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Risk factors in kink (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

“When you add the knife, you tune down the bondage. This brings balance to the scene.”

Many years ago, at a rope bondage conference, I asked a friend to teach me about including knives in my play. And that was her primary message. Kink is a balancing game between safety and bravery, but also between risk and intensity. Knowing what you and your partner bring to the balancing scale is a critical safety factor. And it’s hard to see what one is not aware of, the famous blind spot. So in this musing, I want to list the risk factors that I’ve learnt about during my twenty-so years of kink. And I’m obviously still learning.

First, a question, are you a person attracted to the mystique of kink?

I often muse about dedicating oneself to the present, I describe consent as feeling together, and I strongly prefer on-the-fly over prenegotiated consent. I seek the unknown in play, which is a risk factor because I don’t know where I am going—this desire is more common in tantric temples and conscious kink communities than in traditional BDSM dungeons. Still, many old-school leather masters and mistresses are firm believers in consensual non-consent (and, of course, CNC is much more than that, read about it here). A balancing factor to uncertainty is experience.

So, do you know what you are doing technically?

Often when teaching rope bondage in festivals, I get terrified that the first question is how to suspend their partner in these two-three hour workshops. This topic is written about, even meme-ed about, enough. But yes, hanging people in ropes is a lot more dangerous and skill demanding than it looks. When introducing a new kink into my personal library, I have to get to know it, which takes time. Some of my most beloved kinks, I have invested years studying. If someone is new and knows nothing about BDSM, I recommend using elementary techniques but balancing that with something else to make the play exciting. Focus makes all the difference – if I put my mind on being belittled by now allowing myself the meanest whip or being proud and amazed by the trust between us.

Next, how good are you at understanding people?

Kink is often a non-verbal practice, so one must depend on their ability to read emotions and body language. It’s a skill to train, and in my experience, the level varies greatly between individuals in different walks of life. Growing up in the Berlin arty-farty BDSM scene where everyone was a dancer, workshop leader, or sex worker (or all the three simultaneously) is not comparable. To the middle-aged CEO claiming that he can’t tie his partner because he can’t see their face while being torn between his own sexual fantasies and performance anxiety. Being able to feel another’s experience makes kink so much easier, but then there is the flip-side.

How much “alpha” are you?

While some are great at understanding people, others are amazing at expressing their will and getting their way – in another word, dominating – Allowing oneself to be selfish and ensuring one’s particular taste is a great gift. I meet so many people struggling with their desire and instead only ending up serving others. Being very agreeable or self-assured are risks. They are amplified when the same dynamic exists outside the BDSM play. It’s a vast difference when an older, socially accomplished man dominates a young confused girl, compared to the other way around. Even if the goal is to lock the play inside a safer frame and not connecting it to the life outside, this is never totally achievable.

What is your emotional state of being in regards to traumas and triggers?

Everyone has their history, and most likely, life has left non of us unscared. I believe that traumas never really heal, but instead, one learns how to live with them, as life looks right now. Disassociating or panicking during a BDSM scene is not the desired experience. It greatly hinders the ability to stay in contact with one’s partner, uphold consent, and carries a risk to be retraumatized. Both for the dominant and submissive, I should add. And what kind of support network do you have around you? Having friends and community around helps one stay grounded in the kink and get support when things go wrong (because one day they will, independently, how risk-aware you are). Being more of a lone wolf is more dangerous for everyone involved. However, I do not believe that anyone is “too broken” for kink because sexuality is way too fundamental in life.

While on the subject of sexuality, another question is, how sexually satisfied are you in general?

Being desperate to find one’s kink or lost in arousal is a sure recipe for losing oneself and overstepping personal and partners boundaries. Fantasy and daydreams are great fuel for starting a scene, but they should be put to the side to give space for the play once inside. That is here and now. Much of this musing loops back to presences and being present together, so are you taking any substances to alter your current experience? And this is a wide one; it goes all the way from alcohol, to recreational drugs, to pharmaceutical drugs. Some are temporarily used, like pain killers for menstrual pain, while others are fully integrated into everyday life, like depression medicine. In this, and almost all other risk factors I’ve written about, it varies significantly between individuals and communities are they are weighted. Some constellations hate recreational drugs, while others hate consensual non-consent, but I think all are trying to balance the risk in the end.

And the final questions, how kinky is your kink?

This factor, I think, saves most beginners because they are not really that kinky. There is some spanking, handcuffs and blindfolds, but very few start out wishing to feel a knife against the skin. Starting out not-so-kinky allows many of the risk factors that I listed above to be balanced out. But it’s important to know that once one starts to upgrade their kink, the foundation of shared presence, trauma awareness, non-verbal communication, sexual experience, and understanding of polarities must be there.

Also, many of the risk factors I listed have extreme expressions, like being completely emotionally unstable, addictive, anti-social, narcissistic, co-dependent, pathologically perverted, etc. But, for most people, things go wrong when many minor risk factors pile up, in combination with “bad luck”. And everyone knows, the more knowledge and experience one has, the more lucky one becomes.