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| March 10, 2021, 2:17 CST

Why Bondage Frees People From Chronic Pain

BDSM offers a unique release to differently abled kinksters.
Monica Karpinski
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When Angela Car was growing up, she preferred spending time with adults rather than other kids. She was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine and spinal cord don't form properly, and didn't have as many chances to play as the other children did.

In her 30s, Car developed an alter ego called "ela," pronounced "Ella," who was free-spirited, flirty and fun. Today, ela is Car's scene name in her local kink community, and she uses the lowercase "e" to indicate that she is submissive.

Car is now in a monogamous relationship with her Sir, a term used by a submissive within a BDSM scene or relationship to reference their dominant, and BDSM has helped her deal with her chronic pain. It also makes her feel strong and proud of what her body can handle.

"Adults with spina bifida, like myself, have increased issues with pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and loss of mobility as we age," she said. "The days when I am totally pain-free are few and far between…Surrendering to (my Sir) gave me the freedom to let go, relax, be myself and have fun for the first time in my life."

However, the pain she experiences with BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) is much different.

"It is a pain that is sensual," Car explained. "It is pain that often takes my mind off the daily chronic pain that I have. While my chronic pain that I experience from my disability makes me feel very weak, the pain I experience in a scene makes me feel strong."

BDSM can help ease chronic pain

Caz Killjoy, 39, a disability activist and sex educator who co-founded the Disability and Sexuality Access Network, has a similar relationship with BDSM. After a session, participants can experience relief from their existing chronic pain for up to a few days.

The effect is similar to someone reaching over to pinch your arm really hard to distract you from the pain of stubbing your toe, Killjoy explained.

"When the body experiences chronic pain, that activates a different area of the brain, and the chemicals that are being released are different from when you are receiving novel pain—so, newly introduced pain," Killjoy said. "You're introducing a new pain that is overriding the other part in the brain."

Bondage adds additional layers to this experience, as the novel pain is received consensually and in a controlled environment—something that can be especially empowering when someone's day-to-day experiences of pain are restrictive or even debilitating.

"(BDSM) gives you the opportunity to control how you're feeling," they said. "While that is a sense of agency, I feel like it goes deeper than that. You can learn how to drive a car and that's a certain sense of freedom, or you could learn how to cook and that's a certain sense of autonomy."

It's another tool for managing stress

For Car, negotiating power in kink scenes has empowered her to speak up within other areas of her life.

"Kink taught me as a disabled woman how to have these conversations, and made me a much better advocate for myself, for my medical needs as well as my sexual needs and desires," she said.

Of course, the particular pleasures of domination and submission are also a drawing card for everyone who enjoys BDSM. Helen, a British woman in her 30s who lives with minor disabilities but requires assistance for some tasks, has been in the BDSM lifestyle for 15 years and, as a submissive, enjoys the feeling of freedom she gets from bondage.

"When you're physically tied up, what can you do? Nothing. You learn to give up control, you learn to embrace the here and now and not to worry about anything else,” she said. “If you're not into BDSM then that will sound absolutely terrifying, but for some kinky people, it's the perfect antidote to stress."

To other people with physical challenges who are interested in trying BDSM, Helen said it's important to remember that all are welcome within the scene—as long as a BDSM event is accessible, there's nothing stopping you from attending.

Monica Karpinski
BDSM
kinks
sex
disabilities
chronic pain
stress