The pleasure-pain threshold


Dear Dr. Jenni, 
My girlfriend likes to be handcuffed and blindfolded during sex. I’ve gotten used to this and can find it rather fun at times. Now she is asking for more things. She wants me to paddle her hard on her legs and even slap her face. I can’t seem to take it to this step, but I don’t want to disappoint her either. I would hate to end the relationship because of sexual incompatibility. Do you have ideas for how I can get over this?

—Incompatible kink life

Dear Incompatible, 

It sounds like your girlfriend is upping the stakes on your sensation play. Every person has a different perspective on sensations of pleasure, pain and the threshold between the two. Because your sexual activity includes a lot of sensory exploration, it’s essential to have an ongoing conversation about fantasies that turn you on, as well as your limits. If you have a boundary around slapping her face, can you tell her why? She may understand where you are coming from and let it go, or she may explain how the sensation brings her a kind of pleasure only you can be trusted to deliver.

If you are confused about why some people enjoy feeling pain, it’s important to know that pain and pleasure pathways in the brain occur in close proximity. In the right environment, some people experience pain as pleasurable.

Also remember that bottoms, or those in the submissive play position, are turned on not just by sensation but by giving over control and trusting.

Dear Dr. Jenni, 

I’m a 24-year-old grad student at CU. I’ve started dating a girl pretty seriously last month. We have sex almost every day, but I seem to lose my erection about every three days. Not all the time, but about one-third. I’m curious if I have erectile dysfunction and if I should get Viagra? I feel a little young to do this, but I hate when this happens. I’m a little better at sex if I have a beer or two if that helps.

—CU Candidate for Viagra

Dear CU Candidate, 

It does not sound like you have erectile dysfunction. If you are able to obtain and maintain your erection almost all the time when alone, then physiologically everything is functioning just fine. Even if you struggle with the presence of a partner, treatment is only suggested if it happens about 50 percent of the time. Keep in mind that most men will struggle with erections at least 20 percent of the time over their lives.

Erectile solutions come in many shapes and colors.

Viagra is recommended for men with true erectile dysfunction. Other treatment protocols include penis pumps and injections, and some men use cock rings to help stabilize the penis once it is erect. Of course, sex therapy is enormously useful for alleviating anxiety and exploring psychological pieces around guilt, shame or fear associated with sexuality. Some men also use natural supplements, herbal remedies and even acupuncture.

As for drinking, it sounds like your limited alcohol use reduces anxiety, helping facilitate an erection. Keep in mind that too much alcohol can make it almost impossible to achieve an erection.

My guess is that you might be feeling nervous about being in a serious relationship. Many men can lose their erection when they get nervous about their performance or letting down their partner. Instead of worrying about how your penis functions, focus on enjoying the pleasure of sharing each other’s bodies and let your penis join the party when he’s ready and willing.

Send questions for Jenni Skyler, PhD, to Skyler is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist who runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder,

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