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      Edgeplay Isn’t Your Grandmother’s BDSM Scene

      September 20, 2012

      Photos by Edmund X. White

      In front me, a naked woman is chained between two men and is getting slapped with a dead squid while an audience of about a dozen watches. This isn’t performance art, although this is technically an “arts space” and I did pay $10 to be here. This is an edgeplay seminar. 

      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.

      Here’s how Madeline and Z—the couple conducting the seminar—explain it before going into the squid slapping:

      “Edgeplay is so many things and often it just ends up being whatever your circle deems ‘edgy,’” says Madeline, who is nude. As she talks, a fully clothed Z jabs a needle in her back and a little cup at the end is filling up with her blood. He twists off the cup and takes a tiny sip before throwing it back like a shot. 

      “We've been kicked out of clubs for this,” Z says. His teeth are covered in blood. “I really love it.” He licks the stained rim of the glass like it’s tequila salt.

      Like every flavor of kinkster, edgeplay enthusiasts talk to each other online, which is where I found out about Z and Madeline. 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. Or, wait, maybe it does, since this is edgeplay, and edgeplay is supposed to be wrong?

      While the mainstream BDSM community has always drawn lines over what is and is not OK (drinking blood, for instance, isn’t cool because of the potential to spread diseases), the definition of edge has changed over time. In the 80s and 90s things like scat play, age play, puppy play, and suspension were no-nos but they now occur semi frequently at kinky events. (Well, scat play is a little more rare because, ew.) Attitudes about what should be forbidden seems to have shifted thanks to people getting better educated. The internet spawned more discussions about sexual ethics, more how-to guides, and more adult sex ed in general. (Don’t you just love the kind of sex ed that results in more and better sex rather than paranoia about STDs?) All of this might have encouraged some of the edgier elements of the BDSM world to explore some dangerous-sounding fun.

      “So the edgeplay we do is called consensual non-consent, aka rape play, aka no safewords,’” says Madeline to her audience. She talks lovingly about their rape play. She swears that it keeps their long-term relationship tender and fresh, and likewise, their trusting relationship allows them to do rape play.

      Z says that knowing how to do rape play with your partner comes down to knowing your partner. He compares it to selecting a birthday present. “You ask yourself, What do they already have? What do they need? What do they keep bringing up?” It is about observation, which Z says is the flip-side of communication and just as important.

      All of this is especially edgy given some recent controversy within the BDSM community. Inspired by the UK’s Consent Culture campaign run by feminist BDSM activists Kitty Stryker and Maggie Mayhem, many people have started coming forward about rape and sexual abuse within their local BDSM scenes in the past year. And in most cases these stories were initially tucked under the rug, never dealt with properly by community leaders. “We were frustrated at how people weren't really talking about issues of consent being violated and when people did it was dismissed as drama. This is really dangerous because BDSM is largely illegal [in the UK], so going to the police isn't really an option,” Kitty told me.

      Over on the FetLife threads devoted to the topic, members started calling out abusers by name. The site initially banned this practice, and then the CEO and founder of FetLife, John Baku was called out for sexual assault on Tumblr. During the height of all this, the Harvard Crimson (of all places) pointed to the “glorification of edgeplay” as part of the problem.

      I asked Kitty if she thinks it is harder to navigate consent in rape-play. “I think between consenting adults whatever you want to play is fine, but if you are taking it so seriously that you are forgetting you can walk away—or if you can’t walk away—that is not OK,” she replied. She also pointed out that this takes a massive amount of trust. “Do you really trust this person to not only break your limits but put you back together afterward?” Perhaps the Crimson was slightly off. Rather than glorifying it, 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.”

      Even so, it’s a little unnerving when Z talks about strapping Madeline, who is deathly afraid of clowns, to a table, gagging her, and forcing her to watch the Heath Ledger scenes in The Dark Knight. Madeline was pissed, but it also resulted in hot sex. As he tells this story, Z is tying Madeline to a chair, chaining her between two burly audience participants.

      “I have a surprise,” Z announces, clasping his hands. He pulls a pair of dead squids from a Styrofoam box by their tentacles. They don’t smell fishy—more like warm urine or the odor that lingers in the air after sex. Madeline coughs and Z gets the two men—one of them now wearing a clown mask—to hold her down. She wriggles, thrown back and forth between the men. Z dangles the tentacles into her mouth and nose as she protests.

      Z motions for the man with the clown mask. “Nooo,” says Madeline. “You can make the clown go away,” says Z, “if you either lick the squid... or get down on your hands and knees and eat cat food.” Madeline makes a face, her cheeks red, “And then the clown will go away?” she asks. He nods. “I’ll lick the squid,” she says.

      After their play is done, Madeline tells the audience that sometimes when she and Z play in dungeons, people will come forward and ask if she is being abused. Madeline says this is not offensive—it is the right question.

      A day later, I call up Madeline and ask if licking the was squid a turn-on. “No!” she shrieks. She says the whole ordeal was disgusting but that eating catfood—have I eaten catfood before? No?—is truly repulsive. “Still, on the drive home we were both horny,” she goes on. “I think that is what consensual non-consent is about, you don’t like it in the moment but three weeks from now... it might be hot.” Three weeks, it seems, is when that squid smell has officially faded from the memory. And that means it can safely be masturbated to. For most people though, that’s a very complicated way to get off.

      Rachel Rabbit White is an internet journalist, essayist, and twitterist. She writes about sex, gender, relationships, and other things you aren't supposed to talk about. Watch her episode of VICE's My Life Online here.

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      Topics: edgeplay, bdsm, Weird sex, fetish, consent culture, Rachel Rabbit White, Fear of clowns, lick the squid

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