Loving on the edge: A brief look at extreme sexual behaviour

In my previous blogs I have examined a wide variety of different – but potentially dangerous – sexual fetishes and paraphilias including sexual masochism, autoerotic asphyxiation (breathplay/hypoxyphilia), enema play (klismaphilia), scat play (coprophilia), watersports (urophilia), and electricity play (electrophilia). All of these sexual behaviours could arguably be classed as ‘edgeplay’. The online Urban Dictionary, edgeplay is “sexual play that is very extreme in nature. Said to be on the edge of safety and sometimes even sanity. Can be very dangerous if not practiced correctly. [Examples include] breathplay, bloodplay, humiliation play, Total Power Exchange (TPE), [and] rape roleplay”. According to ‘lunaKM’ who describes herself as a “full-time slave in an M/s relationship” and the editor (and founder) of the online Submissive Guide, edgeplay has three definitions (that I have reproduced verbatim below)

  • Definition 1: Edgeplay is SM play that involves a chance of harm, either physically or emotionally. It’s also subjective to the players involved; what is risky for me might not be risky for you and visa versa. A few examples of edge play under this definition are fireplay, gunplay, rough body play including punching and wrestling, breath play and blood play.
  • Definition 2: Edgeplay can also literally mean play with an edge. Such examples of play are cutting, knives, swords and other sharp implements. These forms of edge play also fall under the broad term in [the definition above]
  • Definition 3: Any practice which challenges the limits or boundaries of one or more of the participants.

In his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal notes that edgeplay is dangerous in many different ways as the activities may involve (i) increased risk of spreading disease (e.g., through cutting or bloodplay), (ii) psychological danger (e.g., humiliation play, incest fantasies, rape roleplay), (iii) challenging social taboos (ageplay, scat fetishism, and racial slurs), and (iv) even permanent harm or death (e.g., gunplay and breathplay). Such activities can be done alone, with a partner, or with a group of people. From what I have read anecdotally online, edgeplay enthusiasts claim they know the human body better than most medical professionals, and attempt to exercise as much safety as is humanly possible when going to the point of near death and then resuscitation.

The Wikipedia entry on edgeplay also roots edgeplay within BDSM sexual practices but adds that it is a “subjective term for types of sexual play that are considered to be pushing on the edge of the traditional SSC [safe, sane and consensual] creed [and] considered more RACK [Risk-Ware Consensual Kink]”. The article also notes that such sexual acts involve risking serious (and sometimes permanent) harm including possible death. The same article also notes that what constitutes edgeplay may depend upon both an individual’s viewpoint and may change over time. Activities such as ‘ageplay’ (a form of roleplaying in which an individual acts or treats another as if they were a different age, for example a baby or toddler) or ‘rape roleplay’ (involving imagining or pretending being coerced or coercing another into sex) may be considered ‘edgy’ by some but not others. Activities such as ‘scatplay’ (coprophilia) that were considered edgy in the 1990s have arguably shifted into mainstream BDSM practices.

Journalist Rachel Rabbit White is one of the few people to have written an article on edgeplay. As she writes:

“Edgeplay is a sex thing. It is a BDSM thing. And while BDSM among consenting adults is considered cool and OK by most reasonable people, edgeplay is sort of not OK. Edgeplay refers to acts are those deemed not safe, sane, or consensual, which are the watchwords for “normal” kinky sex. This is the BDSM that is never going to end up in a bestselling erotica novel for moms….Like every flavor of kinkster, edgeplay enthusiasts talk to each other online…There’s a group devoted to the topic on FetLife, the sex-based social networking site. One of the group’s threads asks members what the ‘edgiest’ thing they’ve ever done is. Responses ranged from ‘gun play with a cop’ to ‘as a black woman, going to a 1920s themed party chained to my white partner and dressed as a piccaninny’ to ‘smearing Icy Hot on his fresh Prince Albert piercing – while he slept’. I can’t imagine a world in which that last one is sexy but just because it isn’t my thing doesn’t mean it’s wrong”.

