A few resources on kink and chronic pain

In kink communities, we don’t talk a lot about chronic pain. We talk about pain as solely sexy, as punishment, as desired. In general our communities want to spend time talking about fun, hotness, and desire, and are much less interested in conversation about things like oppression, illness, disability, nonconsensual violence, or chronic pain.

Someday, I hope to present my class on Dating, Sex, and Kink in the Context of Chronic Pain. As someone who has lived for most of my life with several chronic pain conditions (as well as other chronic illnesses), there is so much I’d love to be in conversation about with other kinky folks. Until then, I thought I would post some of the very few resources I know about chronic pain and kink, especially since I recently got another ask on this subject. I welcome additions to this resource list; please do recommend things in the comments, should you know them. (There are many suggestions in the comments, so please do check those out. I am adding them to this list as I get ahold of them and can find relevant quotes.)

Compiling this list did make me realize that there are related things I’ve had on the back burner to write about, so perhaps I will get on that soon. (Like that piece about service and chronic illness, or that piece about being a politically disabled person in kinky relationships with descriptively disabled folks that are not politicized about disability, or that piece about negotiating kink with my chronic pain in mind…) I am still planning to write a book about pain. It is not at the front of the line of the books I want to write, but I still have a strong desire to write it.

Nonfiction:

Kit O Connell writes about Kink and Fibromyalgia

“Dominating someone is a kind of meditation too, and I enter a kind of ‘dom space’ where I focus on them so intensely that my own aches and pains become far less important (at least up to a point). More than that, however, I have been coming to realize the deep benefits I receive from being served.”

Krissy Novocaine writes about BDSM and Chronic Pain

“there was something about his hand with a fist full of my hair yanking HARD that made me forget how I hurt everywhere else. When I was his play thing, I didn’t feel awful. I felt alive.”

I write about Pain and Sadism

“I am in pain pretty much every day. Some days it’s more than one kind of pain. Some days it’s worse than others. That’s been true for most of my life. That experience is inextricable from my experience, desires, and identity as a sadist. When I’m hurting someone, I am often in pain myself.”

Patrick Califia writes about having fibro in kink community (among other things) in the afterword to his erotic fiction collection, No Mercy

“Since I began walking with a cane, my sexual stock in the sadomasochistic marketplace hovers around zero. If anything, I’m twice as sadistic as I used to be, but able bodied perverts simply assume that, as a crip, I have no sexuality.  Since I could really benefit from the domestic services of a houseboy, it’s apparently not nearly as much fun to contemplate providing those services.”

Carrie writes about Sex, Kink and Cerebral Palsy

“when I finally asked, I got the answer I had feared: ‘I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.’

What that said to me was, ‘this woman still thinks I’m a little girl.’

Up to that point, I thought I’d done everything ‘right’: cultivated a functional relationship, finally let someone see me with my clothes off, said yes to sex, talked about my body, listened about hers, been willing to try new things, behaved like an adult. But it turns out it hadn’t worked. All of a sudden, the ‘nice girl’ formula that had made my disability palatable — acknowledge, but don’t dissect; laugh it off when things get tough — failed. I had literally done the most grown-up thing I could think of with this person, and she still saw me as vulnerable. Not in the way that brings people closer, mind you, but in the way that makes them afraid to touch you. Makes them think you’re breakable.

Instead of screaming in her face, which is what I really wanted, I turned her question back on her and asked: ‘Who’s better at pain than I am?’

As a way to get a grasp on the whole CP situation, people like to ask me, “does it hurt?” In pain/not in pain is a good/bad binary that they can digest. It allows them to categorize my body in a way that makes sense, and tells them whether they should feel bad for me or not. I always say no because I don’t want to give anyone (more) reason to look down on my body. But let’s be real — there are screws in my spine. Of course it hurts. There’s at least an unpleasant twinge happening somewhere all the time…The upside, though, is that I can handle pain like a pro. It’s easier for my body to feel pain than to feel good. Now, maybe I could have both.”

Andrea Zanin writes about a theory of power

“When the pain it reached its worst, in the weeks prior to the surgery I had in July to remove the tumour, I stopped being able to enjoy even the most careful sex. Anything approaching orgasm was agony. Now, following surgery, the pain is mostly gone, but there are parts of my bits that I can’t feel at all, and I’m feeling tender and tentative when it comes to either initiating or receiving any kind of sexual touch. (I’m working on it.)

And yet, despite sex and play becoming increasingly rare and challenging, and eventually grinding to a complete halt, and despite my very low levels of erotic and sadomasochistic desire in recent months, at no point did I stop desiring and enjoying the power dynamics I have cultivated with my partners. If anything, they deepened.

