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Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose

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An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose--from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose--from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black Plague flagellants to ballerinas dancing on broken bones to competitive eaters choking down hot peppers while they cry. Masochism is a part of us. It lives inside workaholics, tattoo enthusiasts, and all manner of garden variety pain-seekers.   At its core, masochism is about feeling bad, then better—a phenomenon that is long overdue for a heartfelt and hilarious investigation. And Leigh Cowart would know: they are not just a researcher and science writer—they’re an inveterate, high-sensation seeking masochist. And they have a few questions: Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits and the costs? And what does masochism have to say about the human experience?   By participating in many of these activities themselves, and through conversations with psychologists, fellow scientists, and people who seek pain for pleasure, Cowart unveils how our minds and bodies find meaning and relief in pain—a quirk in our programming that drives discipline and innovation even as it threatens to swallow us whole.  


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An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose--from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose--from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black Plague flagellants to ballerinas dancing on broken bones to competitive eaters choking down hot peppers while they cry. Masochism is a part of us. It lives inside workaholics, tattoo enthusiasts, and all manner of garden variety pain-seekers.   At its core, masochism is about feeling bad, then better—a phenomenon that is long overdue for a heartfelt and hilarious investigation. And Leigh Cowart would know: they are not just a researcher and science writer—they’re an inveterate, high-sensation seeking masochist. And they have a few questions: Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits and the costs? And what does masochism have to say about the human experience?   By participating in many of these activities themselves, and through conversations with psychologists, fellow scientists, and people who seek pain for pleasure, Cowart unveils how our minds and bodies find meaning and relief in pain—a quirk in our programming that drives discipline and innovation even as it threatens to swallow us whole.  

