9 Entirely Un-Sexy Risks of BDSM and How to Avoid Them (Part 1)
I talked about the benefits of BDSM in this post, but I'd be a negligent Jedi masochist if I failed to warn you about the dark side of kink.
Many people wonder whether BDSM is dangerous. This isn't the right question to ask because the term encompasses such a wide range of activities. It's like looking at a 25-page menu of international cuisine and asking the waiter, "So, is it spicy?"
That all depends on the dish, my friend.
Some activities in BDSM are more dangerous than others, for various reasons. Most can be done safely, and those that can't are obviously avoidable. However, there are also risks not related to physical safety that practitioners should be aware of.
In this 3-part post, I'll cover the riskiest aspects of the lifestyle so you can use good judgment if and when you choose to play.
BUT FIRST! Ye be warned:
I'm a blogger, kink educator, and sensational kisser. (Did I mention humble? That too, obviously!)
What I am NOT is a lawyer, doctor, or psychologist.
Please use this info as a starting point for your own research, but don't take it as a foolproof guide for your situation. Learn about the specific safety requirements for each kinky activity you wish to do before going for it.
Without further ado, here's a list of awful things!
1. DEATH (dun dun dun!)
Let's get the worst possible scare-fare out of the way first, shall we?
Death is the least likely outcome of BDSM play, but accidents do happen and all practitioners need to be aware of this. Here are some of the more common causes:
This is the practice of cutting off a person's air supply through choking, smothering, or other means.
A lot of people tend to see choking, specifically, as a par-for-the-course BDSM menu item. Putting a hand, rope, or belt around a submissive's throat is an extremely dominant act, and it can feel exciting to be on either end of the experience.
I'm not going to bullshit you, though. Breath play is the single largest cause of death within the community.
(Don't believe me? You can read about specific examples here, here, here, or here if you're curious and in a particularly morbid mood. NSFHappiness, obviously.)
Putting pressure on someone's neck is dangerous. It doesn't take much force to harm the delicate structure of this area. Permanent damage to the brain, heart, or lungs can occur whether or not the receiver loses consciousness.
For many people, the goal of breath play is erotic asphyxiation. Cutting off a receiver's oxygen supply can heighten pleasurable sensations during orgasm, providing a rush on par with the effects of cocaine.
It's impossible to know exactly how many people die this way, as these sorts of deaths are typically classified as homicides or suicides. Estimates appear to max out at around 1,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone.
Many of the giving partners of these victims are experienced and well respected within their local BDSM scene. They're also often charged with manslaughter after these types of accidents.
I've heard a lot of questionable talk about choking from tops over the years:
"I know where to grab, so it'll be fine."
"I've done a ton of research on this subject. You can trust me."
"I've done this a million times before. Don't worry."
While people who say these things generally mean well, at the end of the day this kind of talk doesn't protect anyone from long-term harm.
If you're a top looking to practice breath play, be aware of the massive amount of responsibility you're undertaking and train accordingly. Seek out a workshop, if possible, in your local kink community to learn techniques for administering breath play. (This may be difficult, as most people aren't willing to accept liability in the case that breath play goes badly.)
If you're a bottom that digs choking for the dominance factor, I'm with you. Like tops, we have to keep in mind just how risky breath play actually is. If the risk isn't one you can comfortably accept, consider telling your partner you like the illusion of choking, without any actual squeezing.
Kinda like this. Freaky makeup optional.
(Image Credit: Pexels / CC0 Creative Commons)
I've NEVER read reliable information from a qualified medical professional claiming that breath play is "safe." What you and your partner do is obviously up to you, but there's no guarantee that you'll walk away unscathed.
I can't believe I'm actually fucking typing this, but here we are:
It's very unwise to play with loaded firearms in BDSM.
And yet, some people do. Some poor guy in Oklahoma, for example, accidentally shot and killed his wife in 2010 during play. He was arrested and charged with murder.
I don't have much to say about this one, because it should be obvious that gun play isn't a particularly good idea. If the thrill of being threatened with a firearm is on your list of fetishes, be triple-sure to empty every bullet.
We're essentially talking about low-level electrocution. Some kinksters carry this out with toys specially designed for internal or external use.
The problem with electricity is its potential to disrupt or stop the beating of the heart, leading to cardiac arrest. High currents can also cause permanent damage to internal organs, including the brain, through burns and cellular death.
One particularly popular device for electrical play is the 'violet wand.' This site covers a list of basic dos and don'ts while using this tool.
