Alt.sex.bondage FAQ


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The soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm FAQ List


Introduction

Soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm is a Usenet discussion group, or newsgroup, about various topics including sex and bondage. This FAQ list is my set of answers to some of the most common questions in that group. You may find it interesting whether or not you've encountered s.s.b-b itself.

Books could be and are being written about these questions; remember, this is a thumbnail FAQ list. If you learn anything from this list, hopefully it will be how many questions there are to ask, and how much there is to learn! If you're concerned or curious about issues that you feel are breezed over here, see the very end of this FAQ for a list of wonderful books and sources of more information. And if you want more ideas or discussion about anything, well, what else is soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm for?

1. What do B&D, S&M, D&S, "top", "bottom" mean?

The easy part first: B&D = "bondage & dominance" or "bondage & discipline." S&M = "sadism & masochism." D&S = "dominance & submission."

People who read s.s.b-b are generally interested in ways to have sex that are outside the mainstream. One of the recurrent threads on s.s.b-b is the question of "what to call ourselves", since there is no one set of sexual practices we all enjoy or are interested in, yet there is a lot in common among all the things we talk about.

Some people enjoy submitting to another person, placing themselves under the power of another, in a sexual context. It can be a very hot thing for someone to say to you, "I'm yours. Use my body for your pleasure." This is D&S; one person is dominating, the other submitting. Slave/master, harem girl/sultan, boy/daddy, student/schoolmistress. D&S is an erotic power game, where both people are getting off--one on the thrill of controlling, the other on the thrill of being controlled. This is also where the terms "top" and "bottom" come in; the top is, roughly, the dominant; the bottom is, roughly, the submissive.

What do tops and bottoms do with each other? Well, one good possibility is they have lots of hot sex. Another possibility is the top ties the bottom up in some manner, which directly and physically puts the bottom at the top's mercy, and then the top plays with the bottom, teasing, seducing, frustrating, and hopefully finally satisfying. This is a bondage & dominance sort of game. Some people enjoy playing with punishment--"You've been bad and now I have to tie you up and spank you!" That's bondage & discipline for you.

Then there's the sort of game described by S&M--"sadism and masochism". Whips, canes, nipple clamps, all the wonderful things that are designed to cause, in greater or lesser degree, pain. It can be a powerful thing to submit to someone else who wants to hurt you; it's a fantastic gesture of trust. And as will be discussed later, pain is not really pain anymore in an S&M game; it becomes overwhelmingly intense stimulation, which when administered by a skilled top can bring a bottom to entirely new heights of ecstasy.

Sometimes the D&S aspect becomes secondary to the sensual trip; you don't have to enjoy obeying another's commands to enjoy being tied up and whipped! And of course, pain (whether light or heavy) is only one sort of sensation; there are many others, and all of them can be lots of fun to play with.

This sort of trip, merging pain and pleasure to create an amazingly powerful experience for the bottom, is sometimes known as SM: Sex Magick. The precise definitions of B&D, S&M, whatever, don't matter so much as do the experiences they point towards. All these areas, as you can see, overlap and intermingle in many many ways, but for me they all meet in the single concept of Sex Magick: taking a fantasy and turning it into reality, creating a magical space in which your desire can come to thrilling life!

While we're sorta on the subject of abbreviations, here are some more: motos = Member Of The Opposite Sex; motss = Member Of The Same Sex; IMHO = In My Humble Opinion; BTW = By The Way; SO = Significant Other (i.e. lover); SMBDLMNOP = SM and BD and whatever else it is that we're always talking about here on s.s.b-b; "Munch" refers to "any social gathering of local people who read s.s.b-b" (it's short for "Burgermunch", a tradition started in Palo Alto); "plonk"--see a later question; WIITWD = What It Is That We Do (a newer term than SMBDLMNOP); YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary (i.e. this is my experience, yours may be different); ObBDSM = "Obligatory BDSM"--if a post here contains little BDSM content, the poster will put "ObBDSM: <some hot BDSM item>" at the end of the post; YKINOK = "Your Kink Is Not OK"--see question 17... and of course FAQ = Frequently Asked Questions.

Oh, and the reason I refer to SM behavior as "play" here is because, well, it ain't work! Play means nothing other than activities done for recreation and for pleasure, and hence "play" is a fine word for many BDSM behaviors. Many of my friends use "play" similarly. (Though let me begin the many YMMV's by stating that many other people who do BDSM consider it to be a very real, and deep, part of their sexual orientation; these people find that the term "play" doesn't adequately express how important and fundamental these behaviors and relationships are to them. I am increasingly finding myself to be one of these people. And for still other people, some BDSM is play and some isn't. Confused yet?)

Just so it is totally clear at the outset, NONE OF THIS MATERIAL ADVOCATES ANY KIND OF NONCONSENSUAL BEHAVIOR. What I am describing here is a variety of ways for lovers to enjoy one another, if and only if they both want to, and both give their consent. Anyone who claims that this information is in some way advocating nonconsensual, criminal acts is hereby charged with having failed to read and understand what I am saying. When I use the term "SM" in this FAQ, I refer specifically to consensual behavior. (See a later question for more on this.)

Finally, you've probably already noticed that we talk about more here than just sex and bondage. If that bothers you, please, post something _yourself_ about either or both topics! Complaining "where are all the sex and bondage posts?" is unproductive; if you want to see more of something, put it out there yourself. Everyone on s.s.b-b is posting for their own reasons, which don't often include titillating strangers.

But then again, this whole group is _about_ titillation--about conscious eroticism, about getting what you want, and the first step is often admitting it. Read on, and enjoy! Who knows, you might be a different person by the time you finish this FAQ... it's happened to others before you :-)


What is a "scene", and what is "negotiation"?

SM has definite connotations of theater. The fact that you are a submissive while you're playing sexually does not mean you are a pushover in real life, nor does your being a dominant while playing mean that you are an overbearing egotist. These are roles that you can play; you are in some sense an actor.

Hence the concept of a "scene". A scene is a particular interaction between a group of players, usually revolving around a bottom. It's not a formal concept, just a handy way to describe the action. "That was the hottest whipping scene I've ever seen!" "Our last scene really pushed me, Master; I've never felt like that before." Usually a scene has a momentum of its own: you (a top) will begin fucking/whipping/sucking/whatever your bottom, you'll both be fantastically into it, one or both of you comes/peaks/starts getting tired, and you wind down and rest for a while and talk about what worked and what didn't, about how the scene was for you.

Novice SM players may profit from actually taking this loose description and using it to structure your first scenes. If there's something you want to try, first negotiate it with your partner; discuss what you want out of the scene (bondage? orgasm?), what your limits are (no fucking, no tickling), and what safeword you want to use (see the next question). Then get "into scene"--assume your roles (if any), put on the collar (or whatever), get into the mood to play... and play! And after the scene is over, take time to discuss what the scene felt like for each of you. Make sure to listen to your partner and learn how they felt, and thank your partner for playing... after an intense scene, it's really nice to cuddle and connect, rather than stopping abruptly and going home. A scene has a beginning, middle, and end; all three parts are very important. (And not necessarily disjoint; talking about how you feel and what you want can continue right through the whole process!)

This "negotiation" concept in the SM community simply means open, honest communication about what you do and don't want. Negotiation in this sense is not a bargaining process, where one person is trying to get something at the expense of someone else; it's a win-win technique where you're both talking about what you've done and what excites and doesn't excite you, so you can feel more comfortable and turned on together. It's completely legitimate to talk both about your fantasies and your boundaries--about what makes you wet, _and_ about what makes you cringe and tense up. Telling your partner about things that you _don't_ want them to do is valuable, as you deserve to have those limits respected... and if you don't tell your partner those things, they may do them, and neither of you will enjoy it. (If you do express your limits, and your partner ignores them, that's nonconsensual, and you will want to think hard about whether you can trust your partner. Negotiation can bring these issues into clear focus, which can help.)

If you're just getting into SM, or just into a new relationship, negotiation is a VERY valuable process. It can be as upfront as "I'd really like to kiss you, does that sound good?" or as nasty as "Tell me your deepest darkest fantasy or I'm going to stop rubbing your cock!" Talking about what you want from your sexual relationships can be difficult at first, but the more you do it the easier it gets and the more you get out of it! And note that none of this is necessarily specific to SM; negotiation is useful on all levels in all relationships, whether they involve SM or not. Consent is much more than a simple "yes"--any relationship, and especially SM relationships, will do better with lots of honest talk about what you both want, and why, and how much, and what you _don't_ want.

There are some who feel that negotiating--talking--"ruins the momentum". The image they seem to have is of the lovers who need say no words; every touch, every action, is perfect. That's great when it happens, but it doesn't happen automatically. My personal experience is that talking upfront makes me feel much better about whoever it is I'm with, and much more confident that they won't do something I'm not ready for... this in turn means I can throw myself wholeheartedly into whatever we've negotiated. Plus, as you get to know each other better, you'll know what you like and don't like... because you'll have negotiated it! THEN the momentum REALLY gets rolling!

The other connotation of "scene" applies to the whole B/D/S/M population; sometimes someone will ask another SM player "Is X in the scene?" or "I've seen Y around the scene before." If you want to get into the scene in this sense, look up one of the organizations I've mentioned at the end of this FAQ list--especially the NLA, which may well have a chapter in your area! Doing this can be very worthwhile; you can make new friends, get lots of good ideas, and find a community that shares your interests.


What is a "safeword"?

One of the thrills of SM is that it can stretch your limitations. If you enjoy this sort of play, you can naturally find yourself trying more and more new things, accepting greater and greater levels of sensation, doing and feeling more than you've ever done or felt before.

But the process is slow and gradual, and people are not telepathic. It may be that you are the bottom in a whipping scene, and your top is whipping you, and suddenly it doesn't feel good anymore!! and you want them to STOP!!! That is what a safeword is: a word that means "This isn't working! This scene is going wrong somehow! Please stop!"

A safeword needs to be taken seriously. Sometimes you may be playing with a top you don't know that well, and if they do something to you you don't want, it's important that you have a way to let them know, IMMEDIATELY. Especially if you're tied up or otherwise made helpless.

Everyone has their own favorite safeword. I personally use "Yellow!" to mean "Something's too intense; I need you to lighten up, but I don't want to stop the scene," and I use "Red!" to mean "I'm in trouble and I want everything to stop NOW, no more games, scene over, let me outta here!" Some people just have one flavor of safeword, and use "aardvark" or some other weird word they'd never say in the context of a scene. At many parties, the universal safeword is "Safeword!" It's up to you. All it is is a safety valve for when things get out of control. If your top doesn't respect your safeword, it's a safe bet that they won't respect other limits of yours, and you will need to decide whether you want to play with someone who doesn't acknowledge your boundaries.

Using a safeword can be hard to do sometimes. It's important to realize that no one is perfect, and if you as top do something that squicks your bottom (i.e. pushes beyond your bottom's limits--"squick" is a recent bit of s.s.b-b jargon), it doesn't mean you're a bad lover or a bad person. It only means that you ran into a limit you didn't know was there, or you were tired or disconnected and not in tune with your bottom. It happens to everyone from time to time. If you as top feel burned out and want to stop the scene suddenly, or you get a powerful reaction you weren't expecting and aren't sure how to continue, you can use a safeword too; safewords aren't just for bottoms! If you as bottom feel like your top is pushing you, and you don't want to play anymore, it's not fun, that's when you want to use a safeword--your top will be glad you used it to tell them where you were at.

A safeword is just a communication tool, nothing more, nothing less. If you're playing intensely, it may feel hard to stop the scene, to come back from the edge via a safeword... but if you need to, that's what they're for. Some tops deliberately push their bottoms until their bottoms call safeword; this way, the bottom gets the experience of using it. A safeword that's never used can seem unusable, which isn't a good property for a safeword.

Sometimes a top will want to gag you, whether because you're being too noisy or they want to increase your helplessness or you've been being impertinent or whatever. You may still want a safeword to let the top know when a rope is too tight or the nipple clamps are pinching or whatever. Some people put a handkerchief in the bottom's hand; if they let go and the handkerchief falls, they know there's something up. I personally use the old SOS signal: three loud yells spaced evenly; "Unh! Unh! Unh!" No gag I've ever seen can stop _all_ noise, and that signal works even if my hands are in mittens or a strait-jacket and unable to hold anything at all.

Before playing with someone, it's a good idea to negotiate, not only what safeword you want to use, but how you'll handle it if you need to use the safeword. When you're just getting into SM, it's almost inevitable that some scenes will end prematurely or abruptly. If you acknowledge this possibility in advance, and talk about what kinds of comforting or remedy you might like, it'll make recovering from a mishap a lot easier and more pleasant. And because a scene goes wrong is no reason to think that you or your partner is fundamentally bad or untrustworthy--mistakes will happen. (If your partner doesn't want tohear your concerns about the mishap, though, or if they belittle or deride your concerns, you may well be unable to avoid future mishaps. If your relationship doesn't learn from painful experience, it may not be ready to handle doing SM. Of course, this kind of processing is a vital part of _every_ healthy relationship, SM or not.)

Not every SM player uses safewords. Some people into SM don't find them useful for the style of play they prefer; more straightforward communication suffices for them. Some partners find their need for a safeword gradually diminishes as they come to know each other better. Some people do SM in which the bottom doesn't _want_ to have a verbal escape route, for the duration of the scene. (This "no-safeword" play is also sometimes called "edge play.") One thing that you will learn about the BDSMLMNOP scene is that styles vary wildly, and peoples' experiences are astonishingly diverse. But for many people beginning their explorations (and many who've explored enormously), safewords have proved very helpful.


When is pain not pain?

Often people outside the scene don't see the appeal in any of the things SM people do that look painful. What's enjoyable about being hit? Where's the fun in getting bruised?

Well, think about this. Have you ever had intense sex and afterwards noticed bite marks on your neck of which you had no memory? What happened was your love partner bit you, HARD, hard enough that it bruised you, and all you felt was another jolt of pleasure. If they bit you that hard when you _weren't_ having sex, you would scream "OUCH!!!" because it would hurt a lot! But when you are sexually aroused, your pain tolerance goes way up, and stimulation that you usually feel as pain is now actually pleasurable.

This is common knowledge. Another usual explanation is that the brain produces endorphins, natural opiates, to compensate for pain. You actually get high off the sensation. The "runner's high" comes from pushing the body painfully for so long that the endorphins kick in; the rush you get after eating chili peppers comes from the same source; and that's what makes it enjoyable for SM players to be whipped or spanked or whatever. It's not pain, it's pleasure! All athletes that are "hooked on exercise" are essentially masochists who enjoy stressing their bodies to get that chemical response. So your friend who enjoys being spanked may actually be a lot _less_ masochistic than your average marathon runner!

For just this reason, one well-known local dominant uses pain as a reward, when she's topping a masochist. Pain as a punishment can have the reverse effect, when your bottom _likes_ getting whipped!

Endorphins are by no means The Single Explanation for why masochists find intense sensation to be desirable. Not every masochist floats away blissfully while being whipped, nor would they all even _want_ to. The ways to experience intense sensation vary from dreamlike rush to stinging ouch to irritating maddening burn to soothing warmth to tears-in-the-eyes throbbing... and whatever the sensation, there is likely someone who enjoys it.

Also, pain is a continuum. There are many different kinds of sensation that you can use in your lovemaking--light scratches with fingernails, open-hand spankings, pinches, squeezes... there are many many ways to touch someone, and all of them can be enjoyable.

Different people enjoy different levels of sensation; "different strokes for different folks." What may be a wonderfully sensual caress to one person may be practically unnoticeable to another, and what may be a delightful flogging to one person may be no fun AT ALL to someone else. Ongoing negotiation is the secret to finding the happy medium.

Some people consider all this absurd. "How could you WANT pain?" The best answer I can give is that some people simply seem to be calibrated differently. They want _more_ sensation; they find the intensity thrilling and exciting, whereas someone else might find it overpowering and agonizing. People like different amounts of spice in their food; why not in their sexual encounters? Each person experiences sensation differently, and if you want more, there are safe ways for you to get it. Getting what you want, safely, can make your life much happier.

(For much more about sensations and sensation play, I strongly recommend Pat Califia's book _Sensuous Magic_. See the resource list at the end of this FAQ.)

What are some basics of safe SM, emotionally and physically?

SM is often play, and as such is fun! But SM can also get intense and powerful. Here are some useful tips for people just getting started.

First of all, communicate. Let your partner know what you want and don't want. Keep the dialogue going; watch your partner, be aware of what she or he is feeling and thinking, and respect his or her limits. Establish a safeword, and make it very clear that it will be taken EXTREMELY seriously if used. DON'T assume that your partner shares a fantasy of yours unless you've EXPLICITLY discussed it with them; just because someone likes being blindfolded doesn't mean they'll enjoy being tied up. And most important, give full permission to both people playing to stop at any time for any reason; respect each other enough to commit to call a halt and work things out if something goes wrong.

Be sensitive. SM play, which can (doesn't have to! but can) involve helplessness, intense sensation, and psychological domination, is strong stuff; it can reach deeply into someone's soul and bring up childhood traumas or hidden fears, without warning. Be aware that you are swimming in deep waters, and be respectful, loving, and careful. Don't let this reality scare you away from SM, though, if you want to experiment; let it make you more aware and open to what both of you are feeling. Most of all, decide for _yourself_ whether SM (or elements of SM) has a place in your sex life; don't listen when someone _else_ tells you "SM will be OK for you" or "SM will not be OK for you". Only you can make that decision.

Be honest. If you do not want to do something, don't let your partner pressure you into it. When you begin exploring SM, you may often find yourself with a partner who wants something more than you have experience giving, or who's right now in the mood for something that you're _not_ in the mood for. In my experience, it's generally better to say, "Whoa, I think we're wanting different things. Let's talk." Doing a scene when you don't really want to can result in anything from a lukewarm scene to something you just wish was over. There is plenty of time... honesty, and not pushing, will lay a foundation of trust that will stand you in good stead later.

One especially charged kind of D/S play is dominance and submission, in which the bottom gives up some of their freedom of choice to the top, who can command them. Though many people with strong boundaries can play like this perfectly safely (and indeed derive enormous happiness and satisfaction from doing it), this kind of play can carry some real emotional risks for people with low self-esteem. The risk is that the dominant will wind up abusing their power, using the D/S dynamic to make the submissive feel ever more worthless and powerless, and hence willing to let the dominant take over more of their independence.

If you have issues around your personal sense of self-worth, and if you feel that being submissive (albeit perhaps an enticing idea) might serve to confirm and consolidate your negative self-image, you would do well to think hard about whether D/S play is for you at this stage of your life. The answer may well be "no." (And conversely, if you are considering topping someone who wants to submit because they deserve no better, you might consider whether you want a partner who thinks so little of themselves.) In general, it's imperative for everyone who does SM to look hard at their motivations and their boundaries, and to be clear on whether the SM (whatever form it may take) is self-actualizing or self-destructive.

It may not be all black-and-white, either; there may be some particular activities or roles or words that will make you feel unsafe, scared, or worthless, and you may well want to avoid those activities/roles/words. That is exactly what negotiation is for; you have the right to do what feels good to you and avoid what does not, and you have the right to insist your partner respect your boundaries. (This goes for any relationship, of course, BDSM or no.) The discussion of "when do dom/sub relationships become excessive or abusive" is an ongoing one on s.s.b-b, and for good reason; it's an important topic.

BDSM may at times be theraputic, but it is in no sense a substitute for therapy. It's been said that "you can't take power from the powerless." A healthy D/S relationship is grounded in mutual respect, and in the knowledge that both partners are choosing this life in a fully informed, non-coerced manner; the submissive is proud to submit, and the dominant is proud to receive the gift of their submission. It is a very different thing from an abusive relationship in which one partner controls the other partner's entire world, with the goal of making that partner irrevocably and helplessly dependent.

Back to the physical plane: If you are the top, and you are tying your bottom up, keep your attention on what you're doing. Your bottom is going to be blissing out; it's up to you to see that they're comfortable and kept amused. The "amusement" can be as nasty as you please, but see that they don't get _bored_; that's seldom fun.) Indeed, if you as top really _are_ displeased with your submissive for breaking an agreement the two of you had made, ignoring them or sending them away may be the harshest punishment you can administer. But that's pretty advanced.)

Remember AIDS. Almost everything beyond closed-lips kissing and bare-skin contact is potentially unsafe, unless some kind of latex barrier is used. No unprotected contact between any combination of fingers, genitals, mouth, and anus; use a latex dam (or saran wrap) for cunnilingus or rimming (i.e. oral-anal contact), gloves for manual penetration, condoms on dildos and dicks. Use water-based lubricants such as ForPlay, Astroglide, Wet, KY Jelly; if the lube has nonoxynol-9 in it (which kills HIV) all the better (but some are allergic to nono-9). OILS AND OIL-BASED LUBES DISSOLVE LATEX; keep the mineral or massage oil away from your gloves and condoms (and latex clothing for that matter!).

Blood, semen, female secretions, urine... all can carry HIV. Play hard, but play safe. (One interesting thing about SM is that it expands the range of safe ways for people to pleasure each other! But it also expands the range of unsafe ways to play....) There are more safety tips, but if you want the in-depth skinny check some of the books at the end.

Many tops come up with an SM safety kit, containing (among other things) such items as a flashlight, duplicate keys for _all_ locks, bandage scissors (with one flat blade) for speedy bondage removal, a first aid kit with all the standard first aid items, disinfectant (such as Bactine or Hibiclens) for toys which come in contact with bodily fluids, safer sex supplies (sometimes including several varieties of lubricant--different people like different sorts), and so on. See _SM 101_ (a book listed in the Resources section) for an excellent description of such a kit.

And there are some things that are commonly regarded as potentially too dangerous to do unless you've been taught by someone who knows. Suspension is one: there are lots of things that can go wrong, and many of them can result in severe injury. Crucifixion is an especially hazardous form of suspension. And body piercing is also not for the novice; it takes know-how and precision, and a mistake can result in a really big mess.

Fortunately, most SM activities, such as bondage, spanking, and teasing, are not nearly so severe; you can start out light and build up the intensity as far as you both want to go. Pay attention to what you're doing and use common sense and you'll likely be fine. In general, start out slow and PRACTICE! You will learn quickly and you'll have fun all along the way, and soon you'll be places you'd only dreamt about!


Is everyone either a top or a bottom?

One perception that some people can have, looking into the scene from outside, is that people are either tops or bottoms. Either you like to dominate, or you like to be dominated. And sometimes novices become confused, because they're excited by _both_ possibilities.

The facts are, everyone is different, and everyone has their own preferences. I personally greatly enjoy topping my girlfriend, and also greatly enjoy submitting to her. Some people _are_ tops in every play situation, just as some are bottoms in every play situation--but I know people who top men but bottom to women, people who sometimes switch roles multiple times within one date, and every other spectrum of possibility!

Whole scenes can revolve around the "who's on top?" question. Maybe you can have a wrestling match, and the person who gets pinned first will wind up being tied up. Maybe you can set a timer, and when the timer dings, it's time to switch positions! There are as many possibilities as your imagination can dream of!

Then again, maybe only one side of the balance holds any appeal for you, and in that case, you'll want to play with folks who have little desire for _your_ side... it takes all kinds, and all kinds are out there.

It is also the case that there is no necessary relation between whether someone is dominant or submissive in everyday life and whether they are a top or a bottom. Some of the most domineering executives secretly love being abased and abused... it's a chance for them to lose control, to give up responsibility. And some of the most quiet, meek, shy-looking people you've ever seen turn into demonic geniuses of pain and pleasure when given someone to play with.

It's not at all unheard of for someone who's done only one thing (for example, bottoming) to one day start feeling the urge to top, or vice versa. People change, preferences change, it's nothing unusual. This, though, leads into the next question....

How can I learn to be a good top?

When first getting into the scene, it can often be somewhat intimidating to try playing with SM, especially if neither of you have done it before. Here's this wonderful person, who wants you to dominate them. You tie them up, and they're helpless, wriggling with anticipation and lust... and now what do you do?

