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A Hairdresser on Pulling Hair. Cops on Handcuff Usage. A Sailor on Rope…

BDSM advice from everyday workers

Anytime you try a new thing in bed, it’s always helpful to seek the advice of people who’ve done that thing safely and effectively before. Want to try anal? Probably a good idea to read a guide first. Thinking about incorporating a sex toy? Brilliant — you should probably check out some reviews to find out which one won’t explode in your hand. Nowhere is this more true than with BDSM, a healthy, consensual practice of power exchange in which certain actions or behaviors could be physically or emotionally damaging if you don’t know what you’re doing. For that reason, you should definitely seek out a professional to educate yourself about BDSM safety, technique and protocol before you try it.

But you know who else is good to talk to?

Everyday people. Average Joes. Plain laymen with expertise in a niche, specialized corner of the world like improv or negotiation that isn’t outwardly related to BDSM, but can definitely enhance it. We’re talking sailors, MMA artists, hairdressers, police and good, old fashioned horse people; folks who aren’t necessarily kinky themselves, but have some sort of skill or knowledge base that would be very beneficial if they were. Though these people might not be experts at executing these skills in a BDSM setting themselves, they often have a totally different take on things like choking or roleplaying than the rest of us, and learning about these things through their eyes can give you a more nuanced, informed and cultured understanding of the hot new sex thing you’re about to try.

So, to make it extra easy on you, I went out and found some of these people myself. Below, eight everyday folks with vanilla jobs and skill sets share some of their best kink-friendly smarts.

Disclaimer: While some of these humans have useful skills or knowledge for BDSM, there’s not always a perfect translation from their specialties to kinky play. If you want to try any of this stuff, it’s always best to research how to do these things in actual BDSM settings and go with that.

An Insurance Negotiator on Consent and Negotiation

Jane (not her real name): For a long time I worked in adtech negotiating ad space with Google, often with mergers reaching upwards of $6 million per deal. Now, I work as an insurance negotiator helping people get settlement money.

Negotiating is an art form that’s built off of mutual trust, transparency and compromise. In business as in life, you have to give to get. Though there may be times when you’re not 100 percent thrilled at an offer, it’s important to know how far you’re willing to go to satisfy the other side’s needs while keeping your own boundaries intact. This takes some self-reflection and practice.

Each party should know what they’re willing to give up before entering into any kind of agreement, and they should discuss explicitly their hard lines prior to beginning. If you were going to relate this to BDSM, I’d say that would be a major part of giving consent — you’re telling each other, often in great detail, what you are and aren’t okay with [which is what differentiates BDSM from abuse]. The only difference is that in business, these negotiations can be binding if they become contracts and there are consequences if you break them. In BDSM, you can revoke your consent or renegotiate at any time, even if a previously agreed upon scene has already begun.

When I make deals, I have hard lines I will not cross. If asked to, my negotiating ends. You can always circle back around later to see if things have changed, but it’s important to protect your own best interests over all else.

Likewise, in both negotiation and BDSM, making a list of what you want out of the interaction, then comparing it to your partner’s, is helpful. Write down what you want, what you’re okay with compromising on and what your hard lines are. Then, go through each item together. If there’s a compromise possible, get explicit about how you can meet each other halfway.

An MMA Instructor on Choking

Ian, Fight Science MMA: When you put your hands around someone’s throat and apply pressure, that action is typically referred to as “choking.” In MMA, we do “chokes” and “choke-holds” all the time, but here’s the thing — we’re not actually choking anybody. Rather, we’re strangling them.

“Choking” is cutting off someone’s air supply by compressing their windpipe, which is extremely dangerous because it can irreversibly damage the trachea. It also takes a longer amount of time to produce the desired result (in MMA, it’s unconsciousness), which increases the possibility of injury and means the person getting choked is spending more time with a limited air supply. Yeah, not safe.

“Strangulation,” on the other hand, refers to putting pressure on the carotid arteries in order to temporarily stop the flow of blood to the brain. If you know what you’re doing, this is perfectly safe — it’s quick, doesn’t involve crushing any vital organs and is completely reversible.

In MMA, we strangle by using our hands or arms to apply pressure to both the left and right carotid arteries, which run alongside the trachea on either side of the neck (see here for anatomical location). When you do this to someone, it can make them feel woozy and light-headed in the same way when you’re choking, but their trachea isn’t being compressed, which is what makes it a safer option.