59 review for Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose

  1. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    "Hurts so good Come on baby, make it hurt so good Sometimes love don't feel like it should You make it hurt so good" -John Mellencamp Well, that did not hurt one bit! I enjoyed it! Pain on purpose, why do some engage in it, while others will avoid pain at any cost? Is it the thrill, the danger, the endorphins released, the high one feels, the thrill of pushing yourself, or feeling good after feeling bad? Yes, this book does touch on Masochism, but it also looks at deliberate pain involving ballet danc "Hurts so good Come on baby, make it hurt so good Sometimes love don't feel like it should You make it hurt so good" -John Mellencamp Well, that did not hurt one bit! I enjoyed it! Pain on purpose, why do some engage in it, while others will avoid pain at any cost? Is it the thrill, the danger, the endorphins released, the high one feels, the thrill of pushing yourself, or feeling good after feeling bad? Yes, this book does touch on Masochism, but it also looks at deliberate pain involving ballet dancers who suffer for their art, for endurance athletes/ultra-marathoners who push their bodies to the brink, those who enter Carolina Reaper eating contests, those who take polar plunges, and those who engage in religious flagellants to name a few. Consensual pain and activities that involve pain have been around since the beginning of time. Plus, there are those who enjoy watching people feel pain, "Hot Ones" comes to mind. If you have seen it, you have seen celebrities eating hot wings and struggling to answer questions as well. This inspired our household to hold our own, hot sauce eating contest. There are also those who enjoy watching people get hooks in their backs and be suspended from the ceiling. I found this book to be a fast, interesting, and absorbing read. She provides examples, neuroscience, and history on various pain on purpose activities. The Author spoke to scientists, psychologists, and those who seek pain for pleasure plus shared a few personal experiences as well. Hard to put down, interesting and informative. Thank you to Perseus Books, Public Affairs and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own. **I always have a soundtrack or a particular song going through my head while I read books, for some reason John Mellencamp was on my playlist for this book. Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    Hundreds of billions of dollars annually go into the research, production and sales of tools and meds to dull, lessen or avoid pain. Pain suffering is a universal human dilemma. And yet, there are untold millions, possibly billions of people who crave it. Pain comes in an unending variety of flavors, as Leigh Cowart discovers, explains and demonstrates in Hurts So Good. It’s bigger than we think. Cowart says “Once I noticed the propensity and enjoyment of certain kinds of pain in myself, I notic Hundreds of billions of dollars annually go into the research, production and sales of tools and meds to dull, lessen or avoid pain. Pain suffering is a universal human dilemma. And yet, there are untold millions, possibly billions of people who crave it. Pain comes in an unending variety of flavors, as Leigh Cowart discovers, explains and demonstrates in Hurts So Good. It’s bigger than we think. Cowart says “Once I noticed the propensity and enjoyment of certain kinds of pain in myself, I noticed it everywhere.” Her book is a remarkable tour of people seeking pain. She attends an ultra-marathon, where people run for 60 hours straight, until only one person is left on the course. Millions of little girls live for the day when they get their first pointe shoes for ballet, so their nails can dig into their feet, their cuticles can blister and bleed, and maybe some toes break. She attends a chili pepper eating contest, and most unwisely chews on the world’s hottest pepper, followed immediately by rubbing her eyes with her capsaicin-covered fingers. She swims with other “idiots” in the Atlantic Ocean on New Years’ Day. If it causes pain, Cowart wants to explore it. She opens, wisely, with an adventure in BDSM, her own current favorite source of pain. That gets the reader hooked for the long look back to Sacher-Masoch and Krafft-Ebbing, who brought sexual pain into the public realm, revealing, as this book does, that there is a very wide interest in reading about sex. That, plus their own stories are particularly revealing. If it’s sex-related, humans can’t get enough of it. Back in the present, Cowart enjoys a good beating, being Saran-wrapped and hung from the ceiling, spanked till she can’t sit, manhandled abusively, and forced to orgasm amidst the blood and fluids. She glows from it, in more ways than one. This is not your mother’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Pain seekers go back at least to the early Christians, with their animal hair shits and self-flagellation. It was well documented a thousand years later, as sects self-flagellated in public to atone for the Black Plague. Such activities were usually considered (at least until recently) mental illness, and treated as such. Cowart says however, that self-flagellating cults in the streets would not have been shocking in the 1300s. Pain has long been a normal part of daily life, with beatings at school and at work. Today, mankind has developed all sorts of ways to induce pain, seemingly for pleasure, with little or no stigma attached. It is even admired. The pleasure comes in many forms, she says. It can be an adrenaline rush during the pain, or the endorphin rush afterwards. It can be satisfaction in knowing you can outlast the pain, or the accomplishment of doing something truly pointless, but which demonstrates superhuman exertion. That possibly half of humanity enjoys some sort of pain is a revelation. It is far more important, and in a positive way, than we normally think. Here’s her best try at explaining it: “When people talk about pain on purpose, they almost always talk about what comes next, how they feel after the pain. The dominion over self. The endorphin rush, that hit of homebrew morphine, the lactic acid that makes the muscles tense with a pleasing burn long after the workout has ended. High-sensation-seeking people out there using their bodies to test limits, to feel something wild, to push themselves. There are masochists who are strictly pain-seeking for the sensation of it, but, in my experience, there are so, so many more who use pain as a tool to feel something else. To feed bad to feel better.” It’s not just kinky sex. She says: “I believe, through research and interviews and personal experience, that using pain for its own sake is an everyday part of being human. I think the capacity to seek out and benefit from pain is built into us, embedded in the looping chemical user manuals that come installed in our rented primate bodies.” She says she is in awe of people who display such mastery. In other words, suffering induced pain is an accomplishment worthy of praise. Just ask marathoners, long distance swimmers, Everest climbers, or people who hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one go. They’re all examined here. For Cowart, it seems to have begun at an early age with ballet, which punished her, put her in hospital, and nearly caused her to die. Like most ballerinas, she knew it was all part of the road to success, so she kept at it. But looking back, it was crazy: “What if you took your shoes off and kicked the wall with your big toe as hard as you could, over and over and over again, and then you kept doing it until your toenails turned eggplant purple and fell off?” So we train our children to not merely endure, but to seek out pain as being worthy. The best segment, at least for me, was her description of her days in Chicago as an anorexic-bulimic. The days were all the same, working two jobs, stealing, downing various foods and immediately throwing them back up, in order to digest nothing, ever. The pain of hunger, of the deteriorating body aching for any kind of sustenance and her miserable lifestyle are all horribly real. She’s not proud of that period, but she demonstrates again how pain shapes her life. And that she is not alone. Freed of anorexia before it would have killed her, she has moved on to BDSM-related pain. It must be done with trust and love, she says. While she would blanch at a stranger touching her arm, a lover inserting needles like stitches all over her back is immensely pleasurable, beyond the immediate pain. “I have come to think of my experiences with masochism as a kind of biohacking: a way to use the electrochemistry of my body in a deliberate way for the purpose of curating a specific experience. Something about my response to pain is different, be it inborn or learned (or both, I suspect). It’s something that allows me to craft a little pocket of joy for myself, an engineered release, be it through running a few miles uphill, getting a tattoo, or getting slapped in the face for fun until I cry.” Pain focuses the mind. When Cowart is in induced pain, nothing else matters. She is totally focused on only the pain. All the worries of the day, all the worries of the world simply vanish. There is nothing at all in the universe besides her pain. That is part of the attraction. She heard the same sort of thing from marathoners, and when she joined the “polar bears” on January first for a dip in the Atlantic, she also focused, telling herself she would survive, it would soon end, and she could do this. Despite extreme cold being her worst fear. She heard that kind of recitation from others in her travels. The book has lengthy explanations of how pain works, how the brain interprets it and filters knowledge of it as it deems appropriate. The brain can be trained to react differently to pain too. It’s all part of the game of pain, and for some the game is everything. I like how conversational Cowart is, making her experiences very believable. She also is journalistic, checking details, backgrounds, interviewing scientists and taking far more notes than she could ever use in the book, she says. She even provides a Youtube video of her eating the world’s hottest pepper exactly as she described it – painfully. I did not like all the F-bombs, often several per page. That always dulls their usage, without adding any information. They have no shock value in the book, though they might elicit the occasional giggle. But I came to realize the book would not be better without them. It’s part of the self-harm ethos that Cowart talks dirty. It is altogether a different world, and Cowart is an excellent guide to it. David Wineberg

