This page continues the introduction to basic BDSM terms and concepts. To return to the About BDSM menu, click here.
This page specifically covers the following topics:
For your own protection, please keep in mind that information on the web, including this site, should be treated as introductory, and should not be used as definitive safety guides! For the greatest safety and coverage, consult as many sources as you can get your hands on, from written sources to your private physicians. The more you read and the greater the range and quantity of professional opinions you get, the better you will become at picking the best techniques and methods for yourself and your partners.
Singletails are whips with one long tail (as opposed to floggers, which have multiple tresses). Bullwhips, signal whips, stock whips, and blacksnakes are particular types of singletails.
Signal whips are currently popular BDSM toys. Officially, a signal whip is an extremely flexible three-foot or four-foot whip used to
Signal whips have a nylon cracker at their tip that creates a sharply painful stinging sensation on bare skin. The whips can create welts and draw blood relatively easily. Some signal whips have easily replaceable crackers; others have crackers that are woven into the leather tip of the whip. Keeping your whip clean and sterilized after play if you do break skin (and even if you are not aware of doing so, these whips can cut skin without drawing blood) is important. Some tops use a toy that might encounter bodily fluids on only one partner as an extra precaution.
Learning to use a singletail such as a signal whip or bullwhip takes practice. You can hurt your partner or yourself if you do not learn to control your whip. (The first few times you use the whip you will occasionally snap yourself in the ear or upper arms on the backswing, so expect to find out how the whip feels the hard way.)
Using a Bullwhip
Twenty minutes of practice a day for a few weeks, using a velvet pillow or thick terry towel as a target (these fabrics retain the stroke so the top can step closer and examine them to check aim) and then graduating to picking off clothespins or balloons suspended from a hanging blanket can do wonders for whip control and aim. The more experienced you become, the more you will find you can control even more forceful strokes. It can also be fun to learn to crack the whip just before it hits the bottom, which makes a loud noise but expends much of the force of the stroke before it hits.
A quality signal whip is capable of remarkable accuracy and is a joy to use. There are several makers of fine signal whips listed on the Vendors page. Although most people come to love their own whips no matter which one they buy, there are minor variations from one whip to the next and slightly larger variations according to who made the whip. Three comparable fine whips are made by David Morgan, Joe Wheeler, and Rod Williams. Joe Wheeler's and Rod William's signal whips are considerably more expensive than David Morgan's, but unlike Morgan, Wheeler (who originally apprenticed to Morgan) and Williams are Scene-friendly, just in case you feel that you have an uncontrollable urge to discuss what you are planning on using your whip for. All are excellent whips of comparable quality, in my opinion, though they handle differently. Morgan's whips tend to be reliably delivered, while Wheeler's production and delivery can be erratic. I know less about Williams' whips or delivery history, but I tried one recently and was smitten. And owners of his whips all swear by them. There are other fine signal whip makers, as well.
Even if you are a novice, you will be handicapped in your learning experience within a week if you get a cheap, pretend whip. Although you really cannot tell if you will like a whip without using it, there are some basic quality differences that are so obvious to the naked eye that even a novice can tell just by a glance. The loosely braided "bullwhips" sold at many local porn shops and novelty stores are not worth even the ten or twenty dollars you pay for them, unless you are just looking for a Halloween costume or something to hang on your wall for effect. They fall apart easily with use and they do not fly straight enough to get your aim under control. On the other hand, tack shops tend to offer reasonable quality whips and crops (and at lower prices, too: often in the $50 -- $100 range you can get singletails of very fine quality if you know what you are looking for).
If you want to see what high-quality braiding at least looks like, check out some of the Vendor web sites like those of Rod Williams or David Morgan. Note that the braid is extremely tight and neat. The whip is firm along its full length and not floppy, even when coiled. When you first buy a quality singletail whip, it will be straight and stiff from the tight braiding. But each strand in the braid is narrow and made of a fine leather that will flex and conform in time to exactly your style with use and care. Quality whips really do handle more accurately, feel better to use, and last longer. There are many small, local whipmakers who do not advertise widely and who produce gorgeous, high-quality singletail whips! Don't be afraid to take a risk if the price and quality both seem right. But junk is junk; and when it comes to singletails, getting a quality product makes a much greater difference than with most other kinds of play implements and floggers.
