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From Chili-Eating Contests To Ultramarathons, Why Do We Seek Pain For Pleasure?

A competitor takes part in a chili pepper-eating competition in Lijiang, southwest China's Yunnan province.
A competitor takes part in a chili pepper-eating competition in Lijiang, southwest China's Yunnan province.

If you’ve ever burnt your hand on a stove and someone told you it’s “all in your head,” they’re technically not wrong. Our sensory receptors communicate with the brain to create the sensation of pain.

But if pain is… painful, why do some of us seek it out?

To find out, journalist Leigh Cowart interviewed ultramarathoners, spice aficionados, lovers (practitioners) of BDSM, and other pain-seekers about why they do what they do.

From their book Hurts So Good:

“At its core, masochism is about choosing pain on purpose, for a reason. And often, in my experience, that reason is to feel bad to feel better. I believe that this phenomenon — the engineering of situations in which one suffers in order to secure guaranteed relief — is worthy of a tender, hilarious, heartfelt-examination. I would know: I am an inveterate, high-sensation-seeking masochist. I am a science reporter. And I have some f***ing questions.”

We talk about the link between pain and pleasure — and hear your stories and questions about pain on purpose.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5