VICE: Your Brain on BDSM- Why Getting Spanked and Tied Up Makes You Feel High

There's no denying that understanding how the human body works can lead to some intense sex. After all, as clichéd as it is, the brain is the biggest erogenous zone—and BDSM is no different.

It may conjure up images of bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, dominance, and submission, but many BDSM practictioners attribute the pleasurable pain of their fetish to the endorphin rush that accompanies the acting out of their fantasies. There's even a word for the state of a submissive's mind and body during and after consensual kinky play: subspace, often described as a "floaty" or "flying" feeling.

"For all of us, endorphins bind to opiate receptors to naturally relieve pain," explains Maitresse Madeline Marlowe, a professional dominatrix who also works as a performer and director for, a leading BDSM content producer. "Since BDSM play can include power exchange and masochistic acts, endorphins are one of the most common neurotransmitters [produced]."

As far back as 1987, leather activist and author Dr. Geoff Mains hypothesized that BDSM activity stimulated the release of endorphins, but scientists have yet to tease out the exact relationship between neurochemicals and S&M. But subspace does exist: Dr. Brad Sagarin, founder of the Science of BDSM research team and a professor of social and evolutionary psychology at Northern Illinois University, has compared it to runner's high, the sense of euphoria and increased tolerance for pain that some joggers feel after a long run. Except, obviously, one is caused by the asphalt flashing beneath your feet, the other by a whip swishing through the air.


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Your Brain on BDSM: Why Getting Spanked and Tied Up Makes You High by Gareth May

February 16, 2017

THE ESTABLISHMENT: Yes, You Need to Talk to Kids about Porn

Thirteen years ago, Erika Lust, a political science graduate who specialized in gender studies, decided to start making porn films. Frustrated by the tacky, chauvinistic content of mainstream porn, she wanted to see if it was possible to make a different kind of adult film — one that focused on story, characters, and the female gaze. Since then, she has since gone on to create over 100 highly crafted, ethically produced porn films, a host of which have won awards.

Her latest project is a continuation of her engagement with dominant porn culture — but from a decidedly different angle. Inspired by her role as a mother, and her desire to give something back in her area of expertise, she and her husband Pablo Dobner launched The Porn Conversation, a nonprofit initiative that aims to help parents talk to their children about porn. The website offers age-specific guides, starting with kids under 11 years old, that were put together in consultation with parents, sexologists, and psychologists, as well as other tools and resources for parents and educators.

I interviewed Erika in Berlin, where she recently spoke about The Porn Conversation at Tech Open Air, an interdisciplinary festival that brings together technology, arts, and culture.

Madhvi Ramani: Why is it important for parents to have “the porn conversation” with their children?

Erika Lust: Porn is part of the reality we live in. It has grown enormously in the last 10 years, because of the internet and the proliferation of porn tubes [free porn sites that do not require registration], which are the biggest part of pornography today. The kind of content available on these porn tubes is highly racist, misogynistic, and chauvinistic. It is something that parents can’t ignore because children, at a very early age, are coming across this content online. They are going to find it, and look at it, and it’s going to influence their perceptions about sexuality and gender roles. So, if parents talk to their children before or during this time of discovery, they can help them think more analytically and critically about the images they are seeing.


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Yes, You Need to Talk to Your Children About Porn by Madhvi Ramani

January 9, 2018


iNews: BDSM Practitioners Less Likely to Have Victim-blaming Attitudes in Sexual Violence Cases

People who take part in BDSM sex activities (bondage, discipline/dominance, submission/sadism, masochism) are less likely to hold attitudes consistent with rape culture, research has found.

Victim-blaming attitudes are less widespread as well as acceptance of so-called rape myths in sexual violence cases, according to the study.

The reason for this could be because the BDSM subculture has “affirmative consent norms,” says Kathryn Klement, co-author of the study called “Participating in a culture of consent may be associated with lower rape-supportive beliefs“.

Affirmative consent is a conscious, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity, either by words or actions.

It means explicitly saying “yes” to questions such as “Can I take your clothes off?” and “Can I touch you?,” says Ms Klement, from the department of psychology at Northern Illinois University. Affirmative consent is seen in the Yes Means Yes policy enforced in colleges and universities in some US states including California and New York. It can be contrasted with a policy where consent is assumed – until someone says no.

Negotiations and safe-words

Within the BDSM community, there is a culture of affirmative or negotiating consent. Practitioners will “negotiate what to do ahead of time,” discuss limits and have safe-words for when they want activities to stop, she says.


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BDSM Practitioners less likely to have victim-blaming attitudes in sexual violence cases by Serina Sandhu

August 17, 2016

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: BDSM as a Tonic for Serious Illness

My mother enjoyed kinky sex. To be specific, in her late 50s, after two decades of singlehood and celibacy, she discovered that she enjoyed sexually dominating willingly submissive men. I’m so glad she did! Not only was I excited that she’d found a way to enjoy intimacy and erotic pleasure after a long period of being alone, but also it turned out that her sexuality provided an unexpected tool kit she used to face kidney cancer and dialysis.

