BDSM Safety 101 — A Primer

The bare-bones basics for navigating your first scene safely, plus some peeks at considerations for more advanced play

By Tess Dagger • 11 min read • ENGLISH

You’ve imagined this night for years. You and your adventurous playmate have discussed, negotiated, and finally decided to give BDSM a go. You’ve explored your fantasies, read some guides, and picked out a few fun toys.

Now, you’re standing before each other, and the play is about to begin. And only one thought keeps running through your head.

Oh God, what now?

I’m a huge believer that knowledge and guidelines provide safe parameters for play, but a quick google of BDSM safety basics doesn’t offer up too many comprehensive guides. There are a few good ones available with some digging, however, I’m hoping that the more added to the pool, the more accessible this knowledge can be for the curious and considering.

If you want to try BDSM, and you want to do it safely, here’s a little primer of bare-bones basics to keep in mind as you experiment and play in your newfound wonderland:


There’s prep work to be done

  1. Negotiation | I and many others have already written articles on scene negotiations, and your first scene is no exception. You and your partner should sit and discuss what makes you hot and bothered, plus all the little extras that come with that.
  2. Safewords and Consent | This is such a key part of negotiation that it deserves its own mention. Know what you and your partner do and do not consent to, and agree to a safeword ahead of time. This can be as simple as “no” and as complex as a secret word, but make sure it’s easy to say. If your play involves gags of any kind, create a wordless safeword — a ball in the hand of the bottom that can be dropped to end the scene, or “uh uh”, are examples I have used in the past. If you want a means to control the pace of play, you can use the stoplight code (red, yellow, and green). There’s also the circuit method, where the bottom may only be receiving punishment when their hands complete a circuit by gripping two specific things, such as bedposts or ends of a rope. Whenever they let go, play is paused. This creates some breathing room without automatically ending a scene.
  3. Setting up and Aftercare | Make sure your play- and aftercare spaces are prepped so you don’t have to fumble for anything during a critical time. Negotiate what aftercare could potentially be needed, and be mindful that both play and post-scene care are flexible and tend to change depending on the needs of the moment.
  4. Silent Alarms | In the age of internet and app meetups, we often meet new people through means unrelated to our social circles. In these instances, make sure that you set up a silent alarm. Text a friend and send them all the details of where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing, and set a check-in time. Always make sure to meet up with potential play partners ahead of a playdate to get to know them. If you have a community that can vet them, utilize this resource — it’s not uncommon in BDSM and actually encouraged.

Safety Basics

  1. Playing safe means playing sober | This rule is flexible for many, as some people may feel the need for a glass of wine to unwind. However, true inebriation and BDSM simply do not mix. If you or your partner are visibly or audibly intoxicated or have had more than two drinks, stop and consider playing another day.
  2. Check in frequently | This doesn’t have to be unsexy or break the scene, but make sure you’re checking in with regularity. The riskier the play, the more you should be checking.
  3. Stay within your level of skill | Pushing your skill levels as a top or bottom is recommended only in classes or workshops where instructors are available, or when playing with somebody who’s experienced at that level. I’ve learned much of my personal skills through play with others, but one of us was always within our comfort and experience zone. When we both wanted to breach that, we attended a class or asked for training. Don’t exceed the skill levels of both (or all) of the people involved at once.
  4. Hydration and blood sugar are important | Please don’t forget about these during your long sexy hours of playtime. Keep water on hand at the bare minimum, and perhaps a snack in case anyone begins to feel shaky.
© SPNKD

