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Candle with care: A beginner’s guide to wax play‬

“I love hot wax. My wife loves to drip it and pour it all over my body. I have dipped my [penis] in the wax and the feeling during the dipping and the sex after was great. We did remove the wax from any part that was going to penetrate. I have a very high threshold for pain. I normally don’t use any painkillers for such things as root canal’s, extractions, stitches or road rash from motorcycle accidents. I don’t get turned on in the slightest from any of this I just don’t feel pain like everyone else. I think it is very normal to have this fetish. It is a major turn on to me. You might want to experiment with different types of wax. Some have a higher melting point than others. Oh we have and have realized she likes to use the waxes with the higher melting points. She loves to see me squirm but in a good way” (Wiki Answers)

According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices ‘wax play’ is a form of sexually sensual play that involves warm or hot wax typically dripped from candles or ladled onto the individual’s naked skin (the individual typically being sexually masochistic). He also claimed that wax play was often combined with other BDSM and/or sexual activities. Dr. Aggrawal also makes reference to ‘wax play’ in a short section on ‘navel torture’. More specifically her reports that navel torture involves “infliction of intense sensory stimulation and pain to a person’s navel. Examples are sucking or pulling the navel out (often with a syringe), dripping hot oil or wax into the navel, and poking pins into the navel”. The Wikipedia entry on wax play provides a list for those that want to attempt such practices. The article informed readers that:

“Pure paraffin wax melts at around 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (54 to 57 Celsius). Adding stearine makes the wax harder and melt at a higher temperature. Adding mineral oil makes the wax softer and melt at a lower temperature. Soft candles in glass jars usually have mineral oil in their blend and burn cooler at around 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49C), Pillar candles are mostly paraffin and burn warmer at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60C). Taper candles have lots of stearine and burn hotter still at around 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71C). Beeswax candles burn about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 C) hotter than equivalent paraffin candles. Although there are many web sites that repeat the same advice that color additives make candles burn hotter, actual experiments performed by two different researchers show that this is usually not the case. Increasing the distance the wax falls by 1 meter will drop the temperature about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3C) at the risk of splatter. If ordinary candles are too hot, a special wax blend with a high concentration of mineral oil can be heated to lower temperatures in a crock pot or double boiler”.

In the ‘safety notes’ section, the article reminds readers that wax temperature can range from simply ‘warm’ to ‘dangerously hot’ and can cause serious burns (and that wax play practitioners should be careful that wax doesn’t “splatter into the eyes”. Obviously, different masochists can withstand different temperatures depending upon their individual tolerance levels. It then goes on to say that:

“Wax may be difficult to remove, particularly from areas with hair. A flea comb or a sharp knife may be necessary for wax removal; use of a knife for this purpose requires special skills, though a plastic card can work as well. Applying mineral oil or lotion before play can make wax removal easier…Wax heated in any sort of pot must be stirred vigorously or there can be dangerous temperature variations. Some people may be allergic to perfumes and dyes. Whatever is above a burning candle can get very hot, even at distances that may be surprising. Candles may break and set fire to objects underneath or nearby. Wax is difficult to wash out of clothes and bed linens. People with certain diseases, skin conditions, or taking certain medications may require additional precautions”.

A few academic studies into sadomasochism have examined various niche practices including wax play. For instance, in a previous blog on psychrocism (individuals who derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from either by being cold) I quoted from Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices that said:

“Exposure to intense cold creates a sharp sensation that is similar to other physical stimuli that produce tension. The mind changes its focus from intellectual pursuits to physical awareness. Many [sadomasochistic] players use cold contact to heighten awareness of skin sensations. They often alternate cold with heat, such as ice cubes and candle wax”.

More empirically, a 1987 study published in the Journal of Sex Research by Dr. Charles Moser and Dr. E.E. Levitt surveyed 225 sadomasochists (178 men and 47 women). The most commonly reported SM behaviours (in 50% to 80% of participants) were flagellation (whipping, spanking) and bondage (chains, rope, gags, chains, handcuffs). Painful activities (for instance, the use of hot wax, ice, face slapping, biting) were reported by 37–41% of participants, though more dangerous painful activities (burning, branding, tattooing, piercing, insertion of pins) were much less frequently reported (7% to 18% of participants).

A more recent Finnish study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior by Dr. Laurence Alison and his colleagues reported fairly similar findings to that of Moser and Levitt. Again, the most popular activities were flagellation and bondage. Less reported SM activities were the most harmful harm (piercing, asphyxiation, electric shocks, use of blades/knives, fisting, etc.). These researchers also explored the variations in sadomasochistic activities, and wax play fell into the ‘typical’ pain administration group. These were:

  • Typical pain administration: This involved practices such as spanking, caning, whipping, skin branding, use of hot wax, electric shocks, etc.
  • Humiliation: This involved verbal humiliation, gagging, face slapping, flagellation, etc. Heterosexuals were more likely than gay men to engage in these types of activity.
  • Physical restriction: This included bondage, use of handcuffs, use of chains, wrestling, use of ice, wearing straight jackets, hypoxyphilia, and mummifying.
  • Hyper-masculine pain administration: This involved rimming, dildo use, cock binding, being urinated upon, being given an enema, fisting, being defecated upon, and catheter insertion. Gay men were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in these types of activity.

A 2002 follow-up study by the same team on the same sample of sadomasochists (also in the Archives of Sexual Behavior led by Dr. Pekka Santtila) reported that 35% of their participants had engaged in hot wax play. From these few studies it would appear that wax play among SM practitioners is relatively prevalent although there appear to be few data about how regularly wax play is engaged in.