Play with them! There are all kinds of common objects that produce intense and enjoyable sensations when applied to a helpless lover. Combs for dragging across the skin, feathers for tickling a frantic foot, clothespins (use a couple or use many in artistic rows--these can be as intense as you want to make them!), ice cubes, chocolate syrup, strawberries (ever see 9 1/2 Weeks?), leather belts for slapping or spanking, hairbrushes for scuffing or beating, and of course your own fingers, mouth, genitals, and everything else. Enjoy taking your time with your willing victim; drive them to distraction, then bring them to the edge of ecstasy, then back off and make them beg for more!

Remember, you can set the mood as you wish. You can be playful, amused at your own ineptitude even while your bottom is moaning with desire. You can be stern and commanding, sympathetic but nasty, jolly yet sadistic--anything you please. As long as you focus your attention on your bottom, your bottom will have a great time! Relax, go with the flow, and if you stop enjoying it, call safeword--tops can use safewords too.

Of course, there's no need to feel like you need to put all your attention into pleasing your bottom; what's a good slave for if not for pleasing their master? I've several times played with my girlfriend and used her for my own selfish pleasure, giving little attention to hers--and she loved it! But there is no doubt that with pleasure it is as good to give as to receive. Just remember, communicate, be sensitive to what your bottom is feeling, and you'll have no problem.

The one thing that is quite important to remember as a top is that you are responsible for your bottom. As you begin playing with SM, you may well be placing your bottom in situations in which he or she is physically helpless and/or emotionally vulnerable. It is important that you recognize they are placing a great deal of trust in you, and in your ability to handle any situations that may come up. If you're in the middle of a hot scene, and suddenly someone unexpectedly bangs on the door, you may both be startled and shocked--but your bottom will be immediately looking to you for protection. If something happens that you didn't expect, take care of your bottom _first_--reassure them that you're not going to let anything happen to them, and then deal with the problem calmly and sensitively.

And don't be limited by preconceptions of what you "ought" to be doing, or worries about how you're not topping "correctly". If you start to feel pressured or insecure, take a step back, and ask yourself what _you_ want out of the scene. Sometimes, when I've been bottoming for my girlfriend, she hasn't been in the mood to play with me sexually--so she made me her slave and commanded me to... bathe her and wash her! This was lots of relaxed fun for both of us, and it let her unwind enough to keep playing the way _she_ wanted to play. Be honest, not only with your bottom, but with yourself. And if you are in the middle of a scene, and suddenly your honesty says "I don't want to be doing this" or "I don't know what my partner wants, or even what I want," then by all means stop the scene--gracefully if possible. Better that than for the scene to drag on until both of you are sick of it.

If you still don't have any ideas, and if your bottom is really hot to trot, you can always start playing with your bottom and getting them excited in whatever way you know how, and demand that they tell you a fantasy of theirs, or you'll stop. Talking dirty to each other--trading hot fantasies, knowing that you can make then happen if you want to--is the best way I know of getting ideas for scenes. This actually goes for ALL sexual play, whether it involves SM or not!

If you want detailed descriptions of positions, possible scenes, and so forth, you would do well to find a copy of _Sensual Magic_ or _SM 101_. See the resource list at the end of the third part of this FAQ (and order some mail-order catalogs of SM books; lots of ideas!). Or, post with your questions to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm, asking for any and all suggestions.

How can I learn to be a good bottom?

It can also be hard to learn to bottom, if what you're used to is topping. Giving up control, surrendering, can be a difficult thing, when you're used to holding the reins in your hands. If you find yourself manipulating your top, trying to coerce them into giving you what you want, then you're what is called a "pushy bottom"--a bottom who is not really submitting, but just trying to turn the situation around to the way they want it to go.

Some tops get off on bottoms who are defiant or subtly disobedient, and use it as an excuse to punish; but for other tops, especially inexperienced ones, it can be anything but fun. Making your top feel like they don't know what they're doing is no fun for either of you; I know, I've been there, as the pushy bottom. The solution? The next time you play, tell yourself that you are the top's property, that their will is yours, and that your deepest desire is to please them. Before, if they did something you didn't like, you might have suggested they try it another way; now, they are doing exactly what they want to be doing, and you are grateful they're doing it. Let go of your urges to be in control; surrender to them, and let them have their way with you. I guarantee you will have a lot more fun than when you were trying to top from the bottom--I know I did!

If you are still not quite getting what you want, as a bottom, this solution may not last very long; you will probably want to talk to your top about what your needs and desires are, and about how you can both have fun getting to them. But the time to negotiate about what your bottom fantasies are, and how you might want to manifest them, is not necessarily while you're in the middle of a scene which you've pre-negotiated. Don't get into the "Oh, yes, Mistress, anything you want--um, uh, Mistress, you're not quite doing it right!" trap. (Can you tell I speak from experience here?)

Relax, and respond. Quite often a top will enjoy topping you because of your reactions--the way you wriggle, and squirm, and cry out. If you clench every muscle and strive to endure without giving _any_ sign that you're feeling anything, your top may get frustrated with the lack of feedback. Let yourself feel. And don't hold your breath! Or rather, don't forget to breathe. (If, of course, you _negotiated_ a "stoic endurance" scene, that's different. But don't feel you _have_ to act that way. I like it when my bottoms struggle--they have a safeword if they need it....)

Of course, nothing is cut-and-dried; just because you're on the bottom doesn't mean you're a puppet. But there is a big difference between being open and communicative, and trying to force things in your preferred direction. A good bottom is one who is enthusiastic, devoted to their top's pleasure, willing to surrender to their top's will, open about their own desires (in a respectful manner, of course), and happy to be bottoming.

There's a piece of common wisdom that's been around the scene for a long time, which is: the best tops are those who started at the bottom. I believe it's true. If you have been there, felt the bite of the whip, struggled to get free as you were brought slowly and teasingly to orgasm, tranced out as the sensation from the clothespins washed over and through you... then you will be much better able to guide someone else through that intensely magical space as a top, because you will literally have been there. Plus, starting as a bottom means you'll pick up a lot of hands-on (if you will) experience! (And as with any generalized statement about SM, there are plenty of people whose mileage varies; bottoms who've never topped and never want to, or tops who've never gone under and are still damn good. But even such tops often experiment with sensations on themselves before trying them with their bottoms.)

Is BDSM sexual?

This is one of those troublingly general questions that simply begs for a flame war.

There is no shortage of kinky people who get turned on by kinky behavior.  There is also no shortage of kinky people that don't.  And then there are the kinky people who find some kinks sexy and others not, no way, no how, are you kidding???  And then there are the kinky people who find some kinks erotic in fantasy only, but who would never like them in reality.  Not to mention the kinky people who don't think that other kinky people could possibly find some particular kinks erotic, or not erotic.  And then how much plain old sex gets blended into the kinky behaviors--or what kinky behaviors people consider to be sex in the first place--is another colossal variable.

So the answer is, yes, sometimes, for some people!

Next question?  :-)

Why is bondage fun?

Lots of reasons. For many people, the knowledge that they are helpless, that someone else can do things with their body and they can't prevent them, is a powerful turn-on. "I'm going to make you come and there's nothing you can do about it." It's a very strong statement of trust to let someone bind you helplessly, or even non-helplessly. How erotic, to feel yourself spread open, wanton and wet, and to see your lover kneeling between your legs, ready to use you for their pleasure--or to pleasure you unendurably....

For others, the simple sensation of bondage feels good. Tight constriction can create very intense stimulation, and lots of tight bondage can be a sensory trip, just as a whipping scene can be. Bondage can feel comforting, pleasantly confining; you don't need to worry about anything, since what can you do? You're all tied up, and all that's left is to enjoy.

For yet others, it's a charge to struggle, to let your body lose control. It can really intensify an orgasm when you come with every muscle straining against your bonds, trying to get your hands free to smash your lover's face into your crotch, your body shaking. If you weren't tied down you'd hurt yourself!

For me, it's all three of these reasons :-)

An especially intense form of bondage is verbal bondage: putting your bottom in some position (spread-eagled, kneeling, whatever) and commanding them not to move... and then tormenting them! One kinky variation on this is as follows: have your bottom hold their hands out in front of them, fingers splayed, each fingertip touching the opposite fingertip. Put a penny between each pair of fingertips so they're holding five pennies. Now order them not to let a single one drop, on pain of some punishment or other, and then go to work! This works best on a hard floor so you can hear the coin drop.

There are a bunch of common-sense things to know about if you want to get into bondage. Most of these are pretty obvious, but they're stated here because that's what a FAQ's for! The basic idea, though, is to experiment. The first few times you won't really know what you're doing, and that's fine! Take your time trying different positions, different kinds of rope, whatever. And if you've got a new idea that you want to try out before your big date... well, why not try it on yourself? If you can get into a position comfortably, you can probably make your bottom comfortable in that position!

Make sure your bottom's extremities don't start getting cold or turning blue; those are both sure signs that blood isn't flowing the way it ought to, and that isn't what you want to have happen. If your bottom's hands are bound inside mittens or some other place that's not accessible to you, ask them to wiggle their fingers or toes or whatever and see if they're losing any feeling. It can be tricky to tie someone up without making it too tight; in general, a good rule is to tie loosely with lots of turns of rope. You can tighten such a tie with just another turn around all the rest, and it can be a real drag to have a bottom's foot fall asleep in the middle of a scene; this kind of thing can feel very annoying and distracting, and can make it hard for your bottom to concentrate on what you are making them feel.

Silk scarves, bandannas, etc. also have this problem with tightening under tension; sometimes they get so tight they have to be cut off. If you're a novice, you may want to avoid these hassles by purchasing a pair of basic ankle and wrist cuffs (in leather, velcro, or whatever) at an adult toy store; and if you get embarrassed, remember the old standby excuse: "It's a gag wedding gift!"

Handcuffs are sexy, but they can also be a pain. Shoddy cuffs (the kind you buy at the sporting goods store) are liable to break while being worn--then you have to file them off. If you want to play with handcuffs, get a good quality pair; the usual brand is Peerless, and they'll cost about $30, with a double lock so you can snap them on and then lock them so they won't get tighter under pressure (as cheap cuffs will). Handcuffs are also bare metal, and aren't good to struggle against, as they can easily pinch nerves... padded, buckling bondage cuffs are better for those sorts of games.

Do not leave a bound person alone. Though it is a hot fantasy to tie someone up in some precarious position (possibly with vibrators or other devices buzzing away) and leave them to stew, in reality you must consider: what if the house is burgled? catches on fire? earthquake? any sort of emergency? Fun is fun, but a helpless person is just that: helpless. A willing partner is too precious to take risks with.

Be very careful about tying anything around the neck; anything that puts any pressure AT ALL on the front of the neck can lead to unconsciousness quickly, as the carotid arteries go right to the brain. Likewise be careful with gags or things tied in the mouth; as well as restricting breathing, they can trigger a gag reflex, which could be really nasty if the bottom can't get the gag out. See another question on safeword for use while gagged.

Also, be aware that if someone is standing for any length of time in any sort of tight bondage, it can lead to less circulation to their head; if you suddenly do something intense to that person, it may trigger a headrush which could easily result in a faint. Always use hooks which can be released instantly even with the bottom's full weight on them (these are sometimes called "panic snaps" and can be found in good hardware stores), and keep a pair of bandage scissors handy in case ropes or straps need to be cut loose.

Be careful what you tie your bottom to; if an exposed water pipe is handy, be aware it may heat up. Likewise with candles; be careful when you're waving flame around someone who's bound, as they can't flinch the way unbound people can.

If you don't have anything handy to tie someone to, you can always tie their wrists behind their back and then to their waist. Or if your bed doesn't hae any posts, you can wrap ropes around the legs of the bed and spread-eagle your bottom that way. In general, there are a million ways to tie someone up, and a little practice--on your bottom or on yourself!--will let you improvise in almost any situation.

Below I list a few sorts of common bondage devices mentioned here in stories and postings. If you read a term here which you don't understand, write me and I'll add a description.

Mummification or Cocooning: About the most complete form of bondage is to wrap someone up so they are completely immobile. The most popular way to mummify someone is with plastic wrap. A common technique is to wrap each limb separately, then wrap the arms to the sides, and then wrap the legs together--and then help the bottom lie down on an adjacent soft surface. You can then cut holes (carefully!) to access any especially sensitive areas, or wrap duct tape over it all for extra security, or add gags, blindfolds, etc. One way the body releases heat is by sweating, and while mummified you can't sweat too much, so make sure your bottom doesn't overheat--and have a blanket ready to cover them with when you cut them out of their cocoon, using the bandage scissors (obtainable from medical supply stores--one flat blade makes cutting easier) which you of course have ready to hand. And as always, monitor your bottom very carefully; they are helpless, and your neglect or inattention could spell disaster.

Hoods: Many leather stores and artisans make bondage hoods. These are typically constricted of leather or rubber. Some have simple zippers, and you zip them up to secure them. Others have laces on the back and/ or the sides, to enable the hood to be laced more tightly, for greater bondage effect. Some hoods have eye holes, some don't. Some hoods have mouth holes, some don't. Some deluxe hoods have built-in earmuffs or even space for earphones, for sensory deprivation. Almost all hoods have nose holes, for obvious reasons. Hoods can restrict a bottom's breathing quite seriously, and tops must remain continually aware of their bottom's condition while their bottom is wearing a hood--especially if the hood is combined with any form of gag. Do not leave a hooded bottom alone; breathing difficulty can come on quickly. Some people believe that any hood without a zipper or other extra-quick-release mechanism is too dangerous to use on a bottom. In any case, you should have some bandage scissors at the ready if the hood needs to be removed in a big hurry.

Bodybags: If you like being bound, the ultimate extreme is bondage which encompasses your entire body, leaving you with no motion whatever. Bondage bodybags (or "sleepsacks") resemble a well-tailored, snug sleeping bag, often made out of leather or spandex. Spandex bodybags are the least expensive, and if made from heavy enough spandex can be very restrictive indeed. Often bodybags have an opening at the upper end, through which you slide your feet, pulling the bag up to your neck. Many have other openings for genitals or nipples, so your botttom can be pleasured or tortured while immobile. Leather bodybags can be arbitrarily complex (and expensive); some have built-in internal arm sleeves to further minimize motion, or suspension straps so the bag, bottom and all, can be lifted into the air. Some have laces around the outside so the bag can be cinched to a downright painful tightness. If you REALLY have money to burn, you can even get inflatable rubber bodybags--get in it and pump it up, and float away! Caveats about breathing and quick-release apply here as well.

Hobble skirts: Fetish clothing is often designed not just to look good and feel good, but to act almost as bondage in its own right. Hobble skirts are a perfect example: they are simply skirts which fit very snugly from waist down to ankles. Often the wearer can take steps of only a few inches while wearing the skirt (thus the term "hobble skirt"). When combined with a pair of high heels, these skirts can be almost totally immobilizing, even without any other bondage. Leather or rubber are (again) the typical materials, though some dedicated tailors make their own from velvet or satin or other sensuous materials.

Armbinders: Restraints, typically leather, that bind both arms behind the back. Some resemble large gloves that pull up over both arms and buckle around the shoulders. Others are straps that go down the middle of the back and have attached wrist cuffs. In general, there are lots of kinds of bondage gear, and you can even invent your own....

Why is whipping fun?

One way of thinking about whipping is as another way of touching someone. People who are just getting into SM frequently play with spanking; it's fun to be spanked! It's a punishment, it's a strong stimulus, it hurts very pleasurably. But if you've ever spanked anyone for a long time you know that your spanking hand wears out quickly!

Well, that's what whips are for--to allow you to hit someone for a longer time, without tiring out. There are many varieties of whips (cat-o-nine tails, heavy floggers, canes, light braided switches, suede pussy whips, and on and on), all of which feel very different and which have their own individual effect. A whip-loving top will often carry a veritable arsenal of different floggers, but they are all extensions of the top's touch. Indeed, when I whip or cane someone, I feel as though I _am_ touching them--as though the instrument is an extension of my arm and my desire.

There are deeper reasons why the variety is so diverse. A whipping scene will often start off very lightly, with the top using a small whip to sensitize the bottom and get them into the rhythm of the scene, switching to heavier and heavier whips as the bottom gets deeper and deeper, more and more receptive to additional sensation. Of course, the top may choose to lead the bottom on any kind of tactile journey the top desires--switching from stinging light switches to biting canes to soft fleeces. (Yes, it can feel GREAT when your top stops hitting you and suddenly brushes a velvet cloth against your back! Or maybe an ice cube....) It's all about physical sensation.

Quite often people in the scene describe whips as being "thuddy" or "stingy". Thuddy whips land with a solid impact; they shove you, they feel like a cross between a hug and a punch. Stingy whips land with a bite; they feel like a cross between a scratch and a slap. Both kinds of sensation are enjoyable in different ways, and a skilled top can alternate thud and sting (and then some!) to create waves of sensation that wash their bottom into ecstasy.

Most people enjoy a slow buildup when being whipped. This can culminate in an explosive climax of impacts, leaving both top and bottom drained and delighted. Or it can wind down gently, ending casually. Or it can stop feeling good suddenly, resulting in a safweord. Or it can turn into a galloping intense sex scene! But the general "start slow, build up, end intensely" tempo is common to many SM scenes: from gentle to stronger to WOW and then back to gentle, then a little stronger, then WOW!!... and gentle again. It's the motion of the ocean, as they say. It takes practice to know how to use this to blow your bottom's mind, but the more you learn, the more skilled you will be, and believe me, these skills-- teasing your partner and making them feel better and better and BETTER --are very useful in non-SM contexts as well!

Whips aren't the end of the story. Some people use paddles--of leather or wood, sometimes with holes cut in them to decrease air resistance and make for a harder impact. Paddles produce a solid "smack!" which can feel like a super-powerful spanking. Some players like canes, which can be thick or thin, stiff or relatively flexible. Canes can produce some of the strongest impacts of all--the "whick!" of a quick-moving cane is distinctive. Not everyone can handle the intensely focused pain canes can produce, but those who can tend to greatly enjoy it. Wooden spoons and kitchen spatulas have been pressed into service as instruments of flagellation. For a while, erf bats were very popular in some San Francisco parties I went to. (Bonk!) If none of this makes any sense to you, well, if you have to ask, you might not understand.

Whipping or spanking is sometimes used as part of a "punishment" scene, in which the pretext for the scene is that the bottom has been disobedient or naughty in some way which requires chastisement. This can be fun to do as role-playing, but it may not work in a more long-term D&S dynamic. Bottoms often find it erotic to receive non-damaging sensation from their top--and of course any scene causing permanent damage is not safe nor sane. If your bottom learns that the best way to get enjoyably beaten is to misbehave, you will have a very bad bottom on your hands. It is often then best to separate "play" punishments--which are intended to be fun-- from "real" punishments involving seriously broken agreements. Here is where reality and fantasy need to be delicately separated, and here is where the real world differs from S&M fiction.

When whipping someone, be careful. Heavy whipping is usually done on the back or ass, simply because those are the parts of the body which can take it most readily. Be careful of hitting the spine, which can break the skin where the vertebrae come close to the surface. Stay away from the kidneys, as kidney damage can occur if you hit them too hard. Stay away from the neck, for the same reasons you avoided the spine.

Be aware that if you hit someone hard enough (which may be lighter than you'd think) you will bruise them, and if you keep going you can break the skin, which is decidedly unsafe sex; and leather or string whips are tough to clean. For this reason, some dedicated masochists have their own toys which have come in contact with their blood, and henceforth can be used only on them. Whippings like this are very strenuous, but as with all SM, you can start out light and get only as heavy as you want! Bruises will heal (even large ones), as will light cuts or abrasions, but you should know how to avoid unintended damage that won't be so accomodating.

One thing to watch for (a distant risk, but worth knowing): melanoma, a form of skin cancer, can be worsened by skin trauma. If you see a mole on your bottom's back that looks uneven, discolored, or different than it used to, avoid that area, and have them see a dermatologist.

There have been posts on s.s.b-b that go into MUCH more detail about the hows and whys of flogging. If you want to know more, post to s.s.b-b and ask, or check out the resources. (This FAQ is not intended to be comprehensive in every area... though it would be nice....)\

What is body piercing? What is "C&B" play, or "genitorture"?

Piercings aren't just done to ears. People on this list have their nipples, navels, eyebrows, clitoris hoods, penises, labia, and other body parts pierced, and bits of metal permanently in the piercings. These are the bare facts, but this practice, it turns out, has a lot to do with SM.

Getting a piercing, first of all, is an incredibly intense rush, on a purely physical level. It's a very powerful thing to willingly have someone push a sharp piece of metal through your body. It can be a level of sensation beyond any you've experienced in your life.

Once you have the piercing, it can completely change the way that part of the body feels to you. One friend of mine said that his nipple piercings turned his nipples from little places that felt OK to full-fledged erotic zones connected right to his cock. He calls his nipple piercings the best thing he's ever done for his body and his sex life, and he seems damn sincere! The same goes for all the piercings in the genital area; they can really make sex more fun.

There is some medical evidence that nerves around the pierced location become much more sensitive, so this isn't mere folklore. In case it wasn't clear, once a piercing heals, it doesn't hurt at all; quite the opposite!

Some people get into play piercings, which are done temporarily with very thin needles, which are removed at the end of the scene. This is basically another kind of sensory trip, which some find very enjoyable. The needles don't _hurt_, exactly, but you certainly do know they're in there, and they sure do get those endorphins pumping!

You don't want to try permanent piercings unless you've been personally trained by a professional; there is a lot of knowledge involved, and you definitely don't want to get stuck with a bad piercing. Play piercings are less hardcore, but you still want to make sure you know sterile technique (remember safe sex!).

Does nipple piercing cause problems with nursing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no; there are stories both ways. There are many milk ducts in an average nipple, so the chances are good that nursing can still happen, but nothing is certain.

For more information about piercings, see rec.arts.bodyart (or possibly later editions of this FAQ).

"C&B play" stands for cock & ball play. "Genitorture" stands for "genital torture". This is a subject that makes some men clutch their nuts and run in fear, and makes other men instantly erect and greedy for more. The male genitals are at once the most vulnerable and most sensitive part of the male body, so of course many tops enjoy playing with them.

Cockrings are rings that go around your cock, typically around the base of it, behind the balls. The penis becomes erect when the blood vessels at its base constrict (because of arousal), trapping blood in the cock and causing it to swell. Cock rings have a similar effect, prolonging erection in most men that use them. (They also constrict the urethra, which will make any orgasm more painful, or even cause ejaculate to back up into the bladder. This is not dangerous unless done repeatedly. Experiment to find out how much tightness is toomuch.)

Most are made of leather, with adjustable snaps, so you can tighten or loosen them to fit (as well as remove them easily). Some are made of rubber. Some are even made of metal, but metal ones can be hazardous; if you put a too-small one on your non-erect cock, your cock may become so erect that you can no longer remove it--and if it is too tight, it will prevent your cock from softening. This may involve a trip to the emergency room and the use of bolt cutters. No joke.

Some cock rings have multiple rings, for behind the balls, around the balls themselves, and around the base of the shaft. Some people like using _lots_ of cock rings, to stretch the balls out away from thebody.

Safety tips: The broadest guideline is to go slowly until you know how much you can take. If the pain from a particular activity starts to spread into other areas of the body, or if the pain lasts for a long time after the stimulation ends, you have probably gone beyond your limits. You won't reach this point generally if you take your time. As with any SM practice, if you find yourself in pain later, or if you notice any abnormalities in your cock or balls when flaccid or erect, see a doctor. Of course, avoid any practice that seriously wrenches or twists the genitals; there are many ligaments and blood vessels in there, damage to which may make it hard for you to get hard. But the cock and balls can handle light whipping or slapping, provided it is done with care.

Of course, cock and ball bondage can be done with leather strips, ribbons, velvet cords, etc. Be as ornamental as you please; tying up an erect cock can create a luscious work of art, and teasing it can be even more artistic. Don't expect C&B bondage to keep a cock hard indefinitely; cocks will usually get soft if not stimulated, and bondage which _will_ keep it hard may be dangerously tight. In any event, be sure you can remove your bondage quickly, as always.

