The stress researchers found that there are two kinds of stress: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). Interestingly, the distinction between these two stresses is completely within the soul of the individual. Where one person might see a rollercoaster ride as the high point of her day; to another, it might be a glimpse into hell.
Even the same stress can be distress (let me out of here) for an individual at one time and eustress (having a ball) at another. We all know individuals who glory in the push and tug of office politics; however, occasionally, even these “political animals” get fed up and need to get away when the eustress of political infighting becomes distress.
People in BDSM instinctually recognize that there are positive pains and negative pains. Our discussions are laden with indirect references to them. We may talk about something with “gets me off” or “sends me ‘somewhere else'” while another activity/toy/person “turns me off” or “brings me down.”
Often, at the beginning of a session, we are dealing with a relatively narrow cone of positive pain. Most submissives prefer to begin with some relatively light, sensual, familiar stimulation. As the level of endorphinsrphins build and the submissive “gets into his or her space,” the cone of positive pain widens, and the dominant has a broader range of stimulation to choose from.
This is where experience and sensitivity come in. By riding just short of the edge]], where positive pain becomes negative, the dominant can take the submissive to heights of pleasure she never expected to be able to reach. However, crossing over that edge, moving outside the cone of positive pain, can distract the submissive and shatter the spirit of the scene.
This is what creates the intensity of communication between the submissive and the dominant. The body language, tone and timbre of cries, even odor, provide clues that allow an experienced dominant to bring the submissive right up to the edge without crossing it.
To make matters even more complex, this “edge” does not lie at a particular point on the submissive’s pleasure map nor is the passage to it analogous to reaching a conventional wall or barrier. The position of the edge varies from day to day and is responsive to the pace and timing of the stimulation and to the tool employed. In fact, in the non-Euclidian space of BDSM, it is also possible to go beyond the edge without passing it.
For example, a particular submissive may be in sheer heaven with hours of firm measured spanking but may reach the edge rather quickly with a few swats of the cane. Conversely, the cane may produce a marked negative reaction (RED LIGHT!) when used early in the session but be welcomed as a scene‑ender which drives that particular submissive right into paroxysm of pleasure (YES, MY GOD, YES) when preceded by extensive stimulation with other toys.
Another thing that differentiates the kinds of pain is a sense of control and trust. Recently, doctors have been fitting patients with small pumps with which the patients can dose themselves with pain medication. To many people’s surprise, the patients used less medication than they would have been given in a typical nurse-supplied situation. It wasn’t that doctors and nurses had been overdosing patients; the patients who could control their own pain could tolerate more of it. They were in control of the situation.
This may explain why a twisted strap or cramp can be as painful and a whip as pleasant. The strap and the cramp are unexpected and uncontrolled. There is no assurance that no harm will be done. The whip, on the other hand, is controlled by someone who was seen as trustworthy, one who would not inflict lasting or gratuitous harm. The submissive recognizes either overtly or covertly that he or she has the overriding say in the scene.