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Why pain may induce sexual pleasure in human beings

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Pain and pleasure are two entirely different human feelings. However, there are indications that these two polar human feelings may be connected and even influence the elicitation of each other. 

A user on X (formerly Twitter) expressed uttermost shock at the fact that he had experienced orgasm during an extreme workout session. The X user, identified as Napaul (@LifeOfNapaul), believed that sexual tension should be the last thing to occur during intense physical activity. 

What is the relationship between pain and pleasure?

Wendy Strgar, who writes for HuffPost, mentioned in his article the connection between pain and pleasure. He noted that the pattern of sensation in the pelvic area has yet to be demystified– if pain actually arouses pleasure or vice versa.   

Mr Strgar writes that emotions such as pain, love, sex and violence all trail from a similar stream of chemicals and hormones in the body. The source of all these feelings is the endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters, released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, that cause pains perceived by the brain to become pleasurable. Ironically, pain and stress can also trigger both the serotonin and melatonin release in the brain, which turn painful experiences into pleasure. 

In a similar vein, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which manifest whenever the body experiences pain, can release a pleasurable rush at the same time.

What does research say?

The Harvard Gazette informs of how medical researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital undertook research where eight volunteers had their hands heated enough to hurt them. While that was going on, their brains were scanned to detect the brain circuit’s response to the experimented stimuli. 

The volunteers were exposed to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, just below the pain fibres level in all mammals (from rats to humans). Subsequent scans rose to 115 degrees Fahrenheit- a heat temperature that causes a burning feeling without skin damage. 

The heat exposure was expected to activate specific circuits deep in the brain, which release natural painkillers. Although that occurred moments just before the circuits came alive, the brain region responsible for pleasurable stimuli, such as food, sex, etc., gets activated. 

The brain region is identified as the “nucleus accumbens” and is situated closer to the brain than the brain circuit, which recognises pain. According to medical researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the nucleus accumbens “lights up” when people and animals experience pleasurable sensations such as tasty food and a beautiful face. 

According to research by the University of Michigan, the brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, has been linked to the experience of pain and distress in human beings. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, associates itself with pleasure in human behaviour as a motivation for action or tasks. 

The research identified that dopamine in the brain gets activated when people experience pain. The medical evaluation results from brain scanning and controlled muscle pain inducement laboratory activity. Furthermore, the research identified that dopamine release is relative to how people feel pain.

Findings from the research adduced this new phenomenon to the tendency of people to become addicted to drugs anytime they are stressed. It also explains the reason individuals, aside from chronic pain patients, may become addicted to certain pain medications. And it further gives credence to the fact that drug addiction varies on human tendencies, and not just by genetics and physiology. 

What do experts say?

Jon-Kar Zubieta, a professor of psychiatry and radiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said dopamine is the unifier between stress, pain and emotions, and physical and emotional events, activated with positive and negative stimuli. Mr Zubieta says dopamine “appears to act as a mechanism that responds to the salience of stimuli, the importance of it to the individual, and makes it relevant for them to respond to.”

The research involving 25 healthy men and women discovered that the brain region affected by dopamine is known as “basal ganglia.” It is also interesting to know that the same region responds to positive stimuli such as sex and food. 

At a point when the volunteers were induced with pain in the jaw muscle, there were different reactions in different areas of the basal ganglia region. According to the research, the more a person perceived the induced pain to be causing emotional distress and fear, the more dopamine was released into the area identified as “nucleus accumbens.” It is also the same part of the brain that is associated with drug addiction.

Significantly, the same reaction in the brain occurred even when the researchers tested the inserted needle against the jaw muscle for adverse emotional effects.

The researchers deduced that, in some areas of the basal ganglia, dopamine was used to measure the amount of pain that manifested. At the same time, in the nucleus accumbens, it was linked to the degree of emotional experience of pain.

Physiologist and sports scientist Ian Gillam (MD) says that endorphins, which naturally make us “feel good”, are “more potent than morphine” in large doses. Endorphins become therapeutically functional during physical and painstaking exercises as they relieve pain and supply feelings of euphoria.

While talking with the New York Post, Mr Gillam posited that the release of endorphins occurs after a prolonged moment of exercise. He stated that about “45 minutes of intense exercise” can trigger an endorphin supply in the body.

People can continue to involve themselves in an exercise activity for an extended period due to the supply of endorphins in the body. The presence of endorphins can unconsciously put people’s bodies under so much pressure while they continue to engage in it. 

This phenomenon is not far-fetched in the case of sexual activity. Human beings seek boundless complexities during sexual encounters and are always keen on exploring them. One of such complexities is the desire to “feel” pain. 

In the same publication by the New York Post, sex therapist and relationship counsellor Jacqueline Hellyer says that extreme physical sexual activity, such as spanking, can be like going for a good run. She refers to it as an activity capable of making one feel “invigorated.” 

Ms Hellyer further explains that the pure desire to find out if the experience is painful or not accords with the privilege of enjoying deep pleasure during sexual encounters.

In the case of self-induced pain, people hurt themselves to remove negative emotions, according to psychologist Georgia Ray. Ms Ray believes that people inflict injuries on themselves to feel something that is not numbness or emptiness. They also do it because of certain social activities and to receive social support.

People who self-inflict themselves become satisfied after they have hurt themselves. That is because, after they have relieved themselves of that pain, they suddenly transcend into an intense state of euphoria. 


The moment of tension experienced due to extreme energy exerted during physical activity, such as during a workout, is responsible for triggering chemical sensations in the individual that excite him into arousal. 

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