Of course, we didn’t know that at first. Shortly after she discovered her newfound sexuality, a doctor discovered she had kidney cancer, and we both wondered if her adventures were about to come to an abrupt end.

“I don’t think I can live on dialysis,” she told me before the surgery, which would remove her cancerous kidney and hopefully render her cancer-free. I looked her in the eyes and told her that I didn’t think it would come to that, but that if it did, she could choose to live out her life—shorter though it might be—on her own terms. She wouldn’t have to accept dialysis if she didn’t want to.

The surgery was successful. The cancerous kidney was removed. There was no sign that the cancer had spread. We were relieved. But over the course of the next few months, something else went wrong and her remaining kidney failed. She was suddenly facing exactly the situation that, just months earlier, she told me she couldn’t live with. But somehow, she did, and during the three years that followed—years that involved daily dialysis treatments—she had some of the best times of her life. I believe that kinky sex was the reason. Here’s why:


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BDSM as a Tonic for Serious Illness by Elizabeth Anne Wood

June 20, 2019

OPEN DEMOCRACY: The two-fronted fight of sex workers against trafficking

Sex worker organisations have struggled with the concept of ‘sex trafficking’ ever since it was mainstreamed into international law with the adoption of the UN Palermo Protocol nearly 20 years ago. Some collectives, such as EMPOWER Thailand, explicitly state that it is an unnecessary concept that was forced onto the global south by the global north. Other organisations were found to share EMPOWER’s position in a recent report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. For these groups trafficking is, according to the report, “an issue that was introduced from outside the industry itself, propelled by a moralistic agenda, that organisations have felt obliged to understand, in order to counter the harmful effects of conceptually conflating trafficking and sex work.” Criticism of data collection methods that aim to assess the volume of trafficking for sexual exploitation and the often singular focus on trafficking in the sex industry is also widely shared by sex workers all around the world.

Nevertheless, it would be challenging to find a single sex worker organisation that does not acknowledge that exploitation and forced labour are common in the sex industry. That these phenomena exist and that they are dangerous are not disputed. Many groups have thus, often on shoestring budgets, instituted creative strategies to combat exploitative conditions and abuse in their communities. For others in the anti-trafficking field they should be natural allies. Yet they are often proactively prevented from engaging in anti-trafficking events and in discussions that are highly relevant to their communities.

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The two-fronted fight of Sex Workers against trafficking by Boglarka Fedorko

June 14th, 2019

ROLLING STONE: How the Tragic Death of Layleen Polanco Exposes Horrors of Criminalizing Sex Work

Last Friday, a 27-year-old transgender woman named Layleen Polanco was found unresponsive in a cell in Riker’s Island in New York City. Although attempts were made to revive her, she was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m.

Polanco’s cause of death has not yet been revealed, though Aja Worthy-Davis, Executive Director for Public Affairs at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told Rolling Stone that she did not appear to have been the victim of physical trauma and that the department is “performing additional toxicology and medical examinations to identify other possible factors.” Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Polanco’s death — as well as the fact that she was reportedly the 10th black transgender woman found dead in the United States in 2019 alone — LGBTQ activists have been vocal in protesting her death, demanding answers from Mayor Bill DeBlasio and calling for the immediate closure of Rikers Island.

Additional details that surfaced about Polanco’s death were even more heartbreaking. Polanco was being held in Rikers on failure to pay $500 bail resulting from bench warrants — warrants that are issued when an individual does not appear in court — related to an August 2017 arrest. The arrest was the result of an NYPD sting investigation after Polanco allegedly agreed to perform oral sex on an undercover officer in exchange for money. She was arrested for misdemeanor prostitution and a low-level drug possession offense.

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How the tragic Death of Layleen Polanco exposes horrors of criminalizing Sex Work by EJ Dickson

June 13th, 2019

BITCH MEDIA: How BDSM Is Teaching Women to Become More Assertive

Feeling the need to apologize for speaking up at work or in relationships is often a learned behavior that, research shows, is much more common among women than men. But is it possible to stop saying “sorry” when it’s so ingrained in the way many of us communicate? Professional Dominatrix Mistress Tara Indianawould say yes: She’s found that BDSM (or bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) is a surprisingly effective way to help women become more self-assured and less apologetic. “Learning how to accurately use a single tail whip can help you assert yourself at work,” Indiana says. “When you master a skill like that, it gives you a boost of confidence that you can build upon in other areas of your life.”

