Feb 212013

This piece is written by Spring 2013 intern Natalie, around her thoughts about beginning thesis research on the BDSM and Leather communities. To read more work by current and former interns, check out the Intern Corner section.

As a second-semester college senior, time is winding down and the pressure is picking up. Next week, I begin the two straight months of research and writing that will be devoted to my senior thesis in Feminist and Gender Studies.

The trouble with my thesis is not that I haven’t started yet, or that I’m stressed out about writing it: the trouble is talking to anyone outside of my department about the topic. I am writing my thesis on BDSM and leather culture, likely looking at social hierarchies that exist in this subculture, or at these communities being spaces of resistance. This is a valid topic, and I don’t need to justify it to myself–but I hesitate to answer every time someone asks me what I’m writing my thesis on. A series of assessments begin before I even open my mouth: are they going to judge me? Does this person even know what BDSM is? And if they don’t, I’ll have to explain. And when I do, will this person laugh at me or make fun of me? Will they make assumptions about my sex life?

At a very liberal liberal arts school, I don’t have to be as cautious as I might in the real world. But even so, I made the mistake of opening up to a lab partner a couple of months ago because he seemed genuinely interested, and spent the rest of the homework session enduring jokes about whips and chains at my expense.

The truth is, every time this happens, I am more sure than ever of my choice. A society hostile to deviant sexual expression has driven participants in BDSM acts and relationships to effectively go underground. BDSM practitioners face many of the same issues as other sexual minorities, a realization that to me has been reinforced over and over as I endure an “outing” process every time I talk about my thesis topic.

Given all of this, I was nervous when I applied for a research grant at my school to spend time at the Leather Museum and Archives in Chicago. In fact, I spent most of the proposal justifying why I was even studying this culture, rather than talking about the actual research I will be doing, simply because I was concerned about the review committee’s initial response to a proposal titled “Performative and Actual Inequality in BDSM Culture.” But the more I consider the social stigmas, the more I am motivated to study the histories of leather culture and to be a part of a declaration, reclamation, and creation of an identity. ‘

Dec 012010

I talk fairly often about fire play, particularly sensual and erotic fire play. Why?

Because it’s something that to me doesn’t seem very kinky or “edge play.” It feels good, it relaxes me, it usually keeps me from getting a migraine for the next few days; it’s very nice.

Which is why I bring it up; I talk about what is kinky or “hardcore” to one person isn’t to another. To me, fire play and sensational knife play aren’t super kinky or extreme in any way — they’re just another type of sensation play. On the other hand, most people hear me say fire play, and envision me pouring gas on someone and lighting them up. To many, fire play is super edge play, is super hardcore, is super kinky. However…to me, it’s not. To me, hardcore is being in a long term Dominant/submissive relationship, or being in service to someone. Edge play is a single tail, because while they can be used sensually, they can also, if used wrong, flay you in half.

Kink and edge play are very subjective terms that mean different things to different people.

Anyways, back to consensual fire play. Don’t forget; consent is crucial, and when I talk about activities here, I talk about knowing your risks and getting consent; the two most important things aside from general communication, in ANY type of sexual activity.

As a warning, this is just a VERY general overview of fire play. I am not an expert in it, and so if you are interested, I suggest you check out videos on www.KinkAcademy.com and look at Flames of Passion: Handbook of Erotic Fire Play, the only book I’ve been able to find on fire play. Mistress Saskia of Pavlovia Denver is also one of the most awesome fire-players that I know.

Fire play, when done right, involves a damp cloth being laid over the receivers neck and hair and/or any underwear or other flammable material they decide to keep on. It involves having someone spotting you, especially as you’re learning, with another damp cloth or two, in case something gets out of control. It involves having a bucket of water so you can keep re-dampening clothes as needed, so you can wipe away any extra accelerent as needed, and so if something happens, you can dump water on them. Having a fire extinguisher, even just a baby one, is always a great idea.

You should do fire play on a NON flammable surface. Beds are flammable, bad plan. Couches too.  And carpet. Good places include massage tables or sturdy NON-wood tables over hard, non-flammable floor. For starting out, if you don’t have access to a play space that is fire play-friendly, try the bathtub. Completely non flammable (move the shower curtain), and lots of water should you need it.

Don’t ever do fire play without the above criteria. It is fun, it’s hot (literally), it’s sensual, it’s a fabulous activity. However, if you do it wrong, like many kink activities, it can be dangerous, so please be careful and cautious.

The fluid most people use to draw on the receiver, or to soak their fire wands depends person to person. I use what I was taught to use; a mixture of non-fragrance hand sanitizer and 70% rubbing alcohol. I tried 90% rubbing alcohol, but it burned too much and too fast for what I wanted — I’m still very cautious in my fire play. By mixing them together, I have a flammable but more gel like base, so it’s easier for me to control where I put it. I know some people who play with other mixtures. Ask around and see what works for others.

As far as putting fire on people, I learned with Q-tips. Not the kind with plastic middles, as they will melt, but either cardboard or wooden middles. You soak the Q-tip in the mixture, light it on the small candle you have going next to it, and now you can draw designs on some one. I follow the flame with my free hand. It usually puts itself out with such a small “wand,” but I am always ready with a deep breath to blow it out, to follow it out with my hand, and with my spotter near by.

As that feels more comfortable, you can draw on someone with the mixture, then light the Q-tip wand, then light the pattern, and blow it out. I am still very cautious and blow it out within 1-2 seconds. Some people wait longer, as some receivers like to experience more warmth. I suggest always learn by being cautious and get more adventurous as you go.

Once you’re comfortable with that, you can make your own fire wands. Mine are made with kitchen skewers, all natural cotton balls, all natural cheese cloth over the cotton balls to hold them in place, and wire around the cheese cloth to hold it over the cotton over the tip of the skewer. I “seasoned” my wands at home (in the kitchen, near the sink), by soaking them, lighting them, blowing them out, lighting them, blowing them out, etc. They should eventually have a hit of gray among the white, but NOT be blackened. When doing fire play, make sure to soak the wands fully — otherwise, the dried cotton will just burn itself out.

Like with the Q-tips, you can either light the wands and use them on non-hairy, non-facial body parts, or you can draw a design, light it up, and blow it out. That is the basic concept. As you get more into it, you’ll probably see people doing fire cupping (similar to Chinese medicinal fire cupping), or using hair mousse to create patterns to light up. I’m not there yet. I’d like to be, but again, I’m overly cautious. I LOVE being fire cupped — it feels good and relaxing, and I look like I was attacked by an Octopus…but I don’t have a set to practice with, so maybe once I’m back in Denver.

If skin starts to feel warm to the touch, stop lighting that area, and move onwards. After fire play, make sure to provide good aftercare — usually a glass of water and a cuddle in a blanket are very much appreciated by both parties.

Remember, it is far far far far better to be taught in person. This is just a very basic overview. I am not an expert — this is just in my experience, and I highly encourage you to look into books on this, check out www.KinkAcademy.com, and if at all possible, meet with local kink players who do fire play. Always play as safely as possible, have a spotter, and a back up plan.

Hopefully you found this helpful in figuring out what fire play is (and isn’t), and has inspired you to learn more about this fun activity.