A quick erotic-torture mini-FAQ:
How can you justify torture?
Generally I don't. Like most of the BDSM subculture I totally support organisations such as Amnesty International. Responsible BDSM activities follow a creed summed up as "safe, sane and consensual". "Safe" and "sane" may be relative but "consensual" is an absolute. Most players set and keep to agreed limits, and scenes are for mutual enjoyment.
But surely, anyone who enjoys pain must be sick?
From time to time, yes I am sick, but currently it's a post-viral condition. I like to think of myself as a responsible, socially-concerned member of society.
Is someone sick if they enjoy a caress? Or a light slap on the bottom? Or a harder slap? Some enjoy stronger stimulation. Where is there a logical distinction? The "safe" and "sane" aspects of the creed dictate that such games will not endanger anyone's physical or mental health or lead to the "victim" requiring serious medical attention. Most players enjoy the ritual of such games and the actual pain involved is often relatively small. By and large, the bloody whippings of historical dramas on the television are not repeated in peoples' home "dungeons". This is a common misconception amongst those who worry about people enjoying such activities.
Come on, you're all just using SM as an excuse for wife-battering.
So by implication, husband-battering is OK is it? It's funny how some of the same groups who scream about "sexism" are incredibly sexist themselves.
But the BDSM community is just as concerned about domestic abuse, of any description, as is the "vanilla" (non-BDSM-oriented) community. Yes, abuse can creep into BDSM activities and it is important to be aware of this. A useful guide to recognition of such abuse is given in the soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm FAQ, see link below. Remember, "consensual".
Well you're still perverts and child molesters.
That's about as logical as saying a carrot must be a potato. Enjoyment of BDSM activities and the tragic cases of sexual attraction to children are completely unconnected and quite different manifestations of sexuality.
Once again, we come back to the word "consensual"; a child is not mature enough to consent, just as is the case with conventional sex, so involvement of children in any way is just as repugnant to the BDSM community as it is to the straight community.
I don't understand how anyone can enjoy sadomasochism and I think it should be banned.
It's probably an instinctive part of the human psyche that what people do not understand they fear. Maybe this was a survival trait in the past. But now we just see the arrogance of people who assume their own tastes must be "correct", and people who rely on prejudice rather than knowledge or logic. Sadly, such people often feel impelled to seek power over their fellow human beings and become local or national politicians.
God says you are sinners and that you will rot in Hell. Now what do you say?
You are entitled to your own religious views. Personally I am not concerned whether you worship a concept of an all-powerful but nebulous deity, or, for that matter, a small pink stone. What you are not entitled to do is to enforce your religious views on others (or to claim that your religion gives you the monopoly on morality).
The thought of someone tying me up and doing, um, "terrible" things to me is sort of exciting. But what if it is more than I can take?
In responsible BDSM play this should not happen.
Firstly, you must be sure you can trust someone before placing yourself in any such vulnerable position. Then you should use safewords. Choose a word that you are not likely to utter during any mock pleas for mercy, and which you can be sure to remember, then use it if you need the action to stop. The "top" (the person who has tied you up or who is nominally in control -- you are the "bottom") must obey your safeword instantly.
Some like to use the green-red-yellow system, where "Green" means "keep going" or "more please", "Yellow" means "don't stop, but ease up a bit just now" and "red" means "Absolutely Stop Now!".
A gagged bottom cannot use a safeword of course, so a clear sound or gesture should be used instead. Sometimes the bottom may be told to hold a small rubber ball. If he/she drops it, that is a signal for the action to stop, at least until it has been established the ball was not dropped by accident. :-)
Bottoms may feel that a safeword system ruins their enjoyment of helplessness, so players experienced with each other may choose not to use safewords. That is OK, but it makes prior negotiation and the sensitivity of the top even more important, and a signal for unexpected emergencies, e.g. asthmatic attacks, is still advisable.
Tops must also be aware that it occasionally happens that a bottom enters a euphoric or other mental state that hinders their using a safeword. Responsible BDSM play takes all these matters into account.
It will be seen that negotiation is vital. If someone, top or bottom, will not negotiate, can you trust them??
Is bondage safe?
Generally yes (despite the next section), but like most other physical activities, safety depends on common sense, assessing risks and taking reasonable precautions. We do this the whole time in our daily lives, usually without conscious thought. We are constantly adjusting our bodies to enable ourselves to breath easily, to avoid cramps or numbness from uncomfortable positions, to avoid life's simple dangers.
But if someone is immobile, then suddenly those unnoticed adjustments become difficult and maybe vitally important. This means the top has two bodies to look after for the time being. He/she is equally responsible for both.
So what precautions should I take?
A comprehensive answer to that is well beyond this FAQ. See the links below. However, a few random matters and thoughts to bear in mind:
- Know your play partner
The world of vanilla sex has its rapists. Date-rapists may seem charming and innocuous right up until the moment they prove they are not. Similarly, if you are male, tied down to the bed, and that seemingly nice lady from Accounts has just removed from her handbag a copy of the "Bobbitt guide to body modification" and a sharp knife, then maybe you are going to find that you should have got to know her a bit better first.
- If someone is tied up, do not leave then unattended
Sigh. I have to put this in - it's compulsory. I have not traced when it happened yet, but this was clearly brought down from a mountain, carved on a stone tablet. If anyone doubts this, let them post to one of the BDSM newsgroups or mailing lists that they tied down their partner and then popped down to the shops to buy a new candle (or even just went into the next room). There will be a flood of angry responses from people in absolute apoplexy because someone has broken "the" rules.