It advises not to use the wand on anyone who "has heart disease, seizure disorder, epilepsy, nerve damage, or who is pregnant." You should also not use the wand near the eyes, mucous membranes, metal piercings or restraints, implants such as pacemakers or joint replacements, skin conditions like sunburns or open wounds, conductive fluids like water and urine, or flammable materials like hairspray.
As you can see, there's a multitude of ways this can go wrong if you're not careful.
Toys made specifically for this kind of play make it FAR safer than using a household electrical current, which is a massive no-no, as seen in cases like this.
Looks fun, I know! But do not.
(Image Credit: @ User: Joe Shuster / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Just be aware, no kinky scene involving electricity can ever be guaranteed 100% safe for the receiver.
Prolonged bondage play (particularly when the bottom is under the influence or left unsupervised)
Certain substances (mainly depressants like alcohol and opioids,) can lead to breathing difficulties under normal circumstances. Some positions used in bondage play can make it even more difficult for the lungs to work their magic, particularly if they're held for long periods of time.
One friend told me he had serious trouble breathing once while tied up and suspended during a night of heavy drinking. Luckily he ended up okay.
Stories like this one and this one don't have such happy endings. In both cases, the submissive players were allegedly off their faces (on ketamine and GHB, respectively,) and left unsupervised while restrained for extended periods.
You're unlikely to run into life-threatening problems during play after one drink or a hit of sweet Mary Jane. (Or "THE DOPE!", as my dad likes to call it.)
However, it's a bad idea to get into a session if you or your partner is sufficiently fucked up. Also, never ever leave a restrained partner alone, as any number of unforeseeable problems could occur in your absence.
"K, so, I'll be back tomorrow. Try not to attract any bears."
(Image Credit: @ User: Jeff G. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
As I said before, deaths resulting from BDSM are rare, so don't get carried away with paranoia. Fear is the mind killer, after all.
But if the risks above make you nervous, just list those types of play as hard limits while negotiating with your partner. You're under no obligation to try any of them (or anything else for that matter) in BDSM.
I'm not talking about the stuff we sign up for. If you consent to being paddled or pierced, for instance, you're likely to end up with marks.
Those things can be done safely (in my opinion,) and the results are likely to heal within a couple weeks. Unplanned injuries that cause serious or long-term damage are what we need to avoid.
There are a million ways to get injured accidentally in BDSM, but here are a handful that may not be immediately obvious:
Bondage tied badly or too tightly can cause this, especially during rope suspension if the receiver's weight isn't properly distributed.
Crocodiles can also be problematic.
This can lead to pain or loss of sensation in extremities, which will probably heal over time, but in rare cases could be permanent. No thank you!
Tops, if you're looking to get into some serious bondage, learn how to tie from an experienced instructor. During play, check in often, and have a reliable pair of scissors on hand. Be willing to sacrifice your ropes or other materials if necessary. Stuff is just stuff, and you can always buy more. Not the case with partners.
Bottoms, pay attention to your physical state and let your top know immediately if you experience serious pain, tingling, or numbness. (DO NOT tough it out until the scene is over. This doesn't do anyone any favors.)
Wax play involves (you guessed it!) dripping hot wax on the skin.
Fun fact that it took me a while to learn: wax play should only be done with kink-tailored candles that burn at low temperatures. Normal candles burn too hot and their wax will leave scars. So take a wee trip down to ye olde neighborhood sex shoppe and find some safe and colorful candles in the BDSM section.
There's also this thing called 'fire play' in which flame is used on or close to the skin. When done right, it's not as crazy as it sounds, as the flame is meant to be extinguished before the skin begins to burn. As you can imagine though, this takes training and isn't the kind of thing to try casually.
Issues resulting from deep and/or poorly positioned cuts
Many kinksters like to play with knives, razor blades, and other sharp items.
The point for most people isn't to open veins or spill blood. (Although some kinky vampires out there are into blood letting, which requires some medical-grade training that I'm not remotely qualified to talk about. Sorry!)
What we're going for with knife play is a mindfuck effect brought on by the intense sensation of a blade across the skin. A lot of knife play doesn't involve any actual cutting, but some people do choose to penetrate the surface layers of the skin.
This goes wrong when someone's cut too deeply or in certain areas. Slicing an artery open is obviously undesirable.
