Got Pain? Think Sex.
Fantasies Fight Fear
Sexual fantasies work because they follow a
basic pain-control theory, says Peter Staats, MD, one of the study's authors
and director of the division of pain medicine in the Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine's department of anesthesiology. This theory says that
something eliciting a positive emotional response during a painful experience
makes it seem to hurt less. To work, the visualization has to be
strongly positive, which explains why the minimally pleasurable
fantasies and the neutral visualizations did not have the same
The study confirms what pain management
experts have known for a long time, says Martin Grabois, MD, chairman of the
department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of
Medicine in Houston. And it is not the sexual fantasy per se that's important.
"It's thinking of something that is pleasurable."
According to Sandor Gardos, PhD, a clinical
psychologist and sex therapist, "It is fairly well documented that sexual
arousal is accompanied by a decrease in sensitivity to pain. That is why
individuals often notice a bruise or hickey the next day and don't even
remember how it happened."
It's All in Your Imagination
If you want to try the sexual fantasy
technique, visualize with as much detail as possible and engage all of your
senses, says Hamid Hekmat, PhD, another study co-author and professor of
psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Once you are
feeling good, focus your attention on the mood and let the fantasy go. Try this
technique prior to a potentially painful situation so you'll be adept at it
when you need it.
Lynda Liu is a New York
journalist whose writing has also appeared in Mademoiselle,
Prevention,Fitness, and other publications.