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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or psychologist. 

Introduction to Edge Play

“Edge play” is any kink activity that can easily lead to lasting damage or death. While the person at risk is usually thought of as a submissive, Dom/mes, tops, and bottoms are all capable of being irreparably damaged. However, throughout this article I’ll be focusing on the risks for the sub. With physical edge play, techniques can include the fun headline-fodder we’ve all seen before: knives, guns, ultra violence, branding, asphyxiation, fire play, waterboarding, or anything that can easily kill a person. Obviously death and lasting damage are things we want to avoid at all costs, but the rush of good-feeling neurochemicals that can come from some of the extreme pain and immobility in edge play can be unparalleled, for both Dom/me and sub.

There is an added component of psychological thrill in almost all edge play scenes, enough so that it has its own category. However, unlike physical edge play, “psychological edge play” provides a more challenging environment in which to work safely. Most capable Dom/mes can quickly tell with their eyes and ears if a person has been deprived of oxygen too long, or if an incision is too deep, but it’s much harder to tell when a verbal dagger has pierced someone’s core beyond repair.

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Deconstruction and Reconstruction: Domination at Its Finest

If not done properly, the necessary manipulation of a person’s psyche during this kind of play can easily create wounds in the subconscious, unseen and unknown to both Dom/me and sub, which can take years to heal. While there should be a period of “come down” after any intense psychological scene and, ideally, suffering which gives way to catharsis, the final goal is to have your sub re-enter the world a better, happier person. It should be a net positive experience. It takes years of practice and an innate fascination with the human mind in order to understand and become good at psychological edge play, and a deep sense of compassion and the ability to quickly and accurately read someone in order to do it safely.

I love psych-domination, especially extreme forms of it. It’s probably one of my favorite D/s activities. My more advanced submissives and I have that in common: a hunger for the “ragged edge,” as they say in racing, which places the sub on the precipice of a psychological breakdown. If you’re not ready for it, I don’t push you into it, just as I wouldn’t shove someone into a Formula One car if they’d only driven a few times. But for those people who seek it, I will push them as far as they think they can go and usually even farther–to the places where I see that they can go–provided of course they will still come out the other side. In short, I want to break you down and build you back up, better, stronger, and in my image.

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Consensual Nonconsent in Context

This may sound like an inherently nonconsensual activity. It is.

Now, now. For all the vanillas, terrified newbies, and pious scene critics: I am in no way advocating abuse, or nonconsent outside of a BDSM setting. However, psychological edge play is, by definition, consensual nonconsent. Without an element of nonconsent, the whole thing topples over into the realm of predictable; if something is predictable that means your sub knows what’s going to happen next, and his mind will set up barriers to keep him from fully experiencing the scene. He will enjoy it, sure, just as a patron at a movie theater can enjoy a good horror movie without ever actually fearing for his own safety, versus someone who decides to go into one of those absolutely terrifying haunted houses at Halloween and literally thinks he’s going to die. In the movie theater, the pain and fear are still real enough to be fun, but not so real that it turns into “reality.” Safe scenes are still just theater, or sex, or some combination of the two. Psychological edge scenes must, by definition, trick the sub into thinking there is actually something real at stake.

As a starting point, if you want to create an edge play scenario you have to bypass enough mental safety features to give the sub the impression that almost anything could happen. If the sub feels that there are aspects to your behavior or the environment that are truly out of his control, unpredictable, then you have a shot at manipulating his mind into the kind of responses you want. Otherwise, his brain will work fast enough to be either with you, or a few steps ahead of you, and he will only allow you to enter into the topmost, superficial layers of his emotional experience without having any of the true highs and lows of emotional risk. Another pitfall of being predictable in a psychological edge play scene is that your sub will be able to see through your ruses/lies/distractions, or possibly even lose respect for you for not appearing as smart as he is.

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Outsmarting Your Submissive

Ultimately, in most cases, a sub that craves this kind of experience wants his Dom/me to literally outsmart him. It’s part of the very common submissive desire to surrender to someone actually superior, as opposed to the fantasy of someone superior, which is part and parcel of the “reality” required to produce the emotional highs and lows of a mind fuck. You need not be more intelligent than your sub in ALL areas, as that is neither common nor satisfying, but you should at least be smarter than him in a FEW areas–most notably, the key aspects of his mind that you’ll be manipulating.

