Hurts So Good: Science Explains Why Some People Find Pleasure in Pain

Hurts So Good: Science Explains Why Some People Find Pleasure in Pain

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin and yang describes how some seemingly opposite forces can often be complementary or even interconnected. Such is the nature of pain and pleasure: two conflicting yet sometimes oddly converging feelings. 

If you find yourself enjoying the things that cause you pain, you are not alone. Many people find the line between pain and pleasure a blurry one. Whether it’s spicy food, hot massages, or something more erotic, there is a natural connection.

The brain on painPain and pleasure have similar interacting systems in the brain. The dopamine system is associated with the anticipation or expectation of an experience, whereas the opioid system is responsible for the actual experience of the sensation. Opioids work to modulate both pleasure and pain relief, according to a study published in the journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. 

These systems regulate neurotransmitters that are involved in reward and motivation behaviors. For example, when you’re hungry, eating food feels so much more rewarding than if you snacked when you weren’t that hungry.

Reward and motivation
Much of our bodies’ processes are used to “maintain homeostasis” (regulate internal stability). In the same way that an air conditioning unit that is set to a particular temperature turns off when its surrounding environment is too cool or turns on when it is too hot, our bodies use markers of pain to introspect on underlying needs that we might not otherwise know. 

For instance, when we are hungry, the “pain” of the lacking the food causes us to seek out the pleasure of “rewarding” ourselves with nutrition. Similarly, if once we are full, the “pain” of overeating prevents us from overdoing the pleasure of being satiated. 

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