A great deal can also be done with female genitalia. Some women love having clothespins on their pussy lips; some love light whipping on their outer labia, or even their clitoris. Sometimes body piercings can be used for bondage; labia piercings can hold a pussy open very delightfully, or clit hood piercings can be tied up out of the way with thread, leaving the clit naked and exposed. Some women like soft fur on their pussy; others like to be alternately soothed and tormented until they can stand no more.

Again, go slowly. Do NOT blow into the vagina, whatever else you do. Don't leave clamps on very long until you know how much your partner enjoys (and how it will feel to her the next day when the scene is over). Too much of one kind of sensation can become irritating quickly; change the stimulation, keep your bottom aroused and surprised. There are all _sorts_ of things that can be used on female genitals; one article I have lists "bamboo skewers, candles, cheese graters, clips, flyswatter, ice cubes, knives, latex squares, leather thongs, massage bongers, rabbit fur, ropes, scalp scrubber, silk, spoons, towels, weights, and whips" as items that can be useful in giving your bottom's genitals a ride they won't forget. (And no, you don't do this until you cause real damage, any more than you do with male genitals. Don't be scraping, scabbing, or scarring--these are the most sensitive parts of the body you're playing with!)

Communication is paramount in female genital play; women's pussies vary as much as any other part of womens' bodies (or more), and responses will vary equally dramatically. In general, the same sort of rhythm discussed in the whipping section is useful in cunt play, though if anything the top needs to go even more slowly, as the sensations will be more intense and focused than in almost any other kind of sensation scene.

One final tidbit: apparently, for many women, a common pre-orgasmic response is for the clit to retreat into its hood. If you are giving your partner some very delicious sensation (possibly combined with some just-right pain) and her clit disappears, DON'T STOP! (Unless you _want_ to avoid her orgasm... don't push this too far, unless your bottom's feet are tied down--she may kick.) And know your limits; if your bottom really wants an orgasm to end the scene, giving her one may make her EXTREMELY grateful to you, and waiting _too_ long may burn you both out. This is good stuff to negotiate about beforehand in any scene--how would you like the scene to end? Breaking such an agreement will engender mistrust, but honesty, as always, will help everyone get what they want.

What is cutting/play piercing/burning/branding/electrical play? What are "bloodsports"?

First questions first. Cutting is the SM practice of using a scalpel or other fine blade to make shallow cuts in the top layer of your partner's skin. Play piercing is using very fine needles to pierce your partner temporarily, removing the needles at scene's end. Burning is using high temperatures somehow in an SM scene; note that the goal here is to play with heat, not to actually burn your partner, since burns are not friendly injuries to heal. Branding is, well, branding--using small, shaped, highly heated pieces of metal to burn small scars into a partner's skin. Electrical play is playing with electricity. And finally, "bloodsports" is a generic name for any SM practice that involves blood.

Obviously, all these SM practices are potentially very very dangerous, as any of these things, done wrong, could result in permanent injury. Properly done, none of these practices result in any damage that requires more than minor first aid to clean up and cope with. Also, I cannot give enough information in this FAQ to explain how to do these practices safely. You need to learn from an experienced top, and you need to see it done in person, before you will really know how to play this way with your partners. That said, onward we go with a feeble attempt to cover some of the groundwork.

First, cutting and bloodsports. The ground rules: cleanliness and safety. Most cutters I've seen use rubbing alcohol or Betadine to clean the skin area on which they're going to cut. The top wears latex gloves to minimize contact with their partner's blood--remember, blood carries HIV, and cutting (bloodsports in general, actually) involves blood. The usual instrument for cutting is a surgical scalpel, which is sharp enough to make a smooth, clean cut; using duller blades can leave a ragged cut which doesn't heal as well. Cuts are made on areas of the body where the skin is not stretched tight; for example, the shoulder blade, or the buttock, or the front of the thigh (though this can be problematic). Cuts are NOT made anywhere that the skin becomes taut, since such places won't heal well (the cut'll keep getting pulled open). Only one layer of skin is cut--the very topmost layer. Deeper cuts don't heal well. And cuttings generally don't form loops, as the skin in the center of the loop can be cut off from its blood supply. When the cutting is complete, the whole area is generally bandaged.

Are you getting the extent of the possible screwups in a cutting scene? It's definitely as edge-y as edge play gets! If you want to know more, see _The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual_ (in the resource list at the end of part 3). The best safety advice: be taught by someone who knows how to do cuttings safely.

Play piercings are a milder (somewhat) form of bloodsports. Again, the bottom's skin must be cleaned, and the top must wear latex gloves. The needles used are sterile surgical needles available from medical supply stores or serious SM shops. The top pinches up a bit of skin (right around the nipples is one favored area), and slides the needle through. Each needle doesn't necessarily hurt that much, but your nerves definitely know it's there, and the endorphins start to flow very quickly. After a while, the needles are removed and put into a disposable sharps container, and the bottom gets bandaids if any are needed--generally the holes are small enough that they clot immediately. Again, the best way to learn this is from someone else who knows how, personally.

There are other forms of bloodsports. I've seen one scene in which a top (after cleaning their bottom's skin and donning the requisite latex gloves) used a syringe to draw some of their bottom's blood, then fed their bottom their own blood. This scene was as hardcore as bloodsports gets, yet was (as far as I could see) very safe from the standpoint of AIDS transmission. And I can only assume that that top had had some medical training--I will not even BEGIN to talk about safety considerations for drawing blood, since I have no idea what they are.

Now, on to burning--actually, temperature play in general. Molten wax can be mild or intense. The higher you hold the candle, the cooler the drops will be--to a certain extent. They'll definitely make your bottom yelp no matter what! Don't use beeswax candles, though--they melt at a much higher temperature. If you like hot wax, you might like ice cubes, too....

Branding is an extreme form of temperature play. There are only a few people nationwide who do a lot of branding; Fakir Musafar, in the San Francisco area, is one. His magazine Body Play has some great articles about branding techniques. Basically, short curved pieces of metal are heated with a blowtorch, then pressed into the skin so as to make an ornamental burn. I really don't know much more about the safety concerns or possible snafus, so I'll mention no more here. Don't go off half-cocked and try ANY of these practices without doing the legwork yourself to talk to experienced players.

Electrical play is using electricity of one form or another to generate sensation. This is another advanced form of play which can be fatal (lethal, deadly, murderous) if done improperly. Any electrical play that involves current flowing through the body should ONLY BE DONE BELOW THE WAIST; any current above the waist or through the heart can induce immediate cardiac arrest.

There are two main kinds of electrical toys I've seen. One is a TENS unit (Trans-Electric Nerve Stimulator, or something like that); these units typically are battery-powered, with control of pulse intensity and pulse frequency, and two leads that can be attached to electric cock rings, dildoes, or what have you. These can produce sensations ranging from a mild tingle to a thrilling trembling buzz to a serious jolt. Remember, below the waist only! And I wouldn't even use any such unit unless its sole power source was a 9V (or weaker) battery; no way am I letting anything plugged into a wall socket send power through my body!

The other sort of toy is known as a "violet wand"; these rather resemble hand-held power tools with little glass bulbs sticking out of one end. When turned on, the bulb glows violet and crackles; touching it will cause static sparks to jump to your skin, with an associated "zap!" and a sharp shock. These do not send current through the body, and are safe for use anywhere except the eyes or major nerve clusters (i.e. the top of the spine)--though prolonged use will burn the skin.

What is it about breath control? Is it safe to make someone pass out?

Some people enjoy playing with cutting off their air during heavy scenes. This can be as simple as squeezing someone's neck while you kiss them deeply, or as complex as a full-head latex hood and gas mask over a straitjacket. As your air is cut off, you can feel sensation more intensely; it is also a deeply intimate thing to allow someone else to be in control of the very air you breathe. One simple explanation is that the body's natural reaction as orgasm approaches is shallow, rapid breathing--just like in breath control.

Needless to say, there are many things that can go very wrong; if you pass out and someone isn't there to cut you loose and make sure you're breathing, you can die. Not for novices. One simple way to start is to try squeezing your lover's neck gently as you make love to them. If it feels good, they will let you know, most demonstratively. And you can stop instantly just by letting go. In _any_ form of breath control, it is critical that all equipment be fail-safe, and that the bottom's breathing is only impaired by the top's _direct_ action--not by anything (noose, gas mask, etc) that would continue to obstruct air if the top (for example) fainted suddenly.

Many people die each year practicing "autoerotic asphyxiation"--wherein someone will masturbate while restricting their own breathing, and one night they wait too long to take the bag off their head or release the pressure on their neck, and they black out and die. Some think, "Well, just play with a partner, then, if you want to black out." However, losing consciousness, even for a moment, _can_ trigger cardiac arrest. This is why making your bottom black out is almost certainly a much riskier idea than you would think.

The same goes for anesthesia. Sometimes people think, "Hmm, it'd be hot if I could drug my play partner--like in the movies--and she'd wake up all bound!" Even if your play partner likes this idea, don't do it. There is no safe way to force someone into unconsciousness; anesthesiologists spend their lives learning how to do it, with the best equipment, and still mishaps occur. Don't play with ether, or chloroform, or suffocation to unconsciousness... unless you and your partner really want to take a substantial risk of death. More experienced people than you have died.

What are "golden showers"? How about "scat"?

Another kind of play, also known as "water sports". Basically, some people enjoy urinating on their lovers, or having their lovers piss on them. Pissing is really a very intimate thing; your urine is a part of you, it's warm and wet, it feels good to let it out, it comes from your genitals. Some get a thrill of power from having someone bound beneath them who can do nothing but take it as the shower lets loose; others get off on being made to pee, to wet their pants, it's naughty and they need to be punished for it.

Safety-wise, urine is essentially sterile; it's not necessarily free of HIV, so it's not safer sex to drink someone else's urine. Also, urine contains mostly salts that your body is trying to eliminate, so drinking it again will strain your kidneys. If you're drinking urine, make sure to drink lots of water as well.

Some people are into scat play, which is playing with shit. I don't know any who are, but they're out there. Scat is obviously even less safe than water sports; in particular, hepatitis and intestinal parasites can be spread by oral contact with even a tiny bit of feces. People who enjoy rimming (oral-anal contact) should be aware of this, and clean themselves VERY thoroughly at the least, although even thorough cleaning will not eliminate all risk. For more on this, see the next question.

Is anal sex safe? Why do people do it?

Anal sex, practiced properly, is as safe as any other kind of sex. And people do it because it feels good--the anus can be an intensely erogenous zone. In fact, far more straight people than gay people practice anal sex! The anus contains more nerve endings than any other part of the male body, and more than any part of the female body except the clitoris. It's no wonder that anal sex is a part of many peoples' sex lives.

"Anal sex" can range from simply stroking your or your partner's anus with a lubricated finger, to actually sliding some fingers inside your partner and stroking them, to full anal intercourse. All these things are physically very pleasurable, and if you simply wash your butt, there's nothing repulsive about them. The anal taboo is very old, but there is no necessary medical reason for it if you know what you're doing. If you're concerned about staying clean, by all means make sure you've gone to the bathroom before playing, and wash your ass--outside and, if you wish, inside, with an enema. If you want to feel clean in order to enjoy anal sex, it's not hard to be as clean as you want. (It is also very important, though, to use safe sex techniques, which I describe a bit further on.)

The main guidelines for anal sex are Communication, Relaxation, Lubrication. You see, your anus consists of two rings of muscle, dubbed the external and internal sphincters. Your external sphincter is under your voluntary control--you can relax it at will. But your internal sphincter is _not_ under voluntary control. If you are tense, your internal sphincter will be tight, and trying to force anything into it will hurt, which will make you (and it) even _more_ tense. So the rule in anal sex is to go slowly; you can't force your way into enjoying it.

Communication: talk about what you're going to do before you do it! Don't just roll your partner over and surprise them; they won't be relaxed and it won't be fun. Make sure you both are comfortable with the idea of anal play. Relaxation: listen to your body. If your ass wants to be played with, you will know; if it doesn't, don't rush anything. Lubrication: your anus doesn't lubricate, so you need to use a WATER-SOLUBLE lubricant such as KY Jelly or Probe. Use LOTS of it; it's clean! The more lube you use, the more comfortable you will be. And finally, communication again: if you haven't played with your anus before, the sensations will be intense and strange. You may feel like you are having a bowel movement when your partner slides their fingers out of you; it takes some experience to realize that this feeling is deceptive and that what you're feeling won't result in a soiled bedsheet.

It's not enough to just clean your anus, though; your partner should also use a latex barrier (a glove for fingering, a dental dam or a piece of (non-microwaveable) Saran Wrap for licking, and a condom for fucking) when having sex with you. This is true in general, but especially true for anal sex; unprotected anal sex is the riskiest kind of sex with regard to transmitting STDs of any sort. Also, using protection often increases the sensation of safety and clean- liness, which helps many people relax and enjoy the experience more. (Some say that anal play isn't as risky as all that. The facts are that in some cities intestinal parasites, spread by unprotected anal sex, have been considered a serious sexually transmitted public health problem, with thousands of people infected. Decide for yourself how much risk you want to accept.) And anything that has come in contact with the anus should be cleaned thoroughly (or thrown away, in the case of latex barriers) before coming into contact with the mouth or vagina.

I already mentioned that it's not a good idea to force anything. Let me be more emphatic: if you feel pain in your ass while you're having anal sex, STOP. Too-rough anal sex can stress and possibly tear the anal lining, which can lead to very serious infections. Anal sex does NOT mix with force, and should NEVER be used as a way to inflict pain. And if you find yourself bleeding from the rectum, go see a doctor IMMEDIATELY. (Don't be embarrassed--they've seen it all before... just get yourself taken care of!)

That said, I need to clarify what I meant by STOP if you feel pain. That is what you should do: stop moving. The pain may just be your sphincter muscle complaining about stretching a bit, and when you stop pushing it will stop hurting--and possibly relax some more. If it doesn't stop hurting when you stop moving, THEN you want to pull out (slowly) and take appropriate action. If it does stop, wait a little, then begin again... your ass will let you know if it wants to stop altogether. (So pay attention to it! Getting drunk is NOT a good idea, as you don't want to block out any pain you may feel. The FAQ List No-Prize for Worst Sexual Product goes to an "anal lube" that contained oil (and therefore couldn't be used with gloves or condoms), AND which advertised itself as being best for anal sex BECAUSE it contained benzocaine "for greater comfort"! If anyone did hurt themselves through using it, I hope they sued the hell out of the company.)

If you want more information about anal anything, see Jack Morin's book, listed at the very end of the FAQ.

What is "fisting"?

Everyone (well, almost everyone) knows what finger-fucking is. Whether in ass or pussy, it's terrifically enjoyable to stroke someone inside. (Fingers up a man's ass, if aimed properly, will tickle his prostate gland, which feels AMAZINGLY good... just a little tip!) And people are generally comfortable with the idea of finger-fucking with more than one finger. But not as many people have been exposed to the idea of inserting a _whole hand_ into the ass or pussy... which is, in simplest terms, what fisting is. Yes, it's anatomically possible, and yes, it's EXTREMELY pleasurable. (I haven't experienced it, save vicariously.)

That said, it's now very important to explain what fisting is _not_. You do _not_ make a fist and ram it home. Fisting is one of the most intimate and complete ways to touch another human being, and it is something that has to be worked up to slowly and gently. There have been many posts about fisting on s.s.b-b, talking about the proper technique, the safety concerns, the fantastic feeling of openness and connection, the magical plane that two people fisting can attain... it's an incredibly intense way to make love. I can't do justice to the firsthand descriptions others have written, but I can mention some of the safety concerns.

First of all, cut and file all your nails until every finger is as smooth as it could _possibly_ be. Your fingers will be in some very delicate places--places that may not have pain receptors. You want to make sure you minimize all chance of causing damage.

Use latex gloves. AIDS is a matter of life and death.

You will probably want to clean your bottom's GI tract out. What else are enemas for? Be gentle with enemas; warm water is best. Don't use detergent in enemas. Some people enjoy putting alcohol (booze, not rubbing alcohol!) in enemas; if you do, use a VERY VERY VERY DILUTED solution, since it will get absorbed _real_ fast, and the bottom won't be able to expel it if they get too drunk. (I don't know a precise dosage, since this seems a bit too risky for me.)

Use LOTS (and I mean __LOTS__) of lube. Push it in with your fingers. Make a huge mess. Get it all over your hand, the back of your hand, between your fingers. Keep applying it as you go. You can't have too much lube. Remember, oil-based lubricants dissolve latex. Some people like KY jelly; others say it dries out too quickly. In the UK, a substance called "Aqueous Cream" is the creme de la creme. Others use "J-Lube," which is a powdered concentrate that when added to water produces incredibly slippery goo; it's sold in veterinary supply houses! (Some people still use Crisco with latex gloves, on the theory that the Crisco is just the best lube, and the gloves don't break down _that_ fast. This is risky, but it's an option.)

Go slowly. Start with one finger and work up. DON'T RUSH. Be sensitive to your bottom's feelings. You are trying to persuade part of their body to open for you, to admit part of you deeply inside it. The energy will move back and forth, and you'll ride it, coaxing and pushing, in and out, moving your bottom into a trance. Keep communi- cating with your bottom; gags, or role-playing where the bottom feels inferior or is told to stay quiet, are not conducive to the kind of relaxation and open empathy you'll need.

If your bottom suddenly hits their limit, you'll know; their orifice will clench tight shut suddenly. DON'T PULL OUT. Stay right where you are until the contraction ends, THEN start pulling out. You can pull a muscle or two if you try to back out in the middle of a reaction like that. If this happens, it's OK; you'll know to go slower next time (if you both want to try again). But assuming all is well....

When you reach five fingers, you're almost there. Now is when you want to be most sensitive and most aware. Your bottom is going to be flying on pain and pleasure; a sudden flinch and you'll find the asshole (or whatever) doesn't want you anymore. Respect that, and pull out (slowly!). But if your bottom's bottom wants it, then you'll slip your knuckles inside, folding your thumb inside your fingers, and (so I've been told) your hand will NATURALLY form a fist--you DON'T need to clench your hand or anything else!

Now the real fun begins... explore, entice, pleasure your bottom, who will be in heaven... and when it comes time to pull out, do so slowly and naturally!

If you have more questions (as always), post to s.s.b-b; there have been some GREAT pieces on fisting in the past, and there will be more if you ask for them.

Does the way I play qualify as "real" SM? What is "real" SM, anyway?

Sometimes on a.s.b, people will post wondering if what they do is "heavy" enough to be worth talking about. How can a mere novice who just got spanked for the first time presume to post about how it felt, when there are people out there who wouldn't even have noticed it?

The answer to that is twofold. First, there are an infinite number of ways to play. This is one of the reasons I like SM to mean Sex Magick; Magick doesn't need to involve pain, or intensity, or bondage, or role-playing, or anything at all. Sex Magick is whatever you do that fulfills a fantasy of yours. **There is no right or wrong way to do SM, as long as it is consensual.** If you agree to it, and if it feels good (during and after the scene), it's the right thing for you to be doing. This FAQ list is really just a series of suggestions; take them or leave them, it's totally up to you.

(There are players out there who get way heavier than I ever will--into realms that I personally consider unsafe and even a little insane. Heck, for some people, being whipped is an insane idea. But the most important thing is the consensuality and the mutuality of the play--that everyone involved in the play _wants_ to be doing what they're doing, and that everyone can call it quits if need be. What other people think is not relevant; it is _their_ play, and _their_ choice as to what risks they wish to assume.)

Second, the "intensity" of a scene has very little to do with the level of "physical sensation" involved. Again, the magic is in the way it makes you _feel_. We were all novices once; we all know the thrill of trying something new, taking your dreams and making them real. _That_ is what makes SM intense and enjoyable--that ineffable rush of new horizons unfolding, the incredible sensation of trusting someone else with your body and your mind, or of receiving the gift of control over someone else. It doesn't matter whether you get there through S or M or B or D or none of the above; once you're there, it's fantastic! AND, it's worth posting about!

Sometimes, discussion on a.s.b veers into a heated debate about what is involved in "real" dominance and submission or "real" BDSM play. The fact is, given the diversity of players and playstyles in "the scene"--and in fact the number of _separate_ "scenes" in "the scene"--it is hard to pinpoint any one behavior as the benchmark by which "real" is defined. The principal common thread I can see is that people into SM are seeking to explore their fantasies about power and/or sexuality, to bring some of their dreams into their personal lives.

One thing is sure: attempting to set strict boundaries around what is and isn't "real" SM, or what is and isn't "true" submission or pain play or roleplay, is an endeavor fraught with peril. More often than not, people who believe they know the definition of "true" SM are interested in flaming others who disagree, rather than in honestlysharing their perceptions while remaining open to the views of others. As with any labels or preset "norms" of human behavior, one can debate endlessly about whether the "norm" is really "normal", or one can speak from one's personal experience. The latter generally leads to better and more revealing discussions.

One topic that does come up in this context, though, is whether only consensual SM is real SM--or rather, whether the term "SM" excludes any behaviors that are not consensual. As I stated in the beginning of this FAQ, I use "SM" here to refer to acts between consenting adults; most a.s.b posters and people in the scene likewise use "SM" as short for "consensual SM." There is no doubt that many people who practice consensual BDSM enjoy fantasies involving acts of nonconsensual bondage, dominance, submission, sadism, and/or masochism. But when it comes to real life, consent is of fundamental importance. A story may include nonconsensual acts and yet be an SM story; an SM relationship can become abusive while remaining an SM relationship; but when people here on a.s.b and in the larger scene talk about SM as it ought to be and should be (and in my experience, as it usually is), they mean consensual, healthy SM.

Some people state, "SM originally referred to the practices described in the writing of the Marquis de Sade [to whom consent was irrelevant], so modern SM people are lying when they say consent is important in 'real' SM!" They're simply playing the "change the definition of 'real' to one which I can flame about" game. Besides, if we _were_ all lying in order to deceive people into playing with us (so we could then abuse them), we would be doing ourselves a massive disservice by educating people about consent and about negotiation--knowledge which would serve to protect people from us! You'll need to judge whether we mean what we say about the importance of consent.

A frequently heard acronym on a.s.b is "YKINOK"--which stands for "Your Kink Is Not OK." a.s.b is largely composed of postings by people whose sexual practices are considered unhealthy or at least weird by many others. We recognize here that different people really do have different sexualities, and different preferences. Hence, we try to avoid blanket statements such as "Behavior X is WRONG!" or "Behavior X is NOT OK!" or more generally, "_Your_ kink is NOT OK!" We would instead say, "Your kink would not be OK _for me_. Here are some of the risks I see in that kink. How do you deal with them?" From that point, discussion and education can flow, as they cannot from a flat YKINOK. (And conversely, we don't say, "Your kink IS OK!"--since there are almost _no_ behaviors that _everyone_ enjoys. The OK-ness of consensual practices is, and must be, determined on an _individual_ basis.)

What is it about leather/latex/high heels/corsets/other fetishes?

All these things--erotic clothing or objects of whatever type--are "fetishes". A fetish is any object which has sexual connotations for you. If it makes you feel sexy to wear it, or to see it on someone else, it's a fetish. There's nothing wrong with having fetishes; in fact, it's a rare person who _doesn't_ have any! Some people are turned on by armpits; some by painted toenails; some by good old lingerie. The techniques of negotiation and communication that I've already talked about can also come in handy in exploring your particular fetishes, whatever they are.

Leather is one of the most basic fetishes in the scene. Leather skirts, leather chaps, leather harnesses, leather cuffs, on and on. Likewise for latex. Much of the appeal of these two substances, it seems to me, is in their tightness and their shininess; clothes made out of them enhance your awareness of your sensual self, and restraints made out of them can cling like a second skin. In general, leather and latex are two really big categories of fetish--and a fetish is defined as something that turns some people on; if you have to ask, you probably won't understand!

Leather clothes absorb fluids; don't get them wet. Plain water will damage the leather; blood or other bodily fluids will also leave their scent in the leather. You can use saddle soap and water to clean your leather, and neats-foot oil to keep it supple and in good condition.

