Seeking Out Pain On Purpose
What's the difference between self-harm and finding pleasure through pain?
Leigh Cowart is a science journalist and the author of the recently-published Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose. The book includes interviews with a variety of pain-seekers and pain scientists, from BDSM experts to marathon runners, and attempts to answer the question of why we seek out pain, and our culture of shame around our desire for it.
I was a ballet dancer for 20 years and then I left ballet and all that was left with me at that point was rage. All the trauma from ballet caught up to me, after years of having blocked it out. And so my 20s were brutal. I had a near-lethal eating disorder and pathological levels of self-harm. It was bad. Over the subsequent decade, I did a lot of therapy and really healed a lot of the harm that was done to me, but was still left with this sense that I really enjoyed pain—as a hobby, sexually, in all these different forms.
There’s so much taboo around opting into those kinds of experiences. And even today I feel a bit of shame around my masochistic tendencies. And I just wanted to unpack that. After everything I’d been through, and all the healing I’d done, I still really liked pain. So I wanted to know, what’s going on there?