Bondage Basics

  1. Never EVER leave a bottom in bondage unattended! | This is a golden rule for any bondage scene and I can’t stress it enough. Accidents can happen in seconds, and a person in bondage is in true danger if something were to occur. If you absolutely need to leave the room, consider stopping the scene. If you and your partner have negotiated this or agreed that this is a risk you’re willing to take, have a safety plan in advance. I do know people who are caged and left for hours, and their masters leave a baby monitor in the dungeon with them. However, when you are just beginning, it is not recommendable to take that risk.
  2. Know your common nerve injuries | The compression of sensory and motor nerves can be a huge issue when playing in bondage. Rope classes often teach these nerve areas, and resources can be found all over the net that are more comprehensive than what I could write here. Watch out for the spaces between the wrist and the thumb, the back of the upper arm, and the front of the hipbone (which can also be compressed when bending someone over a hard surface). Check for tingling, burning, or numbness, and report/stop if you feel it.
  3. Don’t bind the joints or neck | The joints are areas where nerves and blood supply commonly come closer to the surface of the skin. Strain on these areas can also damage ligaments and tendons and be extremely difficult to heal. The neck is an advanced area of play, as air and blood supply to the brain are vital to life. Absolutely do not compress anything around the neck unless you know exactly what you are doing.
  4. Leave a finger’s worth of space | Unless the tie or type of bondage specifically calls for it, don’t bind somebody too tightly. This leaves them vulnerable to nerve damage and circulation issues.

Impact Basics

  1. Start with something soft, or your hand | I love a good spanking! Starting out in impact can be scary, but if you use a relatively soft toy or your hand, you’re less likely to cause lasting damage and more likely to receive helpful physical feedback.
  2. Don’t hit the joints, neck, or face | As with rope, impact can create some serious damage in the joint area. In the neck, it only takes a single solid strike to break a windpipe or trachea, and the back of the neck is packed with the precious cervical vertebrae that house a lot of the nerves that power our functions vital for life. While face slapping can be a pretty common form of play, hitting the face with toys is not beginner play, and best avoided. The eyes are extremely vulnerable, as are the nerves around them, and can cause blindness and types of palsy.
  3. Watch out for the spine and kidneys | I’m not entirely putting these in the “no-hit” category as many do, because I’d be damn impressed to see anybody manage to damage a spine or kidneys with a classic leather flogger. If you are using hard impact toys, such as canes or buckshot floggers, then do not hit these areas. Hard toys should be for softer impact places such as butt and thighs.
  4. Warm up your bottom | This is less of a safety rule and more of a play tip. If you want your scene to last and your bottom to achieve the “mythical” subspace, be sure to warm them up. Start light and easy and work your way into harder impact over time.
© SPNKD

Rough Body Play and Wrestling Basics

  1. Never twist a limb in a direction it doesn’t automatically want to go| Again! Joints! They’re just such breakable things. Don’t suddenly yank limbs violently in directions they don’t naturally move in or compress them violently either. If you want to toss somebody about, use their core and torso as your main point of control. You can move to limb control with more experience.
  2. Play on soft surfaces such as a mat or bed | A hardwood floor increases the risk of injury substantially during rough body play, and a concrete surface even more so. Try to avoid hard surfaces when possible and put down play mats or tousle on the bed or carpet.
  3. Never drop a person | I’ve been tossed about quite a bit while both tied up and helpless, and completely free to fight back. The only two injuries I’ve ever sustained were when I was dropped. Once, a mere inch between me and the floor was enough to tear my AC (acromioclavicular joint). The other time, I landed flat on my back but whipped my head against the floor hard enough to bite my tongue and receive a concussion. Impact against the floor is a huge contributor to injury — don’t lift your partners, push and pull them!
  4. Compressing the chest is breath play | Sitting on somebody’s back or chest is breath play and should be negotiated as such. Make sure when you’re pinning somebody that they can still breathe.
  5. Take out your piercings | I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re going to be doing some hardcore wrestling, piercings are generally a bad idea unless you’re into them potentially being ripped out. But hey, if that’s your thing…

Miscellaneous Skill-Based Play

Please don’t attempt these without proper education and training!