But actually, it is a pretty sensible precaution. Ropes can slip or tighten, cutting off circulation, causing nerve damage or even breathing difficulty. The bottom could have a sudden medical problem. Gags of any sort can be especially risky. Some positions themselves may cause breathing difficulties after a while (see below).
"Safe and sane" means evaluating risks. Once the actual statistical likelihood of the top being hit by a runaway lorry while buying the candle, or of the house suddenly burning down, have been considered, once any known medical conditions (of the bottom or top) have been taken into account, once any risks from the bondage itself have been considered, then the play partners can make an informed decision. But it is still not a good idea. There again, climbing rock faces is an even worse idea, but people do it because they enjoy it and know the risks and nobody screams at rock-climbers. Much.
- Be careful with gags
The damsel in distress (only acting of course) screams so prettily. Her evil captor removes her lace panties, bunches them up and pushes them into her mouth. He takes a scarf and ties it round through her mouth (a cleave gag) to hold the panties in place. He may tie another scarf around too. No longer can she communicate. She rolls her eyes so fetchingly, continuing to play the damsel in distress.
But she is in distress; the material is working to the back of her mouth. They never agreed a gesture to act as a safeword. Anytime now, her airway is going to be blocked, or a reflex vomiting action is going to be induced. Is her captor going to notice in time? When she gets vomit in her lungs, will he get her to medical attention quickly enough? Is he about to find that the way he will spend his next few years is going to be radically altered?
Or to take a tragically genuine example:
Not too long ago, men broke into a house in London. A large woman was grabbed and handcuffed (or tied up?) while the rest of the house was searched. She was gagged with sticky tape, completely sealing her mouth. So she was lying helpless on the floor, highly stressed and she could not get enough air through her nose. She died. On the face of it, it was a case of murder. However, the men were immigration officials, the woman was an illegal immigrant and the men were held to have been doing their job.
However, if you are not an immigration official and therefore do not have the authority to place people in non-consensual, dangerous bondage, take care with gags. They have a symbolic (often rather more than functional) importance in BDSM games, but beware of loose material in the mouth, or of completely sealing the mouth, and ensure that they can be removed very quickly.
- Don't tie anything around the neck
Dead obvious this, but people do it. Some are into asphyxiation games. We know this; there is enough evidence from coroners' reports. And the police are apt to regard a corpse with rope or rope marks around the neck as "suspicious".
Even if people don't die, reducing the oxygen supply to the brain is dangerous and potentially damaging. If it is desired to immobilise the head, use a head harness.
(OK, I will admit that there are careful and responsible people into breath-control and who DO know what they are doing, but this FAQ is not for them anyway. For the inexperienced and the foolhardy, this is the way to tragedy. Trial and error does not apply here.)
- Be careful with handcuffs
Thanks to the punk era and their use as fashion accessories, handcuffs are widely available and much used for bondage games, even by couples with no other interest in BDSM. But keys can be lost, and locks of cheap handcuffs can jam, and there are many newspaper stories of nearly nude ladies blushing (all over) while delighted firemen cut them free.
But handcuffs were designed for the temporary immobilisation of a prisoner's wrists. They are rigid, ill fitting and can dig into the wrists to damage nerves and bones. Never, ever, use handcuffs to suspend someone by the wrists. Well fitting, padded, leather cuffs are far better for BDSM games. And make sure they do fit well; even the edge of a loose leather cuff can dig in to cause temporary nerve damage.
- Provide adequate support
I don't mean counselling. Time and time again I see tales (hopefully fantasy) something like the following:
The woman is standing in the centre of the room. She is nude, with her wrists cuffed behind her. Her nipple rings are tied to a rope leading up to a pully. Her captor tightens the rope, forcing the woman up onto her toes. Now the whipping can begin ....
The man is standing in the centre of the room. He is nude, with his wrists cuffed behind him. A rope has been tied round his testicles and up to a hook in the ceiling. His captor tells him she will be back in two or three hours or so ....
So the woman looses her balance, or the man happens to faint with fatigue. There is no backup safety harness. Hospital time.
Once again, this is part of risk assessment and common sense. For any bondage position, just imagine the captive losing balance or fainting (however unlikely this is). What will happen? Is his/her body supported against injury?
- Not everyone has the same physique
Some people are incredibly supple. They can be tied into contorted positions without harm. Don't assume that everyone else is the same. Some can can be tied with their elbows actually touching behind their backs, but for most of us this is liable to cause real damage. Even quite standard positions can be difficult for people who have, for example, weak shoulders or weak ankles. Here again is the importance of communication and safewords. Good physical fitness is an advantage.
- Watch that breathing
Be aware that some positions put pressure or tension on the chest, innocuous at first, but making breathing more difficult as the subject tires. "Standard" bondage positions that pose this risk include the hogtie, with the subject lying on his/her front, and suspension with the arms apart. (Note that any extended suspension can cause joint damage in any case). Here is as good a reason as any for following the "rule" about not leaving someone alone in bondage.
All this makes BDSM sound excessively dangerous. But only if people do not give thought to what they are doing. Playing most sports is far more risky and injuries are much more likely to be serious. But at least the sharing of safety information and experience in sporting circles is easier. Raids on sports clubs and seizure of informative literature and videos is inherently less likely, and I still await the case of a rugby player being tackled, suffering a dislocated shoulder, and then being prosecuted for "aiding and abetting an assault on himself".
Where can I get more safety information?
Not so easy as it should be. Censorship of what we (in the UK) can read, especially via import controls, tends to leave us in dangerous ignorance. The following websites are a start:
I don't think much of this FAQ. Isn't there any more?
No I don't think much of it either yet. I've been planning more but I have other things to do just now.