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Hormonal reactions and influences

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The most Frequently Asked Question - most certainly by people outside the erotic power exchange world - is. "What is so nice about pain?" The answer is simple: there is nothing "nice" about just pain. But, when applied with care and knowledge, impulses such as pain, stress, fear and humiliation - in the right context - can and will create a chain reaction or hormonal rush. This rush - frequently described as either dom- or subspace - plays an important role in concensual erotic power exchange and although it is not THE explanation for erotic power exchange behavior patterns, it certainly is one explanation.

"Pain" (note: pain can be replaced by stress, fear, humiliation and similar sensations - the effects described here will be similar) has different forms and shapes and in fact is a blanket term for various signals to the brain. The main message "pain" sends to the brain is: "Here is a newsflash. Stop press, hold other other things, this message has priority." Latest research by psychologists and micro-biologists shows that "pain" is not just a physical reaction but can be a psycholical as well, and physical "pain" inpulses can be and will be influenced by psycholigical factors. Stress for example can block the perception of pain, whereas fear or anxiety can increase this perception. The term perception is being used here, because "pain" is not an automated signal, it is a signal that is interpreted by the brain before it is put through. The area in the brain known as the thallamus is where the pain-signal enters the brain: the "pain gate" and this gate interprets. In fact, by giving micro-electronic impulses to this "pain gate" directly, pain-perception can be entirely stopped or deminished. Oversimplified: pull the plug and the patient will not feel pain.

The rush

A pain impulse will set off adrenaline production. Adrenaline is a "home made" (by the body) drug that will first of all create a state of higher alert. Adrenaline is produced when the body or mind experiences or suspects stress, pain, danger or uncertainty. Managers and sports people are usually real adrenaline junks and so are many of the people who are into erotic power exchange.

What is generally described as "adrenaline" in fact are two hormones - adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Both are produced in the lower section of the human brain: the medulla or adrenal gland. Both are also secreted by nerve ends and operate as a neuro-transmittor (to facilitate faster transmission of signals from and to the brain). They are complementary, although adrenaline seems to concentrate predominantly on brain and heart activity and speeding up the metabolism, whereas noradrenaline predominantly concentrates on vasoconstrictor action (pumping activity in and by the blood vains) and as such rises the bloodpressure.

The "adrenaline twins" are the bodies' immediate response kit. Even before the brain has analyzed signals that indicate a "difference" in what was normal physical activity until that point, adrenaline will be released. The signals may later be analyzed as either danger, stress, pain or another alarm signal and even before the brain has done its split second analyses, adrenaline will start to prepare the body for physical response. The release will bring the sensory systems (eyes, ears, nerve ends and such) to a higher state of awareness, will start to speed up themetabolism with the purpose to quickly filter out sugers that will serve as immediate energy for the muscles, will increase the heart rhythm and vascular activity (in order to allow for faster transportation of the energy to the muscles) and finally will give impulses to the thallamus (the pain gate) in the brain and as such operates as a pain killer. If the signals are analyzed by the brain as false alarm, the production of adrenaline will stop and the body will return to its normal functions. Adrenaline is addictive, although not to the extent that it becomes dangerous. It is well known that top sports people, high profile managers and people who are into kicks develop a slight adrenaline and/or endorphines addiction. This too happens to erotic power exchange people.

Next tot he sensations, described above, adrenaline production however can be triggered by sexual arousal.

The different sensations

At this point it is important to explain the two different ways, in which people can experience erotic power exchange activity. In simple terms: there are kick-seekers and life-stylers. Kick-seekers will be interested in short term, more or less incidental sensations without an obvious coherent pattern. They will sometimes visit parties, seek incidental contacts or just incidental sensations and are - in fact - searching for the adrenaline kick, described above. In that sense this group is very different from life-stylers, the groups that identifies erotic power exchange as a part of their personality and will look for a more permanent place for erotic power exchange in their life.

Since there is no right or wrong, one should not compare the two. Instead: both ways of looking at or incorporating erotic power exchange are valid and probably important to the people involved, just totally different, much like there is a huge difference between incidentally feeling the kick of driving fast and making a living as a professional Formula 1 driver.


Endorphins may be - at least to a certain extent - one of the things lifestyle erotic power exchange revolves around. Although it is way too early for any scientific conclusions, it is becoming apparant endorphins play an important role in erotic power exchange scenes. Although endorphins are relatively "new" to the medical world - and even more so to psychologists and psychiatrists - it is quite generally acknowledged they play an important part in both our physical and psychological reactions.

Endorphins have always existed in the human body. They are not just one chemical substance, but a group of substances that have the same or interconnecting properties. They were first identified in the mid-1970's. This group of peptides which are composed of amino acids have offered some explanation of how systems are coordinated in the human body. But their greatest significance, until today, may prove to be the linking of the immune and endocrine systems with the mind into one psycho-immuno-endocrine system. Endorphins are a complex set of hormones, released primarily by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain).

