Why Does Pain Have to Be Punishment?

Published: FEBRUARY 9, 2016 | Updated: NOVEMBER 13, 2018
Pain is what we make of it. How you incorporate pain into your sex life is totally up to you and your consenting partner. Don't be afraid to experiment!

Every second Saturday I volunteer at a local fetish party to make sure people are being safe, sane and consensual. I also spend a lot of time in online BDSM communities. I engage in casual D/s. In all of these spaces, including my personal sex life, sexual pain used as punishment is a fairly common dynamic.


There isn't anything at all wrong with using pain as punishment. As I said above, I'm totally into it myself. Yet, this concept of pain as punishment is so ubiquitous in BDSM that it's hard to realize that sexual pain doesn't have to be in the context of punishment. Actually, it can be a lot more. Let me pull back and explain more of what I mean.

Generalizing Pain in BDSM

I've often encountered newbie Doms looking for reasons to punish their subs so they can mete out spankings, floggings, or their particular flavor of pleasurable pain. There is a lot of whispering of "You're a bad ________, and you need to be punished," in both public and private dungeons. Subs are often described as naughty, and it's common practice for people in D/s relationships to be mischievous and break "rules" on purpose in order to be "punished."

Of course, this is generalizing. Not everyone involved in BDSM or D/s is like that, but it isn't uncommon either. From "50 Shades" to fetish parties to the hobbyist's basement dungeon, pain play and punishment tend to go hand in hand. It makes sense; people find pain to be pleasurable. That pain is usually derived from punishment. It doesn't matter whether it is parental (spanking), corporal (the Navy's use of canes), or some other form, tools like whips, floggers and paddles all derive from once-common punishment practices.


There's nothing wrong with people using those fantasies, scenarios, or tools. Your kink is OK! I just wish it wasn't the most common thing associated with D/s and BDSM. There are other options to try out and expand our toy boxes. If you're not into pain as punishment for whatever reason (maybe it's triggering, or maybe it's just not your thing), there are other ways to explore pain as pleasure, as a sensation.

Pleasurable Pain

There's a much larger world of pleasurable pain out there to be discovered if we are interested. For example, things can be incorporated into scenes without the added role play about punishment. If the pain is something that someone likes, it can be used as a reward. It can be used as a sensation. If we boil sex and all of its meanings down to one thing, it's made up purely of thought and sensation.

Recently, a friend of mine was in a threesome. They were being spanked in front of a mirror. The person who was spanking my friend said something along the lines of, "I want you to look at yourself in the mirror. I want you to see how beautiful you are. I want you to tell yourself that you're beautiful and worthy of love and affection." There was no mention of punishment, but the spanking was happening anyway. Why? Because my friend likes being spanked.


Experimental and Other Forms of Pain

Pain can be experimental. It can be a way to test the limits of your body and to enter different states of thought - and even reality - depending on how far you go. There's a reason why in some kinky subcultures you can be hung up on hooks through or have needles through your skin (things you shouldn't do without the help of a trained professional and, of course, consent). I know some people who experience pain in their sexual play in order to push their limits.

Pain can be cathartic. It can be a way to work through bad past experiences and traumas. It can be a way to release countless chemicals in your brain in order to feel that adrenaline and endorphin rush; you come out the other end feeling new, clear and clean.

Pain can be a matter of control; of you over your body and what happens to it, and over another person's body and what it feels. It can be control over scenarios, to recreate things you may not have had control over previously to reach some sort of peace.


Pain Isn't a Simple Concept

Pain as punishment is a simplification of what is a much more complex and deep experience. It is one that we are privileged to be able to experience without danger when we educate ourselves and use safety measures. Pain without punishment or fear of one's life being threatened is almost a way to rise above the limitations previously set on us as humans. It can be a way to experience something that travels deep into our psyche.

Pain is more than punishment. It is worthwhile to explore fantasies and experiences beyond that limited scope of what pain as a sensation can be.

Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin began their sex education experience when they received an email in reply to the resume they posted on Craigslist asking if they'd be interested in an interview at an adult store. Though they had never been in an Adult Store at this point in their life, they needed a job and figured "Why not?"

This was ostensibly the moment in which their life changed.

Now more than a year on,...

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