Pleasure from Pain: Endorphin “Highs” and the Subspace

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When you are being restrained (by choice) in a sexual situation, you may, paradoxically, experience a greater sense of freedom. Freedom to stop overanalyzing, freedom from responsibility in the situation, freedom to receive. You are vulnerable to the possibilities that your partner is in control of, which can create an “erotic anxiety” that heightens the sensations. Surrendering sexual control can also lead to what is known as an “endorphin high” and achieving a state known as the “subspace.”

How does the body get to a place erotically where it produces an endorphin high? The Top or Dominant person in the situation controls how that happens, but first, let’s understand a bit about the body’s process. Endorphins are our body’s natural pain and stress relievers; they are chemicals in our brains known as neurotransmitters that can also be found throughout our nervous system. When we experience physical pain, such as a firm spanking, our body releases endorphins to help reduce our perception of that pain and create a sense of euphoria, similar to what would occur if pain-relieving drugs such as morphine were taken. The release of endorphins also improves immune response and triggers the secretion of sex hormones.

In a sexual situation where you want to manipulate how the body releases endorphins it is imperative to pay attention to where the receiver is physically and mentally because every individual is going to have their own unique pain threshold and there is no set timeline that works for everyone. Most people need layered stimulation that starts out light and gradually increases before they will have an endorphin release. This informative article from Frisky Business explains:

The endorphin loads release in their entirety, and it takes the body about ten minutes to generate another one. After the body releases a load into the system, it needs at least ten minutes of some sort of stimulation before it will be ready to release another one [referred to as an endo-cycle here]. This stimulation can be just about anything – sensation play, light paddling, flogging, or light caning, for example – and it does not have to be nearly the intensity of the stimulation that caused the release of the last endorphin load.

Once prepared, an increase in stimulation over a five-minute span up to a measured “climax” will trigger the body to release the freshly-prepared load, based upon the submissive’s current pain threshold, measured to push them over a new edge.

With endorphins, there can be more than one pleasure peak, and each time the submissive’s pain threshold increases. The intensity of stimulation can now vary while the frequency of stimulation remains about the same. The role of adrenaline – a hormone and neurotransmitter that gets released due to stress – must also be considered as the Dominant person does not want to push the submissive person too far too soon. As always, a safe word (an arbitrary noun) should be used; keep in mind that as the submissive’s reaction time and reflexes becomes slower they will be slower and perhaps less rational in using their safe word – another reason to pay close attention! After several pleasure peaks have been achieved it will take a little while for the adrenaline to burn off, as Terry from Frisky Business wisely points out:

there is enough adrenaline in the body that it will take at least 10 to 20 minutes for it to burn off (or longer). During this time, the bottom is likely to experience a number of adrenaline crashes (similar to coffee jags). Some of these can be intense and even quite frightening. The bottom will need to be kept warm and be held and comforted AT LEAST throughout this period of adrenalin burn-off…

The adrenaline “crash” experience for the bottom is something many, many Tops are unaware of, and they have no concept of the amount of harm they could be doing to someone’s psychological state by not performing adequate, comforting aftercare. All the bottom needs now is to be held and to hold you (or whoever you assign to perform aftercare), to be comforted by your presence, and to be allowed to make you become the entire focus of their awareness. No stroking, or massage, or other stimulus is needed or even desirable at this time. What is important is to keep in contact with the bottom (not requiring words as responses, merely nods), and instruct the bottom every little while to relax.

Below is an outline that shows how the Dominant person might apply stimulation as the scenario progresses, keep in mind this is very general:

It should be mentioned that the responsibility of a Dom or Top cannot be understated. You must be very confident in your abilities to take charge of a situation by yourself, if you are not positive that you can take care of a person that has put their complete trust in you to be responsible for their safety and well-being while they are helpless, do not proceed. These discussions give due regard to your responsibilities as a Dom or Top.

