Pain and Control
Stop hitting yourself
Prometheus by Theodoor Rombouts
For the last two months I have been in chronic pain. A semi-diagnosed illness has crept its way into my body, pushing and pulling me between the doctor’s surgery, the hospital clinic and my bed.
My body has become an adversary - I have at the start of each day thought please, less pain today, I’ll do anything, and my body’s self-inflicting wound grows raw and angry anyway. I should work with my body holistically, I know, it is doing what it thinks is right and trying to fight an infection that isn’t there. It is not my body’s fault it hurts itself, but when you are struggling to reach the bathroom because your legs are weak from pain you don’t care why it feels like you’re being stabbed, you just curse the knife that stabs you. You want it out.
Pain like this is awful. It’s also tedious and boring and repetitive and returns like an unwanted acquaintance inviting themselves in to stay. You get to know it well, even intimately, but it’s an unpleasant closeness. I never wanted to know you like this, and I hope I will forget all I’ve learned, you think, trying to usher it towards the door. You say you have to call someone, you have to go to the shops, you have to be elsewhere, but it stays. It lingers, it bores you, you grow to hate it more than you should.
It may surprise you, then, that I have been fantasising about pain. Dreaming of it, even. I have been thinking of lovers I have asked to slap me or pull my hair, or harder things I will save you blushing cheeks from. I’ve been thinking of when these lovers did as I asked, gifting me with a quick, sharp pain that ripples its way straight to the dopamine receptors in my brain. An all-body sensation of pleasure, like a dunk in an ice bath.
Desired pain is the old friend you invite in and pour a glass of wine. You talk, sit close, catch up, gossip about everyone who isn’t there with you. You both know when the evening has run its course, your friend knows you well and sees your tired eyes and glances at the clock. They excuse themselves, you hug them at the door and ask they come back soon. You go to bed smiling.
Of course, the line between desired and unwanted pain is consent, but it is also control. The lover that pins me down in a pre-negotiated scene and hits me in ways we have talked about beforehand is doing what I want and will stop when I want. I am in control, even as the fantasy we build is one where I’m not - to an outsider it would seem a horrific act of violence, but between my partner and I it is a great act of care. We communicate constantly, verbally and bodily, feeling each other’s parameters, finding the others’ limits, pushing back and down and up with one another. We both consent, but it is the flow of control that excites us.
This sexual pain sits in contrast to the tedious, uncontrollable pain of chronic illness. I cannot ask my body to stop - although I have tried - and there is no safe word or check-in or glass of water while you both laugh about what the neighbours will think. There is no aftercare for illness, you are thrust back out into the world in bewilderment that the cruel hand of fate chose you and could do so again.
So I have been fantasising of pain I have asked for, inflicted on terms I have agreed, with a safeword in the back of my mind and a lover who will hold me afterwards. At the end of each day I find myself alone with my sick body. It is just him and I, and I have grown tired of him. He has overstayed his welcome.
This article was planned as an exploration of the fetish archives at the Bishopsgate Institute, but circumstances changed (I am still ill). That article will be written next month. You can find me on Twitter here and Instagram here.