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    Humans devote a lot of effort to avoiding unpleasant sensations. I’ve even heard people philosophize that all human activity is about moving toward pleasure or away from pain, but this claim fails on two grounds. First, people don’t invariably flee from pain, sometimes they run into its arms. Second, the dichotomization of pleasure and pain, categorizing them as opposites, also fails for a wide variety of human endeavors. This book reflects upon a diverse set of cases in which the pleasure-pain Humans devote a lot of effort to avoiding unpleasant sensations. I’ve even heard people philosophize that all human activity is about moving toward pleasure or away from pain, but this claim fails on two grounds. First, people don’t invariably flee from pain, sometimes they run into its arms. Second, the dichotomization of pleasure and pain, categorizing them as opposites, also fails for a wide variety of human endeavors. This book reflects upon a diverse set of cases in which the pleasure-pain dichotomy breaks down, attempting to glimpse why this is the case. Cowart investigates pepper-eating contests, ultramarathons, Polar Bear Club mid-winter dips, flagellation by religious adherents, and sexual sadomasochism. One thing these diverse activities have in common is that individuals voluntarily and purposefully subject themselves to intensely painful sensations. Throughout the book, the author is forthright about the varied ways that she has been attracted to pain, including: ballet dancing, an eating disorder, and sexual masochism. This book takes a story-centric approach. As the subtitle suggests, it does present scientific findings, but this information is tucked in amid the stories – both her own confessional tales and the stories of the masochists (broadly speaking, i.e. not referring only to sexual pain-seekers) she meets during her research trips. As a student of both martial arts and yoga, I found that the changing of one’s perception of, and relationship to, sensation is one of the most profound and empowering aspects of these practices. I, therefore, was curious what brought people to the purposeful pursuit of pain and what benefits others found. Not surprisingly, there isn’t just one reason for all cases, and Cowart discusses neurochemical, social, and psychological reasons. If you’re curious about why people engage in pain purposefully and voluntarily, this book is a must-read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com. Leigh Cowart explores why people consent to experience pain in their upcoming book, Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose. They take the science of pain and correlate it with a variety of intentional experiences from ballet class to eating wildly hot chili peppers, ultramarathons, and yes, BDSM. Cowart is unafraid to expose their own kinks, combining scholarship with intimate reveals and plenty of f-bombs. Naturally, thi Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com. Leigh Cowart explores why people consent to experience pain in their upcoming book, Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose. They take the science of pain and correlate it with a variety of intentional experiences from ballet class to eating wildly hot chili peppers, ultramarathons, and yes, BDSM. Cowart is unafraid to expose their own kinks, combining scholarship with intimate reveals and plenty of f-bombs. Naturally, this isn’t the book for everyone. This is true of every book on the market, by the way. But for me, as a person with tattoos, piercings, and chronic medical pain, it’s a fascinating read. I connect with Cowart’s descriptions of ballet class because I did hot yoga for more than a decade in 110° heat and 60% humidity. Like Cowart, at the end of every class, I had a palpable high that no other exercise quite replicates. Chronic pain can be isolating. But Cowart explains the science behind why collective experiences of pain bond people together and actually create less pain. Essentially, if I decided to run into the ocean on a Saturday night in January all by myself, the pain would likely be unbearable. But by taking part in a Polar Bear Plunge on a Saturday morning in January with hundreds of other people, as Cowart did, it would hurt considerably less. And no matter what pain we agree to experience, the benefit is the endorphins our body releases. This neuropeptide, created by our nervous system, is the body’s own opioid. The name endorphin is actually a combination of the word endogenous (created by the body) and morphine (pain-relieving medication). So the payoff of pain on purpose is considerable, given the right circumstances. My conclusions As a massage therapist, I say the phrase “good hurt” multiple times every week. I ask for consent and check in often with clients. I know that the most important part of a good massage is trust and open communication, not the depth of pressure or the specific technique. This all explains what motivates this grandma to read more about how humans have agreed to experience pain for centuries. Cowart discusses the historical aspects of pain, as well as today’s related choices. For example, hair shirts and flagellation as a part of religious rituals connect pain to a desire for absolution or for religious bliss. The history of masochism and its initial diagnosis by the fledgling world of psychiatry is also interesting social history. The moments of levity that Cowart inserts here and throughout the book create a helpful balance too. Yes, Cowart covers the science, including peer-reviewed studies and discussions of how our body’s complex system of pain works. There’s physiology and psychiatry, alongside discussions of what constitutes abuse versus consent. Blended all throughout is some very personal, vulnerable stuff from Cowart’s own experience. They become part of the book’s case studies, but I never felt they put too much focus on themselves. Still, a book like this cannot be effective without the author having a true connection to the material. And Cowart certainly has that. They delve into descriptions with true heart and emotion, as well as specificity. Their writing style is sometimes quite casual. At some points, this reads like a blog or sounded like a podcast. Still, Cowart is legitimate in their scientific exploration of the subject. I expect to return to the concepts and revelations often. If exploring the world of intentional, consensual pain intrigues you, then I recommend this book. Pair with Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness by Renee Nicholson for a memoir fully about life post-ballet. Or try Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman. Both are memoirs about primarily medical pain, but the correlation is logical. Acknowledgments Many thanks to NetGalley, Perseus Books / PublicAffairs, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    As someone who both enjoys sadomasochistic play and suffers from a chronic pain disorder, I found this book fascinating. I had never learned this much about how pain works in the brain and body before, despite having had an intimate relationship with pain for most of my adult life. Cowart's writing style is sharp, funny, expressive, weird, and authentic. Their adventures and misadventures in the book are a delight to read about. I particularly enjoyed their visits to the pepper-eating festival an As someone who both enjoys sadomasochistic play and suffers from a chronic pain disorder, I found this book fascinating. I had never learned this much about how pain works in the brain and body before, despite having had an intimate relationship with pain for most of my adult life. Cowart's writing style is sharp, funny, expressive, weird, and authentic. Their adventures and misadventures in the book are a delight to read about. I particularly enjoyed their visits to the pepper-eating festival and the backyard ultramarathon. Anyone who enjoys "pain on purpose" in any area of life – whether it be sex, exercise, recreation, religion, or anything else – should read this!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Isa

