moment if not right in it, that the reward of this pain, is worth the acute pain you feel at the moment.

And then there is “Bad Pain.”

Bad Pain makes you wish you were dead, makes you stop what you are doing and not continue, makes scream out in “Get it the fuck out of me, NOW!” kind of response, VS a, “Mmmm…More Please, Hurts sooo GOOD!” kind of response. Also, bad pain, there is no real reward for enduring it. You don’t feel any pride, “look how strong and tough I am,” you don’t have a child, or an olympic medal, or goal acheived afterwards, you just wish it would stop when it’s happening, and when it’s over, you wish it would never happen again, never have happened, and feel serious anger towards any person causing you the pain, outside of say, “in the moment, of a BDSM scene.” Also, Good Pain, is something you enjoy, and you are not suffering. Unless of course, you enjoy suffering, and then, well, you’ll have to figure out yourself what is Good Pain and Bad Pain. But you get the idea.

So what I would suggest with your Partner, is that you start talking about Good Pain and Bad Pain, and include emotional or psychological pain in the equation, people leave that out and emotional or psych pain is still a form of pain. With the sexual pain that you experienced during sex, that has you afraid now, what I would suggest is basically what they call Densensitization therapy. Like, with your husband, set aside a time, for him to play with you cunt, not necessarily doing penile or otherwise penetration play at this time. Like you could do cunt torture, where you partner flogs your cunt, or learns to do needles in it, (take lessons for this, or get someone in the know to teach you), he can pull, slap, etc.  The GOAL at these moments, is for you start distinguishing what feels “Good” to your cunt and what feels “Bad,” and it’s MOST IMPORTANT that either way, you have positive experiences, make sure, that the whole experience is a generally positive one, lots of loving care, lots of encouraging statements, “that’s a Good Girl your doing great,” or whatever works for you etc.

What your trying to do, is what a therapist once referred to me as “making new history.” you’ve got a history now of having this horrible experience, and so, your basically experiencing, from what you’ve described, a kind of PTSD reaction to the negative experiences. It was so awful, and your anxiety regarding experiencing it again, rises to the level, where your tense, stressed out, frightened, and so, your gonna have “bad Pain,” which, I’m assuming, stops you from having intercourse. So I’m thinking, and I’m NO EXPERT here, but I’m thinking what you need to have, is some positive good experiences, that will counteract that old history. If you haven’t tried it already, I would suggest your partner using his fingers, increasing AND using a variety of different sizes and shapes of sex toys. Go slow, start gently, slowly, doing any “pain work,” BDSM on the outside of the cunt, inner thighs, etc. you can decide for yourselves if you want to do pain work separate from working on penetration experiences. And remember, LOTS of your favorite lube. Your partner shouldn’t worry about you not being “wet,” and neither should you. Just use tons and tons of lube, as much as you can, and just, you know, explore. Explore different positions too when doing this. Maybe you can only handle a very small and thin dildo or vibrator inserted in missionary position, but if you lie on a pillow with your ass in the air, you can take a larger amount and so forth.

I know I experience pain during pentrative sex with dildoes, when I am in doggy style position, my fav position to be in, the pain hurts, but not enough to stop me from doing the behavior. If your pain hurts enough to stop you from doing the behavior and makes you develop anxiety or fear of the behavior, well, for me, I’d place that in the Bad Pain category. I’m assuming that this has probably caused some problems with you and your husband having intercourse, so I would really suggest at first, he focus on using his hands like lesbians do and sex toys. I don’t know if Fisting is something you’ve tried, or if it would hurt you, it all depends on the size of his hands, and honestly, I don’t really know much about your conditions, why I’d love for you to regularly post about these things. But, when I get fisted, it’s not as deep a penetration as with a dildo or a penis would be, it’s more WIDE penitration. I mean, it CAN go deep, but not necessarily and also, it’s hitting a wider area then a dildo or penis would. There’s a great book called “Hand in the Bush,” if your guy wants to try this and hasn’t. As you use the sex toys, hands, etc. and have more positive experiences, you should become desensitized to the horrible one, and also start figuring out what is Good Pain penetratively and what isn’t. Eventually, you might want to try some slow vanilla penetrative sex, with again, lots, and lots, and lots of lube, because your gonna be tense, and so your just not going to as juicy as you would be and you don’t need to be worrying about THAT. I’d really set up times and do this as a carefully planned out, “experimentation,” or “practice play session.” Where the focus is learning and getting new positive memories made, and not so much about “making love,” or “doing a scene.” You can do that at other times, incorporating what you’ve learned works in your practice sessions into your scene.

If it turns out you can’t handle vaginal penetration any more, then I really, really encourage you and your guy to explore anal play if you haven’t done that either. Lots of good books on how to do that out there. If your guy can do you anally, he won’t feel like he’s losing something and you won’t feel like your failing him, etc. Of course, if it happens where you can’t do vaginal penetration anymore, then, both you and your guy have lost something, and there’s a real loss here, that you both need to understand, acknowledge and work through. I would think it would be normal for a guy to feel anger, frustration and loss, all aspects of grief, if his girl couldn’t do penetrative sex with him. And I think you’d feel all these two, but you’d also feel guilt, fear of losing him, shame, sense of not being a “real” woman, and all that kind of stuff. If you can find things to ADD to your sexual experiences then the loss will still be a loss, but not so bad maybe. Just remember that feelings are feelings, and even if your guy is feeling grief, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, is gonna leave you, or anything like that. allow him to acknowledge and feel his feelings, just, you know, if it’ s too much for YOU get him to dump any anger he may be experiencing on a friend, or anonymously online with other husbands whose wives are dealing with this, etc. It’s okay for him to have a variety of feelings and go through a grief process cause he’s lost something too, but it’s not okay for him to dump that on you, and try to get you to be his support for this issue, cause it’s just too close to home for you. You can’t detach and listen to him as he works his feelings through. Although, again, sharing the feelings, once he knows whats going on for him, is okay I’d think.