New braided leather toys such as signal whips and bullwhips will be stiff and straight when new, and require some breaking in. A fine leather dressing (Morgan recommends and usually includes a sample of Pecard's, though some purists argue that for use on skin leather dressings without petroleum products are preferred) should be worked deeply into the whip when you get it, slowly kneading, curving, and turning the whip over as you go along its length so that the dressing is worked into the edges of the leather strips. Repeat these dressings every six months or so to keep the whip in good condition. Tan signal whips are traditional and will darken with use and dressing. Over time and with repeated use signal whips and other singletails should soften and flex so that they can be coiled into circles small enough to fit in your pocket or hang inconspicuously on your belt. Store the whip so that it hangs straight if you are leaving it unused for long periods so that it does not acquire a "direction" in its coil (which will adversely affecting its handling).
Nipple clamps are items that pinch the nipples. Some have adjustable settings so the pressure can be customized or varied. Others work only by a single spring mechanism and do not allow the top to adjust the pressure. Nipple clamps can also be used on other areas of the body, but here we will stick to nipples. Most tops test clamps first on themselves to get a feeling for the level of intensity imparted, often on the skin of the inner wrist or the webbing between the thumb and forefinger.
Roach clamps (named not for the insect but for marijuana butt holders) are matchstick-thin tweezers with small rubber coverings on the tips and a sliding ring that lets you adjust the tightness (like barbecue tongs). They are good for many nipple sizes. For scene use they are often sold in pairs with a chain attaching them.
Rolls-Royce clamps are heavy, strong-looking clamps with rubber tip coverings, a chain between them, and an adjustment mechanism that works by screwing them tighter (like screwback earrings). The adjustment mechanism works very well, and if the bottom's nipples are not too small, these clamps can be adjusted from very light pressure to fairly tight. Novices often find them the most comfortable of the nipple clamp styles.
Clover clamps are intricately curved spring mechanisms whose actual purpose is to hold fabrics tightly for sewing. They can be bought very inexpensively at sewing stores. For scene use they are often sold in pairs with a chain attaching them. The flat ends have rubber coverings. The pressure they yield is intense and cannot be adjusted; in fact, they tend to ratchet to a tighter level when the chain is pulled. But many bottoms find them hot for exactly those reasons. They are very attractive and many tops never travel without them.
The rubber tips of all the above kinds of clamps can be removed for a fiercer effect. Be aware that doing so is likely to break skin and draw blood, though. Most metal clamps can be sterilized easily should they draw blood. It's also a good idea to habitually inspect edges for irregular sharp points, loose paint chips, splinters, anti-rust oils, etc. before using them.
Snake bite kits can make excellent nipple toys. They cause the nipples to swell and become highly sensitive.
There are also a variety of very lightweight nipple-clamp-like items available. Some of these are just for decoration and amount to small fabric-covered elastic bands that slip comfortably over the nipples and are attached by a string or bejeweled chain. Some people do in fact have nipples so sensitive that even small amounts of pressure can be very effective. But most of these items are for visual effect.
Rubber bands and dental floss are not recommended for nipple binding, though they are sometimes used. The nipples tend to swell, sometimes dramatically, when bound, and these items cannot be loosened or removed easily. They can become so hidden in the flesh that it can even be impossible to cut them off without cutting the skin.
Many household items can be used perfectly well as nipple clamps. Examples are clothespins or much fiercer items like chip clips or binder clips. Though they do not have adjustable settings, sometimes the spring mechanism can be bent to reduce the pressure. The circular openings in clothespins can also be used, sometimes to better effect, than the tips if the person's nipples are sensitive. Chopsticks positioned on either side of the nipples can be used to bind the nipples and tightened or loosened with twist ties.
The chains that attach many styles of nipple clamps have a variety of uses. They can be pulled, weights can be hung from them, or they can be used to lead or tie off the bottom. They can also be used to yank the clamps off at the end.
Nipple clamps, like other tight binding, reduce circulation. The rule of thumb many tops suggest is no more than ten or fifteen minutes of use at a time. (I've occasionally heard as much as twenty suggested as a maximum.) Coldness, numbness, and discoloration are signals that it is time to release the clamp.