The process, which I’ll break down in more detail next week, is to understand his mental landscape so well that you can invade areas of his psyche that he doesn’t normally inhabit, move things around, potentially cause mass chaos, and then put things back together again before exiting. Usually this requires either knowing someone for years, or having a general sense of how the human mind will react to certain archetypical mind fuck scenarios (betrayal, infidelity, abandonment, ridicule, etc.). After years of experiential study and gradually upping the emotional risk in your psych-dom scenes, you will be able to enter into these mind fuck modes gracefully and without even thinking about it. It takes a long time to master, but once you do, you will probably find that while traditional physical scenes are fun, the mind fucking aspect is addictive.

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Emotional Implications of Psychological Edge Play

It’s the process of breaching a sub’s emotional barriers and spiking his adrenaline that makes a scene risky enough to be deemed psychological edge play; otherwise it’s not edge play–just “play.” A Dom/me must be willing to trigger intense psychological reactions, including the basic three negative ones: anger, sadness, and fear. Most submissives in a traditional, consensual scene would be immediately “taken out of their zone” if any of those three emotions showed up in a major way. However, edge play demands that one, if not all, of those emotions feature heavily in the scene, and occasionally other deviations: disgust, surprise, shame, terror, guilt, self-loathing and regret are all tools in the kit of a good psych-Dom/me. It is these extreme emotions that produce adrenaline and cause the psychological turmoil needed to transgress into unpredictable territory. A Dom/me needs to prepare for the likely reactions of a sub in any given psychological edge play situation, which can include having a Plan B (in case Plan A malfunctions technically), a “lite version” (in case Plan A is too extreme) and a kill switch (a set of behaviors from the sub that indicate the scene needs to end).

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How to Aftercare with Psychological Domination

Once a sub is manipulated into having the emotional reaction you’re looking for, you also need to have an exit strategy to get him back down to Earth again, internalize whatever lesson you were trying to teach him, and in general help him process the experience into a positive one. This is what’s known as aftercare, but it’s about far more than cuddles and sweets. Make sure you have built in some greater meaning into the scene, even if you have to make it up when you’ve finished: your sub probably won’t know the difference if you’re fibbing, as long as you make it sound convincing.

Whether you state it outright or not, he needs to feel both that he’s ultimately safe with you moving forward, and that you engineered the entire thing for his greater good. I strongly recommend that you never say anything afterwards like, “I thought you wanted this,” or “you asked me to mind fuck you, so I did.” Such shirking of responsibility can create a spiral of guilt and shame around edge play itself (consider it meta edge play) that may negatively affect future scenes and possibly a sub’s entire relationship to D/s.

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Choosing Your Scene Partners Wisely

Please, subs: don’t play with anyone who you don’t feel has your best interests in mind–and I don’t just mean in that horny moment that you’re together, but your best interests in general. Although edge play is dangerous, it is far safer in the hands of someone compassionate who knows what they’re doing than even the most banal BDSM is in the hands of someone selfish. Think of edge play like a knife: if you hand a razor-sharp saber to a professional swordsman and tell him to play with you without hurting you, you will be very safe and probably walk away unscathed. If you hand a Swiss army knife to an arrogant teenager, you could easily end up in the hospital. There are lots of inexperienced Dom/mes out there who have all of the emotional maturity of an arrogant teenager. I’ve seen such fools deliver lasting psychological damage with a mere spanking.

Nothing and no one can protect you from a bad judgment call on who you choose to submit to, so make sure you take responsibility going into any scene and research who you’re playing with. This is as important for people seeking professional Dom/mes as lifestyle ones. Never question your gut reaction to someone, and if you feel uncomfortable in a scene you should always feel free to stop it and leave immediately. It becomes quite difficult when a sub’s fantasies revolve around actual abuse or emotional masochism, but it is vastly better to find a nice person who can learn to become consensually abusive in the ways that you like, than a genuinely abusive person who pretends to be nice in order to win you over. All BDSM comes with inherent risks, and the more dangerous the activity the higher the risk. It’s important to state the obvious here because I have seen many subs have bad experiences due to either underestimating the effect of a given activity or applying wishful thinking to the character or skill level of their Dom/me. Be smart. Be discerning. Don’t forget why you’re here: fun, adventure, self-discovery, and sometimes, when all the pieces are in place, even love.

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Next week: Part 2! A step-by-step guide to psychological edge play including simple, fun ways to mind fuck anyone, from a total stranger to your husband or wife.