An exploration of why people all over the world love to engage in pain on purpose–from dominatrices, religious ascetics, and ultramarathoners, to ballerinas, icy ocean bathers, and sideshow performers.

Masochism is sexy, human, reviled, worshipped, and, sometimes, delightfully bizarre. From ballerinas dancing on broken bones to ultramarathoners shitting their pants mid-race to competitive eaters scarfing down hot peppers, masochism is a part of us. It lives inside workaholics, tattoo junkies, and all manner of garden variety pain-seekers.

At its core, masochism is about feeling bad, then better–a phenomenon that is long overdue for a heartfelt and hilarious investigation. And Leigh Cowart would know: she is not just a researcher and science writer-she's an inveterate, high-sensation-seeking masochist. And she has a few questions.

Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits: social, psychological, physiological, and otherwise? What are the costs? What does masochism have to say about the human experience? By participating in many of these experiences herself, and through conversations with psychologists, fellow scientists, and people who seek pain for pleasure, Cowart unveils how our minds and bodies are engineered to find meaning and relief in pain-a quirk in our programming that drives discipline and innovation even as it threatens to swallow us whole.

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