Latex doesn't absorb water-based fluids, but oils will damage it, and prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause it to break down. When putting your latex on, apply lots of talc to yourself and to the insides of your latex; this will make it easy to slide it on. Don't pull the latex with your nails, or it'll rip; likewise make sure you cut your toenails before putting on latex stockings. After removing latex clothes, wash them with water to remove oils, then dry them (and some say powder them) for storage.

There are also PVC clothes ("wetlook" clothes), which are usually black, shiny, and stretchy. PVC is basically plastic-coated fabric, and is washable, as well as relatively inexpensive.

Of course, good old lingerie can be very arousing indeed. It's often true that a little clothing is even sexier than none at all. Erotic costumes and attire can add a lot of spark to a scene; they can set the stage like nothing else. The mind is the biggest erogenous zone, and role-playing and mock acting can be very very hot. whether combined with any other elements of SM, or not.

As for corsets and high heels: they're both restrictive garments that enhance the curves of the body, and that work really well as part of SM play--they can enhance the domineering tread of a mistress or hobble the steps of a slave. They are some of the classic fetish items. High enough heels can make it altogether impossible to walk, which can be very sexy! Corsets, properly applied, can dramatically change the shape of your body, while intensifying sensation through- out. And corsets and high heels, like any fetish, can be combined with many many different kinds of scenes.

Other fetishes: dirty jockstraps, boxer shorts on women, formal clothes on men, cowboy gear, uniforms (police/military/what-have-you), nurses' outfits, harem girl attire... the list goes on and on. If it turns you on to wear it or to see your partner wearing it, why not make it part of a scene? (A button I heard about recently: "Are you into casual sex... or should I dress up?")

In general with fetishes, anything goes! If you find yourself becoming more involved with a fetish than you want to be, then you can take steps to look at your behavior and determine if you want to change it. But if you like it, and your partner likes it (or likes that you like it), and if it's consensual all around, then go for it! And if you like fetish clothing, check out the alt.sex.fetish.fashion newsgroup--it's young, but it's growing....

What about shaving body hair and/or crossdressing?

Another fetish many people have is smooth skin, with no body hair. Shaven skin is silky soft, completely and utterly naked, and very vulnerable. Shaven legs, armpits, or genitals can feel very different indeed than hairy ones... and since the name of the game is sensation, naturally shaving and SM can go together!

Since shaving is conventionally a female activity, it carries an added charge when men are shaved. It can be at once humiliating and enormously arousing. Many men enjoy shaving themselves in order to play with cross-dressing (dressing as a woman); hence I mention these two topics together. Shaving first.

How to shave? Use a sharp razor and a bowl of hot water; splash water over your leg (or wherever) and lather with shaving cream. Then shave _with_ the direction of the hair (i.e. shave down the leg towards the ankle, or shave from the navel towards the crotch); going against the direction of the hair can lead to ingrown hairs when it starts to grow back. Shave with short strokes, dipping the razor frequently in the bowl to remove the hair. If you shave only seldom, you may go through a couple of razor blades doing your legs alone.

Some people who shave infrequently use an electric razor first to remove most of the hair, then a hand razor for the remainder and on the sensitive areas. (Electric razors tend to pull hair, and they are most annoying on genitals.) Some people swear by waxing (using sticky wax to pull hair out) or by other non-shaving methods of hair removal; to each their own. Shaving can be part of a scene; I've seen many gay-male SM movies with big male tops forcibly shaving their prisoners, and I've also seen dominatrixes washing then shaving their bottom's asses. (It's hard to reach back there yourself, and being bound while a razor GENTLY strokes your most sensitive region is... well... VERY intense!) Then once they're shaven, you can go on to all sorts of other fun.

About crossdressing: many men enjoy dressing in female clothes, either because the clothes feel good, look good, or are humiliating to wear. Whatever the reason, there's no doubt that lots of people enjoy this sort of thing. Makeup is often part of this sort of play, as well. Many women also enjoy dressing up as men; switching gender roles can open up a vast range of possibilities. Some people call this "genderfuck"--i.e. fucking with one's perceptions of gender, or fucking someone who's assuming a different gender, or both.

There is a spectrum of attitudes among those who play like this. Some just enjoy wearing opposite-sex clothes because they feel nice. Some fantasize about actually being a person of the opposite sex, and use those fantasies in their scenes. Some people want to take it to the point of going out in public dressed as, and acting like, the other gender so accurately that they pass--i.e. are mistaken for the gender that they're assuming. They may find doing this enjoyable because of the fun in faking people out, and/or the thrill of successfully transforming oneself into one's fantasy image.

Some people actually feel that their biological sex is fundamentally at odds with the gender they feel themselves to be. They may feel like a man who happened to be born with a woman's body, or vice versa. These people are known as transsexuals, and may have operations to change their bodies and genitals to more closely correspond to the gender they most identify with. Transsexuals are still very widely stigmatized; it is not easy to live in this very gender-based and sex-role-oriented society if you don't conform to the standard pattern, and transsexuals definitely do not. And while many of the kinds of genderfuck I mentioned are "play", transsexuals are not playing; their gender identity is a vitally serious issue to them. (Though when they _want_ to play, there are few people who know more about it :-)

It's important to realize that these groups of people are distinct; just because a man enjoys wearing panties underneath his business suit does not mean he has any desire to get a sex change operation. As with all aspects of human sexuality, gender and gender play encompasses a wide array of levels, and honest communication is the only way to know what a particular person is into.

Gender play can be combined with all the other things in this list to create some extraordinarily powerful sex magick. As always, listen to your desires, decide how much you actually want to make real (and how quickly), communicate, and play!

Why am I defending SM?

One of the problems with SM is the social programming against it. Our culture isn't used to the idea that sex is fun and pushing one's limits in search of pleasure is a damned enjoyable thing to do. Moreover, there are lots of peoplpe who confuse fantasy and reality where SM is concerned, and who think that SM players do likewise.

In this FAQ posting I have attempted to explain the ways I and my friends feel about SM. I am doing this because I used to know very little about SM; I only knew I was interested. Through s.s.b-b and lots of new friends and LOTS of wonderful experiences, I learned. My life has been enriched and my relationships deepened and strengthened by my experience with SM. Now I want to describe all that in as open and frank a manner as I know how.

If you believe SM is sick or disgusting, that is your prerogative. This FAQ makes clear how it is not generally unhealthy to its practitioners; it is up to you whether you accept this information or not. You do not, however, have the right to stifle or censor those who would discuss this aspect of themselves, because of your personal opinion about their practices.

If you don't think you'd like it, that's more than fine with me; I would just ask that you be open to what the SM community may have to teach about consensuality, negotiation, safety, and exploration.

When I first started fantasizing about SM-related activities I was very young indeed--under ten years old. I don't know where these aspects of my sexuality came from; certainly not from my family. But when I started learning about SM, I was first excited that there were others out there who enjoy these things, and then depressed that there is lots of wrong and harmful information out there about SM people and what we do. This FAQ list is my attempt to help spread some better information, in the hopes that the more everyone knows about what SM really is (and what it is not), the harder it will be for people to use twisted facts to condemn others because of their sexuality.

Also, there are things I'm describing that I don't enjoy (at least not yet :-) This is not the FAQ List of the Gods, so don't take it as such; listen to what I say and draw your own conclusions. And fer pete's sake, post to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm with your questions and thoughts and fantasies and dreams; the blood of s.s.b-b is always freshened by new posters! (It helps distract us from the flame wars!)

Is SM degrading or abusive? Were most SM people abused?

Often people approach SM with nothing but negative stereotypes in their mind. The will-less slave dominated by the overbearing thoughtless master. The pervert who enjoys being hit because he thinks he deserves no better. These images, negatively charged with connotations of abuse, do not reflect the reality of consensual SM.

First, were SM people abused as children? This is a common stereotype. Straw polls of people on s.s.b-b seem to indicate no particular pattern of abuse, and there have been very few, if any, scientific studies of the question. Some people see an increased correlation, but there is little actual evidence.

This stereotype is usually just _assumed_ to be true, as an expression of SM-negativity--"Oh, anyone who likes that must have been really damaged as a kid." Similar claims were once widely made about homosexuals and homosexuality. (As one data point, I personally wasn't abused as a child, for which I'm grateful. And I'm very into various aspects of SM, for which I'm also grateful.) In general, in fact, no one seems to have any idea of why some people enjoy SM behaviors or fantasies, and others don't. Rather like no one really knows what determines sexual orientation, or preferred body type, or much of anything else where human sexuality is concerned. The notion of a "normal" sexuality is widely overrated... the range of variations is incredible.

Once you actually look at people who are involved in SM, and at what they do, you realize that what is actually happening is a powerful expression of love, which expands into sensual realms outside the ordinary. True SM is consensual, strengthening, and sustaining; true degradation is _not_. Therein lies the difference, and it is truly an all-important difference.

Occasional debates on s.s.b-b revolve around the (relatively few) people who practice full-time dominant/submissive relationships. Such relationships require lots of self-inquiry and self-examination to see that both partners are benefiting and growing. Sometimes the claim is made that such BDSM relationships are just ways for the dominant to break down their submissive's will, and to accept abuse because the submissive (according to the dominant, and perhaps also in the submissive's own opinion) deserves no better. (This is essentially what a wife-battering husband does: he takes control of his wife's self-perception, and convinces her that the abuse is the necessary price to be paid for her to remain with him; it is no more than her due. And moreover, she is not to complain.)

This kind of relationship is _not_ a consensual BDSM relationship; the dominant in a consensual relationship listens to and respects the limits of their bottom, and does not seek to break down the bottom's personality, but rather to build it up through the kind of relationship that both enjoy and desire. Such relationships almost always contain an "escape clause," such that if the bottom is truly feeling deprived or abused, the bottom can ask to set the roles aside and talk with the top as equals. (In other words, a relationship safeword.) Such concern for clear communication when things don't go well (as well as when they do) is the hallmark of a healthy BDSM relationship. And every text I have read about long-term BDSM relationships stresses the importance of emotional safety issues. (As I mentioned previously, people who have issues around their sense of self should be aware that SM is potentially risky in that area. Of course, _any_ relationship is potentially risky for such people....)

Doing SM as part of a mutual, consensual relationship can be enormously affirming. SM can be a way to give yourself to your lover more deeply than you ever thought you could, and can give outlet to fantasies you never imagined could come true. This kind of active, dynamic self-expression can give a tremendous boost to the self-esteem and the psychological well-being of both partners. Getting what you want out of your sex life may not be a cure-all, but it can sure help a lot. I recommend the book _Ties that Bind_, listed at the end of the FAQ, to people exploring these issues.

(Some call all this doubletalk, denying that _anyone_ could ever _really_ benefit from submitting to a lover whom they trust. All I can say to that is, my personal experience is far otherwise, as is that of many of my friends, and many professional therapists acknowledge that it's quite possible for a submissive in a consensual relationship to be very psychologically healthy. Decide for yourselves whether we are to be believed.)

Another root of the negative stereotypes is simple aversion to sexuality in general. The concepts of "limits" and "negotiation" are inherently revolutionary, in a world where many people can't bring themselves to talk about _anything_ related to sex. Yet without understanding these concepts, it's hard to understand SM. Everyone who first looks at SM needs to do some amount of pushing past their prejudices; for some it's harder than for others.

Some people wonder how women into SM can consider themselves feminists. Isn't feminism about controlling your sexuality, about not submitting to anyone else, ever? Personally, I believe (and _many_ women on s.s.b-b agree) that feminism is about empowering women to make their _own_ choices, to live life their own way, without being limited by ideas about what women "should" do or how they "ought" to behave. And in that light, it makes little difference whether the limiting ideas are those of the patriarchal CEO or the "radical feminist" criticizing SM in _Ms._ magazine; both the CEO and the writer are attacking womens' right to do as _they_ choose.

At this point I want to include some material sent out by the Leather/Fetish Celebration committee about abuse in the SM community. This is valuable stuff for anyone interested in distinguishing consensual SM from abuse; while no list of questions can substitute for personal inquiry and knowledge of the people involved, this list is at least thought-provoking. (There is no consent-o-meter to determine whether someone is consenting to SM behavior; the best we poor humans can do is look at situations on a case-by-case basis.)

Thanks, Leonard.

The Celebration Wants You to Know About... Domestic Violence in the S/M Community
Domestic violence is not the same as consensual s/m. Yet, abusive relationships do exist within the leather-s/m community, as with all groups. Unfortunately, due to our sexual orientation, abused persons who are into s/m may suffer additional isolation and may hesitate to turn to available resources for fear of rejection or of giving credence to stereotypes. No group is free of domestic battering; but fear, denial, and lack of knowledge have slowed public response to this serious social problem.
Domestic violence is not restricted to one particular group within the s/m community. A person's size, gender, or particular sex role (top-bottom, butch-femme) is irrelevant; anyone can be subject to abuse.
Abuse tends to be cyclical in nature and escalates over time. It is a pattern of intentional intimidation for the purpose of dominating, coercing, or isolating another without her or his consent. Because of the intimidation factor, where there is abuse in any part of the relationship, there can be no consent.
Defining the Problem: The following questions can help a person to define the problem, which can have characteristics that are physical, sexual, economic, and psychological.
Does your partner ever hit, choke, or otherwise physically hurt you outside of a scene? Has she or he ever restrained you against your will, locked you in a room, or used a weapon of any kind?
Are you afraid of your partner?
Are you confused about when a scene begins and ends? Rape and forced sexual acts are not part of consensual s/m. Battering is not something that can be "agreed" upon; there is an absence of safe words or understandings. Has she or he ever violated your limits? Do you feel trapped in a specific role as either the top or bottom? Does your partner constantly criticize your performance, withhold sex as a means of control, or ridicule you for the limits you set? Do you feel obligated to have sex? Does your partner use sex to make up after a violent incident? Does your partner isolate you from friends, family, or groups? Has your partner ever destroyed objects or threatened pets? Has your partner abused or threatened your children?
Does your partner limit access to work or material resources? Has he or she ever stolen from you or run up debts?
Are you or your partner emotionally dependent on one another?
Does your relationship swing back and forth between a lot of emotional distance and being very close? Is your partner constantly criticizing you, humiliating you, and generally undermining your self-esteem? Does your partner use scenes to express/cover up anger and frustration? Do you feel that you can't discuss with your partner what is bothering you?
No one has the right to abuse you. You are not responsible for the violence. You are not alone; connect with other survivors. There are reasons for staying in abusive relations: fear of (or feelings for) the abuser, and lack of economic or emotional resources. If you stay, help is still available. Find out about shelters, support groups, counselors, anti-violence programs, and crisis lines in your area; ask a friend to help you make these calls. Plan a strategy if you have to leave quickly. Line up friends and family in case of an emergency.
Battering is a crime. Find out about your legal rights and options. You can get the court to order the person to stop hurting you through an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order. You do not need a lawyer.
We Can Reduce Domestic Violence: Domestic violence does exist in the s/m-leather-fetish community. We can make it clear that we will listen to those who have the courage to speak out. Understand that leaving is difficult. Let the person make his or her own choices. Keep all information confidential. Encourage survivors to take legal action and seek support. Help find safe housing and legal advocacy. Hold batterers accountable and urge them to seek treatment. Deny that drug or alcohol use can excuse battering. Support changes in that person's behavior.
Leather groups in our community are crucial to reducing domestic violence. Invite knowledgeable speakers; lead discussions; print up a list for members of what resources in your area are s/m-supportive. Educate your local legal and social service system about our lifestyle; encourage their appropriate intervention.
Safe Link is a clearinghouse for materials and questions about domestic violence, specifically for persons who are into leather, s/m, or fetish sexuality. It offers a list of readings and is currently compiling a roster of supportive speakers, shelters, and therapists, and information on understanding and using the law. Write to Safe Link c/o the Domestic Violence Education Project, National Leather Association, 548 Castro Street #444, San Francisco, CA 94114; or call the NLA at 415/863-2444, or email nlaintl@netcom.com
Posted by ixion@dorsai.dorsai.org, from the program of the Int'l S/M-Leather-Fetish Celebration; Text provided by Jan Hall. The Celebration specifically authorizes and encourages the reproduction and redistribution of this information.

Why is SM taboo, and is SM criminal, unnatural, immoral, unethical, or unhealthy?

If what I've been saying in this FAQ is accurate, then why haven't more people heard this? Why are the prevailing images of SM so negative?

There is no doubt that they _are_ negative. Not long ago I was informed that there are some members of the Winnipeg (Canada) police department who believe that soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm is "a textbook on how to torture women for sexual pleasure. It's obscene." Said police were considering how to deal with s.s.b-b on obscenity grounds. In England in 1991, a group of gay men who had gathered for an SM play party in which they were using whips for pleasure were arrested and charged with battery, EVEN THOUGH they had all agreed to be doing exactly what they were doing, and WANTED to be doing it. Consensual SM is illegal in England. How can this be?

The crucial distinction here is between consent and non-consent. The difference between whipping someone in a scene and assaulting them on the street is the difference between sex and rape. If everyone involved agrees to what is happening, it is not a crime. If they do not, then it is. This distinction is not in principle difficult to understand, and being involved in SM makes it very clear. SM practitioners are _more_ familiar with consent issues than most, and as such are _less_ likely to commit crimes of the sort that people confuse with SM. And NONE of the material in this FAQ advocates ANY kind of nonconsensual, criminal behavior.

Unfortunately, there are many who would be arbiters of what others may and may not legally consent to do. I believe that consenting adults should be free to do as they wish in the privacy of their homes. There are many who don't believe this is acceptable. It serves them to confuse the issue by claiming "SM people are sadistic rapists" when in fact we are nothing of the sort. Criminalizing consensual sexual activities (sodomy, SM, even prostitution) is an old tradition, but in my view, an unjustifiable one.

This problem is exacerbated by the body of "scholarly research" on SM and related practices. Almost all the books written about SM and other alternative practices in this century have been written by psychologists and therapists (i.e. people outside the scene), and almostall have portrayed SM as a dangerous practice, indulged in only by "unhealthy" individuals. The reason? Healthy individuals weren't the subjects being studied; rather, the subjects were all seeking psychological treatment from the authors of the books! The "studies" completely ignored the many many well-adjusted, happy people who were also into SM. It's easy to conclude SM is harmful when your only experience is with psychologically maladjusted SM people, and when you aren't interested in presenting a balanced view (as few authors are--psychologists can be as sexually judgmental as anyone).

More recent events in the psychiatric community have shown a change in opinion about SM. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Conditions is a document produced by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-III, published in the late '80s, classified "sexual sadism" and "sexual masochism" as disorders for which treatment was recommended. The APA, in the DSM-IV, reclassified SM as _not_ necessarily a disorder, unless the practice of the SM produces clinically significant ongoing emotional trauma, or leads to death, serious injury, or disability. The DSM-IV is recognition by the theraputic community that SM can be practiced in a psychologically healthy way.

As for "natural": people have practiced SM behaviors throughout history. Many are the saints who scourged themselves in the name of the Lord. Using intense sensation to reach altered states of mind is a practice as old as humanity itself--and hence can be considered in no way "unnatural".

Our society (as do most societies) tends to ostracize the different. If you don't fit the mold, you're weird and dangerous. People into SM don't fit the mold. This is why there is such pressure to remain anonymous in the scene; people have lost their jobs, partners, children, and liberty by having their sexual preferences revealed to their community. This stems from the same source: lack of understanding of what we do and why, and lack of respect for what is different.

Of course, there are plenty of people who just aren't into SM. (Most people, in fact.) There's nothing at all wrong with not being into SM, or with not wanting to be exposed to people who do various forms of SM; many people have emotional issues with some kinds of SM activities and may be repulsed or disturbed by witnessing them. These people should clearly avoid SM (and probably should avoid soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm). I would hope, however, that even these people would manage to learn about consensuality as it relates to SM, and learn how SM, practiced carefully, is not abuse.

Some people feel that any power exchange between people is unhealthy. The argument is that giving power to someone else is tantamount to giving away your essential right to self-determination, which must be considered an unqualified evil. Moreover, there is no doubt that many social evils--wars, abusive relationships, et al.--derive from one group of people seeking power over another; therefore, the argument proceeds, it is always wrong thusly to seek power.

In reality, there are many situations in life in which someone chooses to give some of their power over to another, because they trust that other to use that power wisely. Examples include entering the Army (which regulates your life for the duration of your service); getting married (which is often a commitment to abandon some of your personal autonomy); taking a job (which restricts your choices of how to spend your time); and, of course, entering a BDSM scene (during which your top has authority over what goes on). All these power exchanges are mutually agreed upon, and are mutually beneficial; when they stop being beneficial, the exchange itself should stop.

People whose moral codes state that all power exchange--consensual or otherwise--is wrong should clearly not be involved in BDSM. Certainly such people have a consistent ethical system that defines BDSM as immoral. Short of such an ethical system, however, it is hard to see how a BDSM relationship is any more intrinsically immoral than a stint in the Army, or a traditional 'death-do-you-part' marriage. As for me, I believe that in a free society, morality requires permitting each citizen to make his or her own choices of how to live, and how to express themselves, including sexually. Sexual rights are human rights. If we lose our freedom to love as we choose, we lose a vital part of what it is to be human.

These issues are very controversial, even now. In the 1992 Oregon state ballot, voters narrowly overturned a measure named OR 9, which contained the following paragraph:

"State, regional, and local government and their departments, agencies, and other entities, including specifically the State Department of Higher Education and the public schools, shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth that recognizes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism, and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse and that these behaviors are to be discouraged and avoided."

Homosexuality, sadism, and masochism are neither wrong nor unnatural. All three are consensual ways of living and loving that many people enjoy. They are not for everyone, but nor should everyone be told that they are for no one. Note also how this measure seeks to confuse the issue by grouping homosexuality, sadism, and masochism together with pedophilia, a practice which is in most places legally nonconsensual. (It is not my intent to enter here into the debate over whether children are ever capable of fully consenting to sexual acts. Suffice it to say that whether they can or not has no bearing on the fact that adults _can_ consent to SM play.) Legislating what consenting adults may and many not do in private is neither healthy nor democratic.

(In recent years there has been a spate of articles about how SM is entering the mainstream. Madonna's book _Sex_, her movie _Body of Evidence_, and the movie _Exit to Eden_ are examples of this trend. Hopefully this will lead to more people feeling free to express their love as _they_ choose--so long as it's consensual!)

The most extreme forms of SM come closest to the line between consent and non-consent. Most SM people have established safewords which they will use if need be, though if they've known their partners for long, that's rather seldom. Some people, though, do play without safewords--whether because they know their partners well enough to stay within their partners' limits and read their partners' responses, or because they enjoy the rush of playing without an escape clause. This latter sort of play is sometimes known as "consensual non-consensuality," and involves scenes in which the bottom literally cannot escape from whatever the top wishes to do. This is very advanced SM; it requires exponentially more negotiation and introspection, and even then is hazardous. Not many people do this, or want to, but some people do, and find it exhilarating and uplifting. More info is available on s.s.b-b or in some of the references... or on s.s.b-b itself, which is one of the best places in the world to hear a myriad of voices speak out about their individual ways of doing and living SM.

Isn't the bottom always in control?

One of the paradoxes of SM revolves around consensuality. Everything in SM is consensual; although the top is in control, it was the bottom's choice to allow the top to _be_ in control. And since most of the time the top is trying to keep the bottom happy, and since the bottom knows that, isn't the bottom really in control?

Yes, if your definition of "in control" is "can stop the scene". The bottom can always opt out, if it's consensual SM. But the top can go a long way towards putting the bottom under the top's spell, making the bottom submit to really strenuous bondages or beatings, using the bottom as the top pleases. One friend of mine, for instance, takes great pleasure out of hog-tying his girlfriend with her breasts bound and her hands behind her back and her ankles tied to her ponytail, then putting her on the edge of the bed and sticking his cock in her mouth. She has no choice but to suck it until he comes. Which of them is "in control"? Both of them would say that he is, and both of them are getting off on that fact, so the paradox in practice doesn't matter too much.

Furthermore, negotiation can involve give-and-take; the bottom can agree to endure some pain to please the top, and the top can then (say) tie the bottom tightly and tease to the point of orgasm. A particular activity in SM can be enjoyable for its own sake, or because it's a favorite sensation of yours, or because it turns your partner on so much to do it to you or with you, or because you want to endure it out of pure stubborn pride. The paradox of control can take many forms.

