Often people outside the scene don’t see the appeal in any of the things SM people do that look painful. What’s enjoyable about being hit? Where’s the fun in getting bruised?
Well, think about this. Have you ever had intense sex and afterwards noticed bite marks on your neck of which you had no memory? What happened was your love partner bit you, HARD, hard enough that it bruised you, and all you felt was another jolt of pleasure. If they bit you that hard when you _weren’t_ having sex, you would scream “OUCH!!!” because it would hurt a lot! But when you are sexually aroused, your pain tolerance goes way up, and stimulation that you usually feel as pain is now actually pleasurable.
This is common knowledge. Another usual explanation is that the brain produces endorphins, natural opiates, to compensate for pain. You actually get high off the sensation. The “runner’s high” comes from pushing the body painfully for so long that the endorphins kick in; the rush you get after eating chili peppers comes from the same source; and that’s what makes it enjoyable for SM players to be whipped or spanked or whatever. It’s not pain, it’s pleasure! All athletes that are “hooked on exercise” are essentially masochists who enjoy stressing their bodies to get that chemical response. So your friend who enjoys being spanked may actually be a lot _less_ masochistic than your average marathon runner!
For just this reason, one well-known local dominant uses pain as a reward, when she’s topping a masochist. Pain as a punishment can have the reverse effect, when your bottom _likes_ getting whipped!
Endorphins are by no means The Single Explanation for why masochists find intense sensation to be desirable. Not every masochist floats away blissfully while being whipped, nor would they all even _want_ to. The ways to experience intense sensation vary from dreamlike rush to stinging ouch to irritating maddening burn to soothing warmth to tears-in-the-eyes throbbing… and whatever the sensation, there is likely someone who enjoys it.
Also, pain is a continuum. There are many different kinds of sensation that you can use in your lovemaking–light scratches with fingernails, open-hand spankings, pinches, squeezes… there are many many ways to touch someone, and all of them can be enjoyable.
Different people enjoy different levels of sensation; “different strokes for different folks.” What may be a wonderfully sensual caress to one person may be practically unnoticeable to another, and what may be a delightful flogging to one person may be no fun AT ALL to someone else. Ongoing negotiation is the secret to finding the happy medium.
Some people consider all this absurd. “How could you WANT pain?” The best answer I can give is that some people simply seem to be calibrated differently. They want _more_ sensation; they find the intensity thrilling and exciting, whereas someone else might find it overpowering and agonizing. People like different amounts of spice in their food; why not in their sexual encounters? Each person experiences sensation differently, and if you want more, there are safe ways for you to get it. Getting what you want, safely, can make your life much happier.
(For much more about sensations and sensation play, I strongly recommend Pat Califia’s book _Sensuous Magic_. See the resource list at the end of this FAQ.)