This really drove home the point that power-based relationships, for me, do not live in sex or eroticism. There is a gigantic overlap, yes; I am rarely drawn to, and find it challenging to feel truly satisfied within, power dynamics that don’t veer pretty heavily into the erotic. But there’s nothing quite like having no erotic desire and no ability to enjoy sex to make it abundantly clear that erotic charge is in no way at the root of what I’m doing. Power, for me, doesn’t live in sex. It just likes to hang out there a whole lot. But its roots are elsewhere.”

Sintangibly Speaking writes about Choosing Pain

“The biggest benefit I have gotten out of kink has been community.  Whenever I have been sick or had a particularly bad stretch our friends in the community have been the first to offer support in any way possible.  It’s always been one of the best unexpected side-effects of our lifestyle, and I would never trade it for anything.”

I write about creating space for tops to be complex and in pain

“it is common for people to imagine tops (and sadists in particular) as the third row only–monsters that tear the heads off robots, stomp on cities, roar, and eat vehicles, or the human equivalent of these things. We are reduced to our cruelty, the havoc we wreak for our bottoms, the ways we are larger than life and frightening… one of my main aims in the class (which focused on tops pushing our own edges in play) was to give us room as tops to be all the panels–to sleep with a teddy bear, to eat breakfast reading the paper, to get tired after working so hard, to set our watch alarms because we need to take a break and eat a sandwich. That we are whole human beings, and that in order to support us to take risks, we need give ourselves and each other room to move beyond the fantasy figure that is always mean, to a more complex, and full experience of ourselves.”

Naomi Finkelstein writes about bottoming with chronic pain in “The Only Thing You Have to Do Is Live” in the vol.9 #1-2 2003 issue of GLQ: a Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies (suggested by seeley quest)

“If it is possible to fuck her as hard as we both want, and be in service, then I am doing just that. I have never been so intent on serving someone as I am at this moment. My arm is at an angle that my neck, with three bone spurs going into my vertebrae, does not like. My body starts to shake. This is a pain that nags and builds. My arm and then my hand go numb. I do not feel anything in a precise way. I am left unable to feel the twinges in her asshole, the little nerve endings that twitch to let me know where to move or if I should move. I am still fucking her, listening to catch every breath, every moan, but I cannot feel the smooth inside of her anymore, and my neck is screaming in anguish. She is on the brink of coming, but it might take fifteen more minutes, you know how some womyn are. . . . I go to my knees, a pillow underneath me for just that circumstance, and try to find a way to keep fucking her. My back is in a spasm, but I ignore it; I finish fucking her through gritted teeth. Her ass tunnel closes around my arm as she comes, holds me like a vise. I stand frozen over her as she thrashes about wildly, taking my arm and neck with her. I ride it with her.”

ETA: I had a conversation on Twitter about chronic pain/chronic illness/disability and service that may be of interest (link is the Storify)

Fiction/Poetry:

Peggy Munson’s novel Origami Striptease (has both consensual kink and non-consensual violence, centers a character with metaphorical chronic illness/pain)

“I portray disabled characters who deal with hard-core issues, like caregiver abuse and battering— but they also have wild, interesting, amazing sex.”

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in Sins Invalid 2009

“When I flare I go in my bed and I fuck myself so hard. I close all the doors and I make myself come, over and over again. Sometimes I jerk off, read library books and look at Facebook at the same time. my cock in my pussy and my vibrator on my clit stays there forever. sometime I just hover there in that place with no coming for hours, and there is no pain, just me being the slut that kept me alive.

When I fuck myself I close my eyes and think of my best friend with lyme getting caned by her daddy when she’s taken enough oxy for her pain. I think of all of us fucking ourselves in our beds when we’re sick. when we’re not. I think of how lucky I am to still get to come.”

Gina DeVries, How to Have a Body

“Rolling around with him in my bed, his hand in my hair and his teeth grazing the backs of my thighs, feeling his throat under my fingers and his pretty face give when I slapped him, the way he moved his hips, the way he threw me around by the scruff of my neck, took my clothes off like he was unwrapping a present, said “my, my, what fine lingerie you have!” like the Big Bad Wolf and leaned in for a kiss that opened me – what I don’t want to write about and what I have to write about is that my body happened, the way bodies do. We’re both panting and moaning and laughing and his skin feels so good and then, fuck, it happened like it happens sometimes, a lightning bolt of pain shot through my neck and my shoulder and I whimpered & grimaced, squinted & held my hand out. ‘I really really like what we’re doing, and I really really want to keep going, and I’m really really in a lot of pain right now. I need to lie on an ice pack. I’m sorry. Ow.’”

My own erotic fiction, especially the not-yet-published “The Tale of Tam and Jan” and “The Tender Sweet Young Thing”

From “The Tender Sweet Young Thing”:

“’Want to hear one of Dax’s early kink roots?’ Mikey asked, teasing.

