BDSM and Chronic Pain

BDSM and Chronic Pain

Written by Lori Allison

Illustration by Maartje Reggin

 

Throughout the course of my time as a chronic illness warrior, activist, and blogger, it has become ever-more apparent that the ingrained ableism within society influences the conversations and talking points in many different movements - such as access to healthcare, environmental policy, mental health awareness, and sex positivity.  

I personally believe that a large portion of this can be attributed to corporate hijacking of the movement purely for profit, however companies with large platforms have the ability to shape the narrative of what constitutes sex positivity, and what this looks like. But with a lack of disabled representation, they’re inadvertently, or even knowingly, excluding a whole community of potential consumers, because of the ableist belief that disabled people are non-sexual beings.

Thus why it is so important to encourage the inclusion of the disabled community in sex positivity discourse - as sexual wellbeing is just as important as physical or mental wellbeing.   

In my personal life, and past relationships, there have been comments made and questions asked regarding why I, as someone with chronic pain, am a fan of BDSM. If there was more disabled representation when openly discussing elements of BDSM in marketing and educational material, I feel that these questions, whether voiced or internalised, wouldn’t be so commonplace.

“Aren’t you in enough pain already?”

“How can pain turn you on?”

Why would you want to be in more pain when you complain about pain normally?”

What is BDSM?

“BDSM is a variety of often erotic practices or roleplaying involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, and other related interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves to be practising BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or subculture, often is said to depend on self-identification and shared experience.”

As a disabled person, I feel in many areas of life I cannot take charge or control of a situation because I am physically unable to. For example - I can be so fatigued that I cannot self propel my wheelchair and require someone to push me, I lack the strength to prepare my own meals, and I have to be reminded when to take meds when my brain fog is particularly bad. These tasks are both intimate and equally mundane, but because I lack the ability to make the choice to do it myself (due to a lack of physical energy), it’s important for me personally to fill a dominant roll, whilst gaining sexual pleasure.

Equally, I sometimes find life overwhelming and have to make big important decisions regarding my health and future, so filling a submissive roll which I gain enjoyment in is also beneficial at times.

For me, BDSM is more about the exchange of power, which includes practices such as bondage, and the trust and communication it requires to be an enjoyable experience with your partner. However, this is different for everyone, and this is the point I particularly wish to stress.

Chronic pain and practices, which can involve inflicting a degree of pain that the recipient is comfortable with, can also be viewed as relinquishing control and physically feeling the practice of doing so. Plus, the symptomatic expression of a chronic pain disorder varies from person to person, and not all chronic pain conditions involve hypersensitivity to physical touch. We may only have central pain as opposed to widespread hypersensitivity, which could make activities such as whipping or spanking too painful.

Even so, pain in accompaniment to sexual pleasure is so far removed from joint or muscle pain. Nevertheless, these practices are to be tailored to the individual’s tolerance regardless.

Just because we are disabled, does not mean our sex lives are all the same, neither are they affected/influenced because of our health in the same way.

Although those of us who experience a form of fatigue, joint instability, or limited mobility, see our sex lives change as a result, and this can require some creative thinking - if you wish to read about ways to adapt a sex life with chronic illness, you can click here to find a piece I wrote on my personal blog.

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Lori (she/her) is a chronic illness blogger, disability activist, and disabled model living with a rare genetic condition, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. 

Maartje Reggin (@littlemaart) is a disabled designer and activist from The Netherlands who loves doing research and making everyone feel included. She is a friend to all animals (especially her two house bunnies and her cat) and can’t live without tea.

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