Scary Sexy: Why Do we Find Controlled Fear Hot?

Scary Sexy: Why Do we Find Controlled Fear Hot?

by Win, AYLI Staff Writer

Oh Autumn, a favourite season for so many. Cool breezes are coming in and the apples are ready to drop. A time for finding the best pumpkins to carve, the best crunchy leaves to stomp on, and of course the best ways to get a good scare. And for many of us, a time to begin or deepen our intimate relationships. Sometimes called ‘cuffing season’, a slightly cringe term originating from the idea of handcuffing someone into a serious relationship, Autumn can spark the drive to find someone to share the bleak winter months with. For many people, part of this courtship will include watching scary movies or going through haunted houses or, if you're lucky, corn mazes (RIP Lone Pine Farms, you are missed).

But why is that? Why do we find fear so sexy? What is it about sharing these experiences with someone that makes you more interested in them? 

Part of this phenomenon can be explained by simple biology. Our bodies only have so many reactions to choose from, so even though we’re capable of feeling a host of complex emotions on a cognitive level, on a physical level the physiological responses our bodies experience in relation to strong emotions are actually quite similar. This basically means that the feeling of fear can easily overlap or be confused with feeling attracted to someone or even falling in love. 

Essentially, your body doesn't know that your palms are sweaty and your heart is pounding because you just got a fake chainsaw revved in your face or a jumpscare on screen. Your brain knows that, but it also knows that you're perfectly safe and have someone cute with their sweaty palm pressed to yours. So maybe you’re having a reaction to the scare, but maybe you also think that person is really cute. Plus, they stood by you or maybe, if they’re really brave, in front of you while something scary happened. That’s sexy for sure. Or maybe you “protected” them and now you’re having all the sexy feelings attached to that. Either way, your adrenal system is GOING and your brain is going to decide on the most likely reason for that, and seeing as how you’re not in actual danger, it makes sense that it’s the person or people you're with making you feel that way. Which isn't to say that you’re being ‘lied to' by your body, watching a scary movie with someone you don't actually like isn't going to magically make you like them, but it can intensify already positive feelings. 

Another important piece of why we enjoy things like horror movies and haunted houses, even alone, is that the fear is all happening in a controlled, safe environment. There have been plenty of sturdies on what fear even is, and even on how controlled fear can make us more resilient, but what it all comes down to is that scary-but-safe experiences give us the ability to have ‘trial runs’ for actually-scary potentially dangerous events. 

Exposing ourselves to these frightening feelings in controlled ways can even be cathartic and healing for people who have endured trauma. There are many explanations for what makes an experience traumatic but it is generally accepted to be a highly stressful and dangerous situation where someone does not have control or the ability to protect themselves. By voluntarily experiencing a fear response inducing event where you are completely safe you get to explore what these situations feel like when you do have control. So sharing these experiences with people you trust can be very bonding and reassuring. Almost like a more healthy and less impactful version of a survivor's bond. 

A non-seasonal place where this phenomenon is also explored is through Kink. A broad category of activities, kink is also sometimes referred to as the more specific BDSM, though not all kinks fall under that umbrella. Many kinky fantasies include elements of being unsafe or in danger in an ultimately safe way. In fact, many people feel that the heart of power exchange based kink is letting yourself be vulnerable and trusting someone else to keep you safe. Combined with the anticipation of an action, especially when you’re in a sensory restricted state, leads to quite the payoff when finally fulfilled. And for those of us who incorporate pain in our kink, the rush of endorphins from a strike or shock can combine with the emotional rush to create a truly euphoric experience. 

So maybe it’s body chemistry, maybe it’s the safe-scary, or maybe it’s just because these things can be fun. Whatever the reason, spooky dates in autumn are very popular and probably going to remain that way for the foreseeable future. If those kind of dates aren't you or your potential sweetie’s jam, autumn offers a whole host of unique options! Try taking them to a farm for a hay ride or harvest fest, or going to a local restaurant serving seasonal dishes. Or if you’re really cool, bring them to As You Like It and get a feel for what they like! 

About the Author:

Win (it/its) is AYLI’s youngest hire, but has packed quite a lot into its 26 years! A self-described Queer Freak, Win has never been interested in normal. An Agender/ 2Spirit person of mixed Lakota and Romani descent with a broad Kink background, Win brings a different perspective to AYLI. It splits its time between AYLI and its community, and can usually be found in the kitchen, the forest, or wherever there's mischief to be made!

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