"HARNESS" column - April 2005
"I've heard many SM players refer to 'edge play' but I don't know what they're talking about. What is 'edge play'?"
There is no standard definition of 'edge play'. Its use has varied over time and geographical location. Even a quick search of the Internet will give a confusing array of results, including:
From my own experience of travelling to leather and SM events, I think the most widely used definition of "edge play" at the moment is playing at the threshold of someone's limits of fear, pain or endurance. For someone who has never been tied up before and is terrified of bondage, that first rope around their wrists might well be edge play. But if he or she has no fear of bondage then the first rope isn't edge play at all. It doesn't become edge play until the Top and bottom go on the journey all the way out to the edge (whatever and wherever that may be) - and then stop and play there for a while.
- Scenes without safe words
- BDSM activities which could cause permanent harm or are potentially life-threatening
- Activities which challenge social taboos
- Anything which pierces the skin or has "sharp edges": needles/ knives/ razors etc.
- "High risk" activities, whether that is physically risky (e.g. using guns or knives in a scene) or emotionally risky (e.g. confronting phobias)
- "Breath control, suspension bondage, electricity play, cutting, piercing, branding, enemas, water sports, rape fantasies and scat"
- Any activity which is new to the bottom/ submissive
- Things which fall outside "Safe" and "Sane", but are still "Consensual"
- It's different for everyone - there is no definition
Why do people do edge play?
Some people find it very sexy to be terrified. Others enjoy the huge endorphin rush that comes after receiving a lot of pain. Some are tired of being a "control freak" in the rest of their lives and wish, for a period of time, to surrender completely to another individual. Or they might be using edge play to confront fears or phobias that have been influencing their lives. There are as many reasons why people do this as there are edge players.
If you are interested in edge play what sort of things do you need to consider?
- Be aware of the law in your area.
For example, in England and Wales it is illegal to cause or receive any injuries for sexual pleasure which are more than "transient or trifling". If you had someone locked in your basement for three days for an interrogation scene, how would you answer allegations of false imprisonment? If you have agreed to play without safe words and anyone presses charges against the Top for assault, the courts are more likely to find the Top guilty than if safewords were agreed and adhered to.
I would recommend that you only do edge play with people that you know well. Save any emails or correspondence that shows the scene was negotiated in advance, and what limits were agreed. Try to resist the temptation to take photographs or record the scene while it is in progress, as that can be used as evidence against you.
- Does the Top have the skills to play at your edges?
It is very easy to break someone mentally or physically - any bad Top can do that. It requires no skill at all to swing a heavy metal bar at someone and break their arm. What does require skill is to take someone to the edges of what they think they can endure and help them explore their limits, gradually extending them further and further.
- Does the bottom have realistic expectations?
Be careful if the bottom claims to have no limits. He or she may be too inexperienced to know what they are asking for, may be living in a fantasy world, or could be looking for someone to harm them. Also be wary of a bottom who requests activities that the Top cannot perform safely.
- Is the Top willing and able to provide the appropriate aftercare?
If a bottom has been pushed to the limits of their physical endurance they may require hours of immediate aftercare to return their body to normal. If they have been put under great mental stress the immediate aftercare may take days - usually far longer than the scene itself. If a scene has been very realistic the bottom might have nightmares for months afterwards. Even if the scene was a resounding success and the bottom has conquered a fear or phobia as a result, that can be very disorientating and lead the bottom into questioning other assumptions about their daily lives. Are you ready for the ongoing aftercare that may be required?
- Do the SM styles of the Top and bottom match?
Just because you want to play at the limits of an activity and you meet someone with a great reputation as a Top or bottom in the same activity, does not mean that you are necessarily a good match. Check to see if their style of play is what you are looking for. Some edge players prefer the Top to be full of positive encouragement and let the bottom dictate how fast or slow the scene proceeds. Other players want the Top to be as rough and (from outward appearances) uncaring as possible to scare them into going further than they would otherwise allow. Make sure your style of SM is the same and that there is good unspoken communication between you - BEFORE you get in too deep!
- Is the timing right?
Sometimes you can meet the right person to play with, you know each other well, your styles of SM match, you are in a location to do edge play where you won't be arrested or scare the local population ... everything on paper looks good - but the timing isn't right. Perhaps one of you hasn't had enough sleep, or your blood sugar level is too low, you're under pressure at work or distracted by personal problems. When that happens DON'T do edge play. The risks are far higher that something will go wrong. Wait until you have had enough to eat, enough sleep and can concentrate fully on the scene at hand.
Edge play is a risky activity and I don't want anyone to try it just because they've read this article. It doesn't make you a better SM player or more valid as a leatherman if you do edge play, any more than if you are straight or gay, or ride/ don't ride a motorbike. It doesn't matter! These are just aspects of who we are - don't let anyone judge you because of them. But for those who are drawn to the edges, hopefully this column will help to minimise the risks of things going wrong.
Thanks to Scott Smith for his help with this column.
Have fun, and look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003