Edge play is a BDSM term given to any erotic activity that consensually and deliberately challenges one’s physical or psychological boundaries. Not to be confused with edging, which is the deliberate delaying of orgasm.
Edge play is a form of kink play between a submissive partner, i.e the one whose edge is being skirted or challenged, and a dominant partner, i.e. the person who challenges their partner’s boundaries with permission. However, it can also involve more than two people. Because everyone’s threshold for what they enjoy and what they are willing to endure is unique, what constitutes an individual’s “edge” will vary greatly from one person to another.
Although what this umbrella term defines can be very subjective, there are a few key components that need to be respected for it to be considered safe and healthy kink play: consent, negotiation, and risk awareness.
Above all else, consent is crucial. Without it, the act is no longer considered play, but potential assault, abuse, and criminal behavior. Consent is the explicit, informed, enthusiastic, and ongoing agreement to the terms and conditions of an activity. In edge play, as with all sexual or kink activities, consent must be enthusiastically given. If an affirmation is acquired through coercion or deliberate misinformation, it is not true consent.
Consent can be given and confirmed verbally, through agreed upon non-verbal communication, or in writing. Past confirmations of consent do not guarantee future consent. Consent should be re-established between play partners before and during every scene.
Terms will vary across partners, as well as within and between scenes. Discussing these terms prior to a scene is how everyone involved can negotiate what they want, what they expect, where their limits are, and what level of risk they are comfortable with in context.
During this pre-scene negotiation is when partners will determine how to manage the safety of their scene. A safeword or non-verbal cue (i.e. a signal to be used in the event of someone’s boundaries being challenged beyond their comfort zone or desired range of risk, which immediately terminates the scene) can be decided or reconfirmed and any relevant emergency procedures discussed.
The acronym RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink), proposed by Gary Switch in 1999, refers to BDSM activities like edge play that, while they may pose a greater perceived risk, can still be healthy and enjoyed by kink partners who engage in consciously safe, consensual ways.
When pushing one’s limits, even in a controlled way, there are potential risks to consider. Depending on the style of edge play, there could be a risk of short- or long-term physical damage to the body (e.g. bruising or scarring), increased risk of disease transmission when bodily fluid exchange is involved, and in some cases, even severe injury or death.
It is therefore important to practice edge play with trusted partner(s), negotiate terms, conduct any necessary research, set communication expectations and necessary safety measures, prepare emergency procedures, and have the appropriate aftercare plan in place all prior to the scene.
Some common variations of edge play include:
- Pain play: any kind of play which elicit a pain response
- Breath play (aka asphyxiation): the controlled restriction of air pathways to challenge or cut off respiration
- Wax play: sensory play which involves dripping hot melted wax on skin
- Knife play: play involving knives or blades; can involve cutting flesh in a controlled way
- Fear play: any scene designed to elicit a fear response
- Consensual non-consent: role play scenarios where non-consent or assault situations are enacted
- Temperature play: play involving the application and withdrawal of heat or cold with aim to arouse and challenge the body through its thermoregulatory system