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PRIVATE PAIN AND PUBLIC DISPLAY: MASOCHISTS
It would be blinkered to avoid admitting that there is a small fraction of any community which invites the very pain that the great majority attempt to avoid or cure. One such group are the athletes and aerobic buffs whose motto is 'no gain without pain'. We can understand if not applaud their conviction that pain is a measure of achievement and is therefore welcome. A quite different group are those in the quasi-legal underground sadomasochist subculture who seek pleasure in pain.
An interview with an attractive woman in her forties who edits a magazine for sadists and masochists was revealing about the facts. First, she had no doubt that the pain she enjoyed had nothing to do with the pains of illness and injury, which she loathed. Next, the whipping which she invited had to stop short of serious injury, so the sadist who inflicted them had to be under her control and trusted. The pain was associated with a hugely increased sexual awareness. She felt her reactions to be like those of a horse 'alerted and bounding after the thwack of a crop on its buttocks'. She knew nothing in her background to explain her actions in any symbolic or associated terms.
I report this here without any of the sympathetic feeling that usually allows one to understand what is heard. Clearly this practice has many variations and extremes. Some can achieve sexual satisfaction only with pain. Some have defined requirements. The greatest pleasure over many years for a successful white banker was to be beaten up by a particular black woman. For some, the pain is self-inflicted during masturbation. Alfred C. Kinsey, author of The Sexual Behaviour of the Human Male (1948), while masturbating would 'insert an object into his urethra, tie a rope around his scrotum and tug hard on the rope as he manoeuvred the object deeper.' Some evidently search for increasing extremes, and may kill themselves with asphyxia or wounding.
The word 'pain' includes a reference to punishment, as in 'on pain of death'. Some achieve the tranquility of absolution by punishing themselves for their sins or the sins of the world. The flagellants in Spanish religious processions appear exalted. A thousand years of Christian art portray candidate saints seeking wounds with radiant eagerness. The masochists are a small minority but the rest of the community is fascinated by the paradox of their existence.
In this chapter we have seen that the public display of pain and the expression of private suffering are full of surprises. The amount of pain and the amount of injury are not tightly coupled. The time course of pain depends on the needs for escape followed by the needs best suited for treatment and recovery. The location of the pain may differ from the location of the damage. The public display of pain has the purpose of informing others of the patient's needs while the private suffering assesses the meaning and consequences of the patient's own miserable state. All pain includes an affective quality that depends on the circumstances of the injury and on the character of the victim.
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