  • Start out light. The natural anxiety that the submissive will start out will gradually dissipate the more aroused they become. As the Top your approach should be calm and confident; this will help greatly to ease the submissive through this process. If this is the first time for the submissive they will either be very attuned to your mental disposition -trying to read you and pick up on your signals – or focusing heavily on their own experience. You will need to know, either through prior knowledge or an apt reading of the submissive, whether to keep them in their present space or move them elsewhere.
  • Your first priority is easing the submissive through the initial anxiety. Think of this as your introductory paragraph to an epic journey that someone has commissioned you to write for them. Your first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the piece. If you start off weak, you will spend the rest of your effort recovering the audience’s confidence. Not the place you want to be with a human’s emotional state in your hands. Take it seriously, be smart about it, and go slow until you have a solid feel for their disposition. The first phase is not only to prepare the submissive mentally but also physically. Depending on the areas of the body you intend to focus on in the session, you should begin warming up the skin and muscles of that region. Never strike cold skin or muscles.
  • You should have a moderate grasp of the submissive’s characteristics as you transition to the next phase. If the first phase is an introductory paragraph your following phases should be like movements in a symphony. As every music lover has their own particular taste, so do submissives and Doms in the rhythm, tempo, and vigor that resonates with them.
  • To be more specific with your second phase, you should continue to build the submissive’s trust and confidence in your decision making process, that you will be disciplined in your actions, and not getting carried away in the session. The key in this initial process is to get the submissive to let go of their concerns so that they are not still attempting to reinforce their decision to trust you with this power but that they are satisfied with their decision to embark on this epic journey that you have just detailed to them in the first phase.
  • Typically, once you are confident in your grasp of a submissive’s disposition towards the activities, you should begin to transition between warming them up mentally and physically to refining your understanding of their thresholds, gradually moving towards the latter. It should be noted that there are differences between threshold and limits:
    • Thresholds are temporary peaks of tolerance for the submissive that are overcome through the process and the will of each person in the session, such as starting with three spanks and letting those settle in before moving on, rather than starting off with 20 spankings.
    • Soft limits are pre-discussed objections of a submissive (such as anal play) that might be overcome during the session if the submissive so agrees. Soft limits can help as guidelines as you map the submissive’s persona. As a Dom, do not attempt to overcome soft limits until you are very familiar with the submissive’s disposition. It may be best to wait a few sessions before attempting to overcome a submissive’s of limits.
    • Hard limits are non-negotiable restrictions on what may transpire during the session. These hard limits can be for several reasons—moral, hygienic, and even health limitations (such as age play, body fluids or a health condition where the submissive should not be upside down) that any Dom, veteran or beginner must know, respect, and honor.
  • After properly walking the submissive through the mental and physical warming-up phase and having the opportunity to take them through a few of their thresholds, you have probably been at it for approximately 30-45 minutes—3-4 endo-cycles. For a first time, depending on the person and the intensity of the session, this is a healthy place to wrap the session up. It is true you might be able to go longer, some people can and some will, but you will both be better off stopping at a safe place and having a positive experience from which to return and play again.

For the submissive, subspace can occur after the highest levels and most intense pleasure peaks. Some distinguish between a physiological subspace and a psychological subspace; what we are talking about here is the physiological subspace, which is triggered by physical stimulation. When this state occurs, the submissive may be having a slight out-of-body experience (in a good way) with sensations of warmth, calmness, bliss, and weightlessness. Kind of like you’re getting a full body massage in a floating hot tub, looking up at the Milky Way. It is a different head space altogether, and it becomes a challenge to hold up your own body. The submissive may have difficulty focusing on anything, have poor eye contact and find it hard to form full sentences. How long the subspace lasts will obviously vary between individuals. One of us has experienced this, and when it happened, we were later told that we were in this space for about 15 minutes before rolling ourselves in a blanket burrito and falling asleep. During this time, our partner was very gentle, got us a glass of water, and stroked our hair, which was very appreciated.

If this is something you want to explore with your partner, just remember to take it slow, make sure everyone’s health concerns are addressed, ensure good communication practices, and don’t forget to keep comforting music, objects, or other pampering items around for the aftercare. Check out other forums and converse with Tops and bottoms so you can get a better idea of how you might like your own experience to go.

– BSE Team

Featured image via Dulcis Domus on Tumblr

2 thoughts on “Pleasure from Pain: Endorphin “Highs” and the Subspace

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