    In Hurts So Good, science journalist Leigh Cowart seeks to understand why people voluntarily engage in physically painful activities. The book explores a wide spectrum of human experiences from religious self-flagellation in the middle ages, to pushing one’s body to its limits in ultramarathons, to eating the world’s hottest chili pepper. Merging science with her own sharp and compassionate insight, Cowart’s vibrant voice accompanies the reader on a journey of desire, bliss, brokenness, and grac In Hurts So Good, science journalist Leigh Cowart seeks to understand why people voluntarily engage in physically painful activities. The book explores a wide spectrum of human experiences from religious self-flagellation in the middle ages, to pushing one’s body to its limits in ultramarathons, to eating the world’s hottest chili pepper. Merging science with her own sharp and compassionate insight, Cowart’s vibrant voice accompanies the reader on a journey of desire, bliss, brokenness, and grace. (Note, the book does explore some pretty dark material and goes to some dark places – the readers should take care when reading this book)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Em Meurer (emcanread)

    Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose by Leigh Cowart ⚡️ I was provided an e-ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review 🌟: 2 / 5 📚: A personal and scientific exploration of why experiencing pain can be the greatest pleasure for some people. 💭: I’d like to think that in my years or loving to learn about how weird bodies can be, I have developed a decently strong stomach for anything that science writers could throw at me. Reader, I was wrong. What I assum Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose by Leigh Cowart ⚡️ I was provided an e-ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review 🌟: 2 / 5 📚: A personal and scientific exploration of why experiencing pain can be the greatest pleasure for some people. 💭: I’d like to think that in my years or loving to learn about how weird bodies can be, I have developed a decently strong stomach for anything that science writers could throw at me. Reader, I was wrong. What I assumed would be a book about the science, psychology, and culture of different folks that use pain in various forms to build community and find pleasure (such as BDSM, extreme athletes, and religious flagellates of yore), but this book really devolved into something beyond that. There came a point where I could barely keep going with reading this book and was doing so exclusively to list out exactly what this book contains for my fellow readers who assumed that they had strong stomachs and did not. From the very get-go, Cowart is very vocal about the context of the pain seen in this book: it is consensual, it is for pleasure, and if it is not, then that is abuse. She uses the case studies that she is given with the explicit statements that they were given to her with full permission to use in her book by people who were comfortable with speaking candidly about these more private (or extremely public) aspects of their lives (she does use one historical case study where that was not the case, and it is both a great juxtaposition and a heartbreaking story of someone whose sex life was put on display after his death by his ex-wife). If I tried to review this book as objectively as I do with other popular science books, I definitely do think that the first few chapters read in such an engaging and well-researched way. The ways that people find community through shared suffering is GENUINELY so interesting, and the ways that it’s been studied and proven to help build community, reduce feelings of guilt, and can even lessen pain when more than one person is feeling it together is so intriguing. However, about halfway through chapter 3 is where things started to go downhill for me— fast. By the end of chapter 3, this book starts to intermittently devolve into actual descriptions of body horror— think (and I apologize for mentioning the things in this list, but I wish that I had them before I started reading and was surprised by their appearances) being hoisted into the air by body piercings, graphic descriptions of eating disorders, the disfigurement brought on by ultramarathons and constant ballet practice, self harm, sideshow-performance-style body horror, amongst other things. And while I could definitely understand the inclusion of these topics in this specific book, the detail that goes into using them as case studies without much reference to research or science really threw me. I think that there were times where I myself started to disassociate to just finish the book, much like in the descriptions of how people react to pain for pleasure, and I kind of applaud Cowart for that. However, this book is not for the faint of heart. It is less objective and more personal than most popular science books are, which lends it a lot of credibility but also will likely push other readers— who prefer this genre but not the actual act of pain for pleasure— away from finishing it. Reading it feels disjointed and jumpy at times, and I had trouble keeping track of what the narrative was because there was little logical structure to the content itself. Do not get me wrong, there were parts of this book that fascinated and delighted me, but most of the book had me barely capable of going through with finishing it. I think that this book is definitely interesting, but it’s very much written for an audience who already takes part in some form of pain for pleasure and not the wider popular science readership. I hesitate to recommend it, and really only went through with reading it myself because I wanted other people to know what exactly they are getting into.

