For most bottoms out there who enjoy pain, happy brain chemicals called endorphins create their jollies. Even to a heavy masochist, pain hurts. But the body has a way of responding to pain and stress that can make it hurt so good.
This might be important for folks with depression, who have trouble producing enough of their own happy brain chemicals. To understand how, we need to cover a bit of chemistry.
So What Are Endorphins, Anyway?
Endorphins, a word coined from “endogenous morphine,” are hormones in the brain that act like natural opioids. Essentially, your body makes its own Vicodin or Percoset in response to pain and stress. Unlike manufactured opioids, though, these internal chemicals work in concert with other neurotransmitters to create calm, well-being, and sometimes euphoria. They also clear your system naturally, and so aren’t dangerously addictive.
There are lots of ways to get endorphins flowing besides kink, of course. If you’ve ever heard of the “runner’s high,” then you know that exercise can kick out some natural bliss. Studies and articles in sources from WebMD to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry point to exercise as an effective treatment for depression. In some cases, endorphins from exercise are as effective as psychotherapy.
But endorphins are a bodily response to pain and stress in general. So if the endorphins from exercise can help treat depression, what about endorphins from kink? If getting hit with floggers or hung upside-down can be not only sexy but mood-boosting, then the widespread attraction to kink begins to make more sense.
Humans Are Endorphin-Chasers
It makes even more sense if you look at the habits of humans throughout recorded time and notice all the ways they ritually cause themselves pain and stress. Heavy exercise is one example, but there are countless others. Cultures around the world practice self-mortification, fasting, extended meditation, body modification, and other intense physical self-challenges, usually for spiritual purposes.
Most modern humans don’t face daily dangers from wild animals and the elements. But they always seem to find ways to invoke pain, fear, and excitement. Horror movies, roller coasters, bungee jumping, even eating chili peppers, according to research by Vincenzo Di Marzo at the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry at the Italian National Reserach Council – they all can make that endorphin rush go.
You’ve probably heard of “adrenaline junkies,” but these folks are probably more endorphin junkies. Adrenaline, a hormone released during the fight or flight response, does give a particular kick that some crave. But endorphins, which kick in a little bit afterward, are where the real reward is.
Kink As Depression Treatment?
For people who suffer from depression, it can be hard to get motivated to exercise, no matter how good a treatment it is. Finding other ways to experience regular doses of endorphins can be a good strategy.
The fact that pain play often also involves sexuality and a connection with another human can make it a triple-whammy for mental health. University Health News discusses how sexual excitement and orgasm can also release endorphins, as well as other brainsoup like oxytocin, sometimes known as the “cuddle chemical.” Close connection to others – which kink play provides – is highly recommended for people with depression. And successful connection tends to foster more desire for connection – a virtuous cycle.
Nobody’s done the science yet on whether kinky play has positive outcomes for people with depression. But…wait for it…it can’t hurt.
Hurts So Good: Things You Can Do To Get Endorphins Going
There’s an old joke that even a masochist doesn’t enjoy falling off a horse and breaking their leg. The body puts out feel-good chemicals in emergencies because the pain response would otherwise be too much. Once the danger is past, the pain from actual damage catches up with you.
There’s no need to endure injury to get that happy endorphin rush. Just as a runner may need to go hard or go far in order to get the runner’s high, though, you need to play at a certain level of intensity, for a certain amount of time, to get the goods.
If you’re doing a singletail scene, you may get a shock, a scream, and an adrenaline spike if someone hits you one time, hard, with a 20-foot rawhide Australian cattle whip. (Ask how I know.) But to get the kind of sustained chemical response that will give benefits similar to exercise, slow and steady is best.
An impact scene might start with gentler strokes across the ass or back. A skilled top will know how to gauge things so that the skin warms up, swells, and reddens. As your skin grows used to the sensation, the top can up the intensity bit by bit. When your brain gets the sense that this painful or stressful situation is going to continue, it will start pumping out those happy chemicals. There’s a reason why some scenes involve as much giggling as yelping – not to mention moaning. Endorphins may be why some pain gets transmuted into sexual pleasure.
Even More Ideas…
One of the most intense and reliable ways of inducing endorphin highs is needleplay. While often considered “edgeplay” and not for everyone, needles seem to have special powers. Typically, they are pierced shallowly through the skin and left there for a time. The body seems to treat this as an ongoing invasion. It doesn’t cause much damage, but does cause a massive endorphin rush.
Finally, fear and embarrassment are other stressors that can cause an endorphin response. Even if you’re not into pain, you might gain the benefits of an endorphin high just from a dominant threatening you with pain, lightly humiliating you, or putting you into “subspace” in a D/s scene.
In short: there are countless ways to chase endorphins in a kinky context, and not only are they fun – they might have some mental health benefits. If you’re someone who struggles with depression, and you’re having fun playing your edges as a bottom, enjoy those bonus brain chemicals!
If you’re looking for more ideas of kinky things to do to get those endorphins surging, read The Painful Pleasures of Cock and Ball Torture!
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