She also confirms that what is considered ‘edgy’ has changed over the last three decades. She claims that in the 1980s and 1990s sexual activities such as scatplay, ageplay, puppyplay, and suspension by skin hook piercings were not allowed at BDSM sex conventions. However, all of these can now be found at such events. This is because “attitudes about what should be forbidden seems to have shifted thanks to people getting better [sexually] educated”. Much of this has coupled the rise of the internet where there are now numerous ‘how to’ guides on almost every type of ‘adult’ sexual activity, and articles on sexual ethics. One of the interviewees for her article (Madeline) describes edgeplay (somewhat paradoxically) as a “consensual non-consent” where activities like ‘rapeplay’ do not involve ‘safewords’ (typically used by BDSM practitioners to signal for the activity to cease). Madeline “talks lovingly” about the rapeplay between her and her husband, and claims it keeps “their long-term relationship tender and fresh, and likewise, their trusting relationship allows them to do rape play”. The article also notes that:

“Rather than glorifying [edgeplay], the BDSM community might be headed in the direction of eradicating the idea of ‘edge’ altogether. That way, the focus can be on how to communicate consent – rather than labeling acts ‘good’ or ‘bad’”.

Another article on edgeplay published by The Dominant Guide by an edgeplay practitioner also made some interesting observations. For instance:

“To understand what edge play is you must first understand that there are actually two types of edge play, personal edge play and general edge play. Personal edge play is any activity that pushes one’s personal limits. It can be anything; there honestly is no limit to what someone might consider stretching their personal boundaries. If someone were afraid of single tail [whips], then using a single tail [whip] on them would be edge play to that individual. If someone were afraid of closed in spaces, then putting him or her in a cage would be considered edge play. So you see personal edge play is different for everyone, but one thing is true in all forms, this type of play is dramatic both mentally and physically. The second type of edge play is what most people refer to as edge play. This is any activity that by common consensus is to be considered pushing the limits of safety and or sanity. Normally people consider such activities as blood play, breath play, gunplay, fireplay, needleplay and knifeplay to be edgeplay”.

The article also discusses whether those into edgeplay are insane to do what they do. (I am well aware that ‘insanity’ is a legal terms and not a psychological one, but this was the word used in the article). The author of the article asserts:

Can something be considered insane if you are aware of the risks and accept all the possible outcomes…ask a skydiver, or perhaps an astronaut, even a policeman or fireman. Every activity has some level of risk, it is only when one ignores the risks or does not logically think out all possible dangers that the action may be considered insane. If one enters into an activity informed, and educated of the risks then the activity should not be considered insane, but is should be considered dangerous, hence edge play”.

The author also claims that edgeplay is “an extremely fascinating type of BDSM” because it challenges participants mentally, physically and emotionally. I will leave you with this encapsulation of why edgeplay enthusiasts do what they do. They feel fear, pain, love, and trust takes them “to a level of experience that [they] can reach by no other manner. This activity will stretch all boundaries and affirm the relationship between two individuals in a way that no other activity can”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Caged Heart (2006). Canes & caning: Introducing Edgeplay into your relationship. Yahoo! Voices, August 2. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/canes-caning-introducing-edgeplay-into-bdsm-relationship-59477.html

London Fetish Fair (2014). Edgeplay Top 10 Medical Play Kit. Located at: http://www.londonfetishfair.co.uk/index.php/stands/137-top-10-essential-medical-play-items

Norische (2013). Standing on the edge: Is it edge play or not? Dominant Guide, April 26. Located at: http://dominantguide.com/172/standing-on-the-edge-is-it-edge-play-or-not/

Sir Bamm! (undated). Edge Play. Located at: http://www.sirbamm.com/edgeplay.html

White, R.R. (2012). Edgeplay isn’t your grandmother’s BDSM scene. Vice, September 12. Located at: http://www.vice.com/read/edgeplay-isnt-your-grandmothers-bdsm-scene

Wikipedia (2014). Edgeplay. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgeplay

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 1, 2014, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction, Unusual deaths and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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