Why do some people enjoy being scared? Why does it actually turn some people on? Here are a few ideas.
This week I was bored and on Twitter and so I asked for ideas of things to write about.
@A_Story_of_A I’ve been thinking about the interplay btwn (perceived) fear and attraction/pleasure. Games, anticipation, uncertainty, etc
— Perhaps perhaps🍁🍂 (@PolyGalSeeks) October 12, 2016
It’s interesting because just this week, we’ve been talking about emotions in one of my psych classes. And there’s evidence that a few emotions actually have similar bodily responses.
Think about fear. How does it feel to be scared? Your heart rate rises. Your breath becomes faster and shallow. Your pupils dilate, you perspire more, your blood pressure rises, and your body starts secreting norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Now here are some signs of sexual arousal: increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Your face flushes, and sometimes the rest of your body too. You sweat more. Your body doesn’t secrete adrenaline, but rather testosterone.
It seems very close, don’t you think? The physical response to fear and arousal are rather similar.
Now, they’re not exactly the same. But when involved in kinky play, they’re similar enough that fear can trigger further arousal.
The roller coaster theory
There’s a demonstrated theory about how people react to stressful stimuli. It involves a spectrum: at one end, the “stimulus amplifiers” who feel everything acutely, easily get overwhelmed by sensations, and who prefer quieter things like movies and walks in the woods. On the other end, you have the “stimulus reducers”, who tend to not feel sensations very acutely and need strong stimuli to really feel something. These people like horror movies, roller coasters, bungee jumping. They are thrill seekers.
You can imagine which type prefers more hardcore kinks like heavy impact play, needles and such.
But there’s another aspect to this: thrill-seeking is a way to experience fear in a safe context. You can use roller coasters, bungee jumping and other extreme activities to trick your brain into activating its fear response, instead of actually risking your life. The fear response, when unaccompanied by real danger, is exhilarating: adrenaline makes you feel stronger and more alert, and several other hormones are poised to act just in case you get hurt (like serotonin). Since you rationally have nothing to fear, you can enjoy the immediacy of your body’s reaction.
Of course, this is on a spectrum. You can enjoy more stimulating activities sometimes, but not always. There can be a limit to the intensity of stimuli that you enjoy.
Fear is kinky
So, I think, this theory applies rather well to kink too.
The feeling of fear and anticipation at the height of a roller coaster, just before it goes down that first hill, can easily be felt in a kinky scene. For example, I get this sensation of free-falling whenever my top changes implements in the middle of a scene. What are they going to use? Is it going to hurt more or less? How much more do I have to take before I am freed? All the previously knowns become unknowns again, and I lose my mental footing.
A bit like a roller coaster.
And, as I have recently experienced, the mix of sexual arousal, serotonin high from the impact play pain, and adrenalin from fear, is extremely potent. After an implement change, the first hit from the paddle he switched to gave me an orgasm.
There is a kind of scene called “terror play”. I saw a demonstration at a convention, and I was terrified for the poor demo bottom who had to go through it. This type of scene is explicitly meant to elicit fear in the bottom. Although you do trust your top to not kill you, the impression that you are in danger will make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Your body is reacting in all sorts of ways that you don’t usually get to feel.
A top can use a terror scene to do all kinds of things: remind a bottom who is in charge, increase the connection between top and bottom through trust, or simply make a bottom suffer for the top’s pleasure. (Because tops also get pleasure from torturing their bottoms… consensually.)
Although I have yet to go through a true terror scene, I can see why some people crave this stuff. I like roller coasters. I’m not super crazy about them, but I enjoy them once in a while. I can see myself sitting rather in the middle of the amplifier/reducer spectrum, with a nice balance of quiet time and acute sensations.
There is a certain kind of pleasure in controlled uncertainty. It’s the basic principle of all thriller-type stories: books, movies, TV shows. It’s the basic principle of roller coasters and other extreme activities. It’s also, it seems, something that works well when applied in a BDSM context.