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.

Alison, L., Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N.K., & Nordling, N. (2001). Sadomasochistically oriented behavior: Diversity in practice and meaning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 1-12.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Moser, C. & Levitt, E.E. (1987). An exploratory descriptive study of a sadomasochistically oriented sample. Journal of Sex Research, 23, 322–337.

Norische (2008). Candlelight moments: Basics of wax play. Idaho BDSM. Located at: http://www.idahobdsm.com/articles/howto/waxplay.html

Safer+Saner (2006). Wax play. Located at: http://www.safersaner.org/Safer_WaxPlay.html

Sandnabba, N.K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39-55.

Spectrum (2004). The Toybag Guide to Hot Wax and Temperature Play. Emeryville, California: Greenery Press.

Wikipedia (2014). Wax play. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax_play

Ice, ice, baby: A beginner’s guide to psychrocism

In a previous blog, I very briefly looked at pagophagia, a condition where people obsessively and/or compulsively chew on ice (often viewed as a form of pica and which has been viewed by many psychologists as an obsessive-compulsive disorder). Pagophagia is not the only human behaviour that can be done excessively and requires ice. Psychrocism refers to those who individuals who derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from either by being cold themselves or by watching someone else who is cold.

The only case that I have come across in the academic literature is one that was in Dr. Magnus Hirschfield’s 1948 book Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. Hirschfeld reported the account of a male who had a sexual cold fetish. The quote below is a self-confessed admission from the man himself:

“The thought and sight of chilly dress or pictorial representations of it, induce in me considerable erotic pleasure. My wife naturally has no idea of my abnormal sensations in this respect, and when I make a drawing of the type with which you are familiar, say, a drawing representing a girl with bare arms and shoulders, and dressed only in the flimsiest of undies, on the ice in the skating rink, she always regards it as a joke, for she naturally does not take seriously the exaggerations in which my imagination revels. Such fantasies, accompanied by masturbation, have frequently come to me at times when sexual intercourse with my wife has been impossible for physiological reasons. These fantasies were confined to a single subject—immature girls wearing the lightest clothes in winter”.

A more recent brief overview of psychrocism by Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices made reference to the fact that some people’s masturbatory practices involve putting a towel in the freezer, and then laying it out on their genitals. Others – she claims – use icicles as part of sex play. She also reported some personal communication from a man in California (US) who told her that that on several occasions after winter swimming in the ocean for over half an hour during, he obtained an erection that lasted two to three hours on average. So what’s the sexual attraction or consequence? Love notes that:

“Exposure to intense cold creates a sharp sensation that is similar to other physical stimuli that produce tension. The mind changes its focus from intellectual pursuits to physical awareness. Many [sadomasochistic] players use cold contact to heighten awareness of skin sensations. They often alternate cold with heat, such as ice cubes and candle wax”

This description is an example of what is known as “temperature play” (a sub-type of ‘sensation play’) which is a form of BDSM (bondage, domination, submission, masochism) sensual play where various substances and/or objects are used to stimulate neuro-receptors in the human body for hot and/or cold for sensual effect. Substances used by BDSM practitioners may include water/ice, various oils, hot wax, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, melted butter, chilled fresh fruit and steamed vegetables. Objects are often chilled in ice-cold water (or pre-heated water) to enhance the sensation and may include items such as cutlery, ball chains, and jewelry (e.g., necklaces). To intensify or amplify the effect in temperature play, bondage and/or blindfolds may sometimes be used. Ice play – a form of temperature play (and sexual foreplay) – typically involves moving ice cubes and the like across a person’s naked body (as was seen in the 1980s Hollywood film 9½ Weeks. Other practices known to occur during ice-play include ice-water enemas, which for some may be more to do with klismaphilia (i.e., sexual arousal from enemas more generally and which I looked at in a previous blog) and the use of ice dildos (where water is frozen inside a condom and then used as a masturbatory tool). BDSM practitioners are warned that ice on (and especially inside) the body can lead to a dramatic reduction in blood flow and in worse case scenarios can result in comas. Ice can cause excessive tissue damage due to the formation of ice crystals in cells and blood vessels. Freeze damage (e.g., frostbite) and other cold injuries (e.g., chilblains) happen at much slower speeds than temperature play involving burn and/or heat injuries.

Dr. Beth Brown (the self-styled ‘Doctor of Perversity’ and contributor to The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual) wrote an article on ‘temperature play’ and reported that:

“Temperature play with cold can be particularly wicked, because it is easy for a bottom to confuse hot and cold sensations. John Varley’s Titan series contains a scene in which a man is interrogated by being shown a hot poker, and then tortured blindfolded. He thinks his testicles are being burned with the hot poker, but when the blindfold is removed, he finds himself sitting in a pool of melted ice…When heat and cold are used together in a scene the feelings are much more intense, because alternating hot and cold sensations can confuse the nerves. Hot and cold nerve endings respond to differences from body temperature, but when rapidly repeated changes in temperature are administered to an area, these calculations can become wildly inaccurate”.

Dr. Brown also makes the point that a person’s psychological state has an impact on how the sensations are experienced as well. Much of how the temperature (hot and/or cold) is experienced is affected by the person’s expectations. She says this is nowhere more true than the anaesthetist’s slogan “pain is in the brain”.

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

Further reading

Brown, B. (1996). Temperature play. Issue 2.4, February. Located at: http://www.black-rose.com/cuiru/archive/2-4/dr2-4.html

Hirschfeld, M. (1948). Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. New York: Emerson.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Wikipedia (2012). Sensation play. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_play_(BDSM)

Wikipedia (2012). Temperature play. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_play