  1. Fireplay | As I am not a fireplay expert, I can only strongly suggest you find a mentor or a class. That being said, I’ve learned some things that may save someone a few singes, so I’d prefer to put them down to be found alongside my ringing endorsement of learning about this from an expert first! Never do fireplay without water or a wet towel nearby. The bottom should not be wearing creams, sprays, or lotions. As fire travels up, the bottom should not have any point of the body higher than the flames, so most fireplay is done lying down. Lastly, get rid of anything on the body that could burn or melt — don’t forget those ponytail elastics on your wrist.
  2. Electricity and Violet Wand | One of my favorites, and one I’m constantly learning about. Ask your partner about implants and pacemakers, as you don’t want to be going near these areas of the body. Always double-check that equipment is working properly before starting a scene. Don’t shock a single place for too long — the rule of thumb is to keep the violet wand moving or limiting exposure to short shocks for things like cattle prods and stun guns. Keep away from fumes like rubbing alcohol unless you want an accidental fire scene.
  3. Needle and Staple Play | I love needles so much that I wrote an entire article on them, but they are not a beginner skill and would be best approached via a class or mentor. If you absolutely must play with needles and can’t wait, make sure to do so with proper disinfectants, gloves, and a sharps container. Never pierce more than skin and do not pierce the face, as there are loads of nerves and glands in the area that can be damaged without proper training. If you’re playing with medical staples, the above applies, as well as making sure you know where your staple remover is at all times. I even recommend keeping a spare as well.
  4. Choking, Fainting, and Breathplay | Ena Dahl has written a wonderfully informative article on these subjects here that does a solid deep dive into the pleasures and risks of breath play and choking. Unless you have prior experience, absolutely do not attempt mixing water and breath play, as dry drowning is a very serious risk. Breathplay falls into the realm of wordless safewords, so make sure you have a system set in place to warn a top when enough is enough without the bottom having to actively signal.

What if there’s an emergency?

For major emergencies, there are only two things to do: remove whatever caused the accident and call emergency services. If you suspect a spinal injury, DO NOT MOVE THAT PERSON OR LET THEM MOVE THEMSELF. Ensure that they stay still until proper help has arrived.

It’s tragic to know that often, people will hesitate to call for proper help during BDSM-related emergencies because of the implications of being found in a kinky context.

What will people think?

I can’t nail this home hard enough:

It doesn’t matter!

In a true emergency, placing concerns about the social fallout of being found during something kinky above the health of a play partner is absolutely inexcusable. If one thinks they may be unable to take that risk, then I would firmly suggest they not consider trying hard BDSM.

Having taken my fair share of rotations around the emergency room, I can assure you that medical workers have seen it all. They will not be as shocked or alarmed as you think they would upon arriving at your call.


How about minor emergencies?

If a play partner is a fainting risk, ensure they’re in a place where a fall will not injure them. If they do pass out from play, make sure to check for injuries and ensure they’re ok and in a safe place to rest, rehydrate and eat. If they seem confused or unable to communicate fully, vomit, or look pale and have moist skin, call emergency services.

If bleeding occurs, apply pressure with a clean cloth. If it bleeds uncontrollably through the cloth or does not stop after 20 minutes of lighter bleeding, call emergency services.

If psychological emergencies or triggers are a possibility, ensure you have a hotline number and the numbers of close and trusted friends of the person on hand in the event that it becomes too much. Generally, this should not occur in lighter, entry-level play with solid negotiation beforehand, but it’s never a bad thing to be prepared.

I know. This feels like a lot. In the event of BDSM, it’s always better to have the knowledge for a worst-case scenario and never have to use it than the other way around. This little write-up just barely skims the surface of safety measures during scenes, but I hope it motivates those who are curious to learn more.

Although this paints a rather serious set of scenarios, the reality of play is much sexier. Being prepared is the marker of a good play partner, and enables us to have more fun and be more lost in the moment. Education is a key to quashing the fear of potentially not knowing what to do. With that gone, the fun can begin in earnest!

As always, be safe, sane, and consensual, but most importantly, be yourself.


Sincerely,

Tess Dagger | Writer for SPNKD

BDSM enthusiast and former sex worker
@tessdagger
  • Why We Love Rope

    Riggers and rope models share what Shibari means to them

    By Ena Dahl • 9 min read • ENGLISH

  • Tie Me Up to Set Me Free

    How I experience being bound and suspended in ropes

    By Ena Dahl • 7 min read • ENGLISH

  • Why, as a Kinkster, I Married Vanilla

    When masochistic submissive and straight-and-narrow vanilla collide

    By Tess Dagger • 5 min read • ENGLISH