Connection Between Pain and Pleasure

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”  -Kenji Miyazawa

The relationship between pain and pleasure in human sexuality is as profound as it is complex. It is a polarity that lives in each of us and deserves our curiosity.  Sadly, it is not unusual for us to close down to situations that we fear will bring pain and discomfort. Replacing our tendency of avoidance with a capacity for wonder when it comes to our pain associations with sex is eye opening and has the potential to release an untapped capacity for pleasure.

Each time I have sex I am struck by the ecstatic release of deep pleasure, which ignites an equal release of intense pain. The pelvic cavity, one of the most miraculous wonders in the human body, balancing both the capacity to walk erect and procreate, is a truth teller for most of us. It is an internal space where sensation is leader and I have long wondered what begets what, if it is actually the intensity of the pain that arouses the pleasure or the other way around. So difficult it is to tease out, that I have come to believe that the pain/pleasure of our deepest sexual release is one in the same.

In fact, love, sex, pain and violence all stimulate the release of similar chemicals and hormones in the human body. Endorphins that are released in painful experiences are often perceived as pleasurable. Stress and pain can also stimulate the serotonin and melatonin production in the brain, which transforms painful experiences into pleasure. The release of epinephrine and norepinephrine in pain can also cause a pleasurable ‘rush’. Normal human biological response actually supports the complex and mysterious link between pain and pleasure, which we see in the runner’s high and the facial expressions during orgasmic release.

Given our biology, it is not terribly surprising that the practice of combining painful techniques with sexuality is ancient. Roman poets, ancient tribal drawings and even the Kama Sutra all refer to safe practices of what has come to be known as BDSM. This acronym, which refers to Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism, reflects the ancient sexual rituals of sexual dominance and submission that have qualified sex throughout history. Depending on the study examined, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, the percentages of people who practice some form of these techniques is between 10-25%. Interestingly, this percentage is matched by an equally significant percentage of people who become cutoff from their sexuality due to their fear of the pain associated with sex.

Looking at how our sexual experience is mirrored in the emotions and soul of our relationship offers an illuminating perspective. Here is my hypothesis: loving someone emotionally creates the same pain/pleasure experience that lives in the body while making love to them. The moments of deep connection and intimacy, vulnerability and nakedness are matched by their opposite experience: feeling deeply hurt by your lover, by what was said, or, just as often, what went unsaid.

The act of loving in whatever form requires a willingness to experience both the pain and pleasure. This is the piece of sustaining loving relationships that is easy to miss, or at least misunderstand, and tragically the place where we walk away from the heart of what we want most.



Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley4 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago


Anja N.
Justin R6 years ago

Thank you for your article.

Cyrille D.
Cyrille D6 years ago

Opposites are in everything, everywhere. The good/bad, the pain/pleasure...there could be no light without darkness. That's what we tend to forget : we need both. That's a Law of Life. A Law of Nature. A necessity for us to understand the true meaning of things and enlighten ourselves really.

Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman6 years ago

I was thinking of this subject a few days ago and shared my thoughts with a friend. The pain/pleasure dynamic is indeed interesting and complex. Thank you for sharing this and it is a confirmation for me. Now to move forward.

Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

thanks interesting

Mary B.
Mary B6 years ago

I understand how the body would create the same chemistry, in one case to relieve pain, and in the other to feel good, but the emotional self sure aught to know the difference between a lover who seeks to pleasure, and an s.o.b who only wants to cause pain as a form of control. This may be why so many sexualy molested children feel guilty. They feel the pleasure of endorphins while haveing their innocence betrayed.

Nita Smith
Nita Smith6 years ago

I wish they were equally alike, then I would know the animals didn't suffer as much as I feel they do. It would be so good to know that they would release certain endorphins to cushion them from pain, and I pray that happens. As for humans? I lost my soul mate husband and I have never been through any pain like it. I can say though, that throughout it all, I did feel a loving guidance with me and an inner voice talking me through the reasons and the hurdles. I finally came out the other side and the thing that most motivates me now is the knowledge that the animals suffer far worse pain than we do and I have devoted the rest of my life to serving them and the environment.

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy6 years ago

very interesting, thank you