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> Neurochemistry and endocrinology of BDSM, Bondage, domination, submission, sadomasochism, biochemistry, endorphin
zule
post Nov 04, 2009, 03:35 PM
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BDSM stands for Bondage-Domination-Submission-Sadomasochism.

I am into BDSM and I am into science too. So, I wrote this article for a BDSM Spanish magazine, CUADERNOS DE BDSM (6). I started to translate it into English for a BDSM forum and I haven’t still finished the translation, but it’s only a little left and, as it is quite long, I have thought to already post about half of it and when I have finish the translation, I will post the remainder.

I would appreciate your points of view in the subject. Any language corrections will also be welcome.

As the article was not directed to a scientific public, I preferred not to indicate numbers of reference in the text for not making more complicated its reading. The whole bibliography is at the end of the article; however, if anyone wants references about a particular topic, they only have to ask for them.


BIOCHEMISTRY OF THE SUBMISSIVENESS
By zule

When I was invited by CUADERNOS DE BDSM to write this article, the purpose was explaining the biochemistry of the pain. But I am afraid I have mainly gotten to generate new doubts instead giving explanations.

Although it can be found a relatively high number of BDSM psychological or psychiatric papers in the scientific literature, BDSM has not been practically studied from a biochemical or physiological point of view. In fact, even the biochemical works centered in the pleasure study are few. It seems that hedonism has not been given importance in neurobiology. So, the only thing that I could do to write this paper was extracting ideas from studies which only share closeness to the BDSM topic: some of them deal with the pain, a little with the pleasure, and others don’t even deal with any of two subjects.

From these ideas, I have tried to establish hypotheses. I want to make clear that a lot of which I have written here are only hypotheses. Although these hypotheses have a scientific basis, I don’t claim them as immovable truths. For that, I would be delighted if anyone wants to discuss these hypotheses for trying to get close truths about the biochemistry of the BDSM.


FEAR


It is known that different sensations, both pleasurable and painful ones, prompt a first answer which is unspecific and similar. For example, both fear and sexual arousal, cause adrenaline release.

Adrenaline makes the body ready for fly, fight, or freeze. You can check that both fear and sexual arousal cause an increase in the cardiac pace, which is due to adrenaline. Therefore, the fear can probably help to improve a subsequent sexual arousal.

In a BDSM relationship, the sub knows that the Dom worries about their integrity. Then, why that sub is reacting with fear if they actually know that their Dom is going to look after them?
The amygdala is a part of the brain which is mostly activated by the fear. Experiments made in relation with phobias, have shown that the amygdala answers fear before the person is conscious of that fear. Because of that, if somebody has a phobia to snakes, although they clearly know certain snake doesn’t have any danger, they are going to feel terrified by it. The phobic can suffer an anxiety state because the amygdala “thinks” there is a real danger and it is going to activate the release of big amounts of adrenaline.

The brain cortex also reacts towards fear, but it does it after the unspecific mechanism started by the amygdala has begun. The brain cortex is the part of the brain that allows us to be conscious about what is happening. We will realize we are seeing a snake; or our Master is thinking about what evil to do to us; or we are feeling aroused by a person. And now, this differentiated conscious sensation is going to interact with the undifferentiated sensation coming from other areas of the brain (like the amygdala) to get what we really feel. On this way, during a scene, it might be that our body takes advantage of the adrenaline produced by the fear to increase the pleasurable sensations of sex, surrender, affection…

The fact that the amygdala seems to be involved in unconscious sexual desire, besides being involved in the fear, adds more reasons for the fear being able to lead to pleasure. Several studies seem to indicate this involvement of the amygdala in sexual desire. Besides, we could say that the amygdala is a little “disorganized” organ: there is not a clear distinction between the area in the amygdala that is in charge of fear and the ones which are supposed to do other tasks. Even in an individual an area of the amygdala seems to answer to fear, whereas in another individual this same area answers to a different sensation.

Summing up, unconscious fear would cause an increase of adrenaline. The amygdala associates fear to excitement. Then, we would realize trough the brain cortex that we shouldn’t be afraid; but that couldn’t stop yet the adrenaline release process. This adrenaline would be added to the one release because of our sexual arousal, love, surrender, etc. In this way, the pleasurable feelings would increase its intensity by using the adrenaline produced by this irrational fear.


PAIN

The more widespread biochemical explanation about the pleasure caused by the pain is that endorphins released because of the pain would help to prompt an orgasm. However, studies have been made and it has been found an increase in the release of endorphins neither before, nor during the orgasm. There is an increase in the release of endorphins after the orgasm, which would explain the relax feeling subsequent to the coitus. But endorphins seem to make the orgasm difficult, so the pain would reduce the probability to get it. Endorphins due to the pain would cause pleasure, but not sexual pleasure.

On the other hand, endorphins are produced during the sexual attraction. It has been also observed that by putting together submissive and dominant animals, in the submissive ones there is a significant increase in the release of endorphins. For this happening, there is no necessary that the dominant animals do anything to the submissive ones; the only fact of being together prompts this increase in submissive animals, whereas the level of endorphins in dominants animals doesn’t seem to vary.