As mentioned previously, some especially intense players may negotiate scenes during which the bottom _cannot_ opt out. This sort of play is definitely in the minority, but it is nonetheless possible to consent to giving up your ability to withdraw consent. These scenes are sharply bounded by mutual agreement between both partners, and must be accompanied by much discussion, before and after the scene. And if the bottom later feels like the scene went bad, the negotiation should be redoubled before the next scene, if any.

Can someone "really" be someone else's slave?

This is the last question in another guise. Is it possible for there to be consensual non-consensuality? That is, can someone agree to be in a situation from which they cannot escape, and to live that way?

This topic can inspire flame wars, as follows: historical slavery was totally non-consensual and enforced by the state; at the worst of times, the life of a slave was in the master's hands. Our society today does not recognize such an arrangement. Does this mean that someone cannot truly become someone else's slave, as society would always permit the slave to back out? Or is true slavery possible as a bond between one person and another, regardless of society? You expect an answer in a FAQ? Sorry, here there are only more questions. (Though see another question for more on the hazards of that pesky word "real".)

What are the "codes"?

Often the "hanky code" is mentioned on s.s.b-b. What is it? It's a tradition in the scene that if you're into certain types of activities you can indicate them by wearing a handkerchief in either your left or right back pockets. The color indicates the activity; the side, the preferred position (left is top, right is bottom). Some of the colors are gray for bondage (left is you like to tie, right is you like to be tied up), red for anal fisting (left fister, right fistee), and black for heavy SM (piercing, serious whipping, etc.); there are many many many more. I don't have a list handy.

Sometimes the same thing is done with keys or handcuffs--keys on the left means you're a top, on the right means you're a bottom. It's all just a way to signal your preferences in a public place.

Despite persistent rumors, there seems to be no "earring code" involving earrings on the left/right/both/whatever.

If this is nowhere near enough detail for you, check out Elf's hanky code list.

My fantasies scare me. What if I get too into SM?

Sometimes people who are attracted by some aspects of SM worry that they will immediately go from enjoying spanking and light bondage to fisting and golden showers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

SM is a blanket term for a huge variety of alternative ways to make love. This FAQ list has outlined some of the possibilities. No one I know enjoys _everything_ on this list; _everyone_ has their own preferences and levels of tolerance. Some like bondage but dislike pain; some like latex but dislike leather; some enjoy piercing but not whipping; some like tickling and nothing else!

This means that negotiation is always important in SM; you never know what someone's tastes will be until you ask. It also means that whatever your level, however hard the play that you enjoy, there are people out there who share your tastes. Be a dabbler or be a lifestyler, or be anywhere in between! And don't worry; the operative word with all of these practices is _pleasure_. If you don't like it, you won't enjoy it, and you won't do it!

Some people have fantasies about heavier SM trips than they would enjoy in real life. To those people, I say this: fantasies are not reality. It is well documented that many women have rape fantasies from time to time; this does not mean that those women want to be raped. SM can involve playing on the edge between fantasy and reality, using that fantasy energy to create something fantastically strong and passionate in the real world; but this does not mean that fantasies are anything but imagination, or that fantasies will become real without your choosing to make them so.

If you feel that doing SM might make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or make it harder for you to maintain your sense of self-worth and pride, those are excellent reasons to avoid doing SM--or at the very least to only do those sorts of play that don't tear you down but instead build you up. SM is an intense form of relating, and not everyone is ready for that; if you don't think you are, don't do it that intensely--and if you're not sure, go slowly. What's the rush? Do what you honestly want to do, and what you feel ready for.

Some people getting into the scene almost have a mental checklist of stuff they want to try. They spend a year or two burning through the checklist, having a great time, always desperate for the next experience. Then they get to the end of the list, and suddenly they don't know what's next. This can be a very empty feeling. SM is not an end in itself, but a means to connect with others; it is ultimately about relating, and about developing yourself.

If you are worried about getting "too into SM", it means that you are sensitive to your spiritual and sexual development, which in itself means you have less to worry about. Trust your instincts. SM is nothing but opening up the the powerful energy within us all, and being willing to experience that energy with and through others; it is intimate and loving. Even a hard scene, involving ruthless domination and serious pain, is an act of love, and a very deep one at that; it takes a lot of trust and a strong connection between the people involved to create such a scene. The more aware of Sex Magick you are, the better a communicator and lover you will likely be--and you don't have to be a heavy player to understand Sex Magick.

People who think that all BDSM behaviors are unhealthy or destructive sometimes come out with a claim like, "Just you wait, you may start off by enjoying being spanked, but before long you'll be liking being bruised, dismembered, flayed, and murdered!" This is, simply, ridiculous. While many people do find their tolerance for pain increasing as they do BDSM, many others find no such effect, or even have no interest in experimenting. It seems that for most people, their internal "thermostat," the level of stimulus which makes them hot, is pretty much constant. And certainly I know of no one practicing consensual SM who perpetrates serious injury on their lovers. The SM scene is rife with information about how to inflict intense sensation without causing permanent or unintended damage of any kind. Recognize these kinds of alarmist claims about BDSM as the scaremongering that they are.

And finally, after all is said and done, you may _still_ have some fantasies that you recognize as too intense or too contrary to your nature to actually perform in a real-life scene. This is quite common, as well; we all have desires which we recognize are not safely fulfillable. Do not do anything that you feel you should not or cannot do, even if the desire remains strong; or at least, if you do choose to explore that desire, go very carefully and be prepared to back off if you find your suspicions confirmed. If it hurts not to fulfill the desire, that's part of what maturity is about--rejecting desires that pull you into things that are no good for you, while choosing that which will affirm you. And in any case, the process of introspecting, of asking yourself what you want (and what you will permit yourself) and why, can be vital to your growth and your sense of yourself. Life is change, and every choice carries _some_risk... decide for yourself what path you want to walk.

I want to throw a play party; how can I go about it?

Occasionally on soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm there is a flurry of email about some event that recently occurred (often in the SF Bay area) at which many net.folks were in attendance, and about the tremendously enjoyable things that transpired there. Then others around the country post, wishing they lived out here too. Well, you don't have to live out here to have a play party!

What is a play party? A party where your guests can (and hopefully will) play with each other! It can be as simple as a backrub circle which turns into more intimate activity, or it can be one person who gets clothespins applied to them while others watch and contribute energy before going off into their own scenes, or indeed anything at all. The idea is to enjoy each other, to communicate and share the pleasure that touching and playing can bring. If there is a common interest in SM, that's convenient, as lots of things can be initiated with a simple pair of handcuffs or a whip that looks like it'd feel good; also, if the guests have played with SM, they will understand the need for negotiation, and they will know what it is to respect another's limits.

Some tips: Don't encourage alcohol; make it BYOB. This makes the party safer, and the drunker you get the less likely you are to really be able to fully negotiate and communicate. Minimize video and loud music; this causes people to interact with each other, which is the whole point, rather than sit back and stay out of the action. (Good party music can help set the mood, though.) Keep condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, lube (water-based!), betadine (if piercers or cutters are present), bleach (for cleaning toys), and paper towels handy; this makes people aware that they can easily play safely--a matter of life and death--as well as expressing the hosts' concern for the guests.

If possible, have several playspaces (i.e. rooms where people can recline and play with each other); this lets the exhibitionists exhibit, while the more private ones can be more private, and the heavy players can play heavily (serious whippings, candles, etc.) without freaking out the folks with lighter tastes. Have some knowledgeable people take turns as safety monitors; if anything's going on that looks unsafe or nonconsensual, give those people authority to take action. Establish a party safeword (a great one is "Safeword!"). In general, make your place into a safe space, a haven here people can unwind and enjoy each other to whatever extent they want to, without feeling pressured or uncomfortable.

Possibly the most helpful tip: if you can, try to get a group of people in your area together, and try to get activities planned between parties--lunches, group shopping trips to your local toy stores, movies, etcetera. It's hard to overcome the barriers to trusting someone enough to have sensual or sexual contact with them, especially in our pleasure-negative society; therefore, things may not get off to the rollicking start you could wish for at your first party. If there are a couple of exhibitionists to break the ice, though, it helps; and as people get to know each other better and get to be friends, it will increase the level of fun everyone will have!

I want to attend a play party; what is the etiquette?

The simplest way to fit in in a play party is to behave politely. There will be people right in front of you who are doing very sexual things. They are doing them for _their_ pleasure, not for yours. Stay away from the action unless invited to participate-- and a glance in your direction does not constitute an invitation.

The people who really interfere with the energy of a party are the people who seemingly assume that just because the scene is taking place in a semi-public context means that comments from the audience are okay fine. They're NOT. The top in the scene is concentrating on the bottom's pleasure, and the bottom is almost certainly in a very private mental space. Neither the top nor the bottom will appreciate being yanked back to reality by a loud suggestion or greeting. If you want to compliment them on something, WAIT UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER and they're circulating and being sociable again! Interfering with a scene in progress is inexcusably rude, and if I were dungeon-mastering I would throw you out of the party for doing it.

Once you understand that scenes are private even though they're taking place in public, the question then becomes, how can you watch without detracting from the energy of the scene?

There definitely are people who interfere just by watching. They've been dubbed "energy vampires" in the past. These people are watching the action as though it was a porno movie--as though the intense magic taking place in front of them was no more than a bad fuck flick where the actress is half asleep. They have no empathy, no sense of connection to what's going on; they might as well be in a movie theater.

If you have the ability to watch what is happening with an open heart, if you can pick up on the energy and send your own good wishes towards the participants in the scene, you will be much more valuable as a watcher. Public players never object to an enthusiastic audience which can appreciate the way they're playing! An audience which values the gift of being allowed to watch, and which contributes its goodwill towards the play, can be a delight; an audience which watches without giving and without connecting takes the life and spirit out of the scene. (And remember, a good audience does NOT make comments that the players can hear--an audience doesn't interfere with the performance!)

You can be a part of the magic without playing yourself. All it takes is an honest enjoyment of what's happening combined with politeness and tact.

If you _do_ want to play, and there's someone you want to play with, you can ask--but be prepared to accept a "no, thanks" gracefully. If you are comfortable mingling and making small talk, you'll be more likely to find someone with compatible desires--after all, everyone else there has similar tastes! There often will be rooms for heavy play and rooms for hanging out and socializing; don't try to do one activity in the other activity's space.

(It helps if you dress sexily, even if you're not playing--the more leather and lace there is to look at, the better!)

What's the deal with this anonymity stuff?

There are many people who post to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm through the wizvax Anonymous Posting Service, and many others who post from pseudonymous accounts. The reasons are obvious; "kinky sex" in our society is stigmatized, and being openly interested in sexuality or alternate sexual practices can result in personal and professional consequences including losing one's job, losing one's friends, and if child custody is involved, losing one's children. Yes, in America today, you can lose custody of your child if it becomes known that you practice SM. (This is not merely anecdotal; people on the net have had these things happen to them.) Oral sex is a crime in some states! After reading this FAQ, it (hopefully) should be clear how twisted this situation is, when acts of love can be used as evidence of psychological damage.

This is why many choose to write and post anonymously. By using a pseudonym, they can say what they want to say, while remaining free of the nastiness that could ensue were their coworkers to discover their interests. Homosexuals know what it's like to be ostracized for their romantic and sexual preferences; SM devotees are, in some ways, in the same boat. It's a strange world, where love is perceived as evil, and beauty as ugliness....

Anonymous posters are not cowards. The consequences I have outlined are enough to make anyone question whether posting under their own name is worthwhile. Those who choose to do so are not necessarily so much courageous as lucky--lucky to be able to be out, to declare their lifestyles openly. (Note that pseudonyms are sometimes used in real-life situations, as well; there are many netters who go by their net names even at social functions.)

This means that it is rude to inquire as to someone's actual identity if they choose to use a pseudonym. It is also rude to tell others of their real name, if you somehow become privy to it, without first asking them; they have entrusted you with something that they don't want commonly known. DON'T OUT SOMEONE IF THEY DON'T WANT TO BE OUTED. You yourself may not need a net.name; that doesn't mean you can take others' anonymity any less seriously than they themselves do. This goes for the net and for real life. If you meet someone at a party who you've known from the net, they'll probably still want to be known under their net name, and if you're writing about that party later, make sure you have their permission before describing them or scenes in which they participated (even if you use only their net name).

It is an open question whether the world would improve if everyone outed themselves. Some say that we need to get all kinky people out of the closet, so everyone'll realize how many of us there are (and there are many!). Others, myself included, believe that everyone should be free to choose how they want to live their life--including choosing to be anonymous.

Are SM people subjected to political or social harassment?

Like all alternate sexualities, SM is stigmatized in many ways by most of society. In extreme cases, SM players are prosecuted legally. or persecuted by people who would _like_ to so prosecute them. This section of the FAQ describes some of these ongoing battles. (Se another question for a brief mention of one recently-vanquished challenge.)

The Spanner case

First, the most serious anti-SM action in years: the Spanner case. In Britain in 1992, sixteen men who had attended an SM party were convicted of assault, despite the fact that everything that happened at the party was fully consensual. The sentence was four to six years in prison.

The defendants appealed, and eventually reached the highest court in Britain, which issued a judgment rife with the worst and most inaccurate popular misconceptions about BDSM, ignoring everything that is now widely known about how it is safe and consensual. This judgment is a travesty of human rights, and flies blindly in the face of medical and psychological fact, in favor of prejudicial ignorance.

The men involved are now pushing to take the case to the European court of human rights. They need any and all assistance. An organization named Countdown on Spanner was formed to pursue the appeal as far as necessary.

Countdown on Spanner can be reached via Snail Mail; C/O Central Station 37 Wharfdale Road London N1 Great Britain Please include a SAE. Or contact via e-mail: phas@siva.bris.ac.uk.

Canadian censorship

Another situation demanding attention is the censorship being practiced by Canadian customs. Canada has no First Amendment, and Customs has been seizing gay and lesbian erotica, especially SM-related material, and preventing it from reaching bookstores in Canada. This arbitrary action has made it very difficult for many of these bookstores to survive. The Canadian government, via Customs, is silencing the voices of those who want to talk about their sexuality.

Little Sisters Bookstore in Vancouver is suing Customs, asserting that Customs should not have the right to seize books on suspicion of obscenity. If the case is won, obscenity will have to be determined by the courts, not by Customs. It is not at all certain that the case will be won; a recent Supreme Court decision in Canada used language from American anti-porn activist Catherine MacKinnon to define pornography as material that is "violent" or "degrading" to women. Such laws can be used to keep ANY SM-related material from ever being published--which is exactly the intent. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have repeatedly pushed for such legislation in the United States as well. The Canada case is thus very relevant for Americans into SM.

If you can contribute, please write to Little Sisters Defense Fund, 1221 Thurlow Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6E 1X4. The case will be expensive, and help is badly needed.

America

America has its share of official pesecution of SM, though not so seriously as in the Spanner case. SM clubs are still associated by the media with unsafe sex, whether or not the club requires safe sex (as almost all do). Of course, the current ignorance of consensual SM in America leads to regular prosecution of people producing erotic material, whether videos, magazines, or pictures. Legal fees from obscenity proceedings brought by the government can put a small producer or publisher out of business before the case ever comes to trial. For example, movies involving bondage together with sex are essentially censored in this country, because of such government action.

Most of all, learn for yourself about the realities of SM, as opposed to the myths. And speak out against oppression born out of ignorance.

What topics are and aren't acceptable on s.s.b-b?

Back in the days of yore, the group for discussing kinky topics was alt.sex.bondage.  This group was created in response to a joke, which turned serious once people actually started using the group.  But there was never any charter or definition of what was and wasn't acceptable, as with the rest of the alt.* newsgroups.  So alt.sex.bondage is now completely overrun with advertising and spam.

soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm was created mainly in order to set up a charter forbidding spam, but also to broaden the explicit agenda of the group from just bondage to bondage and BDSM (which as we know is a compound acronym defining a lot of different behaviors!).  Thus many of the flame wars about "that's not bondage, it doesn't belong on this group!" have gone away forever.

The s.s.b-b charter is available on the Web.

Now, there are still plenty of flamewars, and no little amount of flaming about how many flamewars there are and how hostile an environment is created as a result... but there's no doubt that much more good BDSM conversation is happening on the new s.s.b-b than was happening on the old a.s.b in its dying years!

What s.s.b-b has evolved into (and actually has always been) is, as the intro to this FAQ states, a group for discussing "ways to have sex that are outside the mainstream". This is an awfully wide description. There is room underneath it for discussing everything from "how do I tie someone up?" to "how can I play with razors safely?" to "what's it like to love someone of your sex?"

The inevitable consequence of this is that people sometimes get exposed to material that squicks them. That's life in the big net. There is no guarantee that everything on s.s.b-b will suit your personal interests. The general rule of the net applies here in spades: if you don't like it, hit "n" and ignore it. It's guaranteed that there are many many out there who _do_ like it. Remember, limits are relative; many of the "heavy players" you read about started as novices themselves, and the person who just described their intense whipping scene may be unable to handle even the lightest tickling... food for thought!

I just finished reading a few stories about nonconsensual rape and sadistic murder that were posted netwide. I personally disliked those stories. Do I think they're appropriate for s.s.b-b? Not really. Can I stop them from being posted? Nope. Can I ignore them? Hell yes. Remember, a story is a fantasy that someone bothered to write down... and fantasies can't hurt anybody--if you don't like it, ignore it! That is certainly more productive than flaming the person who wrote it.

Can the ferment of different topics and views on s.s.b-b degenerate into chaos? Yes, and it sometimes does. But more frequently, the mixing of interests and ideas generates a really wonderful dialogue out of which new knowledge and fantasy is born. Novices pipe up with questions that spark an insightful reply by an old-timer. Old-timers post about some experience that gets lurkers' juices flowing everywhere. Someone who knows a lot about one kind of play tries something new and posts about it.

s.s.b-b works, like no other group I know of on the net. So don't be too hasty with that "n" key... you might learn something! 

I'm sick of certain topics on s.s.b-b. How can I avoid them? Also, what's with all these ads?

s.s.b-b, like all Usenet groups, has its share of flame wars. Many of them revolve around questions of whether particular BDSM activities are healthy or not (the usual answer: "They're risky, but it's possible to do them safely and beneficially, and many people do"), or whether soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm is a heterosexist group or not (I'm not gonna tackle _that_ one here, yet). One common feature of all, though, is that some people get burned out on reading all the hundreds of articles in the thread.

The solution? Most newsreading programs support a tool called a "kill file", which is a list of subjects and/or authors that you are NOT interested in and never want to look at. Different newsreaders have different ways of using killfiles. I use rn, so my example will refer to it. (If you use a different program, see the documentation for that program.

To add a particular subject (say, "FAQ List") to your killfile in rn, go to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm When you are reading the group, type ^K (control-K). This will put you into an editor which is editing your killfile for soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm. Type the following:

/FAQ List/h:j
then exit your editor. What that line says is "junk any articles which contain the text `FAQ List' in the header." Replace "FAQ List" with the subject you dislike or the user ID of the person you no longer wish to read, and presto, your blood pressure will be much happier.

I've been told the following about the "gnus" newsreader:

In gnus, from the subject buffer, on an article from the person you wish to kill: type meta-k [gnus-Subject-edit-local-kill], C-c C-k C-a [gnus-Kill-file-kill-by-author], C-c C-a [gnus-Kill-file-apply-buffer], C-c C-c [gnus-Kill-file-exit]." "C-a" stands for "control-A", and "meta-k" stands for "escape-K." The text in brackets isn't stuff you should type; it's just explanation of what each set of keystrokes means.
If you use nn, track down a post written by the victim to be killfiled, and just hit 'K' (capital-K). Follow the somewhat cryptic prompts, and respond according to your needs. For example:
   nn gives you                              you respond
   ------------                              -----------
   AUTO (k)ill or (s)elect [...]                   k
   AUTO KILL on (s)ubject or (n)ame [...]          n
   KILL Name: (=/)                                 /
   KILL Name (regexp):                             FAQ List
   KILL in (g)roup 'soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm' or
          in (a)ll groups                          a
   Lifetime of entry in days (p)ermanent [...]     p  [or 21915 to 25568]
   CONFIRM KILL Name perm regexp: FAQ List          y
If you use tin, you can either hand-edit .tin/kill (instructions should be given in that file), or you can hit control-K while reading any article. This will toss a nice menu on the screen. Just follow the prompts. For example:
     tin gives you               you respond
     -------------               -----------
     Kill type: Kill             [return/enter]
     Kill text pattern:          FAQ List [return/enter]
     Apply pattern to:           [spacebar until "Subject: & From: lines" appears, then hit return]
     Kill Subject [...]: No      [return/enter]
     Kill From [...]: No         [return/enter]
     Kill pattern scope:         [spacebar until appropriate choice appears, then return]
Two pieces of jargon related to kill files: Sometimes you will see someone responding to something egregiously stupid (in the responder's opinion) said by someone else. The response may look like, "Ho, hum. <Plonk.>" What is plonk? Plonk is the sound of someone being dropped into a kill file; the respondent is announcing that they are permanently killfiling the original poster. Other times, a poster may be annoying lots and lots of people on s.s.b-b, and someone will post something like "Everyone PISS on this guy!" PISS stands for Passive Ignorance Silence Strike, and basically means that everyone should just ignore the poster, rather than arguing and/or flaming. The idea is that if the person can't get a rise out of anyone, they will get bored and leave. It very often works, too... or at least it reduces the wasted bandwidth.

What about the ads? See the next question; ads are not appropriate on s.s.b-b and will result in you getting flamed like crazy if you post one there!

OK, so I can't post ads to s.s.b-b.  Where CAN I post them?

Plenty of places, bunky!

I don't have access to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm; what can I do to get information about the scene?

A question I've been getting more and more often as my FAQ spreads outwards into the world is, "I can't read soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm, but the stuff you talk about in your FAQ sounds really interesting. Are there any ways for me to access soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm, or do you know of any SM groups or BBS'es near me?"

First off: unless you have access to a system which gets USENET news, and soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm in particular, there is no way for you to read alt.sex.bondage. There are no mailing-list gateways or FTP archives of soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm. There may be public-access net sites in your area which you could use to access s.s.b-b.

Second: I don't track very many local SM organizations, beyond the ones I mention at the end of this FAQ. So please don't ask me for information beyond what's contained here.

HOWEVER: There is a way you can get answers to your questions! If you have email access to the Internet, you can use an "anonymous posting service". A posting service is a program running on some Internet-connected computer. You can send email to the service, and it will remove your userid from the email, append a newly-generated anonymous userid, and post your email to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm! Anyone can send you mail in response, and the service will forward it to you. So if you have questions about SM resources in your area, use an anonymous posting service to send your question to s.s.b-b (for example, "I can't read soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm, but I'd like to know whether there are any SM groups in Vancouver. Please reply by email"). You will definitely get more responses than you would any other way.

(Of course, if you _can_ read s.s.b-b but don't want to post under your real name, you can use a posting service for that; that's what they're mainly for.)

Unfortunately, as of November 1996, the major anonymous posting service (which used to be at "help@anon.penet.fi") has been shut down, due to complaints that it was being used for child-pornography-related purposes. I know of no other service that really substitutes for it. My best suggestion right now? Get a trial America Online account, pick a phony nickname, and post to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm that way. Yes, that's a lousy substitute. Anyone with better anonymous-posting solutions, please let me know, and I'll update this information again. 

What are some web sites/books/magazines/organizations/stores/news archives where I can get SM information or toys, or meet people in the scene?

Well, time does take its toll on the kinky businesses of the world.  This list was always abbreviated but lately it has become badly outdated.  So I'll no longer claim this is anything other than just one starting point for y'all..

Here's what's here:

  1. Web sites and newsgroups
  2. Nonfiction books
  3. Fiction books
  4. Videos
  5. Magazines
  6. Organizations
  7. Mail-order houses


Web sites and newsgroups

Many of the books and stores I list also have web sites; I include those URLs in the book/store listings themselves.