Releasing the clamp often brings more pain than placing the clamp on in the first place because of the sudden inflow of circulation to the blood vessels. If you want to reduce the sudden pain, you can press your warm palm or squeeze the tips of your fingers on the clamped area as you release the clamps. The pressure slows the blood return, which for most people eases the fierceness of the pain. Of course, sudden pain may be the goal, but it is always nice to have options.
Fledermaus has suggested a terminology for describing clamps that can be helpful in communicating how they feel to different people. He suggests the terms pressure, bite, and grip. A narrow metal clip will have bite but not much pressure or grip. A clover clamp with a tuned-down spring will have a lot of grip but not much pressure or bite. A broad, flat metal tip will have pressure without a lot of bite or grip. That is, grip refers to friction; bite to localization; and pressure to distributed force.
Knives as scene implements typically impart fear, pain, control, and sometimes blood. It is useful to distinguish between what is commonly called "knife play," and what are commonly called "cuttings." In general, the term knife play does not involve the intentional drawing of blood. However, the term cutting does generally involve the drawing of blood. If in doubt, this is a matter to clarify in advance negotiations. Despite the common usage of these terms, not everyone comes from the same background when it comes to semantics.
Knives (and, while we're at it, other surprising weapons like guns), more than many other kinds of scene implements do occasionally bring up hard, immediate limits for bottoms. I recommend that if you want to use a knife as a top, you bring that up overtly in negotiations beforehand. Or else, minimally, be sure the bottom sees it and has time to safeword or signal an out if it comes up unnegotiated. Alternatively, if you are the one who is bottoming, asking if the top might bring knives into the play is perfectly reasonable and acceptable. If you have strong feelings about weapons in scene, either in terms of finding them incredibly hot or incredibly off limits, taking them up in advance is a very sensible strategy.
Even if you only intend to do knife play and never intend to do a cutting, learning proper sterilization techniques and scarring issues when working with different skin types is highly recommended. Accidental drawing of blood or permanent marks can easily happen with knives. We discuss four topics below:
Many knives are defined as weapons in the United States and many other countries. In the United States, laws and definitions vary widely by state and community, so it is important to know the local laws for where you live and where you might travel for play. Legally, in many states in the United States, the dividing lines for carrying such weapons are commonly length of blade (3" being the common maximum length acceptable for carrying on your person in many states), extent of concealment and sheathing (most states allow concealment of sheathed, tucked away, or folded knives under certain lengths; but in some localities it is legal to carry an unsheathed, unconcealed weapon, possibly with a license, while in other localities there are almost no blades that are legally carried), and automaticity of action (in many states, switchblades and stilettos, both of which extend the blades rapidly by spring action, are illegal. Lockbacks and lining lockers, which are folding knives with a locking mechanism concealed in the handle so the blade, once extended, cannot be refolded without releasing the mechanism, are generally ok but may be limited). Swords, exotic weapons designed for hunting game, and martial arts weapons are sometimes legal without special application; else they can sometimes be legally excepted with appropriate documentation.
In many states, and under many circumstances, air travel with small pocketknives within customary bounds is not questioned. But checking knives is always recommended if you travel by air because they are usually classified as weapons, and can always be impounded at the x-ray point on any random day. On a few occasions I've forgotten the unusual look of small folding pocketknives (or other toys) in my pockets or carryons, and had items questioned and inspected going through airport security. Just relax and be courteously sensible! No one there cares about your private sex life or what you use the knife (or whip or vibrator or whatever) for. Their job is to prevent in-flight security risks. Most items are just examined, evaluated, and replaced without question. (So ok, if you look back the security staff sometimes can be seen to be giggling after you leave. Guess what: they know what it's all for. *smile* Think of it as an educational opportunity.) If you get questioned, just answer clearly whatever is asked, and offer to check the item if there is any obvious concern. Unless your destination point makes possessing some item illegal, checking it will be just fine.