  8. 4 out of 5

    kat (wroughtofbooks)

    I already had a vested personal interest in this book based purely on the subject matter, and I was very pleased to find that Leigh Cowart is a magnificent wordsmith. I am generally not a big fan of non-fiction works, I find them generally very drab, but I really enjoy how Leigh presents herself and her research. Her voice reminds me of early Chuck Palahniuk in that I can vividly feel, taste, smell, see... I can imagine everything as though it's happening in front of me, or to me. Leigh has this I already had a vested personal interest in this book based purely on the subject matter, and I was very pleased to find that Leigh Cowart is a magnificent wordsmith. I am generally not a big fan of non-fiction works, I find them generally very drab, but I really enjoy how Leigh presents herself and her research. Her voice reminds me of early Chuck Palahniuk in that I can vividly feel, taste, smell, see... I can imagine everything as though it's happening in front of me, or to me. Leigh has this magic way with words that makes the most mundane things vibrant and personal. She managed to make the description of a setting – a pepper eating contest at a California fair – feel like the beginnings of an old detective novel to me. Her writing is so evocative and provocative. It feels rich and full in the mouth and mind – it's dirty and honest and I could see myself growing addicted to someone this gifted with linguistics. Beyond this its clear a great deal of field and desk research went into the science and practice of the subject matter. I'm eager to see read future works crafted by Leigh Cowart. Thank you to Perseus Books, Public Affairs and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    an amazing book on the physiology, biology, sociology, etc of human pain. The thresholds that people exhibit are herculean.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Iris

    What a read. Everyone who isn't squeamish should read this. I learned a lot. What a read. Everyone who isn't squeamish should read this. I learned a lot.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Date reviewed/posted: May 10, 2021 Publication date: September 14, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave (#fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author i Date reviewed/posted: May 10, 2021 Publication date: September 14, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #thirdwave (#fourthwave #fifthwave?) is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose--from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black Plague flagellants to ballerinas dancing on broken bones to competitive eaters choking down hot peppers while they cry. Masochism is a part of us. It lives inside workaholics, tattoo enthusiasts, and all manner of garden variety pain-seekers. At its core, masochism is about feeling bad, then better—a phenomenon that is long overdue for a heartfelt and hilarious investigation. And Leigh Cowart would know: they are not just a researcher and science writer—they’re an inveterate, high-sensation seeking masochist. And they have a few questions: Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits and the costs? And what does masochism have to say about the human experience? By participating in many of these activities themselves, and through conversations with psychologists, fellow scientists, and people who seek pain for pleasure, Cowart unveils how our minds and bodies find meaning and relief in pain—a quirk in our programming that drives discipline and innovation even as it threatens to swallow us whole. I warned Cass, the Hachette liaison who sent me the link to review this book, that I know some very kinky people and trust me, they are all into pain and the endorphin release after said punishment. BUT I have never met someone who got tattooed for the pain – we are all about the art, not the needles. (how kinky are my friends? they do not travel by air in case their luggage has to be searched...they don't care what people think they are into, they don't want their toys seized!) I laughed out loud so many times reading this book and I could so see a LOT of my friends on these pages. The concept of pain on purpose was well explained (although there will be people who never understand it, of course…) as was the oxytocin release released afterward. The book is written in a breezy style so it does not read as a psychology textbook and I will highly recommend it to the above-mentioned friends and patrons and book clubs looking for something different to read or discuss. As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it some dominatrix-worthy 👠 👠 👠 👠 👠 (The closest I could come to a stiletto heel!)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diane Hernandez