Of course the group wanted to hear it. Dax was grateful Mikey was going to tell it, because hir migraine meds were making hir a bit loopy and ze just wanted to watch the room and relax. It was nice to be back. Nobody did potluck like fat activist queers. The briscuit Rebecca brought was the best comfort food ever, especially with Mikey’s flan for dessert, and ze was looking forward to popcorn and Julie Andrews. Hir chair was comfy, the sun wasn’t in hir eyes, and ze was surrounded by kinky queers. Hey, who was that cute femme boy in the corner?”

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10 thoughts on “A few resources on kink and chronic pain

  1. WORD, thank you! i’d also add work by bob flanagan. his art got a certain public attention b/c of privileged aspects of his identity incl. being white, cis gendered male, heterosexual, etc., yet he was still a game changer in terms of sharing the complexities in navigating daily levels of unwanted pain and his relationship w/desiring eroticized pain. i recommend later parts of his writing in Pain Journal, and in the doc Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist –w/note that there may be some triggering material incl. depiction of terminal illness in hospital, heavy cbt piercing play, and friction re: consensuality in moments w/his top sheree rose.

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  2. Hey there,

    Thanks so much for sharing that resource. Definitely worth checking out. Looking forward to more conversation with you about this.

    If you were to imagine what you want/ache/need to read about kink and chronic pain, what would it be?

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  3. Yes. Absolutely this. Andrea Zanin is one of the most eloquent people I’ve seen covering this, but a few other recommendations: Raven Kaldera wrote two books on disability and M/s (including chronic pain). Shanna Katz has some really interesting things to say. Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette has a section on kink. Eli Clare has written a bit on this.

    I’ve done a couple discussions on similar topics and definitely think we could use more. I’ve noticed a lot of this stuff seems to happen in discussions (online or in-person); because so much of this is deeply personal, I haven’t seen very many overarching pieces, guides, or tips.

    Also, seconding Bob Flanagan.

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    • Thanks for sharing resources; I really appreciate it.

      I’m esp interested in what Eli Clare has to say about chronic pain and kink; is there a specific reference you’s recommend? What about for Shanna Katz; are you thinking of a piece of writing she’s done?

      I will take a look at the Ultimate Guide. I knew Kaldera’s books but don’t have them and couldn’t get the internet to let me skim for sections on chronic pain; are there particular pieces/chapters that you have found useful?

      What kinds of things come up in the discussions you’ve done?

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s good to be reminded that other people in the kink community are managing to live their lives and still be part of the scene.

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  5. @tory676

    Thanks for your comment; I’m glad this was an important resource. Chronic pain can be really isolating; I know it has been for me. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s piece speaks to that, esp part 1. I posted part 3, but here is part 1. (As a head’s up, this part references sexual assault)

    “There’s an underground river flowing through every queer of color community I’ve been a part of and kissed. The underground river of kids who went away. The girls and boys who got sick and tired, spent hours curled up sleeping . An underground river swelling its banks, filling the riverbed, carrying us away. Fibro, chronic fatigue, lyme disease, cancer, endo, MS, multiple chemical sensitivity. We were all just too sensitive. Fatigue too thick to make sense of phone, Trader Joe’s, Laundromat, let alone meeting, party, dance floor. We go away.”

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  6. other writing: by dear bear naomi finkelstein, hir essay “the only thing you have to do is live” in the vol.9 #1-2 2003 issue of GLQ: a journal of gay and lesbian studies, the ‘disability studies+queer theory’ issue published after the international (so far only) queer and disability conference at sf state, june ’02 (a landmark meetup). i’ve recently found a used copy of this bk on sale at community thrift on valencia…. and, i’ve just loaned all my zines that include writing by folx w/chronic illness–these collections generally also have text on experience w/disability apart from illness, and on living w/pain, and, they mostly feature queer folx sometimes sharing re: relationships w/kink too–but i’d also check for work by qwo-li driskill, who’s certainly put some sexual poems out which cite physical pain along w/aroused pleasure. aurora levins morales has great writing about living w/chronic pain, and a saucily perverse video (on the sins website) about enjoying genitals marinated in urine when incontinency happens.
    fran varian–i haven’t read much of her yet but i believe she foregrounds kink sometimes along w/explicitness about living w/lyme.
    there is literature too by leather fags living w/aids and dealing w/ill effects from infections and/or medications, by leather women living w/breast or other cancer and w/pain similarly, but i don’t have specific referrals right now.
    one for sure resource is just getting published, ‘ring of fire’ by e.t. russian, friend who’s written zines and made hot provocative art about pain from leg amputations and related developments, and being openly kinky. they’re bringing bk readings to the bay next month!

    fyi, i can only comment intermittently b/c computer use aggravates my chronic pain…hopefully will change someday.

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  7. seeley,

    Thanks so much for your suggestions for resources. I was able to get Naomi Finkelsteins essay from the library, so I added it to the list above with a relevant quote. I will keep a lookout for the other resources you name.

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  8. Pingback: Intriguing Studying #87 | Posts

  9. Pingback: Being a Disabled Top in Kink Community | Kink Praxis

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