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 effect.
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.