    Masochists are everywhere—not just in Fifty Shades of Grey. They are marathon runners, chili pepper eaters, Polar Bear Club members, MMA fighters, and ballerinas. Why people put their bodies in these situations is the main question in Hurts So Good. However, the book also explains how pain works and gives an idea of how chronic pain suffers can reduce the intensity of the pain they feel. The book swings between various masochistic scenes (including an intense tongue forking) to extremely detailed Masochists are everywhere—not just in Fifty Shades of Grey. They are marathon runners, chili pepper eaters, Polar Bear Club members, MMA fighters, and ballerinas. Why people put their bodies in these situations is the main question in Hurts So Good. However, the book also explains how pain works and gives an idea of how chronic pain suffers can reduce the intensity of the pain they feel. The book swings between various masochistic scenes (including an intense tongue forking) to extremely detailed scientific explanations of what is happening within the participant’s brain. But what pain a person experiences is subjective. Two people that go through the same event will more likely than not experience different levels of pain. Why? Each person’s brain uses its history of injury to determine the level of its response (pain intensity). The author is great at using metaphors to increase the reader’s understanding of very complicated processes. As long as you are not triggered by BDSM scenes, pain, or swearing, you can learn a lot about the human body by reading Hurts So Good. It is amazing how efficient the brain can be. It is also eye-opening how many different types of masochistic behaviors are condoned, and even revered, by society. 5 stars! Thanks to Perseus Books, PublicAffairs, and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    As someone who avoids pain like the plague, I picked up this book hoping that it would give me ideas as to how to deal with my chronic migraines. It didn’t, but it taught me about a world so alien and compelling that it made for addictive reading. The author learned how to choose pain as a healthier way to deal with self-harming tendencies that nearly destroyed her. She takes a fascinating journey to explore all the ways there are for people to subject themselves to painful experiences, on purpo As someone who avoids pain like the plague, I picked up this book hoping that it would give me ideas as to how to deal with my chronic migraines. It didn’t, but it taught me about a world so alien and compelling that it made for addictive reading. The author learned how to choose pain as a healthier way to deal with self-harming tendencies that nearly destroyed her. She takes a fascinating journey to explore all the ways there are for people to subject themselves to painful experiences, on purpose. From hot pepper eating competitions to swimming in the cold sea, Cowart takes part in many different events that cause her, and those around her, pain. Other experiences she only witnesses, but as an insider, since she gets it. She also discusses and practices sexual-related pain. I consider myself pretty tolerant in that regard, but some of the kinks described here were too explicit, even if probably the most painful part was reading about ultra-marathons. Must be helpful for people who deal with self-harm or those who are curious but, even for the pain-averse, it’s very interesting. I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Perseus Books, PublicAffairs!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Hurts So Good by Leigh Cowart is a free NetGalley e-book that I read in mid-September. When talking about pain-seeking in terms of BDSM, this is a world I nimbly darted around in my twenties, not dipping too far in to, but I'd always paid a certain amount of envious attention as I got older. Cowart shares many personal stories alongside the more informative bits in a way that’s a little naughty, sexy educational (note: not sexual education), yet upfront and confrontational in the sense that pain Hurts So Good by Leigh Cowart is a free NetGalley e-book that I read in mid-September. When talking about pain-seeking in terms of BDSM, this is a world I nimbly darted around in my twenties, not dipping too far in to, but I'd always paid a certain amount of envious attention as I got older. Cowart shares many personal stories alongside the more informative bits in a way that’s a little naughty, sexy educational (note: not sexual education), yet upfront and confrontational in the sense that pain on purpose doesn’t always involve sex and can in fact be a hobby or a career choice. Alongside said personal stories comes affirming interviews with people whose lives feature experiences of pain and being physically hurt, as well as medical professionals who treat injuries and tell how pain is processed in the nerves and brain, and historians who study the use of pain as punishment and ritual in history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Russell Grant

