"HARNESS" column for Beefyboyz.com - December 2004

Panic Attacks

"I was putting a submissive through an SM scene recently when he started to panic. I didn't know what was going on so I began to panic as well, and that made his panic attack worse! What should I have done?"

There are several reasons why the bottom or submissive person in an SM scene might begin to panic: they might have lost trust in your abilities as a Top, perhaps you increased the intensity of the scene too quickly or went further than they felt able to go, or maybe the scene has triggered the recall of an unhappy memory.

Here are some of the stages where you can reduce the chances of a panic attack occurring:

  1. Have you asked the bottom for a full disclosure of their physical and mental health BEFORE the scene begins?
    Are you sure? Did you know that they almost drowned as a child before you put a gloved hand tightly over their mouth? And you knew that they were almost electrocuted once, before you took out your violet wand?

    Don't rely on the bottom to remember all these things, as they may not seem important or relevant. Learn to ask the right questions before you begin to play and you can reduce the chance of the scene going off the rails.

  2. Are you both fit and mentally alert?
    Make sure you've both had enough to eat and drink beforehand so that your blood sugar level doesn't crash halfway through the scene. It's a good idea not to do hardcore SM scenes when you're tired or distracted by other things. Wait until you can give each other your full attention. Hopefully it goes without saying that you're not intending to play while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, as that also increases the chance of the scene going badly wrong.

  3. Acknowledge your mistakes.
    Even the most experienced Top makes mistakes. Perhaps you hit a particularly sensitive part of his body, or tied a rope so tight that it pressed on a nerve. When these things happen don't ignore them and hope the bottom hasn't noticed. Almost always they have noticed and if you don't acknowledge the mistake they will lose faith in you. You don't need to end the scene, but gently rubbing the spot that hurt and checking the bottom is still okay before you continue can go a long way to restoring their trust.

  4. Watch out for changes in their behaviour.
    Has their breathing rate suddenly changed? Perhaps their body has stiffened more than usual or their head jerked back in response to your latest stimulation. This could be an early sign that they are reaching their limit, and that you need to check in that they're still okay before pushing any further.

  5. Does the bottom appear to be in another place or time?
    If the person you are playing with starts repeating the same phrase over and over, re-living an old memory, or they appear to be in a different place from where you are that could be cause for concern. Pause what you are doing and bring their focus back to the present day. It might help to slowly remove a blindfold, raise the lighting level or open the door/ curtain/ tent flap so that they can see outside your immediate playing area. Invite them to look you in the eye and reassure them that you are not going to harm them.

Unfortunately you can do all of these things and that's still no guarantee that an SM bottom won't have a panic attack during a scene. You could have asked all the right questions, taken them out for dinner, increased the intensity slowly in a scene you've done a hundred times before and you might still hit a mental landmine that neither of you was aware was there.

When that happens you have to stop what you are doing and immediately switch into "aftercare" mode:

There are many useful websites which give more information about panic attacks. If you want to know more type "panic attacks" or "hyperventilation" into a search engine. The more you know about the subject the less likely you are to panic if anything like this happens to you.

Have fun, and look after yourselves and the people you play with.

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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