I don’t know if this helps at all, but it’s all I’ve got! LOL

It helps. I think, it helped me.

A few points I found particularly interesting: Ms. Sexability uses some BDSM practices, such as sensation play, for pain management. She’s written about this topic before [NSFW]. And she makes a distinction between Good Pain and Bad Pain. I like the use of deep massage as an example of “Good pain,” because that’s something I’ve personally experienced firsthand.

I have had a few deep tissue massages and I think it’s a very good example of Good Pain. A deep tissue massage can hurt a little while it’s going on – but at the same time it feels sooo good… A good masseuse encourages me to give feedback on whether I’m comfortable and if I’d prefer harder or lighter work, and so far I prefer firm pressure. And I relax completely during treatment – which surprised me the first time, since relaxing like that is usually difficult for me to do. At a treatment a few months ago, my masseuse was really working my calf muscles over. She had my right calf in what felt like a vice grip, and moved her hands up my leg with that same pressure. It was a very intense sensation, bordering on pain, but at the same time I didn’t want her to stop on that leg. My left leg, she had to take it easier on, since that’s the leg that pain sometimes radiates down when I’m in bad shape. After a deep tissue massage, I may be left sore for a day or two, since those muscles get worked over much more than what I’m used to, but I experience some benefits too – I’m more flexible and energized for days. I love it. I love the non-professional massages my partner and I give each other, but deep tissue massage by a professional is something I pay money for! I’m about due for another deep tissue massage, in fact.

I also appreciate that Ms. Sexability acknowledges emotional & psychological pain as important to consider. BDSM can involve intense emotions & feelings, not all of them physical – and it’s okay to make distinctions between good and bad pain there, too. And it’s okay to have those emotions. And it’s okay to go through a period of grief when sex hurts and you cannot or can no longer engage in activities that you wanted. I know I grieved.

The desensitization exercise suggested above, is one I’ve heard and seen elsewhere, and something that I’ve been working on. My techniques are a little different, but I’m open to incorporating more kinky activity into my process too. Reading between the lines, desensitization and learning to associate touch with pleasure was one of my instructions for dilator treatment post-vestibulectomy! Learn how to associate physical touch with good feelings. It can take a long time, especially since I’m trying not to rush. For me this means dilators, clinical physical therapy and both touching with my partner (we’re not actually married yet but at this point everything’s inevitable,) and maybe sometimes inserting something into my vagina when we’re together, maybe even to orgasm for me. I’m learning how to associate vulvar & vaginal touch with good experiences. Sometimes I backtrack, and I’m trying to accept these backtracks.

And she makes another important point, to take your time.

I really enjoyed this response, and, if the comments on the Bottoming Book review post are any indication, there are some BDSM practitioners and activists who are willing to lend a helping hand to beginners. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and it’s very reassuring.

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5 Comments »

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  1. The good pain vs. bad pain distinction definitely makes sense to me. One of the reasons I’ve struggled with self-injury (mostly ripping out my hair, sometimes banging my head) for a long time is that it’s good pain when I don’t want it to be good pain. I gather that a lot of other people who have problems stopping SI have it for very similar reasons. I don’t want it to be, but somehow, to my body, to my endocrine system, it is.

    I guess one other thing that has occurred to me in the context of BDSM and sexual pain is that I’ve seen several people say that once you hit a certain point, with things deliberately meant to cause pain, your body’s natural endorphins will kick in and increase your threshold of pain, or things that are normally painful will no longer be. So I’ve had some curiosities about whether that would change things as far as penetration being painful.

    (Though, at this point, I haven’t had much opportunity to experiment. My last partner was extremely against BDSM and would never have agreed to do anything resembling it in any way.)

    I’ve also seen a few people talk about how BDSM can be useful if you have chronic pain because it makes pain controllable— you can choose exactly how much of it you want, and where, and for how long. Which apparently can help to make pain less psychologically threatening or intimidating for some people. I wish I could speak from more personal experience here, apart from the good pain vs. bad pain distinction.

    • One thing I like about this distinction is that it also means that you don’t have to accept all pain. Some or a lot of pain is still going to be bad and you’re not obligated to accept it – The way Ms. Sexability described it, BDSM lets you pick & choose. I really appreciate that; I’d hate to have to accept vulvar pain just because I’m okay with some other kind of pain.

      That Bottoming Book said that, over time your limits may stretch so you can accept more & new kinds of sensations, but the authors still don’t like unexpected pain like when they stub their toes.

      I don’t have much experience with any of this yet either, but my partner’s open to it. Now if we can just get together again some time in the next few weeks maybe I can put this into practice.

  2. […] you all get to see the quasi-guest post with heavy contribution from Ms. Sexability this week? My plan right now is to do at least one more […]

  3. […] FSD, little help from my friends, pain, sex, submission, vaginismus, vulvodynia Last week, I posted an e-mail exchange between me and Ms. Sexability, about reconciling BDSM with a history of painful sex. It’s a […]

  4. x


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