With a minimum of practice, even the sharpest of knives can be used without drawing blood. In general, the tips can be used to scratch; and if the knife blades are scraped (the direction you'd use to peel a carrot) rather than drawn along the blade (the direction you'd use to slice a steak), even the sharpest of edges can be controlled and will not cut. Practicing on oneself first is highly recommended, of course. Whether or not you ultimately want to draw blood, learning to control your knife and work with different skin types is a prerequisite.
I like to use daggers for some things (like threat, scraping, fear, genital insertions, etc.), lock-back pocket knives or hunting knives for fearplay and eye-opening rapid deployment right out of my pockets, serrated edges for safe backup in rope play (serrated blades can cut even the most complexly woven rope quickly and cleanly in an emergency, but you do also want to be careful about the points and whether inserting the point can break skin), and all kinds of knives, large and small, for general fear play, scraping the skin, removing wax, scratching, and occasional blood.
To the surprise of many, light cuttings do not ordinarily scar. Light cuttings through only the top three epidermal layers tend to heal completely within one to six months. However, some skin types, age, and area of the body present unpredictable factors, and scarring is a definite possibility in any cutting. In general, the older someone is, the more likely the skin is to retain marks as scars. In general, thinner-skinned areas (like above bones as opposed to on the fleshy part of the ass) are more likely to scar. And in general, blacks or those with swarthier Mediterranean skin tones are more prone to keloid than fair-skinned whites and orientals. Keloids are a raised permanent skin reaction that is manifested in striated scarring lines in the skin or striated welts. The striations sometimes develop instantly or might take a week or so to manifest. Be aware, though: anyone can keloid or otherwise scar; it is not completely predictable when it happens.
And though it is extremely rare, even an irritating scratch can occasionally leave a scar. One of my very few personal scars is a faint white 2-cm line on my little finger from a repeated scratch made over the course of one hour by an exposed nail in the saddle of a horse I was riding at age 9. The instructor kept griping for me to keep my hands low to the saddle, and didn't believe me till after class when I said there was a nail there that was scraping me. There was never any blood or subsequent scab: just repeated irritation and scraping of the same spot that for some unpredictable reason left a mark that has never gone away. (For the record, this is one of those thin-skinned areas; perhaps that was a factor, since I've certainly had other more severe scrapes since then that have not scarred.) For a sense of how rare this is, I've never in my life heard anyone else report a similar scarring experience from merely repeated surface irritation.
If you are trying to remove a mark from a light cutting or scratch that has lasted longer than you like, exercise, and in particular elevated blood flow through the affected area, seems to help purge any under-skin blood pools. Zinc intake, too, seems to be a factor in purging scars. Sometimes a summer of tanning and peeling takes away any final remnants. A few people report success with topical applications of aloe vera -- this seems to work better on burn marks than on scratch marks or keloids. I've known marks that were even two years old to disappear completely in time; but it's a complicated problem with little but theories and the personal experiences of others for you to try. If not risking permanent marks is critical to you, you should be cautious about doing knife play.
On the other hand, many people desire intentional scars because they can be enticingly beautiful decorations, memories of particular relationships or scenes, or private symbols of ownership and d/s. Because of the skin's natural resilience, intentional scarification (that is, intentionally leaving a scar) via cuttings can in fact be hard for some people to accomplish even if it is desired! If a cutting does not leave a mark when you want it to, you can try recutting the same lines repeatedly, using a hot knife for the cutting, or rubbing clean ash (like ash from a clove cigarette) into the wound an hour after the cutting. It is important to consult an experienced player or scarification expert before proceeding with any of these techniques. Raelyn Gallina is one of the finest scene-friendly piercing/cutting/scarification experts in the world. Asking in your local tattoo/piercing parlors and asking experienced players you meet through groups in your local Scene Community may also get you much useful information.
Do not use X-acto knives, scissors, or unsterilized knives for cuttings. Most knives are covered with a thin layer of machine oil at the factory to prevent rust. In addition, small metal filings may adhere to the blades from the production process. Neither oils nor metal shavings are good to embed under the skin.
For cuttings, many tops use not knives but sterile disposable single-edge razor blades or disposable scalpels. However, designated or thoroughly sterilized knives are sometimes used for cuttings. These items are often designated as bottom-specific even if they are autoclaved so as not to risk spreading bloodborne diseases. Moreover, any blade dulls after use; cleaner edges can be obtained with disposable blades than with knives in most cases.
