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 to clean off the surface of the skin, followed by Betadine to disinfect 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.

If you look at all this and go, “WHY would anyone do that?”–well, if you have to ask, you’ll never understand :-) The key thing to remember here is that SM is all about intense sensation, and all these practices can certainly produce a lot of that! As always, be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It’s certainly possible to do all these things in an unhealthy (physically or psychologically) way; but it’s also possible to do them in healthy ways, if that’s your true desire.