Episode 109: Hurts So Good – Why We Seek Pain On Purpose

July 12, 2022 by Justin Lehmiller

Sex and Psychology Podcast
Sex and Psychology Podcast
Episode 109: Hurts So Good - Why We Seek Pain On Purpose

A masochist is someone who derives pleasure from the experience of pain. While we often think of masochism as being a purely sexual thing, it’s actually a pervasive part of everyday life. From the long-distance marathon runner to the person who covers their entire body in tattoos to the person who douses all of their food in hot sauce, there are countless examples of people intentionally inflicting pain on themselves—and getting some pleasure out of it at the same time. So why is that? We’re going to do a deep dive into the psychology of masochism today.

I am joined today by Leigh Cowart, a researcher and journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Popular Science, and more. Leigh’s latest book is titled Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose. Some of the topics we explore in this episode include:

  • Why do so many of us choose to suffer? Are we all masochists to some degree?
  • Why do humans experience pain anyway? What is the adaptive value of it?
  • Why is pain sometimes sexually arousing? How can pain enhance sex?
  • Why do some people seek out more intense pain than others?
  • Where does all of the shame and stigma around masochism (particularly sexual masochism) come from?
  • When can pain-seeking behavior be healthy, and when can it become a problem?

To learn more about Leigh, follow her on the socials @voraciousbrain and be sure to get a copy of her book Hurts So Good

Thanks to FirmTech (myfirmtech.com) and the Kinsey Institute (kinseyinstitute.org) for sponsoring this episode!

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Credits: Chris Sowa (Podcast editing) and Shutterstock/Florian (Music). Image created with Canva; photos used with permission of guest.


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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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