That said, if you strangle someone correctly for long enough, they will pass out. This usually takes around 5 to 12 seconds depending on the person, but since permanent brain damage can occur at about 30 or 40 seconds, it’s absolutely vital that you pay close attention to their body language and remove the pressure immediately once they pass out. To signal they’re about to get to that point, the person getting choked will usually tap the arm of the person choking them a few times. That way, they both have a warning, and they can either back off from there or progress to sleep mode. If you go with the latter, it’ll take your partner a few seconds to wake up, but it’ll feel like they just took a nap.

In MMA, it’s our goal to get someone to go to sleep. But if you’re doing BDSM, that’s never something you should do unless you’ve negotiated it first and gotten explicit consent that it’s okay to take it that far. You should be experienced in this area if you’re going to play around with someone’s life like that.

If you’re looking for something a little more casual and a little less “pass out-y,” I’d recommend applying just a little pressure to the carotids, then releasing, then applying a little pressure again. You can keep up that habit and still play with the sensations without going all the way to lights out.

Either way, there are a couple of positions you can do this in. In MMA, the most common is called the “rear naked choke” (keep in mind it’s going to be much more intense in MMA than in BDSM, and I’d shoot for something much, much gentler if you don’t know what you’re doing). In this one, the person doing the choking is behind their partner and holding their throat between their forearm and bicep with their windpipe safely in the crook of their elbow where it’s not getting crushed. You can do this standing, sitting or laying down. However, you never want to choke someone when you’re on top of them — that adds your body weight to the pressure your hands are already creating, which puts way too much pressure on the windpipe and can seriously injure someone.  

A Sailor on Rope and Easy Knots to Tie Someone Up With

Scot Tempesta, Sailing Anarchy: If you’re looking for an easy, beginner’s sailor knot to use for BDSM, you want something that’s a) functional (like to bind two limbs together or tying a limb to something like a bedpost); b) gentle; and c) easy to get out of. For that, I’d recommend a Clove Hitch knot. It would be good for tying a line around the bedpost, or an arm to a leg — that’s actually how you tie a line to anything on a boat.

A bowline knot is also useful for the same reason. The bowline isn’t only strong and secure, but it’s easy to break loose later, even when pulled tight under a load. This one is good because the rope wraps in multiple layers around a limb, which spreads the pressure out and probably means its less likely to injure.

What kind of rope you use depends on how rough you want to be [some people like a softer rope, while others enjoy a scratchier one]. If it’s gonna be rough, I’d say a 6mm thick Manila/hemp rope because it holds so well. But if the mood is more gentle or you’re new at this, you want something that has a soft finish like cotton. Cotton still has a good “tooth” — meaning its grip and ability to not slip — and it’s generally cheap and light. Make sure you know how much length you’ll need, too. If you get a rope that’s too long, it’s usually harder to keep it from getting tangled and twisted as you’re using it. (If you’re looking for a tutorial on how to keep it tidy as you’re using it, I’d recommend this article.)

Most sailor’s knots, though, aren’t all that great for BDSM and vice versa, so I’d recommend focusing your attention on knot-tying that’s more specific to the intended purpose. Not to mention, there are some basic safety precautions you should be aware of — like accidentally giving someone nerve damage.

An Improv Genius on Roleplay

Chelsea Steiner, Upright Citizens Brigade Level 4 Graduate: Roleplaying is really just a sexier version of improv, but in either case, it’s common to worry about getting “stuck” or not knowing how to respond to a cue your partner gives you during a scene. A really good workaround to this is the classic improv concept of “Yes, and…

Here’s how it works. Say you’re starting a scene, and your partner says, “I’m an astronaut, and we’re on the moon.” Then you say, “No, we’re not.” That kills the scene. Instead, you want to say, “Yes, and…” to their cue so that the action keeps moving forward and you can stay in your roles. So, if you’re roleplaying and someone says, “I’m an astronaut. We’re on the moon,” you’d respond with something like, “Yes, and I’m an alien lord, and you have to deal with me.”

Doing that provides positive reinforcement to keep each other confident in your roles, and it lends itself to more spontaneity and creativity because it’s all about being open to new experiences and challenges.

The trick is to use this framework within your existing boundaries of consent. Just because you’re roleplaying, you don’t have to say, “Yes, and…” to anything you don’t want to do, and just like in improv, you can stop the scene at any time if a line has been crossed. That’s why it’s so important to have conversations about each other’s hard limits and boundaries before you start playing.

However, if something happens during the scene you’re not super into (but isn’t a hard limit), you can still stay in character while diverting your partner toward something you’re more interested in. For example, if you’re role-playing doctors and nurses and your partner starts “examining” your genitals when you want them to run a full report on your asshole, you can say something like, “But doctor, I came here for a proctology exam!” In that way, you can communicate without breaking character.