    4.5/5 I loved this one. Going in I was expecting a pervy study, and it is a pervy study. The great thing is that it's so much more, expanding the idea of pain as pleasure from simple (never really simple) kink aspect you would expect going in to all the other ways we hurt ourselves to feel good like exercise and what not. Each chapter is a study/investigation into a different aspect and as a whole it completely change the way I think about these things and my relationship not just with pain but m 4.5/5 I loved this one. Going in I was expecting a pervy study, and it is a pervy study. The great thing is that it's so much more, expanding the idea of pain as pleasure from simple (never really simple) kink aspect you would expect going in to all the other ways we hurt ourselves to feel good like exercise and what not. Each chapter is a study/investigation into a different aspect and as a whole it completely change the way I think about these things and my relationship not just with pain but my body in general. Cowart is also not afraid to not only be incredibly open about her own relationship with pain, but not shy about getting down right gruesome in describing what she's reporting. It all ends up being a hell of an experience.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Thank you to NetGalley for my copy of this book. This book will be available on September 14. I loved this book. Leigh Cowart has a way with words that makes understanding the science of pain easy and reading the descriptions of pain hard. This isn't just about sex and pain either. Cowart goes into ballet dancers, ultramarathoners, flagellants, and those who extremely spicy food. One thing to note is to check for trigger warnings. Self-harm and eating disorders are among some of the potential tr Thank you to NetGalley for my copy of this book. This book will be available on September 14. I loved this book. Leigh Cowart has a way with words that makes understanding the science of pain easy and reading the descriptions of pain hard. This isn't just about sex and pain either. Cowart goes into ballet dancers, ultramarathoners, flagellants, and those who extremely spicy food. One thing to note is to check for trigger warnings. Self-harm and eating disorders are among some of the potential triggers. Cowart does not shy away from vivid descriptions or honest vulnerability in this book about why anyone, herself included, may choose pain for pleasure. This makes for a powerful read and one that sticks with you in the end.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I have never understood any ones desire to actually seek out pain. Boggles the mind. I always figured life throws enough pain our way without asking for more. But. of course, I know that's wrong. Eating hot peppers come to mind. Ballet and football, too. The book was an interesting read with lots of insight I had never given thought to. I had imagined maybe inflicting pain on self to over ride existing pain would be plausible, I think. Still the extremes folks intentionally inflict on themselves I have never understood any ones desire to actually seek out pain. Boggles the mind. I always figured life throws enough pain our way without asking for more. But. of course, I know that's wrong. Eating hot peppers come to mind. Ballet and football, too. The book was an interesting read with lots of insight I had never given thought to. I had imagined maybe inflicting pain on self to over ride existing pain would be plausible, I think. Still the extremes folks intentionally inflict on themselves still amazes me! Fascinating and engaging read. I received a Kindle arc from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    This is an incredibly fulfilling, brilliant, and well crafted (audio) book that takes what many consider to be a harmful, niche pathology, masochism, and deeply (but in a very fun and entertaining way) explores how it is not necessarily harmful, not inherently pathological, and certainly not niche, but in fact, is largely ubiquitous. There will likely be some acts described that will tickle your fancy, and others that make you recoil in horror, but ultimately, at the end of this road, you will f This is an incredibly fulfilling, brilliant, and well crafted (audio) book that takes what many consider to be a harmful, niche pathology, masochism, and deeply (but in a very fun and entertaining way) explores how it is not necessarily harmful, not inherently pathological, and certainly not niche, but in fact, is largely ubiquitous. There will likely be some acts described that will tickle your fancy, and others that make you recoil in horror, but ultimately, at the end of this road, you will feel less alone, more connected, more educated, and much more understanding of the world, of others, and yourself. Beautifully done. More please.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cat Vincent

    This book is a glory. Smart, accessible, thoroughly researched and deeply personal all at once, because pain and the act of chosing it on purpose is nothing if not personal. It goes far beyond the idea of 'masochism'; both showing the limits and biases that term carries and the sheer range of how people have always chosen to work deliberately with their own pain - from ballet dancers to tattoo enthusiasts and extreme sports practitioners - while being very clear on the difference between consens This book is a glory. Smart, accessible, thoroughly researched and deeply personal all at once, because pain and the act of chosing it on purpose is nothing if not personal. It goes far beyond the idea of 'masochism'; both showing the limits and biases that term carries and the sheer range of how people have always chosen to work deliberately with their own pain - from ballet dancers to tattoo enthusiasts and extreme sports practitioners - while being very clear on the difference between consensual BDSM and abuse. It is also one of the best books on ritual I have ever read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Poptart19 (ren)

