The Four Main Motivations of Masochism

I believe that masochism is one of the most misunderstood facets of the BDSM community. While media portrayal and sensationalism often focus on the pain play elements of kink, the vast majority of practitioners and clients do not engage in corporal SM play, meant to elicit pain. For the minority of people who do engage with pain in their play, there are several different motivations that go beyond a simple enjoyment of the intense stimulation.

Pain for Pleasure Masochism

In fact, the “true” masochist is a rarity. For someone to enjoy painful stimuli as a pleasurable response, especially sexual pleasure, something in their physiology has to be divergent from the general population. I theorize it’s likely that an early life event (during childhood when the brain has maximum plasticity) “merged” the physiological experience of pain and pleasure, to create an unusual but not entirely unique synesthesia where the stimuli cross into a new experience.

Another subset of pain for pleasure masochists are those who are not necessarily sexually connected to pain, but crave the adrenaline rush that comes with the experience of intense stimulation.

Pain for Peace Masochism

A lot of people seek out pain play because they crave a brain state the BDSM community calls “subspace.” It’s a form of dissociation produced by endorphins and other body-natural opioids, and it can be incredibly pleasurable. That being said, it differs from true pain for pleasure masochism, because pain is not the desire itself but a tool to access an altered state of mind.

Subspace can be accessed through a number of channels depending on the bottom and their proclivity to shift into that physiological state, but pain is the easiest shortcut. Administered properly, a Top can achieve a state of subspace before engaging in more intense stimulation, meaning that the “pain” is dulled and the “high” is enhanced with the use of greater impact.

The “two steps forward, one step back” application of painful stimuli is something I regularly use in my sessions, and especially my Pain Processing Techniques session-workshop to induce the warm and fuzzy state “subspace.” Aftercare is particularly vital in this form of masochism, as - like any high - a physiological crash will come afterwards to rebalance the chemical brain; this is often what is known as “subdrop.”

Both pain for pleasure and pain for peace masochism have motivation rooted in the physical form. It’s a manipulation of stimulation to access a particular somatic sensation.

Endurance Masochism

In my experience, endurance masochists are the most common bottom actively seeking pain play and are relatively easy to satisfy with experience. They do not necessarily enjoy the stimulation of pain, but they enjoy the strength it takes to survive it. Often times the painful stimuli elicits negative emotions: fear, anger, despair. The experience and sensation of pain is far from positive, but the consensual and negotiated context of kink allows the bottom to find it in themselves to push through the pain. They usually find more satisfaction from the memory, not the experience.

Trial by pain is not a new phenomenon. Religious sects and tribes all over the world have engaged in rituals that place the endurance of pain as a man making ceremony or achievement of status.

Punishment Masochism

A subset of the endurance masochist but with a separate psychology, the punishment masochist seeks out physical pain as a way to satisfy a deep guilt or anxiety. While sometimes the reason they seek out punishment is directly tied to an event, in many instances it seems to be a subtle, unconscious desire to satisfy and subjugate those feelings. I find a lot of people who are seeking catharsis through pain are seeking to acknowledge otherwise unapproachable feelings through it. More research is needed.

Submissive Suffering Masochism

The other primarily psychological motivation to seek out pain is relational: the submissive who seeks to suffer for their Dominant. In this circumstance, pain is a representation of what sacrifice the submissive will make - it is not an experience meant to be enjoyed, because it is a raw act that is imbued with intimate meaning by the individuals involved. Sometimes it is not necessarily even the bottom who seeks satisfaction from that form of service, but a Dominant who wishes to see their submissive make that sacrifice, and demands it of them.

However there are no black and white boxes…

These are some of the main motivations that I’ve encountered from people who engage or seek out pain play, but while I try to tease out forms of masochism, I’m not trying to create labels of types of masochists. It’s quite possible that the same individual may have multiple motivations, perhaps that shift depending on the day or their mood or their partner. People may find that they seek pain for different reasons at different times of their life.

One of the most important things to ask yourself in a BDSM session is: what do I want from this experience? Do I want to have fun and get off? Do I want to create a more intimate bond with my Top? Do I want to explore emotions that are otherwise uncomfortable? How do you want to feel? Humiliated? Vulnerable? Soft? Strong? Submissive? High? To tease out some of the underlying motivations for one’s masochism, we can more accurately assess and answer these relevant questions for maximum satisfaction in BDSM play.

What motivates your masochism?