Sometimes the raggedness and difficulty of use are desired as part of the effect. And as a thought-provoking aside, in surgical practice it is a fact that a certain amount of raggedness in skin tearing heals faster and more thoroughly than utterly crisp, clean cut lines. (Obstetricians, for example, regularly attest to this trade-off with regard to episiotomies: there is apparently some optimal amount of raggedness in the tear/cut for the skin to grab and reheal itself quickly, strongly, and thoroughly. Hence, many obstetricians only suggest intervening with an episiotomy if the incipient tears are clearly going to have to go beyond some level of raggedness consistent with the obstetrician/midwife's experience with regard to a combined balance of safety and healing for the newborn and the mother. There are no cut and dried guidelines, but the concept of "productive" raggedness up to a certain point is widely acknowledged.) This intriguing notion, which seems sensible when you consider it a moment, is unfortunately still a much-unstudied area. And clearly beyond a certain point, scarring is almost certain with extreme raggedness and randomness.
Even if you never intend to draw even a drop of blood, it is useful to know the techniques used by medical professionals and reasons for those techniques. Intentional drawing of blood is generally done under as close an approximation to sterile conditions as is feasible. Accidents that break skin should be cared for with as close an approximation as possible to intentional blood-drawing care as can be achieved. The following is an overview of the principles and is not intended as a bible. Feel free to use it as a minimal starting point for asking deeper questions and learning more with regard to your own style of play.
The penetration of a knife or any other implement below skin, be it a whip, clamp, or fingernails, can pull bacteria from the skin or the implement under the surface. Ideally, if the cutting is intended, an advance cleaning of the area is done with an antibacterial agent.
Betadine: Scrub Technique
If the wound is unintended, an antibiotic is used to swipe the wound before bandaging, and sometimes even before all bloodflow is staunched. You have to use your judgment. The majority of unexpected cuts in BDSM usually stop bleeding before the top can even step forward to inspect the wound. If bleeding continues, then pressing directly on it is the recommended method for stopping it. It is also useful to know that blood-clotting speed varies by individual genetic factors, as well as age and fitness level. For females, menstrual cycle is a remarkably major factor: women who are menstruating tend to clot noticeably less quickly than they do at other times. And in general, the older a person is and the less good physical shape a person is in, the slower the person might clot.
It is useful to know a few of the principles involved with different disinfecting agents, in case you do not have the ideal cleaning agents on hand after an accident.
Bandaging a cut after it is cleaned is a mechanical device that prevents subsequent dirtying or re-abrasion of a wound that may temporarily be open and allows the area to be physically held still so the skin can do its own natural work to reknit. On the other hand, bandaging has the disadvantage of reducing airflow around the wound, which does facilitate skin-healing as well as the killing of many viruses and some bacteria. The tradeoff depends on the circumstances. Once bleeding has fully stopped and the skin is strongly reknit, bandages are less to the point and should probably be removed unless abrasive reopening of the wound is a factor (for example, if the wound is right where clothing might rub). A minor wound or mole can be bandaged as a temporary or precautionary device during a flogging or whipping to be sure it is not opened accidentally.
The top generally uses latex gloves for any blood work that is intentional, including cleaning up. That way, even if the top ends up exposed because of an accidental puncture to the glove, the gloves protect the bottom from feedback exposure. Proper hazardous materials disposal techniques are followed with regard to any items that are exposed to blood. Minimal disposal techniques include wrapping any exposed paper towels, tissues, used bandaids, used extra gloves or condoms, etc., in the latex glove as it is turned inside out when removed from the hand, and preferably using proper red medical sharps disposal containers for disposable scalpels or needles. In a pinch, a capped plastic soda bottle will do temporarily for holding sharp items safely. Please do not throw sharp, fluid-exposed items in the trash, even if they are bottled! Any medical center will take these items from you for proper disposal. If you are worried about questions, give them a call in advance; most places will not ask questions.