But first, a Must See Site:

Yahoo has a BDSM page! This is one handy place to start browsing, all right! I'm very happy this page exists; my kudos to Yahoo for having the guts to host it.

The Society for Human Sexuality at the University of Washington has a web page at http://www.sexuality.org/; it contains a Guide to Safer Sex as well as a basic how-to of flogging.

There are also various BDSM community web sites:

These sites have PLENTY of hotlist links and should serve as fine starting points for your kinky netsurfing.

Elf Sternberg hosts the alt.sex FAQ list; see his homepage for details.

Trevor Jacques has a nice SM site up: http://SaferSM.org/SaferSM.html.

Two of the best-known posters to s.s.b-b in days gone by were Rosie Marquez and Laylah Martelli. There are mirrors of their postings at http://www.xs4all.nl/~wijnands/rosie/rosie.htm and http://www.xs4all.nl/~wijnands/laylah/laylah.html.

Other newsgroups that are in some ways related to s.s.b-b are alt.sex.spanking (for folks who are into that in particular), alt.sex.fetish.fashion (for lovers of sexy clothes), alt.sex.stories (often there are SM-related stories posted there), alt.sex.stories.bondage (sometimes there are some here too), alt.sex.femdom (for stories and discussion about female dominance), and so forth. And don't forget alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.bondage, alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.fetish.latex, or alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.fetish.leather!

Note for posterity: I actually created alt.sex.stories.bondage and all three of the alt.binaries.pictures.erotica groups I mention above, and to date I've downloaded well over 500 stories and 10,000 pictures from the groups! Ain't the Internet an amazing place? If you build it, they will come... and come, and come again :-)

Some of my other fave bondage and fetish sites:

Nonfiction books

If you liked this FAQ, you will very likely enjoy these books. These describe consensual SM as I have been using the term in this FAQ, and are all excellent resources for learning.)

Pat Califia, _Sensuous Magic_ (New York, Masquerade Books, 1993). ISBN 1-56333-131-4, softcover. Pat Califia is a legendary writer about SM behavior and SM fantasy. This is her latest book and I recommend it unhesitatingly. It is in my opinion hands-down the best how-to book about SM, combining fictional vignettes with sincere, quality information delivered as effectively as possible. If you are into SM, you will learn from this book; and if you liked this FAQ but want more details, this is THE BOOK for you. Order it from Good Vibrations (see the store list below).

_Different Loving_, by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame, and Jon Jacobs (Villard Books, New York, 1993, ISBN 0-679-40873-8), is a thorough, non-judgmental work describing all aspects of SM sexuality. There are hundreds of interviews and lots and lots of accurate information. If you ever wondered whether there was anyone out there as kinky as you, buy this book, and know you're not alone. It's a survey, not a how-to, but there's lots of safety information in it anyway. 539 pages! The more of it I read, the more impressed I've become. There is a web page for this book (and for these authors).

A brief and excellent introduction to safe SM is _The Lesbian S/M Safety Guide_, edited by Pat Califia and published by Lace Publications (an imprint of Alyson Publications). There is information in here on everything from physical safety to emotional issues to negotiating with bottoms to consensual slave contracts. It's written about lesbians, but very little of the information is actually gender-specific. Excellent.

Larry Townsend's _The Leatherman's Handbook II_. This is fairly widely available, and is by all accounts the best resource for gay male SM information. I personally have never read it, but it's widely known. (The first edition is still available, but II contains more information about AIDS and safer sex, so it's probably what you want.)

_On the Safe Edge: A Manual For SM Play,_ by Trevor Jacques, with Dr. Dale, Michael Hamilton, and Sniffer. ISBN: 1-895857-05-8 (pbk.) This new book comes recommended by many reputable and knowledgeable people in the scene. It's a how-to with lots and lots of safety information. To order directly, call WholeSM Publishing (SAN S1196111) at: (416) 962 1040 or you can reach the authors at Editor@Alternate.com or through their web pages at http://www.alternate.com.

_Coming to Power_, by SAMOIS, published by Alyson Press. This is a book about lesbian SM, written by a former Bay Area women's collective. It has a huge spectrum of pieces from hot fantasy to personal history to political pronouncement. Very worthwhile for all who are interested in SM, lesbian or otherwise.

_The Second Coming_, edited by Pat Califia and Robin Sweeney, published by Alyson Press. HOORAY! This is the 1996 update to _Coming to Power_, and is must reading if you liked the first book. See how the community has evolved in twenty years. Get a sense of history. Get a clue. Get your rocks off. Highly recommended.

Mark Thompson (editor), _Leatherfolk_, Alyson Press. An EXCELLENT anthology about the SM scene in America, from the 1930s through the present. Focuses mainly on the gay and lesbian SM communities, but contains much worthwhile material for anyone interested in any aspects of SM.

_Learning the Ropes: A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking_, by Race Bannon, Daedalus Publishing Co., 4470-107 Sunset Blvd., Suite 375, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Available by mail from the publisher @ $12.95 + $2.50 s/h (CA residents add 8.25% sales tax). Race is a well- known figure in the SM scene, and by all accounts this book is quite comprehensive, describing all aspects of safe SM from the physical to the spiritual. If you liked this FAQ, I'd guess you'd like this book.

_SM 101_, published by Jay Wiseman, PO Box 1261, Berkeley, CA 94701. $19.95 will get you this book, which is one of the most thorough and in-depth explorations of SM safety and SM practice I have had the pleasure to read. I would consider this book very valuable for anyone who is wondering "how do I get started?"--Jay has many relatively specific examples and tips on how to make your scenes delightful and memorable. He's an opinionated guy, but then aren't we all?

Jack Morin, _Anal Pleasure and Health_, Down There Press, Burlingame, CA. This book has the complete lowdown on all aspects of anal sex--safety, hygiene, emotional issues, you name it. Extremely valuable information, well presented.

Robert J. Stoller, _Pain and passion: a psychoanalyst explores the world of S&M,_ 1991, New York et al.: Plenum, X, 306 pp. ISBN 0-306-43770-8. I've heard that this book does an excellent job of revisiting (and refuting) the common Freudian biases against SM, in spite of several far-from-objective judgmental sections.

Two other psychoanalytic books dealing with SM (neither of which I've read) are _Dark Eros_ by Thomas Moore and _Masochism_ by Lyn Cowan.

_Sadomasochism in Everday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness_, Lynn S. Chancer, 1992, publisher momentarily unknown (but soon to be added), ISBN 0-8135-1808-3. Chancer's book takes a long, hard look at the many social contexts in which one group exercises power abusively over another. It's a fascinating perspective from which to analyze racism, sexism, etc., and there is a fair amount of material about BDSM in the sense it's been described in this FAQ.

_Ties that Bind: The SM/Leather/Fetish Erotic Style_ by Guy Baldwin, M.S. Daedalus Publishing Company, Los Angeles, 1993, 244 pages, $14.95. Baldwin is a therapist who sees many people in the SM community. He has a unique healer's perspective on many of the emotional and psychological issues that arise for people in the scene. If you are doing a lot of thinking about whether SM is right for you, or if you're working on your SM with your partner and you want another point of view, do yourself a COLOSSAL favor and buy this book. (You can order it from Mr. S Leathers, or from QSM.)

_The Sexually Dominant Woman, A Workbook for Nervous Beginners_, by Lady Green. (Lady Green's book is supposed to be very good for those who barely know where to begin.)

Fiction books

Not all of the scenarios in these books are what I would call consensual SM, but as stated earlier, fantasies are not reality, and neither are erotic stories. Don't take these books as seriously as you would the ones above. Hopefully everyone is now thinking, "Well, duh! Obviously!"

Anne Rice has written a number of books with SM themes. As A. N. Roquelaure, she released the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy: _The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty_, _Beauty's Punishment_, and _Beauty's Release_, in which the hero and heroine are subjected to all kinds of wonderfully sensual torments. Something for just about everyone. Also widely available is _Exit to Eden_, under the name Ann Rampling; the first part of the book is the most SM-y.

Anything written by Pat Califia (_Macho Sluts_, _Doc and Fluff_, _Sapphistry_, and her new book _Melting Point_). Alyson Publica- tions (40 Plympton St., Boston, MA 02118, (800) 8-ALYSON) publishes her stuff. She's very well known in the scene and she is a hot (as in boiling-glowing-volcanic-nuclear-SUPERHOT) writer. Be warned, though; _Doc and Fluff_ in particular is not for the faint of heart! If what you want is SM erotica, _Macho Sluts_ or _Melting Point_ are the ticket.

_Leatherwomen_, edited by Laura Antoniou, Rosebud Press, ISBN 1-563-33095-4. $4.95 at most book stores or direct order from (800)458-9640. This new paperback is an anthology of S/M fiction by women. It's very very hot stuff! Some of the fiction in this book rivals Pat Califia's work, which is high praise indeed. Get it.

_The Slave_, Sara Adamson, Rhinoceros Press, 1994, ISBN 1-56333-173-X. A surprisingly straightforward look at a woman's search for--and discovery of--a dream life of servitude. I enjoyed it greatly, and not only was it hot, it made me think. Recommended. Her earlier book in the trilogy, _The Marketplace_, is also excellent. And even the final book, _The Trainer_, is now out! Get 'em while they're hot!

Some guest recommendations:

"_Masochism_ (New York: Zone Books, 1991). This book consists of a translation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's _Venus_in_Furs_, prefaced by a long essay, 'Coldness and Cruelty,' by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. To quote the dust jacket: 'Deleuze's stunning essay is an attempt to restore to Masoch's work the rigorous and informed philosophical examination that is due it.'.... I think Deleuze shows that Masoch has a lot more to say to the BDSM community than Sade does.

"Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Carol Vance, ed.) The Scholar and Feminist Conference at Barnard in 1982 was almost ripped apart when politically correct feminists tried to suppress feminists who wanted the freedom to enjoy power exchange. This is a collection of papers and talks from this watershed of the Woman's Movement.

"S&M: Studies in Sadomasochism (Thomas Weinberg and G.W. Kamel, eds) This is a collection of essays on the nature, origin and development of what they call sadomasochism. Some are decent; some have points of interest; a number are so far off the mark as to be laughable.

"A Taste for Pain: On Masochism and Female Sexuality (Maria Marcus) The author, a self-admitted masochist, explores the existing literature on sadomasochism from a very personal, insightful point of view."

Three sources for people who are into spanking in particular:

CF Publications, PO Box 713, E Setauket, NY 11733. Newsletters, stories, fiction.

CD Publishing Corp., 213 Valley St, Ste 228, South Orange, NJ 07079. Information, newsletters, personal ads.

Shadow Lane, PO Box 1910, Studio City, CA. One of the best, with lots of materials, videos, et al.

Videos

_Safe, Sane, Consensual SM_ is a documentary consisting of interviews with 20 experienced SM players, discussing their experiences and viewpoints. I know several of the people interviewed, and what they have to say is very worth hearing. $49.95 + $5 S&H; California residents add applicable sales tax. You must state that you are over 21. B&D Video Production and Distribution Company, 2215-R Market Street #214, San Francisco, CA 94114, (415) 863-0199 (call for quantity discounts).

Jay Edwards Collection/Close-Up Productions/John Floyd Productions, P.O. Box 691658, Los Angeles, CA 90069. These companies release various heterosexual bondage videos, mostly with women as the bottoms. Very popular.

_Learning the Ropes,_ Ona Zee Productions, P.O. Box 9951, Marina Del Rey, CA 90295. Ona and her husband Frank have put together seven (going on eight) instructional videos about BDSM, on topics from bondage to dildoes to whips and hot wax. I've heard they're very worth getting.

Magazines

_Sandmutopian Guardian_. A very good how-to magazine, focusing on the basics of SM play (lots of reader articles and B&W pictures), with lots of listings of clubs around the US. Get all the back issues you possibly can. Five-issue subscriptions are $29 in the US and $39 elsewhere. Sandmutopian Guardian, c/o The Utopian Network; PO Box 1146; NY NY 10156 or call (516) 842-1711 11am-9pm M-F. Alternativly, check out the web page.

_Skin Two_, Freepost, 23 Grand Union Centre, Kensal Rd, London W10 5BR. A VERY classy magazine, all glossy with excellent articles and photos, with lots of emphasis on latex but good material for anyone into SM, as well as a HUGE section of magazine, book, and store listings in the back of every issue. They take credit card orders at 081 968 9692. Highly recommended. Check out their web site!

Carter Stevens publishes a variety of SM magazines and videos. Check out his web page at www.smnews.com.

_Body Play and Modern Primitives Quarterly_, Insight Books, P.O. Box 2575, Menlo Park, CA 94026-2575. This magazine, published and edited by the celebrated Fakir Musafar, has monthly articles on subjects from corseting and wasit training to tattoos, piercings, and intense SM practices. Very well produced. Subs are $45/4 issues.

_Bad Attitude_, P.O. Box 39110, Cambridge, MA 02139. Bigger than _Brat Attack_, and mostly fiction, again by SM dykes. Some very strong and gripping stuff. $24/6 issues.

_Black Leather In Color_ is a zine for people of color into SM. It's published a the BLIC collective, who can be reached at BLIC, 874 Broadway, Suite 808, New York, NY 10003

_Secret_ Magazine is a great fetish mag. Check out their website at www.secretmag.com.

BOUDOIR NOIR, non-fiction Leather-Fetish- Consensual SM Magazine. Box 5, Stn. F, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2L4. Ph. (416) 591-2387; Fax (416) 591-1572; E-mail boudoir@asgo.net. Sample $10. Subscription $24 ($50 outside North America); $6.95 at newsstand. Member Canadian Magazine Publishers Association. World Wide Web site at http://boudoir-noir.com.

The following three magazines seem to be defunct but are included out of historical interest (and hope of future revival):

_Brat Attack_, P.O. Box 40754, San Francisco, ,CA 94140-0754. A magazine by SM dykes, and mostly for SM dykes, though the writing is smart and funny no matter what your crotch looks like. Subs are 10 bucks/3 issues.

_Frighten the Horses_, Heat Seeking Publishing, 41 Sutter St. #1108, San Francisco, CA 94104. FtH has only gotten bigger and more interesting with every issue; each has a good balance of non-fiction (quite often actively political) pieces, sexy fiction for ALL kinds of tastes, and news and reviews of the sexual revolution. Subs are $16/4 issues. Unfortunately spotty publication record recently.

_Venus Infers_, 2215-R Market Street, Suite 294, San Francisco, CA 94114. $8/issue. This is a new, smart, hot S/M magazine by lesbians for (mostly) lesbians. It's got art, it's got writing, it's got good design. It's got what it takes. Recommended.

Organizations

First of all, people who read s.s.b-b or other SM mailing lists often form social groups in local areas. Sometimes these groups have meetings which are open to anyone who wants to swing by. The best way to find out about these is to post to s.s.b-b (see question 31 if need be) and ask whether there's one in your area.

Science fiction cons also often have play parties, which are usually announced on the net beforehand, and sometimes discreetly advertised at the con. This is another reasonable way to meet people in the scene.

There are various regional organizations which continually fluctuate. Look in the back of the _Sandmutopia Guardian_ or _Skin Two_; they generally include a list in every issue. And look up your local adult toy store or leather store; they may have leads on any SM groups near you. Look around--there are lots of people out there who like this stuff! Here are some of the best-known and most-established SM organizations:

QSM, PO Box 880154, SF CA 94188, 415 550-776 (phones staffed Monday-Friday 11 AM to 5 PM Pacific time). QSM is the best organization in the world for learning about SM. QSM holds many different classes and workshops on all aspects of SM. Write to them to get on their mailing list or to preregister for classes--they also have an extensive list of books and magazines available by mail order (all the books and magazines listed above, and then some. Yes, they have a web page! Also an email address: info@qualitysm.com.

The Southbay Leather and Uniform Group (SLUG) is an omnisexual club whose purpose is to promote educational, social, and charitable activities among people with an interest in Levis, leather, and uniforms--and all that usually goes with them! The address is SLUG, Billy De Frank Center, 175 Stockton Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, (408) 929-SLUG.

The Eulenspiegel Society, PO Box 2783, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-2783, 212-388-7022, TES@dorsai.org. A long-running club for SMers on the right coast. Well known. They put out a quarterly 64-page newsletter. Weekly meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Web page: http://www.mcsp.com/tes/welcome.html.

The Society of Janus, PO Box 411523, San Francisco, CA 94141. Organization in the SF Bay Area, open to all genders and persuasions. Janus is a very safe organization for novices to join. They are aware of anonymity issues, and hold a variety of workshops and social events, as well as publish a monthly newsletter.

Threshold, 2554 Lincoln Blvd, Suite 381, Marina Del Rey, CA 90291. This LA-area group is the best-known pansexual SM organization in Southern California, and holds a variety of events from educational to social to political. (I do not have a current phone number or email address for them; can anyone help me out?)

BackDrop Club,PO Box 390486, Mountain View, CA 94039-0486. Office: 415-965-4499, BBS: 415-964-3100, FAX: 415-964-3879. A 4,000-member club, with their own large clubhouse, BBS, and reference library. They say they are open to people of all sexes and sexualities who share an interest in SM; play parties, social events, support anddiscussion all take place through BackDrop.

The Black Rose, in the Washington DC area. (301) 369-7667 (voicemail number with address information). A pansexual SM support group with meetings every Tuesday night. They hold a social event once a month, open to those who've attended at least two weekly meetings. There are also subgroups (one is women-only).

Chicagoland Discussion Group, 3023 N. Clark St #806, Chicago, IL 60657-5205, 24-hour info-line 312-281-1097. A pansexual SM/fetish group, with events, a newsletter, parties, and outreach. A wide variety of interests are represented.

LUXURIA, PO BOX 53063, Ottawa, ON, K1N 1C5; (613)567-9033. A pan-sexual-orientation & kink group whose main focus is networking and info exchange. There's a magazine, phone line, and BBS echo dedicated to it.

APEX, the Arizona Power Exchange, 5821 North 67th Avenue, Suite 103-276, Glendale, Arizona 85301. We are a pansexual, panfetish support and social group, for people with dominant/submissive desires, treating the S/M, B&D and fetish experience with acceptance, respect and dignity. For meeting locations, please call (602) 906-0851.

The National Leather Association, 584 Castro Street #444, San Francisco, CA 94114-2500. A nationwide group open to everyone into leather/SM. The NLA has many local chapters; there's probably one in your area! They hold social events, support groups, political rallies, and lots more besides. If you want to meet other like-minded people, the NLA's a fine place to start. (Apparently their phone has been disconnected, however, so I don't know how active they are. If you know, let me know!)

San Francisco Sex Information, (415) 989-7374. SFSI is a volunteer information and referral service for all aspects of human sexuality-- SM included! If you have a question about some scene you've done or are considering doing, and you want to talk to someone who can answer your questions anonymously and nonjudgmentally, give them a call! The lines are open 3 to 9 p.m. Pacific time, Monday through Friday, and from 3 to 9 most Sundays as well.

Atlanta S/M Solidarity, P.O. Box 8361, Atlanta, GA 31106. A Georgia group of SM enthusiasts, with workshops, socials, etc.

The Phoenix Society, 1131 S. Clinton St., Baltimore, MD 21224, 410/385-3369, A Pansexual support, education and social group for consenting adults interested in dominance and submission. Meetings are held every Friday and feature discussions and demonstrations tailored to entertain and inform people at all levels of experience; members and guests are encouraged to socialize, enjoy themselves and take advantage of playroom equipment; all play at meetings is nonsexual and all information about members and guests is kept strictly confidential. For a schedule of events and directions, call, or check out the web site at http://www.bold.ly.com/phoenix.

Mail-order houses

Most of these places require you to state that you're 21 or over when ordering. (This list in particular could use all the expansion it can get, since I know little about toy stores outside the SF Bay Area. Send me your favorite local shops' addresses, and I'll put 'em in here!)

The best stores list I know of is the alt.sex.fetish.fashion FAQ list. Yes, it's mostly for kinky clothes, but there is a LOT of SM material in there, too.

As I mentioned above, QSM does mail-order of books and magazines.

Good Vibrations, 1210 Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94110, (800) BUY-VIBE (289-9423), goodvibe@well.sf.ca.us (yes, they are on the Internet!). An excellent non-sleazy erotica store, woman-owned, with lots of good books and magazines about sex and a nice selection of basic sex toys. If you want to order any of the books in this FAQ, you could likely get them from here--and if not from here, from QSM. Not an SM store, but a good one nonetheless. Send them $5 for first-class-mailed catalogs of their books and toys.

Adam and Gillian's Sensual Whips and Toys - Serving the SM community since 1987 Adam and Gillian produce quality whips at reasonable prices. For a catalog send $3.00 to AGSWT c/o The Utopian Network; PO Box 1146; NY NY 10156, credit card by phone at (516) 842-1711 11am-9pm ET or FAX 24 hours at (516) 842-7518. Alternatively, check out the web page and on-line graphic catalog.

Mr. S. Leather Co. & Fetters USA, 310 7th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 863-7764, (415) 863-7798 (fax); http://www.dnai.com/sex-bondage/. Possibly the best-stocked store for SM equipment in the world. Lots and lots of really well-made bondage gear, including metal shackles and leather straightjackets, and a HUGE handcuff selection, not to mention amazing amounts of leather and rubber clothing. They have just completed "The New 1996 Mr. S. Leather and Fetters Catalog", a 208-page gorgeously-photographed catalog with over 1000 photos, and two thousand items; it's available for $20.00 in the U.S.A., $30.00 foreign.

Leather Masters, 969 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, (408) 293-7660. Leather Masters is a toy store featuring custom leather, cleaning and alterations, novelties and cards, body piercing, B&D equipment, videos, and latex. Mail order catalog and newsletter are available.

Northbound Leather, 19 St. Nicholas St., Toronto, Ontario M4Y 1W5. +1 416 972-1037, +1 416-975-1337 (fax); http://www.northbound.com/. This is an up-and-coming leather store with an excellent reputation for quality and for unusual latex and leather goods. Two *very* nice catalogues (one clothing, one toys) at $10 each, applicable towards purchase. Both catalogs and ordering info are on-line. Fit guaranteed for mail order if their (very detailed) measurement instructions are followed.

Strangeblades & More, 1131-O Tolland Tpk #157, Manchester, CT 06040 860-741-2965, Sblades@aol.com. We make fashions, accessories and sensation toys in metal and leather. We have both a "Fetish" and a "Chainmail & Jewelry" catalog available. Our "Chainmail & More - fantasies in metal" page is at http://www.altsex.com/sblades.

House of Whacks, 4017 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60618, (773) 761-6969, fax (312) 761-4375. Specializes in latex clothing, may sell some toys. Also sells high-end magazines and catalogs, including a fancy and expensive one of its own. Sponsors periodic social gatherings. Has a web page, http://www.webgraphics.com/HOW/whacks.html.

Male Hide Leathers, 2816 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60657, (773) 929-0069. Primarily gay male-oriented shop, sells stuff of general gay interest as well as bdsm interest (clothing, toys). Don't know if they do mail orders.

Black Market Chicago, 1116 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago 60622, (773) 278-6780. BDSM apparel, ewquipment, toys, and books. Sponsors periodic bondage nights at a local bar.

Taboo Tabou (or it is the other way around? :-) ), 856 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago 60657, (773) SAFE-SEX (or its digital equivalent). Erotic lingerie, BDSM apparel and equipoment, other toys, and a wide selection of condoms.

Paul C. Leather, 2421 W. Pratt Ave., Suite 959, Chicago 60645, (800) FETISH-0 (or numerical equivalent). Leather BDSM wear by catalog order; showroom by appointment only. Their email address is FetishZero@aol.com.

Pleasure Chest, 3155 N. Broadway, Chicago 60657, (773) 525-7151. General-purpose sex shop with a good selection of BDSM apparel and tools.

J.R.'s Bonds, (773) 252-2690, jrsbonds@suba.com, http://www.suba.com/~jrsbonds. Promoter of BDSM events in the Chicago area.

Slimwear of America, P.O. Box 997, Eastsound, WA 98245, (206)376-5213 (machine), (206)376-5231 (fax). A widely-known supplier of rubber-wear and assorted latexery. Clothes catalog $17.50, hood/gag listing $6.00, both $22.00 postpaid.

