This book is about people willing to do the sorts of things that most others couldn't, shouldn't or wouldn't. While there are all sorts of reasons why people consume substances, the author notes that there are those who treat drug-taking like an Olympic sport, exploring their capacity to really push their bodies, and frankly, wanting to be the best at it. Extreme athletes, death-defiers and those who perform incredible stunts of endurance have been celebrated throughout history. The most successful athletes can compartmentalise, storing away worry and pain in a part of their brain so it does not interfere with their performance. The brain releases testosterone, for a boost of strength and confidence. In bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) play, the endogenous opioid system responds to the pain, releasing opioid peptides. It seems some of us are more wired than others to activate those ancient biological systems, be it through being caned in a dungeon during a lunchbreak or climbing a sheer rock wall at the weekend. Back in 1990, sociologist Stephen Lyng coined the term 'edgework', now frequently used in BDSM circles, as 'voluntary pursuit of activities that involve a high potential for death, physical injury, or spiritual harm'.
play, the endogenous opioid system responds to the pain, releasing opioidpeptides. It seems some of us are more wired than
others to activate those ancient biological systems, be it through
being caned in a dungeon during a lunchbreak or climbing a
sheer rock wall at the weekend.
Everything Harder pages 216x138mm.indd 4
IT SHOULDN’T COME as a surprise that research into extreme behaviour started in earnest in the decade of experimentation. The
1960s introduced the work of University of Massachusetts psychology professor Seymour
a minute or
two where you just have to breathe through the pain and process
it. Once you’ve been out there for about a minute to two minutes, you’re fine. All the pain goes – all of it. There’s nothing.’
It’s known within BDSM circles as ‘subspace’ and, crudely
put, it’s the body getting high on its own supply. The endog-
enous opioid system responds to pain, producing three families
of opioidpeptides in the central and peripheral nervous system:
beta-endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins. The pain can
induce a euphoric state. Being on the receiving end of
ing, but after a few punches my body is also flooded with opioidpeptides. Then there’s oxytocin. A 2019 study led by psychology professor Yuri Rassovsky of Bar-Ilan University found that
salivary levels of oxytocin – colloquially known as ‘the cuddle chemical’ and released when an infant lies on its mother’s
breast – are released during jiu jitsu training, and lesser amounts
during striking sparring, so we might assume that Muay Thai,
which combines striking and grappling, releases oxytocin to
some degree, further bonding us to our opponent.
I’m reminded of