Synopses & Reviews
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 can be delightfully bizarre. Deliberate and consensual pain has been with us for millennia, encompassing everyone from Black Plague flagellants to ballerinas dancing on broken bones to competitive eaters choking down hot peppers while they cry. Masochism is a part of us. It lives inside workaholics, tattoo enthusiasts, 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: they are not just a researcher and science writer — they’re an inveterate, high-sensation seeking masochist. And they have a few questions: Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits and the costs? And what does masochism have to say about the human experience?
By participating in many of these activities themselves, and through conversations with psychologists, fellow scientists, and people who seek pain for pleasure, Cowart unveils how our minds and bodies find meaning and relief in pain — a quirk in our programming that drives discipline and innovation even as it threatens to swallow us whole.
“Cowart has endless compassion for humans trying to find meaning and purpose while trapped in our fallible meat sacks. Hurts So Good is funny, explicit, and oddly wholesome.” Caitlin Doughty, author of the New York Times bestseller Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
“It’s testament to Leigh Cowart’s skill and charm that a book about pain should feel so joyful, that a deeply taboo subject should get such a bright and vivid airing, and that experiences that should induce winces instead trigger laughs and moments of deep profundity. Hurts So Good is a book of wonderful paradoxes — a rich, hilarious, and endlessly fascinating look at a world that most of us know but few of us understand.” Ed Yong, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of I Contain Multitudes
“Is understanding pain — and specifically why people seek out pain — the key to understanding ourselves? Before I read Hurts So Good I wouldn't have thought so, but now I'm convinced. I found myself wondering why this book didn’t exist before; and the answer is, because Leigh Cowart had to be the one to do it. This is a deeply-researched, blazingly-written tour de force that unlocks so much of human desire, compulsion, damage, and grace. If there's such a thing as the Great American Popular Science Book, you're looking at it.” Jess Zimmerman, author of Women and Other Monsters
“Hurts So Good is a high wire act during which Cowart weaves together the science of enduring pain for pleasure with their own personal, maniacally visceral experiences. The latter scenes are written so vividly — blood, guts, excrement, swollen and frozen bodies — that, at times, Cowart seems to be daring the reader not to finish. But finish you should, because there's no better exploration of masochism's appeal." Elon Green, author of Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York
Watch the Powell’s virtual event with Leigh Cowart and Jess Zimmerman!
About the Author
Leigh Cowart is a researcher and journalist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed News, Hazlitt, Longreads, Vice, and other outlets. Before becoming a journalist, Cowart was immersed in academia, doing research on subjects like sexual dimorphism in leaf-nosed bats, and resource allocation in flowers. They live in Asheville, NC.