In 1973, John Hughes tried to identify a "Substance X" at Marishal College in Aberdeen, Scotland which could satisfy the requirements for the body's own morphine-like substance. His mentor in Aberdeen was Hans Kosterlitz. They made progress and called their Substance X enkephalin. But there were other researchers. They all were mainly trying to identify an opiate receptor in the human body; effectively a lock into which morphine could fit and activate responses.

It soon became clear that there was a group of chemicals in the brain and body which had properties similar to morphine. At a 1975 meeting int Airlie House In Virginia (U.S.) a New York receptor researcher coined the name endorphines (the morphine within) for all the brain produced substances with opiate properties. The 'e' was dropped later and ENDORPHINS were popularized by the world's media.

Initially, the endorphins were - and still very much are - looked at and researched from the pain control angle and some papers identified that acupuncture stimulated the production of endorphins. This what gave acupuncture its first scientific respectability, however only in the area of pain control.

Slowly it became clear that there were profound and diverse roles for the endorphins. The runner's high was attributed to endorphins and as more and more functions were identified, Candace Pert an endorphin researcher stated: "Endorphins are mood chemicals playing an important role in human healing processes."

Endorphins does seem to explain a lot of things, including the phenomena of patients and sports people being able to exclude pain sensation by mental power only. It has since become clear that the brain produces different ("cocktails" of) endorphins based on different impulses. These impulses can be external (such as a pain impulse) as well as created by the brain itself. In an erotic power exchange situation it is very likely - although this has yet to be researched properly - that both physical and mental impulses play a role in the production and release of endorphins by the brain.

This theory would at least provide one scientific explanation for the importance of fantasies, fetishes and symbols in erotic power exchange play as well as for the obvious interaction between fantasies and the real live action. Another effect that is yet to be researched is the influence of the adrenaline hormone on the production of endorphins. The current theory is that where adrenaline amongst other effects causes a higher state of awareness, it is quite likely that this higher state of awareness causes an increased production of certain (groups of) endorphins. Thinking along the lines of this theory, that might also explain why orgasms during or as a result of an erotic power exchange scene are at least "different" (usually either more intense or violent or both) from other orgasms, since the orgasm itself is one of the "events triggering adrenaline production".

Next, since endorphins at least seem to be "mood chemicals" other extra impulses, such as fantasy, symbolism, smell (like the smell of leather which is very significant to many erotic power exchange people), fetishes and direct physical and mental impulses such as pain, humiliation, discomfort, helplessness and others may very well be intertwined with or connected to the effects of the endorphins themselves.

Endorphins have scientifically proven to have effects on all sorts of physical and mental processes. To name just a few of these (with any possible connection or relation to erotic power exchange): effects on the central nervous system and peripheral analgesia and pain modulation, effects on the neuro-endocrine control of reproduction, stress, spontaneous behavior and motivation.

The very latest development in the endorphins researchs seems to point to two different methods for endorphins release. Next to the method, described here, where the endorphins seem to have a predominantly neuro-transmitter function triggering moods and emotions, there also seems to be a second method, where endorphins are released in more or less random "fountains", allowing the brain to just register and enjoy external impulses, without interpreting and analizing them. That would predominantly happen in young children and could explain the fact that young children do not immediately respond to impulses, other than just enjoying them. This theory would also explain the pure "enjoying without interpreting" stage adults can experience during extreme kicks, such as riding a rollercoaster, skydiving and of course erotic power exchange. It is, however, to early to draw any firm conclusions in this area.

Genetic influences and other hormones

It is slowly becoming apparant that at least part of our sexual preferences are genetically encoded. Proof for this is found in the fact that certain genetic information is encoded in the DNA of homosexual men and is unavailable in heterosexual men. There is some very early research available on this subject, although a lot still has be researched further before any real answers will emerge.

It is obvious however, that at least some it can be found in gens known as "BRCA1" and "BRCA2". Both these DNA strings however are currently best known for the fact that they seem to have an influence on breastcancer. Hence the entire research in this field is focussed on this aspect. "BRCA1" is the string that is found in homosexual men but not in heterosexual men, so obviously at least part of the preferential information is in there. Several other bits and pieces of genetic information, including the development of certain power related elements, can be found in other DNA strings. How all this ties in together however is yet unclear.

GnRH hormone

Very new information is the following: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), having a highly conserved structure across mammalian species, plays a pivotal role in the control of the neuroendocrine events and the inherent sexual behaviors essential for reproductive function. Recent advances in molecular genetic technology have contributed greatly to the investigation of several aspects of GnRH physiology, particularly steroid hormone and neurotransmitter regulation of GnRH gene expression. Behavioral studies have focused on the actions of GnRH in steroid-sensitive brain regions to understand better its role in the facilitation of mating behavior.

To say it in simple terms, next to adrenaline and endorphins, there is a third group of hormones that not only has a direct influence on our behavior, but these also seem to "read" and "interpret" genetic information.

