Pleasure through the Pain…

…or do I mean, more cynically, a smug satisfaction – an endorphine rush – even an erotic reaction, to having subjected oneself to physical pain for enjoyment (or the ‘enjoyment’ of others)? Did Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky ‘enjoy’ rolling naked in coils of barbed wire as part of his protest against the treatment of ‘Pussy Riot’?



Pavlensky also sewed up his mouth as a protest against Putin’s suppression of free speech…

bed-of-nailsWe train or perform several times a week on full-length beds of nails or broken glass, with our mate’s weight pressing more nails on top. Does it hurt? Well, not much, actually, when its just your own weight, with a bit of muscle to tense and the remarkable strength and elasticity of human skin. A bit more when we ‘pile up’ the additional bodies on top…

I’ve written loads about this stuff in these…

This one also in e-bookCover2 Thumband, finally...(all available now in paper form and parts 1 and 2 in e-book too – click on cover for more information).

You’ll also learn in the books that the girls, Karen and Clare, go further than just the nails, with hook suspensions and fire. Fire (“body burning”) is relatively common in shows and, once you understand the difference between heat and temperature, it is frankly pretty inconsequential. But pushing hooks through your flesh and hanging from them – well, that is pain, to an extent that actually numbs itself somewhat with the intensity (they say that people in severe trauma after accidents like losing a limb can withstand the pain more easily than in less severe accidents…). Dave and I briefly had a go just once with the hooks – and once was enough. We rather like our bodies to look good for performing our acrobatics shirtless, and spend many hours at the weights to make them so. However, we do take some rather special darts in our backs now and again.

These thoughts have been prompted by some interesting discussions with a Spanish fakir performer who calls himself ‘Eldy Fuego’ (Eldy is a contraction of his name and Fuego is ‘fire’). I featured his work with some admiration on this blog a while back – see ‘More to the Point…On the Nails Again’. He’s not one of those performers who leave half their bodyweight on the floor when doing nails – no, this guy does the sword bed with just two swords! Eldy sent me some exclusive pictures, telling me that he has decided to ‘go that last mile’ and endure the hook suspension with six hooks and (to follow soon!) additional guys hanging from him… I’ll share a couple of these pictures with you here (please don’t worry about the blood, he’s fine):

eldy ganchos 002 comp


What about a combination of two swords with the straps ready for additional weight embedded in his body?


Eldy says he is not doing this stuff in his regular shows – it is more of a personal experiment to see what can actually be achieved. He has however also gone ‘the last mile’ in another sense – going naked in private (as we do in training) for his own satisfaction – ‘just ones body against the nails/swords or whatever’. This is a position we also use:


Notice that the knives are only here for effect – unless he falters! – to give the audience a breathless feeling of ‘what if…’ – he is suspended just at the shoulders and ankles. As do we, he takes additional weight on his body (we have a mate doing a headstand or handstand on our stomoachs) and also we both have concrete blocks smashed on our stomachs with a sledgehammer. This one (at least for us) depends entirely on strength and tension in the body. You just need to keep up the position until your mates lift you off (as you hope they eventually will) since it is rather difficult to get off yourself! Eldy and I have discussed that trust in your colleagues – he invites us to work with him as trusted assistants (just one the basis of this blog and some private comments – wow!), but that is probably rather unlikely given that he is in Madrid! But, if you go on vacation there or somewhere in southern Spain, and you find his show, tell him that Tony Cavanagh recommended you go!

Now the philosophy in this excessively lengthy post. Doing this stuff definitely does ‘excite’ us – but why? The smug satisfaction of knowing that you can endure something the average punter would run scared from? Maybe there’s more – some element of sexual arousal? There are definitely guys in Chad’s gym who go there to deliver and receive pain – the ‘S & M’ brigade – enjoying lashing each other with a leather strap, seeing who can take the most. And to be fair (and honest), us bunch of guys definitely get a buzz from receiving (and inflicting!) pain. And then there’s our recent acquisition Sammy Three Rivers, whose rituals include embedding a small tribal knife in his abdomen. Another correspondent from Canada has been discussing the spiritual significance of all this and wonders if the guy is in some way more ‘special’ than we realise – perhaps I’ll develop that in a future post.

Right now, I’ll retreat towards the more regular interpretation of fit guys subjecting themselves to pain and stress, in a way we definitely approve of:

‘No Pain, No Gain!’

respectable weight








dumbbell_rack Wherever you stand on the question of ‘pain threshold’ – enjoy yourself!

About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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2 Responses to Pleasure through the Pain…

  1. Pingback: Sensory Deceptions | Tony Cavanagh

  2. micro job says:

    Great writing skills are only part of good creating. It’s obvious that you simply have these skills, but you also possess a special flair. Fantastic work!

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