Playing with blades can be especially dangerous for people on blood thinners or who have clotting disorders. Additionally, sharp objects can trigger feelings associated with PTSD or trauma in practitioners who have had bad experiences in the past. In these cases, it's best to avoid this category of play altogether.
Some people buy realistic-but-blunt toy knives for BDSM. Others study up and avoid areas of the body where veins and arteries run close to the surface layers of the skin, such as the neck, wrists, knees, or ankles.
Do your research if you wish to incorporate knife play into your scenes, and never do it simultaneously with other types of activities, including sex. The bottom needs to be able to hold absolutely still to receive this type of stimulation.
I've never actually heard of specific stories involving complications with knife play. But then again, you probably won't. A knife wound isn't likely to be reported in the context of BDSM.
Just be aware, things can get dicey.
(HA! That's a spank-worthy joke right there.)
Damage to bones or internal organs
Impact play is a class of activities that involves beating someone to some degree, and includes things like spanking, paddling, whipping, caning, or flogging. Some people even get into full-force punching, though that's far too much for me, personally.
Safe impact play focuses on fleshy areas like the receiver's ass or thighs, not because these jiggly parts are so hypnotizing to look at, but more due to the fact that this squishy padding provides ample protection against serious injury.
Asses were made to be spanked.
(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Snapping a bullwhip over a delicate area of the body could indeed break a bone. Paddling or punching the stomach has the potential to do internal damage. (This is how Harry Houdini is rumored to have died.)
So stick mainly to the ass during impact play, and use caution elsewhere. Never aim for the tailbone, spine, or lower-back area that covers the kidneys.
Also, be aware of how to use each of your tools properly. Tops, always use your implements on yourself to understand the resulting sensation before using them on bottoms.
Fast, rough, or careless anal play
While anal play isn't exclusive to BDSM, it's frequently incorporated by practitioners who enjoy it, for what I'll ASSume are obvious reasons. (Ha! I'm on a roll today! Ugh...)
Anal sex is common in porn, but don't let that fool you. You've got to approach it carefully to avoid injury. The anus is made of delicate tissue controlled by tight muscles that need to relax considerably for penetration to be safe.
Even if you're a masochist who enjoys pain, this is not the avenue to go searching for that sensation. Pain is a bad sign during anal activities, and if you feel it as the receiver, your partner needs to back out of the back door, pronto!
Lube (specifically designed for anal) is your friend. Use it liberally and be sure to warm up, starting with smaller, thinner objects like clean or gloved fingers. (And clip your fucking nails first, you fabulous divas!) Once the sensation feels pleasurable and comfortable, you can move on to insertion of longer and wider objects.
Only insert items into the anus that are guaranteed not to get lost up there, like plugs with a wide flared base. The ass is not a vagina and doesn't come equipped with a convenient cervix to stop objects from moving too far into the body. That zucchini in the fridge may seem tempting, but having to have it removed by a doctor? Not so much.
Anal plugs come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
And keep in mind: anal takes time. If you're the type that gets uncontrollably eager to insert things into people's bodies, you should get that under control before playing with butts. Take anal play slowly, or don't take it at all, friends!
And the last point for this post,
3. Hygiene and sanitation-related infections and diseases
There are a few issues to consider here. The first concerns any fluids involved in the type of play you want to do.
Depending on what you and your partner agree to, this may include blood, semen, urine, scat, spit, vomit, and any other creative substances your bodies are able to produce. These all carry their own individual risks. Take them into account and proceed with caution.
Also, be sure any tools you decide to use are clean. Be mindful of this at home and when you go out to public venues, as they all handle this issue differently. I've been to dungeons that require people to bring their own toys. I've also been to places, however, that supply toys for people to use.
For the most part, implements like paddles are easy to clean and likely to be safe. However, think of something like a whip. If it happens to draw and absorb blood during use on a guest, it's hard to ensure that its use on the next guest will be 100% sanitary.
(I hear you going "Eeeeerrrghh, noooo" and agree wholeheartedly!)
Finally, play involving wounds must be handled with care. If the skin is going to be intentionally damaged or penetrated through piercing, cutting, abrasion, or other means, it should be cleaned before and after play. The point is to avoid infection, so get a hold of some alcohol swabs, saline solution intended for cleaning open wounds, and/or whatever else may be necessary.
This concludes part 1 of this risky series. Phew! We survived!
In part 2, I'll talk about BDSM risks associated with legality, abuse, and consent disputes. Thanks for reading, and click here to party on, Wayne! (Party on, Garth.)