During the orgasm there is a significant increase of dopamine; actually the dopamine is perhaps the chemical of the sexual pleasure. Endorphins also cause the release of dopamine, so, here, we may have a pain-pleasure connection: although the endorphins would make getting the orgasm more difficult, the pleasure with or without orgasm would be greater.

But now, we have a new problem with this hypothesis: these days it isn’t clear if dopamine is actually the “pleasure neurotransmitter” or it is only the “desire neurotransmitter”. The production of dopamine during a pleasurable situation leads to want to repeat that situation. However, it is not clear if dopamine also is the cause of the pleasure. But then, what substance would be the cause of sexual pleasure???????

But it seems clear that dopamine lead to want to repeat the behavior which allowed its release. This agrees with a typical psychological explanation about the production of pleasure through pain: perhaps in a moment of their childhood, a person experienced pain and a great pleasure at the same time. A large amount of dopamine would be released because of that pleasure, and in our mind would remain recorded a connection between the pain and the pleasure.

Finally, other studies seem to demonstrate that dopamine wouldn’t be only involved in pleasure production (or at least in the desire of repeating that situation which caused the pleasure); but it could also be the cause of the unpleasant psychological feeling which the pain induces in “standard conditions”. I am not referring to the physical pain itself, but to the unpleasant feeling which cause that pain.

You perhaps wonder how the same substance could cause unpleasantness and pleasure. Neurotransmitters carry out its effect by joining to receptors, a kind of proteins. A neurotransmitter activates certain receptors, and in this way it is produced the effect of that neurotransmitter. But one only kind of neurotransmitter can activate different kinds of receptors. It seems that the activation of some dopamine receptors is related to pleasure, whereas their merging to other kinds of receptor causes unpleasantness. The result could depend on whether dopamine was released in areas where most of the cells had dopamine receptors which activate pleasure or unpleasant ruts. The hypothesis would be that masochistic people had more receptors for the pleasure than for the pain. Besides, the masochists would have to have neurons with mostly receptors for the pleasure very close to other with mostly receptors for the displeasure. In this way, our body could be cheated: part of the dopamine which would have to go to the displeasure centers, would join to receptors leading to pleasure.
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zule
post Nov 06, 2009, 03:32 AM
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HUMILIATION AND OTHER FEELINGS

Very little is known about the operation of the nervous system, and when it is leaded to a subjective feeling as the humiliation, this knowledge can be considered virtually nil.

I will only note that the humiliation and psychological “suffering” which subs are being subjected might lead ultimately to pleasure production by mechanisms very similar to the ones which lead from pain to pleasure.

Actually, it seems that unpleasant feelings can produce true pain. At least for the case of envy, it has been observed that it is able to activate the own routes of pain.

What about the rest of the feelings? Why pleasure is not gotten when a sub gets an accidental stamp? Nervous system is not formed by isolated groups of neurons being each one working independently from the others. On the contrary, all actions that take place in any area of the nervous system modify, in any way, the rest of the nervous system.

Painful stimuli activate nociceptores. Those receptors are specialized in starting the route which can lead to the painful sensation. But this activation not necessary leads to a painful experience. The brain cortex elaborates on the information coming from the nociceptores to give a certain perception of the pain.

This perception of the pain is influenced by former experiences and by the realm where the harmful stimulus is produced: As I have previously noted, dopamine causes a stimulus to be stored in our brain as pleasant and that makes to want to repeat that stimulus. This could lead to associate pleasure to some stimulus that formerly was generated joined to a pleasant one, although the first one should be an unpleasant feeling by itself.

Pain, similarly to fear, would activate nociceptores; these, would lead to the activation of unconscious mechanisms, like endorphin release; but it would be the processing in the brain cortex what really generated certain painful experience. There is an area in the brain which seems to be involved in the perception of the pain. Patients who have had this part of the brain extracted experience pain as a sensation, but not as a very unpleasant one.

Feelings are ultimately biochemical processes. And pain is the sensitive modality which is more influenced by emotional states and environmental circumstances. So, feelings (desire to make the dominant comfortable, to subdue to him; sexual attraction, love, attachment…) lead to generate brain routes which cross and modify pain and pleasure ones.


SLUMP

Both dopamine and endorphin, pleasure chemical substances, have a short action period and they stop early being released. So, the pleasure lasts only for a limited time. On the other hand, dopamine causes prolactin release. Prolactin is a hormone which decreases sex desire, as well as dopamine and endorphin release.

A big endorphin unloading has been produced; a big part of the reserves of these hormones in the organism have been emptied. It can take days to replace them. Besides, endorphin receptors may have hidden due to the high number of endorphin which has joined them. In his way, the remaining low number of endorphins has a remaining low number of receptors to join: it is difficult for them to do their relaxing and pleasurable function.