Heartwood Whips of Passion, 412 N. Coast Hwy. #210, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. Some of the best leather whips and floggers to be found, anywhere. Jeanne's whips are works of art, whether they're being used or not.

Bondage, James Bondage, Inc. 7926 Woodvale Cir., Tampa, FL 33615, (813) 443-3658. Purveyors of assorted bondage gear, videos, and magazines, I believe.

If you're looking for leather in upstate New York, look up Savage Gifts & Leather. The owner's name is Ken Savage and the shop is at 88 Central Ave., Albany NY 12210. His phone number is (518) 434-2324. He will custom make any leather apparel/gear you can dream up and he's helped me design some custom harnesses. His shop is open every day (except Sunday) from noon til 8pm EST, 11pm on weekends. He also does area shows and welcomes mail orders.

JT Toys, Inc., (800) 755-TOYS, jttoys@world.std.com. JT (Joel Tucker by name) has an excellent selection of quality SM equipment and prices lower than any. Plus he's a great guy to do business with. Their new web site is at http://www.stockroom.com.

Cecilia Tan, a long-time presence on s.s.b-b, now has a business: Circlet Press Mail Order Books, P.O. Box 15143, Boston, MA 02215. She says they carry all manner of kinky and erotic fiction and nonfiction, specializing in leather/fetishes/SM. A catalog is free with a 29-cent SASE or by email (she's ctan@world.std.com).

Constance Enterprises Ltd., PO Box 43079, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043. Also Dressing for Pleasure, 590 Valley Road, Upper Montclair, NJ, (201) 746-5466. An upscale business, selling fashions and toys for people into BDSM.

Il Bolero, 6846-6842 St-Hubert St., Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2S 2M6, (514) 270-6065. Don't know much about this store except that it's got a lot of Northbound Leather's stuff.

Bon-Vue Enterprise, Inc., owned and operated by Bill and Debbie Majors (who sometimes post to s.s.b-b), produces B&D videos, magazines, comics, art portfolios, pocket books, and other products; most of their stuff is male dom/female sub. They also operate the Hedonism BBS at (310) 631-7697. A catalog is $5.00 and can be obtained from: Bon-Vue Enterprises, Inc., P.O. Box 92889, Long Beach, CA 90803. They offer a total satisfaction guarantee policy that is "unique in the adult industry". Phone: (310) 631-1600.

BR Creations in Mountain View makes custom-made corsets--P.O. Box 4201, Mountain View, CA 94040, catalog $5. Excellent quality.

Mark I. Chester makes spandex body bags and hoods; he's at P. O. Box 42501, SF, CA 94101, (415) 621-6294.

For a sharp touch, get some Vampire Gloves from Leonard at Lucifer's Armory. Contact ixion@dorsai.org, Box 808, 874 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

ASLAN LEATHER by Carrie, 363 Sorauren Ave. Box 58, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6R 2G5, (416) 538-9759. Carrie makes non-leather bondage equipment, for vegans who eschew animal products in their toys. (She also makes leather stuff for the rest of us.)

I'm told that you can call (800) 305-5525 for a catalog of modern chastity belts.

The classic magazines of "love bondage" (i.e. pretty women posing in lingerie and bondage) are available from Harmony Concepts, Box 69976, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

A wide variety of sexy spandex bondage gear is available from Noelle Nielson Softwear, Box 69826, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Write for information.

Here's a rather hot ad I recently received: "JG Leathers is a manufacturer of custom, specialized, leather and rubber discipline harnesses. Types include pony- girl or pony-boy full-body harnesses, with separate bridle and bit, cow-girl or cow-boy milking discipline harnesses. All harnesses designed and manufactured to be suspension-capable, and when used in conjunction with speciallY modified gas masks can also be used for sensory-deprivation, breathe control, and electrical 'aversion therapy' techniques. Standard toys are also made to the customer's specifications. Catalogue costs $5.00 usd/$6.50 cad. The address is JG Leathers, 5324 10A Avenue, Delta, B.C., Canada V4M 1Y6."

The Naughty Victorian (2315-B Forest Drive, Suite 68, Annapolis, MD 21401; Tel.: 1-800-778-7428; Fax: 410-626-1879). Offering "the finest body of literature, clothing, implements and accessories" for "the practice of adult domestic discipline." Catalog available for $5.

For those who enjoy making their own toys, I'm told that a great source for leather hides and tools is the M. Siegel Company, Inc., 120 Pond Street (Route 126), Ashland, MA 01721. Phone (508)881-5200, fax(508)881-5203, orders only (800)932-8956. They keep odd hours and have certain minimum-order sizes, so call first.

If you're in San Francisco, stop by Stormy Leather, 1158 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 626-1672, www.stormyleather.com. A woman-owned store with an excellent selection of sexy leather and latex clothes, good basic bondage gear, and a wonderful magazine and book section. They cater to both men and women, so they'll have toys to fit you; they also do custom orders. They have unfortunately stopped doing mail orders.

Another great San Francisco store is Romantasy, which has a web page; seek more info there. 

Some basic questions

I started writing the FAQ simply because I wanted to answer some common questions. Plenty of other people on the net also like answering questions, and some of them have sent me good Q's and A's. Here's a partial compilation of some answers by Hans Meijer and his fellows in a German SM group.

All text beyond this point written by Hans and his group.


Contents:

  1. What is Japanese bondage?
  2. Am I insane? Am I the only one that is into S&M?
  3. I have been desperately seeking for an S&M-partner but I cannot find one. What do I do? Where do I go?
  4. Even at parties people don't want to play with me. How come?
  5. My spouse is not into S&M and does not want to get into it. Is it okay to find a "play partner" outside my relationship?
  6. There are almost no women into S&M. True?
  7. What is "nursing"?

1. What is Japanese bondage?

Japanse bondage is a very old form of bondage developed in (obvious isn't it) Japan, but also in other oriental countries like China. The basic idea, developed in medieval Japanese and Chinese torture practise, is that time will eventually do the job (basically like the trick with the dripping water). The torture developed into an S&M-technique that incorporates the following aspects:

The difference between Japanse and other bondage techniques mainly comes from the erotic massage part. Like acupuncture or acumassage the ropes and knots press on nervecentres en muscles and the total of the bondage works as a constant masseuse. The more you move and struggle, the more effective the massage works. If you're very experienced, you will make your bondage in such a way, that every different move exposes your bottom to a different massage.

The combination of helplesness and the massage-effect triggers meditation and you will find that experienced bottoms, exposed to Japanese bondage, will soon be able to stay even in the most complex positions for hours and hours. The problem with my girlfriend is not getting her into a Japanese bondage, but getting her out of it. Not because of the complexity of the ropes and knots, but she simply does not want to lose the feeling. She feels like the ropes are stolen from her, rather then taken off. If you are a bottom and you want to go into Japanese style bondage; take up some yoga-courses. These will help your tremendoulsy.

Experienced tops, that know how to do it, will often turn the bondage into an artwork that may very well resemble "ikebana", the Japanese way to display flowers.

A Japanese bondage takes hours to build up. It is done in several layers. Each layer "communicates" with the previous and strengthens its power or adds new impressions to it. Often the bottom is evntually suspended, to make the feeling of floating complete and literally have them experience the feeling of "leaving earth".

Although it takes years of intensive study to learn the full scale of the technique, below you will find some basic "frist layer" tricks. You will be amazed of the effect, provided you leave your submissive partner sufficient time to "grow into it". These two bondages are massage-aimed only, so they don't have an immobilzing effect. The nice part about it is that they can easily be worn under your clothes, so your girlfriend (they're girl bondages only) may have them put on before she goes to work or goes out with you for dinner or lunch or a movie.

Breast-bondage: You need three soft ropes (woven nylon or silk parachute rope) each 3 to 4 meters long (depending on the measures of your girlfriend. You go about as follows: gently wrap the frist rope around her boy, direct uder her breasts. Not tight, she must be allowed to breath easely. Make sure the frist two windings touch the borderline between breast and body. Do not let the windings croos eachother, but lay them neatly side by side, each with about the same small tension as the previous. Eventually tie the end together on het back. The knot should NOT be on the spine, but directly next to it. wrap the next rope around her body in exactly the same way, this time around the top part of the breasts, in such a way that the soft tension of this rope gently presses her breasts down against the bottom windings. double up your last rope and slide it in the front middle (between the breasts) under your first rope untill you are halfway the double rope. Now sling the ends one or two times around eachother, carefully lead the rope between the breasts, lead each end over one shoulder and tie the ends together under the bottom windings on her back. This final rope is suppost to lift her breasts a little (she doen't need a bra anymore), making sure that every breath she takes makes the ropes massage her breasts.

Your girlfriend will love this one (mine likes to sleep in it). After aboutten minutes she will start to be very aware of her breasts and the erotic power, her nipples will swell end become more sensitive and receptive and eventually she will get the feeling that it are only these ropes that keep her body together, while she is floating away.

Belly-bondage (you may very well add this one to the previous): you need two soft ropes of the same length as the above this time. Go about as you did with the first rope around the torso, but this time around het waist. Again, be gentle, careful and not to tight, There should only be a slight, refined tension.

Next you double up your second rope, slip it halfway through your first rope, lead it carefully between her legs (split her lips and lay your rope over her clirotis) and tie the ends together at her back (knots again next to and not on the sine). Again a subtle touch is required. This will no doubt do the job, but if you want to add some professional tricks, make some extra knots in your second rope: one is to fill the entrance of her vagina, one may tantalize her anus and one or two may work on her lower belly)

These two bondages add an amazing new item to your girl-friends lingerie. Apart from that, they make an excellent strater for further play that could go on for hours and hours.

2. Am I insane? Am I the only one that is into S&M?

Most people, when confronted for he first time with fantasies and dreams about S&M situations have two great frights: one - to be the only one around with ideas like that; two - that this is crazy, unacceptable and that they are ready for the funny farm. Almost everybody will recognise these feelings and here is in fact only one way to deal with it: try and seek contact with others. Be open about your fantasy, even if you think it's weird. I know of some-one who phantasized about dinosaurs in the 20th century, attacking and eating humans. His name is Steven Spielberg. I also know of some-one who phantasized bout killing young women by the dozen with a necktie. His name is Alfred Hitchcock. I know of someone who has the most weirdest phantasies about practically every daily situation. His name is Roald Dahl.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with fantasies even if they seem weird to yourself. As long as you understand that a phantasy is not neccessarely the real world and that it may be difficult or even impossible for all sorts of reasons to actually realize what you're dreaming about. It is very possible that you would like to be sheik of a harem. That would probably bore you within a day if you were one. But you can ask your girlfriend to dress up and act as a very devoted harem-girl. The VCR inside your head, called phantasy, will provide the neccessary background and will fill in the gaps that your girlfriend cannot acomplish. It may also be very possible that you dream about being tied to the main mast of the "Bounty", flogged by means of the cat-o-nine-tails. Well, have your partner tie you to anything and whip you. Your internal VCR can do the rest.

Talking to other people who are into S&M, or corresponding, will help you recognize and accept yourself. You can find them in S&M societies, on bulletin boards around the world, in S&M magazines. If you have a partner, try talking about it. There's a fair chance your partner has similar secret phantasies or will at least be interested in yours.

3. I have been desperately seeking for an S&M-partner but I cannot find one. What do I do? Where do I go?

Well, there is a fair chance that you have either been trying to hard, that your too much focussed on your own phantasy, you may be looking in the wrong places or it is a combination of all three of these factors.

Rule number one is that practically never just the S&M feelings will be enough to establish a relationship. There is more to that. What about old fashioned falling in love? If you are so intensly focussed on your S&M phantasies, you will probably never find a partner. Simply because you need to do first things first. Like falling in love, being interested in eachother, attrackted to eachother, respecting eachother and caring for eachother. Then you can negociate your S&M phantasies.

Yes, you have to discuss your S&M feelings in an early stage, and be honest about them. But not too early. Then, it is not enough just to put on an "indicator", like wearing a wristband, a leather jacket, skirt or jeans or just a black hanky out of your back pocket. A lot of people first of all will simply not recognize your signals, because the are either completely new to S&M or not yet into it. Or they may recognaize it but shy or ashamed to bring up the subject. If you want something, you will have to make sure you get what you want, So you take the initiative. You bring up the subject. Even you are afraid to be rejected for it. If you don't do something, you won't get far anyway.

I personally have always found my S&M-partners, including my girlfriend, outside S&M circles. Most of the time in my work, in a restaurant or my neighbour appeared to be into S&M. By making it clear I am into it, I will automatically draw the intention of people that are also either into it, interested. Be like an antenna, sending out signals that other people will understand. The main signal is not "I am into S&M", the main signal is "Don't be afraid to ask. Talk to me. I'll talk to you en will be more then happy to tell you all about it. Without commiting you to anything. You can talk to me and I will not try to seduce you into a relationship. I simply enjoy letting you in on the secrets. Then you can decide for yourself what you want with the information and what you may or may not want woth me." (By the way: I am a top!!!).

Finding an S&M partner sometimes may be a difficult task to accomplish. Placing or responding to a personal add in an S&M-magazine to many people is an important method to find a partner. Unfortunately, many of these attempts die an early death, because of simple mistakes in the communication. And, since you don't want to end uot with an empty mail-box, this is what you do and don't.

DO - Be honest about what it is you want. Are you looking for someone, to share your life with, a friend, a playmate.

DON'T - Be too expliciet about what you want. Leave room for the fantasies of your prospective partner.

DO - Tell what role you envisage for yourself as well as your partner (top, bottom, both)

DON'T - Use words like slave and master/mistress in your add and also not in your first reaction. Not everybody likes these words. Top/bottom or dominant/submissive are better terms.

DO - Tell your prospective partner about your fantasy (I'm into bonadage, spanking, whipping, D&S or whatever)

DON'T - Think you have a better chance if you leave all options open (like I'm into everything or anything goes). Nobody is goig to blieve and the impression you leave with other people is that you are that desperate that you will accept anything.

DO - Be explicit about your gender and the gender you are looking for.

DON'T - Leave out vital information about things like being married (and looking for a playmate or somebody of your own gender)

DO - Tell your prospective partner, if this is applicable, what your partner/spous thinks about this.

DON'T - Indicatie things try threesomes, partnerswitch, ect. unless your partners knows about this and agrees to this (not just because you think he

or she does).

DO - Be honest any specific age, race, type or whatever it is you prefer.

DO - Add a little humor (nothing wrong with adds that say "doggy seeks boss" or "rabbit is looking for hunter").

DON'T - Include references to either scat or golden showers in your add. This may be your phantasy, but can only be dicussed once you get to know eachother.

DO - Make a first appointment at a public place, like a restaurant or a bar.

DON'T - Make a frist appointment at your place (or your prospective parterns'), give away your address and phonenumber immediately.

DO - Make sure you get to eachother a little before you meet, like exchanging some letters.

DON'T - Do active play on your first meeting (and don't expect it to happen).

DO - Tell about what you like and what you may have experienced in the past.

DON'T - Tell fairytales or other make up stories. Don't tell anybody you are experienced if your only experience comes from reading about it.

4. Even at parties people don't want to pay with me. How come?

This is a classic bottom problem. Especially a hetero male bottom problem. It's called the Shopping List Problem.

The fact of the matter is - assuming that you are a hygienic, clean, normal person - you are probably too explicit about what you want, thus leaving no room for the top's phantasies or ideas. If you approach a top with a list of things you want and how you want them performed, it will never happen. Tops are not some sort of S&M jukeboxes. It is not like you put in a quarter and they play what you want.

Many male hetero bottoms make another mistake as well: they think that every women on a party is a top (if it has breasts it can whip me). Remember that you have a fair chance the woman in question is a bottom also, or somebody that is just not into topping this evening.

Also: if you are a bottom you may feel that by offering your behind for a spank you offer a lot. That of course is true, from your point of view. From the tops point of view that may very well be not the case. Tops are usually more interested in people that try to seduce the top into a scene. Most tops play hard to get, which to them is a lot more fun. Try subtleness instead of lowering your pants immediately. Offer a drink, make eye-contact, make the top interested.

The third big mistake is to call every top "mistress" or "master" at the first encounter. First of all, the top may a a master or mistress but not yours (at least not yet). A top will appreciate that you (being a bottom) is polite but assuming that he or she has a commitment to you, by calling them master or mistress as if they already had that position towards you already will usually be taken as an offence. Like "you are now entering my private space and I don not remember inviting you there".

Also, not every top appriciates to be called master or mistress. I personally - being a top - am of the opinion that my bottom doesn't have to let me know that she accepts me as her top by calling me "top" or "master". She shows it to me and simply calls me by name, which is what my name is for. But that of course is a purely personal view.

5. My spouse is not into S&M and does not want to get into it. Is it okay to find a "play partner" outside my relationship?

So called third party play exists (and pretty widely), but constitutes a real threat to your relation/marriage. In almost all cases there is more to any S&M relationship - whatever it's nature - then "just play". Towards your spous you have to remember that if you are planning to play outside your marriage you are going to share some very intimate, personal, deep feelings with somebody other then the one you love and are married to. Your "play partner" will do the same thing. So there is a fair risked of getting further involved hten "just" play, at the same time moving away from your spous.

If you and your partner cannot work out a way to deal with both your sexual fantasies and dreams, you seriously need to reconsider yoyr relationship. Because if you cannot share this vital and intimate thing together, good chance there is something wrong in your relationship. Or, as explained, something probably will be very shortly.

The fact of the matter is that the situation in most situations is not as desperate as it may seem to you. Your communication is probably on two different wavelengths or the recieving channal of your spous is blocked by prejudice, stereotypes of plain fear. In those cases it is very advisable to first take your time to deal with this problem. Try very carefully to convince your partner that this is something you at least want to talk about and share. If not phisically then at least verbally. It may be very helpfull (and has proven to be in many cases) to try and get help from an S&M couple or somebody experienced from an S&M group or society (most groups have people that can do this). They can take away the prejudice and stereotypes more effectively then you can yourself (simply because your partner will probably argue that you are to talk him or het into doing what you want).

You need outside help - prefably from somebody of the same sex as your partner, to help you out. Buying a good book about S&M -like Califia's Sensuous Magic"- may help as well. Whatever you do, take the pressure of and try to work your way out of this.

If there is no way out, the best advice is to use the services of a professional dominant. This usually not only makes it better understandable for your partner, the risk of "getting involved" en jeopardising your marriage, is practically nill.

6. There are almost no women into S&M. True?

This is absolutely untrue. Research in the Netherlands has proven that (a) about ten percent of the population admits to have fantasies about power and sex and (b) more women then men have these phantasies. However, it is true that you will not find many women going to an S&M party, leather bar or group meeting. At least not alone. Parties, group meetings etc. are usually not a good place to date. Parties are more fun fr couples or small groups.

If you want to date, the best way to do it is be open and honest about your feelings. You will eventually attrack somebody to you. If being open is not an option - because you can't for social reasons - joining an S&M group may help, because it gets you in the scene. But don't expect a date on the first night. The other way is advertise in S&M media. This will do the trick, provided your add is not too explicit, open and honest.

7. What is "nursing"?

"Nursing", like almost any other S&M-playform, is pretty hard to define. What we do no is that power is the centre of the game, as it should be, however concentrated around a very specifi relationsship: "nurse/doctor/governess" in the top-seat and "patient/child" being the bottom. So there is a specific contrast between the dominant and the bottom. However, nursing is not just that. It can be more powerful and even more personal then other platforms.

Nursing first of requires a specific environment: this can be either semi-medical or a nursery. Clothing, uniforms and attributes are very important. The "patient", depending on the "nurse/doctor", the "discomfort" of the siuation and the uncertainty of the "treatment to come" are the ingredients of the game. A game that can (and in most case will) be very emotional.

Creating an environment, that comes to reality as close as possible, is of great importance. If this is to be hospital, the specific hospital-smell - created by a scent of either Dettol or Lysol - is an item you should not forget. Attributes, prefably as realistic as possible, the uniform of the nurse and he or she being "fierce" showing not too much understandig for the patient are all ingredients that are supposed to get the bottom very close to the real fears, we all know when we have to go to a hospital or in the dentists' waiting room. This combination of tension, fear, uncertainty and having the feeling that you are part of a process that you may not completely understand but that is fatal to your health, is vital to the nursing game, because this specific fear is what the game is all about.

Latex and cold "bathroom-like" rooms (clinics) ar just as important and masks, hoods, blindfolds and gags will help to improve the bottoms' uncertainty.

Nursing can roughly be divided into three different "theatrical" scenes. It is important to understand that, although it is all about nursing, the different scenes are different and details from one scene may interfere with another. In other words: if the scene is "nursery" the top should be a governess or maybe teacher but NOT a nurse. The same goes for the details. Bottoms that are into nursing are usually very observant as far as details are concerned.

Variety #1 is "child-nursing". In ths type of scenes the bottom may very well be either a baby or a small child, taken care of by a nanny or governess. The top will have to find a very subtle combination of care and comfort and fierceness. Having to wear Pampers, sipping from either nipples or a bottle, having to eat babyfood and wearing baby-clothing are mostly THE topics, of course combined with punishment. The humiliating aspect of all of this is important as well, but not every bottom will recognize this.

Variety #2 is "physical therapy". In this case the bottom will ask the top to play the part of "physical therapist" ordering the bottom to undertake "healthy" activities like work outs, diets, breathing techniques, stop smoking, etc.

Variety #3 is "medical nursing". This can work out into two different ways: either physical (operations, treatments, enema's, etc) or psygological (the bottom is the patinet in an old fashioned mental institute). Nursing can be a very dangerous game and often indicates a trauma. The bottom may have either low self-esteem, may want to re-live certain experiences or may want to punished for things he or she did in the past.

If you are into nursing, communication becomes even more important. Not just communication about what you want, but why it is you want this specific form. If you are a top, be prepared that a bottom indicating nursing-games may very well need professional help first. If there is a trauma, one has to deal with that first in a professional way, before you can start to play with it. There is nothing wrong with someone who - having had and come to grips with a trauma - is able to play with the idea, as long as the trauma has been dealt with.

Being a nursing top is extra difficult. Not only because of the fact that you may be confronted with a trauma, but also because the technicalities of the game will probably be time-consuming. You need to have some acting capabilities to play a nurse or doctor in a serious way. You will need to study your specific role and the environment needed. And you need to find uniforms and attributes. And you do need to know about applying "fear" into a game. From a pysical point of view fear will do the same thing as pain. It will "invite" the body to produce endrophines and adrenalie. But unfortunately, where "pain" is something you as a top can see, "fear" is not. It is therefore a lot harder to apply and control.

Some tips on Self-Bondage

This sizable piece is by Jonathan Peters. Again, this is not my advice; follow these instructions at your own risk.

It is likely that the majority of people have no desire ever to be physically restrained. Likely, but unproven - there appears to have been very little esearch on the topic. This is the kind of field where people hide the truth from themselves let alone from others. My guess is that plenty of utterly ormal en would dearly love to be tied to a bed by the sex symbol of their dreams. Women I'm not so sure about (feedback welcomed).

Going beyond this, there are certainly plenty of people who explicitly crave some kind of enforced immobility. This is sometimes out of curiosity but more usually for erotic stimulation. Most modern guides to love making include a section on bondage, highlighting the intensity it can give to sexual relationships while emphasising the need for full consensuality and avoidance of physical harm (ie Comfort, 1990).

Yes, great - it's legitimate to want to be tied, and you must feel free to discuss this with your partner without shame. (Embarrassment perhaps, but that is one of life's little hurdles...) If you have a partner who indulges your fantasies as often as you want, count yourself very lucky. There are plenty of people who lack a sexual partner, or whose partner won't play along, or says "Yes of course Dear, sometime- but not tonight". This document is written as a practical guide to those who want to be tied up and can't get someone to help.

At a deeper level, I cannot fully explain why some people seek to be tied up but can pass on a few observations (published or anecdotal) and a wild guess. Self bondage is reputed to be most frequent amongst Caucasian males of above-average intelligence and 'controlling' personalities. (This might explain the reputation of conservative back bench MPs in the UK!). Dominant or forceful mothers have also been implicated. The whole field seems overdue for some roper research.

