5 Ways to Reduce Harm in Kink and Why It Matters

By Ashley Ray

Kink and lifestyle play are ever-increasing in our culture. Kink offers a forum for releasing one’s more primal tendencies and the array of humanity that is generally considered distasteful. And, it’s hot.

With this increase in players in the scene, the discussion of intentioned harm reduction is required more than ever.

As in any kink activities and liberated behavior, a set of tools is offered here. My way is not your way, and that’s okay! What I do hope for is open and safe discussions concerning these ideas. As will be the theme in this discourse, we are all linked. How we behave, think, emote, connect, and live with each other and the world around us is inextricably tied together in one fashion or another. In the words of the wise Dr. Bikas Sharma of Trails Family Medical Center in Las Vegas, “We are all connected by tiny invisible ropes.”

1. Self/Other Awareness

The ability and practice of recognizing the behaviors, interactions, and effects of how we are within ourselves and our environment is directly connected to how we play. In kink, how we are and how others are with us is paramount to the scene (play/bdsm activities). Awareness is the beginning of anything conscious or conscience. (“I think therefore I am.”) Understanding ourselves and others allows for enhanced abilities in our scenes as it allows us to attend to each other and maintain our autonomy. One way to foster awareness such as this is to ask ourselves – “If I were my kink partner, what would be enjoyable in scening with me? What would be difficult?”

2. Communication

Information exchange is key to almost any interaction, especially in kink activities considered edgeplay (life-threatening), like shibari (rope bondage) or knives. Scholars still study the complexities of human communications and lend to our greatest tragedies. Most of our communications are non-verbal, which can sometimes make clarification tricky. Breakdown occurs most frequently in the reflection step of communication. You can ask, “Can you explain what you meant by..?” or “It sounds like you want…” See fig 1.

For Communication to be effective, it must be honest, clear, and realistic. It also demands that we understand the information to the best of our abilities. I like to remember an acronym I crafted to keep me on track, especially if the content is emotional in nature.

  • Helpful – Expressions which allow progression to the conversation or understanding, as this is what we are working toward.
  • Educational – Messages that offer new or different information relevant to the exchange.
  • Respectful – Interactions that are level and maintain or offer dignity moving forward.
  • Energetic – It can be confusing when our expressional affect does not match our stated enthusiasm.

3. Negotiation/Boundaries

Defined and established guidelines of consensual play are essential to kink. This is how we can push each other into realms we may not have ever experienced, such as the thrill of hot wax on one’s genitals. How can I trust you with my sensitive parts if we haven’t established what is required for that trust? And, of course, to set boundaries, we must reflect upon the first two points above and continue to build. Negotiations are best maintained when they are :

  • Clear and comprehensive – For example, I may want to be direct that I have an inhaler in my purse and when/how it should be used. It may also be prudent to let someone know that certain phrases or actions may result in an emotional reaction, with descriptions of what this may look like and how I want it to be addressed. Also, why not assume injury is likely to occur in these acts, and discuss what it means to attend to an incidence of harm?
  • Previously established through being informed – This includes detailing risks/limits and abilities and difficulties. I need to know before I touch you in a danger zone, not just when/if it happens and also what to do if a problem occurs. In turn, it can feel more equitable if these things are reframed from good/bad into helpful/hurtful and toward preferences/changes to be addressed.
  • Flexible – This does not mean changing negotiations in the middle of a scene (which is often risky); rather, that boundaries may be revisited at any time. Just because I want to drink tea with you today happily, this does not mean I want you to pour your tea down my throat next week, or maybe it does, but we should talk about it and be willing to respect what we agree upon.

4. Check-Ins

Distinguished frameworks for offering and giving feedback provide opportunities to take care of and make corrections as needed. Having agreed-upon ways of looking out for ourselves and each other before, during, and after kink play is crucial to having fun in the most respectful way. Again, the previous points must be present for this objective to work effectively. Methods of checking in with ourselves, our partners, our environment, and even our communities can enable enhanced scenes by getting it right. These can look like verbal statements or questions, non-verbal signs like hand signals, or a supportive accountability team.

5. Evaluation/Accountability

This means taking a deep look into our intentions and actions as well as the effects and consequences of such. We can do this individually by looking at point 1 above and asking ourselves, “What does it look/feel like to interact with me?” We can also reach for resources through the support of others and the community. Most often, others are working through similar issues with which you may also be faced. Fetlife (a kink social networking site) has a plethora of writings by folks who have vast experiences, along with the pics to prove it.

Some of these ideas may not be your strengths, but learning and practice help build habits. And thankfully, they all build upon and interconnect with each other, so working on one will enhance the others. Another link they all share is requiring support and feedback, which fosters growth. The seed of hope will stay buried under the soil if the support and guidance of light and liquid do not touch it.

Why It Matters

In May, during a rope conference, I experienced the lack of these characteristics firsthand and, as a result, was harmed. During a shibari tie with a well-known rigger (rope tier), I was dropped on my head onto concrete resulting in a concussion and continued difficulties. Due to the nature of the event activity and pedestal culture, our tie neglected almost all the points I addressed for harm reduction. Unfortunately, our inability to find common ground on these points has furthered this harm. There has been little reconciliation or recompense, let alone restoration. This harm now not only affects me but now extends to others who may encounter this person in kink play and those around me. Moving forward, I will work toward the same resolutions as I hope the other in this story will also do – by reflecting and correcting my actions. I learned from this incident the importance of practicing what I preach and the understanding that experience is not the measure of competence. It’s awareness coupled with care for ourselves/others affected by our skills. Addressing each of the points above may allow for myself and those I engage with greater mitigation with risky activities and heightened fun, sexy play.

Kink culture is underground culture for a reason. It is sexy, gross, exciting, daring, hot, mean, and baffling. But let’s keep kink kinky through intentioned efforts – not just through thinkin’ with our dick.

Ashley Ray (she/they) is a licensed professional counselor and mental health educator. As a body-positive model and creator/author of a humanistic paradigm shift, they demonstrate the intrinsic understanding that, as humans, we exist upon a spectrum of being. Ashley also practices shibari (rope bondage) as an educator and performer. She believes that kink provides a direct approach for a confrontation of our humanity, sex, and death, an exploration of our primal natures, along with the interplay of these concepts and the environment.

Authentically being is what drives Ashley and inspires their art to offer this confrontation and comfort in others as well. She believes deeply in the power of emergence through our connections.

Ashley is available for speaking engagements and workshops on healthcare and kink education.

Connect with Ashley
IG/FL: @Rayz_of_Ash

PROUD & Kinky Magazine - Issue 3

This article was originally published in the second issue of PROUD & Kinky Magazine. You may read it in its original format here.