Any nondisposable items should be bleached and scrubbed carefully afterwards. All knives, vibrators, nylon-crackered whips, fluid-exposed rope, or sharp implements such as nipple clamps or Wartenburg pinwheels that could be or are exposed to bodily fluids should be sterilized meticulously after each use, even at times if they have not appeared to draw blood. Fluid exposure can still occur even if skin is broken only slightly. Bleach, thorough scrubbing with rubbing alcohol or soap and hot water, and then extensive subsequent rinsing with clear water are all recommended to prevent the spread of hepatitis, HIV, and other STDs. If the item is metal, then boiling it in hot water for twenty minutes, or sterilizing in an autoclave if you are lucky enough to have access to one, are also acceptable replacements for bleaching. Exposed nylon, cotton, or hemp rope can be washed, bleached, and dried in a washing machine and dryer (but cinching the rope in a mesh bag or pillow case first is recommended or you might end up with a mess of knots and enough lint to clog your machines).
Rubber, latex, and leather require special followup maintenance to keep them in condition.
Exposure to air is known to kill the HIV virus. So: hang your whips or leave your vibrators and knives out for an hour to dry! Moreover, storing a knife in its sheath tends to cause deterioration in the quality of the blade. Thus, exposing your knife blades to air following play is multiply beneficial. When you are done sterilizing the item, dry it completely and then let it dry further in moving air before putting it away or sheathing it. (This works to preserve your personal razors, too: sterilize and then dry the blades thoroughly and they will last longer and cut more cleanly. Microscopic rust nicks develop if water remains on the blade. Beyond the lack of precision induced, the nicks also possibly retain germs more easily than smooth blades.) Caring for your blades or cutting items by keeping them nick-, rust-, and germ-free is generally recommended.
Hepatitis, and particularly Hepatitis B and C, which are both more widespread and more resilient than HIV, are if anything more complex risks to guard against than HIV. Vigorous scrubbing with soap, cleanser, rubbing alcohol, or an antibacterial agent is highly recommended when it comes to hepatitis. Merely dunking the exposed item in a solution of bleach and rubbing alcohol may not be enough for the hepatitis virus: you have to scrub (for example, with soapy hot water ), and then scrub again, and then rinse and be sure the item is thoroughly dried. How to protect with complete assurance against several of the difficult hepatitis viruses is currently undetermined. Scrubbing and rinsing are highly recommended until more tests have been done on whether bleach does actually kill the several hepatitis viruses.The combination of bleach, rubbing alcohol, hot soapy water, scrubbing, and air drying are believed to be effective against almost all known current bacteria and viruses, including all currently known STDs. Even if it is too late for some of these things, you can do the others to reduce the risks for your bottom and yourself. And you can try to make it a habit to do these things and to stay on top of current research.
As a final comment, if you are dealing with any kind of wound beyond your knowledge or handling level, you should obviously be prepared to get professional help immediately. No amount of embarrassment should deter a trip to the emergency room or a followup consultation with a personal doctor if that is the only way to get necessary help. If you do not have the courage to see your way through caring for any accident that could occur as a consequence of your playing, you should not be playing. This advice goes for bottoms and tops alike.
There are many fine knife makers. I have had great experiences with quality knives made by Gil Hibben, Cold Steel, Gerber, and SOG. I have also owned with pleasure several very inexpensive knives that are unexpectedly fine, useful, and fearsome. Several distributors are listed on the Vendors page. For comparisons and awesome knife-selection/care information, I recommend the website The Knife Center. Some fancy knives, like the Hibbens fantasy series, are more for show than for use in actual cutting or throwing (lest you dull the awesome blades or points); but even knives used "for show" can be used to terrify, and for controlling or damaging effect when it comes to insertion in the mouth, cunt, or anus. Know your knife before you play.
When you pay more you usually do get knives that are sharper, more "true" (sight down the blade and you can usually see if there is a bias to the left or the right or a bobble of any sort), stronger blades with better quality seatings in the hilts, and cleaner actions for cutting or rapid opening. However, there are often surprising deals for under $10 if you keep your eyes peeled. Inexpensive knives that look very sharp but are actually slightly dull or have slightly blunted tips can be useful for mindfucks or increased safety when used on delicate mucous membranes. Be aware, though: any vendor selling a currently produced non-folding knife as "new" without a sheath is likely selling a stolen knife.
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