My theory, for what it is worth, is that the state of enforced, smothered immobility reminds the unconscious mind of conditions in the uterus. This would fit with high IQ (as good early mental development would be needed to lay down memories accurate enough to influence behaviour 20 years later), the high frequency of transvestitism (wrapped up in essence of female), and (from my own experience only) the paradoxical feeling of total safety in a situation wich is objectively just the opposite. All other ideas welcomed.

There are certain difficulties in tying oneself, notably the conflict between being helpless (ie unable to escape) and the need for a guaranteed escape in due course. Much ingenuity has gone into solving this conundrum, and although most people escape most of the time there have been alarming numbers of men who died through making a mistake. Blanchard & Hucker (1991) report on 117 cases of autoerotic asphyxia from coroners' courts from Alberta and Ontario (Canada) in a 13 year period, most involving auto-erotic self bondage. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.

If you follow the principles given below you can make yourself helplessly tied for a precisely controlled length of time (as long as you want), while retaining the option of a secure back-up escape option. There is no excuse for getting irrevocably stuck. All you will need are a few household items that can be bought in any town and look quite innocent.

Believe me, the ability to conjure up a succubus from everyday things who indulges your sexual fantasies more absolutely than any human, then who evaporates back away into the household is a remarkable and wonderful power!

2: The principle

Have you ever tried opening a combination padlock in the dark? Probably not- to a good approximation it is utterly impossible. Most of the techniques described below use a combination lock - but then who switches the lights on and off? A preset timer switch!

In essence you create a self-bondage setup with a combinatio n lock as a keystone. Program your timer to switch the light off, then back on again in a while. Slip on the wrist loops or whatever, and wait. The lights go out - you're helpless. Eventually the lights come back on, you open the combination lock and you're free. Note that the length of time of helplessness is up to you to choose, but is irrevocable once the exercise is under way.

3: Safety

"It doesn't sound very safe to me" I hear think. What happens if the house catches fire in that period of helpless? If your escape really depends on opening the lock, you die. If you follow my advice you will have at least one sharp penknife within easy reach and are likely to escape and live. A good smoke alarm is a wise precaution. In a situation where seconds matter (ie someone petrol bombs your house) then being tied up is a seriously bad idea, but if you are paranoid enough to worry about such disasters self-bondage may not be the hobby for you!

Statistically, the big danger is asphyxiation. This is a nasty way to go, but simple asphyxia would give you time to open a knife and cut cords loose. The real killer is strangulation, which can cause a sudden loss of consciousness. One well known victim was a prominent British Conservative MP, Stephen Millegan, who wasn't tied at all when he blacked out and died in 1994. Judo, Shorinji Kempo and other martial arts exploit this by teaching their advanced students to squeeze the carotid artery in the neck, causing unconsciousness in 10 seconds. This leads to death unless followed by immediate resuscitation.

DON'T EVER FIX ANYTHING TIGHTLY AROUND YOUR NECK. Being comfortably tied up is not intrinsically dangerous, if you have the bail-out option of a penknife nearby to cut cords. Oddly, this can make the experience less satisfying since you know you are only pretending. I recall the wonderful feeling of freedom in throwing my knife on the floor, leaving me truly helpless awaiting the dawn. (Psychologists may find this worthy of further research). If you do that, accept that any emergency will kill you. I've children now, and love them too much to take this risk.

4: Equipment needed (Basics):

A digital timer switch, a digital watch (ideally with a countdown timer), an extension cable that ends in a double socket, two clip-on or bedside lamps, two combination padlocks, nylon cord, 1 or more sharp penknives, a bed, a tube of fast setting polymethacrylate glue (Superglue), some sort of broad soft strap.

Timer switch: The timer switch should be a 24 hour digital model.

Lamps: You will depend on their light to escape - what when a bulb blows? Hence the need for 2 lamps (but check the maximum power load your timer switch and extension cable can safely take).

Cord: You will need lots! (10m or more of soft nylon cord at least 5mm diameter + a few m of a finer cord).

Combination locks: There are several types of combination padlock - the only criterion is that they must be openable with one hand. The sort with one round dial on the front (like miniature safe dials) are easy to open, but have a subtle weakness (see later). A few bicycle padlocks have only 216 combinations, which is simply too few (10 minutes to open blind).

Knives: Your penknife should have a folding blade and a fastener on the handle to which you can tie a piece of string.

Bed: Ideally your bed will have posts at each corner, though with ingenuity and lots of cord almost anything will do!

The strap: By far the best item here is a broad cotton belt (called Obi by the Japanese) as worn by martial artists to denote their status. These belts are very strong, never slip and never leave embarrassing marks on skin. Any martial arts shop and lots of sports shops sell them in a range of colours. I would never use my black belt this way (having earned it), but there is no law against you buying any colour you want. I discovered the wonderful uses of an obi during Shorinji Kempo training. The post-blackbelt syllabus includes a technique called Baku Ho Dai Ichi (translation: first binding technique), which involves using the belt that you conveniently just happen to have around your waist to immobilise an opponent. If you want to know more, find a Shorinji Kempo dojo and grade to shodan! If you have no martial arts connections, explaining why you have just purchased a belt may prove difficult, but for the attachments described below an obi is hard to beat.

Failing that, its place could be taken by simple nylon cord, but this will tend to cut the skin. A rolled sheet might also be OK at a pinch.

5: Techniques

5.1 The cross.

Let's start by setting up the simplest of this family of techniques. I will spell out a lot of details here that will quickly become familiar, so please read through and set up this exercise even if you don't fancy the resulting position.

Theory: one hand alone cannot remove a loop which has slipped tight around its wrist, even though this is trivial for 2 hands working together. Therefore set up two slip loops well apart (ie on each bedpost), then put one hand through each loop. Voila: You're stuck!

Start up procedures (which will take time and togetherness- don't do this stoned!)

A: Setup your knife/knives. Tie your fine cord to the penknife, leaving a tail of about 50cm of cord. Next tie a loop in the far end of this cord, so that you can clip a padlock though this loop and be sure that you knife is at the other end. Squirt a few drops of superglue on both knots. This freezes the knot - you will never undo it now (though of course it can be cut). After a few seconds wrap soft tissues around the glued area to mop it all up. If you don't do this, you will get blobs of superglue on your sheet. These are impossible to shift and very hard to explain!

B: Setup the bed: You need a firm attachment for your padlocks at each side of the top of your bed. If you have bedposts, just tie some thick cord around each bedpost and superglue the knots (so you can't change your mind and undo them). If your bed lacks posts, you will have to run cord upwards from the legs, ending in a loop whose knot is superglued. A bit of experimentation is called for! Consider putting loops up the two bottom corners for your feet, but don't use them on your first trial.

C: Make wrist loops. In theory all you need is a piece of cord with a slip knot. This will slip tighter as you struggle, marking skin and cutting off blood supply. No! Tie the loop in such a way that there is a stop knot which prevents it slipping too tight. You will need to spend some time calibrating each loop until you are sure that it will slip just tight enough to hold, and no more.

When you are happy about this loop, open it wide enough that you can easily put one hand into the loop. The wrist loop should have a long tail, along which the slip knot slides. Next tie a small second loop on the long tail (which the padlock will go through), and freeze this new knot with superglue. Don't glue the slipknot (or it won't slip).

You would be well advised to spend a little while padding each wrist loop to prevent it from cutting your skin. The simplest (but very effective) approach is to wrap masking tape or large plasters around the stretch of cord that will pull against your skin. Scuba diving shops sell wrist loops just like this encased in thick soft rubber tubing (called buddy lines). These are used to hold 2 divers together in murky water, and are readily modified for auto-bondage purposes. As with all diving kit, they are effective but expensive! You can do the same thing yourself more cheaply with rubber tubing, though persuading string through old bunsen-burner piping is remarkably difficult!

D: Setup the lamps. Position them so that they illuminate the bed, without any possibility of their falling over or touching flammable material. Plug them both into the same extension lead, and plug the extension cable into the wall. Switch on the mains supply, and switch on both lamps. Check that they both work!

If they are OK, leave them switched on but switch off at the wall and pull the extension cable out of the wall socket. Disconect the phone now.

E: Assemble the bonds. Open one combination lock, and use it to lock one wrist loop and one knife to the cord around a bedpost. Check carefully that the loop and the knife are both firmly attached to the bed - give them a firm pull to make sure. Repeat this for the other side - and stage is set.

F: Next, try the escape under ideal conditions. Lie down on your back, put one hand through one loop, and pull it tight. Don't fasten your other hand yet!

Check that you can get the knife, and then practise opening the combolock several times with one hand. Confirm that this really does free your hand completely. Practise opening the penknife, and check that you can get the blade into a position to cut at least one of the cords.

All OK? Now the first real test. Reshut the lock, ensuring that the knife is still firmly attached.

When you're ready, fasten both hands. Wriggle a little to check that you really are stuck, and then escape by opening a lock.

Still all OK? Refasten the locks, checking that your knives are still attached.

Now you can start the timed routine. This bit needs darkness- best wait for nighttime, though I suppose a blacked out room would do during daylight hours. Switch off all lights in your house except that in your bedroom ceiling.

Decide how long you want to be tied. Start off gently; 5 or 10 minutes maybe. Get out your digital watch, and check that it says the same time as your timer switch!

Set the timer switch to OFF mode, then program it to come ON in 2-3 minutes. Program it to go OFF again in maybe 5-6 minutes, and back on again after your chosen time interval. Be very wary of mixing am and pm; it would be a long wait if you expected the light on at 11pm but in fact it came on at 11am next morning!

Put the timer switch into the wall (carefully - if the battery contacts are jiggled you will lose your times), plug the extension cable into the timer, and switch the power on. At this point the lamps will be off (as the timer switch is in OFF mode), and your main bedroom light will still be on. WAIT until the timer switch comes on, then switch the main bedroom light off. Now the only source of light is controlled by the timer switch.

The wait is usually a little tense, but if the timer switch changes from OFF to ON it is clearly working. It is most irritating to wait for the lights to go off, when in fact the timer is locked in edit mode!

I like to set the countdown timer on the watch to go BEEP at the time that the lights are expected to switch off. If the watch beeps and nothing happens, there may be a bug - escape and check.

When setting up more complex schemes you may need 10-20 minutes before the timer switch cuts out, and in this case it can be very useful to have a countdown defining how much time remains.

If all goes well you slip on the loops and realise yourself to be stuck - then the lights go out. Go on - try to open the combination locks! You just have to wait until the lights come back on.

If all seems well, try fastening your feet to the bed next time. Almost any way will do as long as it is comfortable and you can't get your feet near your hands.

This technique introduces you to timed helplessness. It has the drawback of being moderately uncomfortable, and sexually frustrating.

You may well find the next method preferable, although it does call for a little more thought and really needs an obi (japanese belt). There would be some academic interesting in keeping records of the actual times you choose to be tied (my experience was a steady increase from 10 minutes at first to 2 hours within a year).

5.2: Introducing the Obi.

Equipment as before, but add an obi (japanese belt) or something else broad soft and strong.

Theory: lie on your back on the bed and make yourself comfortable. You will find that your feet are apart and your hands are spread out either side of your body. The aim is to leave yourself tied in this position by means of loops on your wrists and ankles, plus (most importantly) a soft strong belt holding your shoulders down.

Start by fastening the belt to the midline of the head of the bed. You should have a large loop of obi, which is solidly attached and can be hidden under pillows until needed. This may involve running cord between legs of the bed and running a branch upwards to the pillow zone, to which you tie the belt. Lie down on you back on top of the belt, then put your arms through the belt. If you have set things up correctly the belt runs under your back but over your upper arms/shoulders. You should be fully comfortable, but when you try to sit up nothing happens.

Now point your hands towards the bottom of the bed and note where your they lie. Get up, and tie a long length of cord to one foot of your bed. Tie a loop in this at the point where your hand lay, and use a combination lock to fasten a wrist loop + knife to this long cord. Repeat for the other side of the bed.

Now lie on top of the belt again, put your hands through as before, and just see whether they can comfortably touch the wrist loop and can get to the combination padlock. Almost certainly you will need to adjust lengths a few times before they're just right. When you are sure the lengths are right, freeze the knots with superglue (except of course the slip knot). Do be careful not to superglue the sheets!

Now slip one hand into a loop, check that it is firm but that you can open the padlock and that the knife is accessible.

All OK? Now try with both hands - you should find yourself comfortable but quite immobile.

This is ideal on a wide bed. On a single bed your hands might be able to touch each other. If so you will be able to escape far too easily - think about modifying the attachment points so that your hands cannot touch. One solution would be to run a second long cord under the bed from one padlock to another, forcing them to stay apart.

When your hand loops are set up (which may take a while), find some way of fastening your feet, and you're ready. Set up the lights and timer switch as before, and off you go. This one is wonderful when correctly set up, especially when mixed with hash cake (see later).

5.3 Fastening your hands together:

This not is easy to do. For a start, 2 hands together are powerful tools that take some serious fastening. Secondly, it is hard to see a combination lock behind your back! Thirdly, it really isn't easy to tie your hands together.

By far the easiest way to bind your hands involves getting hold of some very non-household equipment. Buy some handcuffs, and replace the middle chain link by a combination lock. For added safety, replace the two outer links by string, having frozen the knots with superglue as normal (now a knife can save you, but knives don't cut chains). I highly recommend padding the hard metal edges with tape or plasters - this avoids a lot of discomfort and embarrassingly persistent marks on your skin.

Try lying on a bed with your arms through a belt as described above, and handcuffing via a combination lock to cord attached to the bottom of the bed. WARNING: With unmodified handcuffs you can easily get quite utterly in this position. Ensure that your handcuffs are held together by the combination lock, and rehearse with both keys and a knife in your hands.

If you can't buy handcuffs (they are hard to find in some areas) or don't want to handle them, poor substitutes can be made from string.

The crudest approach is to knot cord around each wrist in turn, superglue the knots (not your skin) then fasten them together with a combination lock. You will inevitably have to cut this cord before re-entering human company! Marginally better is to create a piece of cord with one small loop at one and a larger loop with a very fat knot at the other end. Pass this around your wrist, and thread the big loop through the smaller. If your length is right this will just hold your wrist, won't slip tight, and has an easy attachment point for a combination lock. If so, freeze the knots with superglue. If not, try again..

Generally, having hands tied in front of you is not very satisfying. You often aren't substantially more helpless than if you were untied. One exception to this is the (highly recommended) procedure mentioned above whereby you fasten an belt in a loop to the head of a bed, then lie down on the belt, put your hands through it, and fasten them by a combolock to a cord running up from the foot of the bed. There is a critical level of tightness at which you are comfortable, but unable to move or get your hands near your head.

Another is to tie some cord to a rafter in your loft, and dangle a loop through the hatch. Combolock handcuffs to this loop, and discover how little you can do with your hands tied above your head. This position is bad for circulation - don't do it too long. In addition the emergency release knife tends to dangle in your face.

By contrast, the problem with tying hands behind your back is the helplessness it causes and the difficulty of escape. If you are reasonably flexible, you might care to try the variants below - but have a knife fastened to your padlock, or don't blame me when wife/mother/neighbours/police have to rescue you!

Try fastening your hands behind your back to your waist. It is remarkably easy to untie belts/cords around your waist in this position, thereby escaping. To prevent this, make a belt of cord long enough to go around your waist with a loop knotted + superglued in each end. When the 2 loops are fastened by the same padlock that fastens your hands, you are helpless. When the lock opens, it all falls away.

You can tie your feet conventionally, but better is to lie face down on the bed with one foot tied (by a slip knot) to each bed leg. You may prefer to try this position first without the waist band, although it is usually possible to get your hands to one foot and untie it thereby freeing yourself.

The classical image of bondage is hands tied behind the back with a rope wound around your arms and body. I am sure that this is very effective when someone else does it for you (but have yet to persuade my wife to help me with this). It is not really viable on your own. Getting your arms into the coils is hard, so the coils must be loose. This means that they can always be slipped down/up or the knot untied. My experience of exploring these systems is of recurring failure, in sharp contrast with systems where hands are tied apart to solid objects. If you ever did manage to immobilise your hands behind your back in tight coils of rope, how would you ever see the combolock to open it? Any further thoughts on the matter welcomed.

Escaping from hands tied behind: It is really useful to know how to escape from having your hands tied behind your back. The only hard part is the first step: get your hands past your bottom and under your knees. This involves some serious wriggling and squeezing - loose bonds are essential for the inexperienced. Having got here you can touch your face (removing anything undesirable which might be there), untie your feet, then slip one elbow over a knee and pull the foot through. Repeat for the other elbow, and your hands are in front of you. Now you can see what you're doing and use your teeth to undo knots. Easy when you know how, but always have a knife to hand just in case.

6: Further notes on combination padlocks.

There are two sorts of combination lock. Some have 4 rings that must be lined up with the right numbers next to each other, while others have one dial on the front like a miniature safe. The former are very secure, but quite hard to open with one hand. The technique is to squeeze the hasp in so that the dials all move freely, then use one finger to move each dial in turn. With 2 hands working together some models can be open by brute force dialling, if the numbers click into place. In practice it only takes a few hundred diallings to tire fingers out, while thousands are needed.

The other sort of lock is opened by turning the one and only dial several times (either clockwise/anticlockwise/clockwise, or vice versa). What you are actually doing is lining up 3 plates inside the lock, each with a small notch in it. When the notches are all in the correct place the lock can open.

Incredibly, you can get to know one of these locks well enough to be able to open it in the dark! Once the first number is dialled, the next 2 movements of the dial are always the same and can be learned. The notch occupies 1/12 of the circumference of the disc, so in theory by dialling randomly then following the correct turns you have a 1/12 probability of opening the lock.

It's not 1 in 12 in practice, but I have found these locks falling open so often that they I don't think of them as very useful.

Worse is that some have a raised motif (such as an arrow) in the centre of the dial, which allows you to estimate where each number is, so open the dial very easily. (But not easily enough to justify a total blindfold- that kind of attitude causes accidents). Put a blob of thick glue (araldite) on the motif to cure this weakness.

7. Embellishments:

These are some additional ideas, which almost entirely irrelevant to the technical aim of tying oneself up. They will tip the balance of perception of many people from the behaviour as harmlessly odd to the downright kinky. For others they can become the whole point of the exercise, or at least a compulsively important element. If you're worried by them, no-one is asking that you try anything.

7.1 Clothing:

Doubtless some of you will want to wear some special clothing or other attire while tied up. For men, female clothing (especially underwear) or leather is are popular (Blanchard & Hucker, 1991). That is up to you, but remember you need to be able to see (and breathe!). Opaque hoods are definitely out. If anyone has worked out a refinement that allows timed escape while blindfold, I'd be fascinated. (Might there be a market for failsafe handcuffs with a built-in timer? Would you trust them?)

If you insist on being hooded, there is a good compromise. Normal tights fit over heads well, give a constricted feel but won't suffocate you or prevent you from opening a combination lock. They do make escape harder (equivalent to 30-45 minutes extra wait as dawn comes up). If you are troubled by their propensity for coming off after long struggle, apply a little ingenuity to find ways of holding them in place. If you add anything else, it must obey 2 rules: it must let you breathe, and somewhere there must be a hole in it through which you can see numbers on the dial of your padlock. Thus panties are OK (they have leg holes) but a pillow case isn't, and a plastic bag is suicide. Explore with care.

7.2 Substances.

Another refinement that is likely to be popular is the use of some chemical stimulus to add interest to the experience. Floating away on cloud nine while comfortably helpless is an amazing experience. Do be careful. Don't have a large pot of tea or several pints of beer before getting tied up for the night, or face a burst bladder! Anything that could induce vomiting is seriously dangerous and must be avoided. If you must smoke something beforehand, be very careful to stub it out before going ahead.

Cannabis is said to have anti-emetic properties and isn't diuretic; eating a hash cookie would probably be reasonably safe for experienced users. Hallucinogens would be a very personal decision, with real risks of panic attacks if mishandled. Caution is the watchword.

8. Non-timer techniques.

I describe here tow techniques that re not timer-controlled, but worth having in your repertoire. These only work as long as you pretend not to know the escape algorithm. They are worth exploring for all that.

The first is extremely simple, useful for those nights when the wife boots you into the spare bed for snoring etc. It involves an obi (japanese belt) as described above. These belts are soft but very high friction, so that the simplest knot will not come undone when pulled. Take an obi, and wind it round your feet 1-2 times, then tie it with the simplest knot that will hold. You should have c. 70cm of belt left unused. Tie the simplest slip knot in this that will hold, lie on your tummy with your feet folded back, and put one hand through the slip knot. Ideally wind the belt twice around this hand. Now put your other hand through the same loops, and pull tight by trying to stretch your legs while pulling the slip knot closed. This will bind hands and feet amazingly well, leaving you utterly immobile. To escape, untie your feet (it was a simple knot wasn't it?), then keep flexing your hands and eventually they will come free. The more you struggle, the tighter the knots slip so be careful - remember that even a sharp knife will take ages to cut an obi.

The second method involves making string handcuffs based on a noose using a one-way slip knot that I believe to be called the Jacobsen knot. These work astonishingly well when made correctly, and can be used with a combination lock to fasten your hands to something solid.

The problem is that I face here is that the explanation really need pictures to explain adequately. I'll talk you through it as carefully as possible, so that an operation which actually takes a couple of minutes will sound much more complex. Please try to bear with me.

Let's start by making one Jacobsen noose. For ease of explanation I will ask you to use drawing pins to fasten loosely a length of cord to a surface. This is purely to ease my explanation. Once you have made one knot you should have no more need to pin the cord down.

Take c. 50cm of soft nylon cord, and pin it to a sheet of card so that the pinned section is c. 20cm long, and runs vertically up the card. It shouldn't be at all tight - you will need to wrap the cord around itself, so make it nice and loose. Have the rest of the cord running upwards, away from the upper drawing pin.

Now fold the loose end of the cord to your right, down, and make it cross over the pinned section at 90 degrees so that you cord now looks like the letter P. Fold the tail back under the pinned section, below (ie towards you) the point where it first crossed, then back over and back under again (still spiralling down toards you). You should now have wrapped the loose end twice around your pinned section of cord, with the tail lying to the right (looking more like a capital R than a P now).

Lift the tail up and away from you, and lie it down parallel to the pinned section so that it passes over the bottom arm of the loop. Now pull the tail to the left under the pinned section, and back over the top so that there are now 3 coils wound around the pinned section. Voila! Fasten the knot by pulling the loose end under the beginning of the third (most recent) coil, pull tight and remove the drawing pins.

If you have managed to follow the instructions, you will have made a noose defined by a slip knot with 3 coils wound around the made a noose defined by a slip knot with 3 coils wound around the central axis. When you hold the knot and pull, it will slide tighter or looser with equal ease. BUT if you try to pull the noose open from inside, it will lock tight. This knot is a standard item in boys-own survival books etc: with 4 such knots you can climb a vertical, slippery rope by moving one knot at a time.

Practice making the Jacobsen noose a few times, and make sure that there is lots of spare cord coming out of the actual knot. Note on each one that one and of the cord is a tail along which

the knot slips, and the other comes straight out of the triple coil. Let's call this latter end the static end, since this section of string does not slip at all. When ready, make 2 such nooses and tie them tightly together by their static ends. Now practice slipping each one tight. If you have it right, the distance between the 2 knots (hence your hands - in due course) will not change. If the knots move apart as the loops tighten you fastened the wrong bits of string! When you've got it right, put one hand into each loop and pull them tight.

This should be reasonably easy to do. Now try to pull your hands apart. The knots should lock solid, and really won't move. To escape, worry at the slip knots with your teeth until one suddenly switches to 'slide' mode.

Now try with you hands behind your back, having first read my note above on how to escape from this position. Be careful and have fun!

Jonathan Peters

October 1995

References

Blanchard, R. & Hucker, S.J. (1991). Age, transvestism, and concurrent paraphilic activities in 117 fatal cases of autoerotic asphyxia. British Journal of Psychiatry 159, 371-377.

Comfort, A. (1990). The Joy of Sex. 17 October 1995~0c



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