    4 stars Why do some people seek pain on purpose? This is the focus of this interesting book, not just on masochism in the sense of BDSM or kink (although that’s not excluded), but in the broadest sense: from athletes who push their bodies to the limit, to people who enjoy eating intensely spicy foods. Touching on sociology, neuroscience, history, & personal experience, the writer explores the complex subject of “feeling bad to feel better”. [What I liked:] •I really like the writer’s widening of th 4 stars Why do some people seek pain on purpose? This is the focus of this interesting book, not just on masochism in the sense of BDSM or kink (although that’s not excluded), but in the broadest sense: from athletes who push their bodies to the limit, to people who enjoy eating intensely spicy foods. Touching on sociology, neuroscience, history, & personal experience, the writer explores the complex subject of “feeling bad to feel better”. [What I liked:] •I really like the writer’s widening of the definition/perception of what masochism is: including traditional BDSM, but also marathon runners, ballet dancers, and boxers. •The writing is good, with vivid descriptions & personal, contextualizing examples. It’s the opposite of a dry, academic writing style & was engaging. •This book isn’t...exactly what I was expecting. I mean it was, but it was also more. This isn’t the dry, medical/psychology-based text I was anticipating. It covers those neuroscience aspects as well as delving into socio-cultural issues & BDSM. In other words, I learned a lot and enjoyed the reading experience more than I thought I would. •I haven’t read extensively on this topic so I can’t compare this book with similar ones, but it gave me the language to describe some ideas I haven’t been able to clearly express before. Which is a really nice feeling. —I jumped to read this since pointe shoes were featured on the cover, & the blurb offered a scientific discussion of pain. I’ve been pondering, since the age of 15, why my favorite hobbies—ballet & quilting—involve pain, & if I actually enjoy some aspect of that pain, or if the blistered feet & pricked fingers are simply an unavoidable price to pay (a necessary evil) for engaging in activities I enjoy for other reasons. —Well, since then I’ve read a lot about BDSM & endorphins, & I’m mostly sure now that I actually do like some forms of intentional/consensual pain, but I’m *definitely* sure it’s still complicated. And this book gave me new fodder to chew on, besides helping clarify some things. •I appreciate that the writer establishes right away the difference between masochism & abuse: masochism is consensual pain, with the option of stopping at anytime; abuse is any non-consensual painful activity, and/or without the option of stopping. This is an essential distinction that many people are hazy on, so I think addressing it up front is important. •I also appreciate that the writer touched on some very real complexities related to intentionally seeking pain, especially the discussion of how consensual pain can be unhealthy (such as in the case of self harm). Where is the line between safe & healthy experiences, & self harm/abuse? As someone who is recovering from similar self harm patterns as the writer, I found her ideas very meaningful & resonant. •This has more to do with my personal history, but I really connected with the writer’s discussion of her experiences dancing ballet growing up: the weight struggles, the physical toll, & the pure love & sweetness of dancing. The all consuming-ness. I get it; that resonates with me. [What I didn’t like as much:] •Sometimes the text does get a bit repetitive. Not without meaningful variation necessarily, but some parts (like the introduction) could have been tightened, or possibly organized a bit more cohesively. •To be clear, I do not personally object to any of the content in this book, but from the blurb I had no idea the book would include a scene of explicit sexual content (not discussing sex in a clinical, abstract context as I expected, but actual descriptions of the writer’s personal encounters). I think providing a clear indication of this content in the blurb for readers before they start the book is advisable. •A stylistic choice, & one I didn’t *not* enjoy, but this book has a casual & chatty tone that can be at odds with establishing credibility in an informational book. I mean the genre is listed as “science”, but the tone is very informal. However, there is a thorough bibliography included which has plenty of legit sources (like scientific journals), which helped balance that out in my opinion. CW: descriptions of BDSM scening (it’s all safe, sane, & consensual), mature language, somewhat explicit descriptions of sexual situations (it’s not erotica though), detailed descriptions of pain being (consensually) inflicted & how it feels to the writer, mentions of self harm, mentions of eating disorders, graphic descriptions of body modification procedures [I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you for the book!]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather Levy

    As a masochist myself, I appreciated Cowart’s sensitive and researched approach to exploring folks who seek out pain. I believe fellow pain-lovers and curious people alike will enjoy this intimate yet scientific examination of what pushes some people to push their own boundaries as they search out comfort within themselves.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Al

    A vivid exploration of masochism. The author's personal insights make this a visceral and engaging delving into why people seek out pain & how they receive pleasure from doing so. (Received this as an ARC, courtesy of a giveaway.) A vivid exploration of masochism. The author's personal insights make this a visceral and engaging delving into why people seek out pain & how they receive pleasure from doing so. (Received this as an ARC, courtesy of a giveaway.)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Zeitbrust

    Wow this was not what I was expecting at all. It was so much more than that! It turns out there are masochists in all walks of life, getting all kinds of things out of the experience. What a fun and intriguing read!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Casey Campfield

    This touching and vulnerable yet broadly informative journey into the wilds of masochism is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in years. This touching and vulnerable yet broadly informative journey into the wilds of masochism is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in years.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Celeste

    What a fascinating take on the subject of pain, specifically pain that we choose to endure. I never considered how many different walks of life participated in this.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex Bjili

    An eye opening look into a common human experience. Extremely funny, at times obscene, heartfelt, always very illuminating. Looking forward to more books by this author!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deana

  28. 4 out of 5

    j robinson

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

  30. 4 out of 5

    Philip Girvan

  31. 4 out of 5

    Jennette

  32. 5 out of 5

    Justin Britton

  33. 5 out of 5

    V.

  34. 5 out of 5

    Aidan Attema

  35. 5 out of 5

    Aurora Goodwin

  36. 5 out of 5

    Keith Haun

  37. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Steiner

  38. 5 out of 5

    Robin

  39. 4 out of 5

    Sabina Husberg Götlind

  40. 4 out of 5

    Camryn Garrett

  41. 5 out of 5

    Tovianne

  42. 4 out of 5

    Kait

  43. 5 out of 5

    Iris

  44. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  45. 5 out of 5

    CF

  46. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

  47. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  48. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen

  49. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  50. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Grant

  51. 5 out of 5

    Pearse Anderson

  52. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  53. 5 out of 5

    Layla

  54. 5 out of 5

    chris

  55. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  56. 4 out of 5

    Kiley

  57. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  58. 5 out of 5

    Ray

  59. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

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