Just like endorphins, GnRH are produced in the human brain. To be exact in the hypothalamis. The nextdoor neighbor of this part of the brain is the thalamis (the "pain gate") which is controlled by the release of endorphins. Since there seems to be an interaction between these two neighboring parts of the brain, it seems there is a connection here. Thalamus and hypothalamus together form the part of the brain called diencephalon - in simple terms the "switchboard" between the brain and the nervous system. The nervous system is constantly transmitting millions of signals to the brain. The vast majority of these are normal and do not need the attention of the consciousness. The diencephalon (in computer terms call that a co-processor or background processor since it improves the efficience of the brain/mainframe) makes these decisions and operates much along the lines of "management by exception". In other words the brain is not pro-active but re-active in this area but will simply wait for an acute signal (of danger, pain, stress, humiliation, discomfort, cold, anything) to start operating and responding. Whenever such a situation occurs, the pituitary gland, in response to the stimulus secretes a hormone called adrenocortocotropin (ACTH). This in turn stimulates the adrenal medulla gland to secrete norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline). That will stimulate the production of endorphines. Endorphines in their turn are both produced by and control the function of the diencephalon, in other words both hypothalamus and thalamus. So since the hypothalamus produces GnRH, here is where the connection is.

Gonadotropin by itself is also a hormone, that is reponsible for all sorts of secundary sex characteristics, including the swelling of the penis, hardening of the nipples, but also the difference in pitch between the male and female voice. This hormone also controls the female cycle and two other emotions that tie in directly with EPE-behavior: protectiveness towards the partner and territorial defense.

Last but certainly not least the release of gonadotropin triggers the production of steroid hormones (amongst others the male sex hormone testosteron and the female counterpart oestrogen). To keep it plain and simple and very unscientific - there appears to be a direct links between endorphins (a.k.a. "emotion amino acids") and the production of steroid hormones. Since we know some of the endorphins trigger direct EPE related emotions such as responses to pain, humiliation, uncertainty, love and affection, there seems to be a direct hormonal link between these emotions and sexual arroussal. Why this happens to some people and not to others is probably the question that will eventually be found somewhere in the DNA-encoding.

The Dom Drug: Serotonin

Serotonin (5HT) is a neurotransmitter which is involved in many behaviors. It is one of these products from the human chemical factory we still know very little about. However, recent research connects serotonin directly to male dominant behavior in all mamals, including humans.

Serotonin (like many other hormones such as endorphines) is a natural (i.e. produced by the body itself) drug that resembles LSD, the infamous "flower power" drug of the late 60's. It is a neurotransmitter, meaning that it plays an important role in the transmissions of signals from and to the brain. Medical science in the meantime has established that serotonin plays in important role in various disorders - it can be used as a smart drug for example to try and cure inactive or suicidal behavior - and physical problems, such as migraine.

Serotonin, found in many parts of the body, has immediate emotional effects. An increase of serotonin that follows introduction of its biological precursor into the brain generates signs of ecstasy and euphoria. Drugs that immitate the effects of serotonin have analogous chemical structures and produce excitement, hallucination and agitation. Drugs that are serotonin antagonists tend to generate feelings of depression. Psilocybin (found in certain mushrooms), used in Yucatán for centuries to induce trance states and LSD are serotonin-like. Serotonin is derived from the amino acod tryptophan. By the way, it is also a constituent of many venoms, such as wasp venom and toad venom (the latter explains why "toad licking", as is done by certain youth during house parties, has a certain exciting effect, compared by many to the effects of chemical drugs like ecstasy).

The power-induced drug

So what has all this to do with male dominant behavior? Well, a lot. Recent biochemical research has established that all male dominants in any group (mamal or human) have high levels of serotonin. Higher than the average male in the same group. Females have serotonin as well, but until now there is no scientific indication of a connection between female dominant behavior and serotonin. Take away the power position of the dominant male and the serotonin level will decrease significantly - reinstate the power position and the serotonine level will rise again. It is imporrtant to understand that the male has to be a dominant male. I.e. giving power to a previously non-dominant male will do nothing for the serotonin level, neither will for example injecting serotonin in non-dominant males make them dominant. Although this does not fully proof this idea, it is at least an indication that the dominance as such had to be there before and may very well be genetically determined.

Serotonin has many functions, many of which are still unclear. However, it is clear that one of the functions is that serotonin is a powerful vasco-contractor, i.e. it has a strong effect on tomporarily narrowing the vains. The most powerful and most obvious effect of temporarily narrowing vains is the male erection. In other words, there is direct connection (for dominant males only) between power, serotonin and sexual activitiy (which explains why dominant mamals usually are also the most sexually active ones). Decrease of power related activities in a dominant male will reduce his sexual activity and sexual interest and will make him more apathic. Again, increase the power related activity and these problems will disappear.

From a pure biochemical point of view one can safely say that the combined effects of noradrenaline and serotonin in the dominant male strengthens sexual activity and arrousal and create the chemical "domspace" - the rush effects described above.

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Additional Article from the Chairman of the POWERotics Foundation: Please see also Facts and Myths About BDSM Safety by Hans Meijer


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