But even if you do break character, don’t worry — it happens all the time in improv, as it does in roleplay. There’s no need to be serious or to give some Oscar-worthy performance. Embrace the laughter and lean into the goofiness of it. If you’re having fun and you’re laughing, you’re having a good time, and that’s what matters.

The Police Officers of r/ProtectandServe on Safe Handcuff Usage

Swimfly235: You don’t want to get stuck in legit cuffs. If you lose a key and go to the police asking to be set free, I guarantee you’ll be detained until their dispatch checks in with other nearby agencies to make sure they didn’t have an escaped suspect/prisoner. Also, I’ve seen cuff keys break off in old/crappy handcuffs, and the pieces of the key gets stuck in the keyhole. But I would recommend Peerless or Smith & Wesson’s Model 100 Chain. The cuffs come with two sets of keys, and the longer-handled keys are a good investment.

ILikeGunsNKnives: You should just buy something made for that, but if you have to use handcuffs, those wrist sweatbands make a difference.

SteelCrossX: Use straps made for the task and not metal restraints made to deter resistance through pain.

JustAStranger: They’re literally just steel things around your wrists. There’s no special way to use them comfortably. Tape your wrists or something. Also cuff keys are universal, just have several of them handy somewhere.

Mcm87: All I’ll say is that the ASP cuffs are generally more comfortable than the standard-issued S&W ones.

Horse Trainer and Horseback Riders on the Significance of Crops

Alexis Barzin, long-time horse girl: In many styles of horseback riding, things like whips and crops are used to steer and guide a horse. We use them to reach places on the horse’s body we can’t with our feet or our hands. When they’re being used responsibly, they’re points of communication and connection between the horse and rider, and should be seen as aids that can be used to help you work together to achieve a common goal (like going over a jump or changing directions as they move across the arena). Thus, if the rider is using a crop it’s because that’s the aid that works for both horse and rider. Ideally, the same should be said of BDSM — it should be a tool each person enjoys using, and that helps you work toward a mutual goal, which seems like it would be either pleasure or some sort of consensual power exchange.

If a rider is abusing a crop by using it to hit or scare a horse, they’re clearly trying to tip the dominance in their favor, which isn’t cool. Horseback riding is about mutual respect, so if someone’s using an aid like a crop or whip to punish or imbalance their relationship with their horse, they’re probably doing it wrong and have got some thinking to do.

The situation is a bit different with humans, who can consent to using crops with each other and decide through negotiation whether the crop will be used to punish, reward, stimulate or just as an aid that enhances behavior. Unlike horseback riding, it’s okay for humans to feel like a crop increases their dominance over other humans, if the person they’re playing with has consented to that.

If so, I’d say a good use of a crop or a whip would to be use it similarly to how it is in horseback riding — as a sort of extension of your arm to steer or guide someone into position and as a point of communication. Like, if you want them to do something, maybe you tap them three or four times in a certain area to signal that you want them to do a particular thing. It doesn’t have to be hard or aggressive, but it can be a good way to wordlessly communicate.

Eryn Fayd, freelance riding instructor: There is a psychological aspect to equestrian crops and whips. Most horses will pass through several owners in their lives, and dozens of riders. At some point, during their training or otherwise, it’s likely (though not given) that they have experienced some sort of heavy discipline with one of these aids, and will avoid incurring the wrath of anyone armed with one. For that reason, many riders will notice a change in their horse’s attitude and effort levels if they choose to pick one up midway through a ride. A kinky rider looking to apply this usage to BDSM would find the crop used in similar ways. While being ridden, a horse can never see a crop, but is constantly aware of its existence and the potential for its use.

Like a horse, a submissive thinking about the potential use of a crop will likely become more obedient and go out of their way to demonstrate submission. When used correctly, a light tap on the shoulder or body [never over bone or kidneys] will cause more psychological uncertainty than physical pain. A firm slap on the rear, combined with a verbal command, will likely ensure that the submissive takes the command seriously. Sometimes, however, it’s enough just to have a crop present because it signals to your partner what each of your roles are in a scene.

A Hairdresser on Pulling Hair

Pony Lee, Folklore Salon: Hair pulling should be done with a firm grip on the crown or back of the head, as close to the scalp as possible. Avoid grabbing around the hairline, as that can cause breakage and permanent damage to the hair follicles. Also, the thickness of someone’s hair matters — never pull on the hair of a person who has baby-fine or thinning hair.

In general, when you pull someone’s hair, you want to avoid bending their neck too far in one direction. It’s usually more comfortable if your grip is firm and can guide their head around, but without yanking their neck.

Also, never pull on a wig. That’s just bad form.