Because of that, subs can feel bad after a session: we will have decreased the capability of balancing any little unpleasant situation. Any help will be welcome to compensate this, and the after-care is a very good help, causing the release of endorphins although the deposits are low.

Another important help is oxytocin. Oxytocin is released in response to both arousal and pain. In contrast to endorphins and dopamine, has a longer period of action. It is directly related to love and attachment and can compensate the slump of endorphins and dopamine. These facts about oxytocin could explain some of the advantages of a long term relationship. It seems that in males much of the functions which the oxytocin has in females would be substituted by the vasopressin.


OTHER NEUROTRANSMITTERS AND HORMONES

So far, I have only spoken about a few neurotransmitters and hormones (adrenalin, dopamine, endorphins, prolactin, oxytocin and vasopressin). But that it’s a simplification of what really happens in our body in process such as pain. Actually what happens is a chain: Releasing of a chemical substance gives acts in a cell, making the last to release another chemical substance and so on.

Besides, other neurotransmitters greatly influence the process we have treated. For instance, serotonin influences pain, orgasm, mood… In fact, serotonin has such a wide range of actions that it is difficult to separate its influence in a concrete action. That is the reason I have not previously mentioned the serotonin in this article; it’s too complex, so, I will research into it more deeply in other occasion. But serotonin might have a great influence in the pleasure of submission and even more in the pleasure of domination.

I can look very egocentric, because I have only spoken in this article about submission pleasure, and not about the domination one. But it is easy when you research about the cause of feelings you really know. For other article, I expect to be more focused in the dominant, as well as trying to clarify some of my doubts and in this way, being able to write an article with more answers.


References

Adeniyi et al. ”Yohimbine in the treatment of orgasmic dysfunction”. Asian J Androl, 2007; 9 (3): 403–407

Bancroft. “The endocrinology of sexual arousal”. Journal of endocrinology, 2005;186:411-427

Bressan et al. “The role of dopamine in reward and pleasure behaviour--review of data from preclinical research”. Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl, 2005;(427):14-21

Burgdorf et al. “The neurobiology of positive emotions “. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 2006;30(2):173-87

Do et al. “Evaluations of pleasurable experiences: the peak-end rule”. Psy chon Bull, 2008 Feb;15(1):96-8.

Jabbi et al. “A Common Anterior Insula Representation of Disgust Observation, Experience and Imagination Shows Divergent Functional Connectivity Pathways”. PLoS ONE, 2008; 3(8): e2939

Kandel et al. Principios de Neurociencia. Macgraw-Hill. Interamericana, 2004

López-Ávila et al. “El papel de los receptores dopaminérgicos D1 y D2 en la corteza insular en un modelo de dolor neuropático”. XXVI Congreeso Nacional de Investigacdión Biomédica. Méjico 2007

Purves et al. “Neurociencia”. Panamericana, 2004

Sch et al. “The neurobiology of pleasure, reward processes, addiction and their health implications”. Neuro Endocrinol Lett, 2004 Aug;25(4):235-51

Stefano et al. “Anticipatory Stress Response: A significant commonality in stress, relaxation, pleasure and love responses”. Med Sci Monit, 2008; 14(2): RA17-21

Takahashi et al . “When your gain is my pain and your pain is my gain: neural correlates of envy and schadenfreude”. Science, 2009, Feb 1
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jess
post Apr 12, 2011, 10:44 AM
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thanks for the article.
do you have a reference for the study regarding increased endorphins in the submissive animal while in the presence of the dominant animal?
thank you.
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Phi
post Apr 12, 2011, 12:15 PM
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"thank you" doesn't cut it slave...
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zule
post May 31, 2011, 10:42 AM
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QUOTE(jess @ Apr 12, 2011, 07:44 PM) *

thanks for the article.
do you have a reference for the study regarding increased endorphins in the submissive animal while in the presence of the dominant animal?
thank you.


Sorry, jess, I had forgotten to add the reference you ask for. It is "Physiol Behav. 1992 May;51(5):1083-6.
Hormonal responses to fighting in hamsters: separation of physical and psychological causes.
Huhman KL, Moore TO, Mougey EH, Meyerhoff JL."
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nicegirlnihao
post Sep 19, 2011, 05:19 AM
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Your article is best!
i think bdsm also is a life style.
I like the steel bra.


www dot spicesforlove dot com
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Dmeff
post Dec 21, 2012, 07:41 AM
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I know i'm a few years too late, but i wanted to say thank you. As a sadomasochist and aspiring neurobiologist I hope to someday write my thesis on this subject.

I wonder if you'll read this...
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David Brown
post Sep 24, 2014, 08:47 PM
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Nice surprise about this shorter form. Can you tell us what it is you are talking/writing about?Has any info. about this shorter form been posted before (and i just missed it)?
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absolute absolute
post Dec 16, 2017, 02:19 AM
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Oy, I practise BDSM, to find partner I use this BDSM social network www.kinkygalaxy.com What about you? Where did you found your sexual partner?
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