Indiana has been teaching these skills to women since 1993 in a series of workshops focused on the art, science, and business of female domination or FemDom. Under her tutelage, women can develop Dominatrix personas for professional pursuits, or simply gain more control over their careers and relationships. “One of the first things I teach women is how to stop apologizing,” Indiana says. “It can be a difficult behavior to alter—especially during my workshops, which often involve inflicting pain. The automatic response [when you hurt someone] is to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ However, in the context of a BDSM power exchange, what the dominant (or top) does to the submissive (or bottom) is consensual and well negotiated. This teaches women to change the social dynamics they’ve been conditioned to follow.”


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How BDSM is Teaching Women to Become More Assertive by Margaret Andersen

June 12, 2019


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: New York State May Decriminalize Sex Work

Yesterday, lawmakers in New York State introduced a bill decriminalizing sex work. Decriminalization would be a big step towards protecting the health, safety, and dignity of sex workers.

Other US states and Washington, DC, where a bill to decriminalize sex work is also pending, should follow. Nevada is the only US state that allows sex work in some places.

Human Rights Watch’s research has consistently found that criminalizing sex work violates the right to bodily autonomy and offends dignity. Additionally, it doesn’t stop sex work. What such laws do is make sex workers considerably less safe. Many sex worker groups and human rights activists worldwide have reached the same conclusions.

Our research in New York City, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and New Orleansshows that arresting sex workers is a waste of time for both sex workers and police. It also humiliates sex workers, who are often from marginalized communities and struggling to make ends meet.

Additionally, police often use possession of condoms – which in many places is evidence of prostitution – as a reason to harass or arrest sex workers. This means some sex workers choose either not to carry condoms, or to carry only a few. The use of condoms as criminal evidence undermines efforts to end HIV transmission and contravenes the right to health.

Human Rights Watch found the same patterns in TanzaniaChina, and South Africa – humiliating harassment and abusive arrests. There, police often engage in extortion and rape, pushing sex workers into more dangerous places like dark parks and strange cars to do their work. And when clients and others beat and rape sex workers, they are afraid to report such crimes, knowing they are likely to be treated as criminals themselves. Almost all the sex workers I interviewed in South Africa were parents struggling to stay afloat and get their kids fed, clothed, and educated. It didn’t make sense to them, or to me, why they were arrested.

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New York State may decriminalize Sex Work by Skye Wheeler

June 11th, 2019

THE NEW REPUBLIC: A Historic Breakthrough for Sex Workers’ Rights

Back in February, advocates for sex worker rights in New York announced their intention to fully decriminalize prostitution in the state. But no one really suspected then that within two weeks, Democratic candidates for president would be pledging support for competing legislative visions of what they called (at times, incorrectly) sex work decriminalization. Quite suddenly, the enlightened thing to do—or at least to say you were doing—was to support these measures, a development that came as a shock even to many sex workers who had long campaigned for decriminalization. On Monday, that same group of advocates, Decrim NY, will see a bill they have helped draft introduced in the state legislature that promises to give practical shape to the goals sex workers have pursued for several decades. The bill is groundbreaking for the United States: If passed, it would make New York the first state to fully decriminalize sex work.

The New Republic has had a first look at the bill. The measure removes criminal penalties associated with adults selling and buying sex, and repeals parts of the law that have criminalized sex workers’ places of business along with “loitering for prostitution” in public. Their aim is grounded not just in criminal justice reform, but in more fundamental appeals to economic justice. “This is not just about decriminalizing workers or the absence of criminal codes. It’s about making sure people who work in the sex trades have access to making a living in the sex industry in a way that is not a crime,” said Audacia Ray, a member of the Decrim NY steering committee, a director at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and a former sex worker.

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A historic breakthrough fo Sex Workers' Rights by Melissa Gira Grant

June 9th, 2019

MEDICAL NEWS TODAY: When and why is pain pleasurable?

Many people think of pain and sex as deeply incompatible. After all, sex is all about pleasure, and pain has nothing to do with that, right? Well, for some individuals, pain and pleasure can sometimes overlap in a sexual context, but how come? Continue reading this Spotlight feature to find out.

The relationship between pain and sexual pleasure has lit up the imaginations of many writers and artists, with its undertones of forbidden, mischievous enjoyment.

In 1954, the erotic novel Story of O by Anne Desclos (pen name Pauline Réage) caused a stir in France with its explicit references to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism — an array of sexual practices referred to as BDSM, for short.

Recently, the series Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James has sold millions of copies worldwide, fuelling the erotic fantasies of its readers.

Still, practices that involve an overlap of pain and pleasure are often shrouded in mystery and mythologized, and people who admit to engaging in rough play in the bedroom often face stigma and unwanted attention.

So what happens when an individual finds pleasure in pain during foreplay or sexual intercourse? Why is pain pleasurable for them, and are there any risks when it comes to engaging in rough play?

In this Spotlight feature, we explain why physical pain can sometimes be a source of pleasure, looking at both physiological and psychological explanations.

Also, we look at possible side effects of rough play and how to cope with them and investigate when the overlap of pain and pleasure is not healthful.

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When and Why is pain pleasurable? by Maria Cohut

June 7th, 2019