If someone had told me a year ago I'd get totally turned on by being seriously rough during sex I'd have thought they were out of their mind. But it happened, and I got, well, wet. I also realized there are some potential hazards that could have made the entire thing a horrible experience. Thankfully, none of those things did happen, and all of it led me here, to share what's hot about rough play, as well as the rules for doing it right.

Playing Rough

So, what did happen? I was at an event, having a lot of fun. There I was, finishing up a nice invited scene with friends I know well. I decided a little break was in order, so I stepped outside and spotted what I can only call a total hottie. I've had this sort of experience before: see, imagine and then … poof, it's gone! I've learned that for the most part, the people I might dare to imagine myself somehow involved with are usually already involved and so there's rarely any good reason to do much more than smile. But somehow, this time, I was, well, drawn to her. So, rather than just smile, I said hello. And she said hello back. We both moved on, and went back inside.

Save 15% when you buy any 2 selected Sexy CostumesI sat with a friend and we talked a bit. I mentioned, ever so casually, that I thought she was kinda hot and much to my surprise, my friend offered to introduce us. Seriously? Oh yeah, I was all about that! And so we met, and we clicked, and then we played. We did the needed and much desired negotiation: what did we like, what could we do and not do, what sorts of boundaries were there - all of this was very natural and easy (and is something to do each time you find yourself in this kind of situation). Then we got to the fun.

I realized almost immediately that some of the things she loved involved using certain kinds of toys, none of which I had thought to bring with me! Time to improvise. I discovered that her high-heeled platform style sandals were very sturdy indeed, and with the small section of rope I had borrowed from my friend, I had the basic toys I needed to make this particular scene happen. As we deepened the scene and our connection, I used the sandals as a spanking toy, and with her securely tied up, I managed to both control and apply the kind of punishing blows she clearly wanted. I found myself in that rarefied headspace of being totally a top, totally in charge of what was about to happen, and really, really turned on. We connected in a way that - in that moment of time and space - really resonated for both of us, and we both knew it. I pulled, yanked, pressed, and struck deeper and deeper blows as her writhing body both winced and craved more of the harsh pain I was able and willing to give her.

We went at it for almost an hour and a half until we both realized that we had to rest, despite our obvious interest in going deeper, further, harder. The aftercare was a quiet bliss. We shared the feelings we'd had: her being subjected to a form of very strong control, and me being able to fully let myself go in the moment, let myself fully embrace that power in me. All of it was very sensual and sexual.

And that's where both the fun and the danger lies.

The Rules of Rough Sex Play

It's easy, sometimes too easy, to "let go" into that kind of "top space." I had this partner tied up in a way that was safe, certainly (an easy and instant exit was a pull away). I was also able to exert incredible control over how she moved, where she moved and then apply the improvised impact toy to her body as I pleased. Her howls of pain did not bely how very much we were enjoying ourselves. Had I been overtired, had either of us been impaired, had the toy I'd "chosen" been something with its own inherent power such as a cane or heavier impact toy, had her ability to self-monitor and be in touch with her own body been in any way reduced, things might have gone quite differently.

What that means is that rough play requires some rules to help us draw the line between kinky and abusive, between when to stop and when to continue. Here are my top four.

Rule No.1: Negotiate

Perhaps you are familiar with the idea of risk-aware consensual kink (RACK). It's pretty simple. Everything in rough play is risky, so we all need to be aware of the risks and figure out what they are and how to minimize them before we start the scene! Sounds easy, and often it is. Many of the toys we love are not as powerful as what she and I experienced, but that's why we negotiate. We have to plan for the downside, because when we do, the upside takes care of itself. If we don't, the consequences are much, much more than painful. They can even be dangerous. Negotiating with a playmate is, therefore, the very first thing we do. And we do it every time, even with someone we know really well. It might feel like a repetitive, boring process sometimes. It might seem like it's a "scene killer." In reality, if you just build it in, make it part of your play vocabulary, it's not only easy, it can even be fun. (Read more about negotiation in Yes! Why Consent Is Totally Sexy.)

Rule No.2: Keep it Sane and Sober

Now this should be totally obvious, but impairment is surprisingly common. Go out, find a hot play partner, unpack the toy bag and … wait … how many glasses of wine did I have? Red flag! Stop! All bets are (or should be) off!

You should never, ever be playing, much less negotiating, if there's any sort of substance in the mix - alcohol, drugs (even personal meds can be a problem in some instances) are all deal breakers. In a word: Don't do it! There will be another time and place to share the fun. In rough play, this is absolutely essential to remember and respect.


Experiment with your senses. Check out this amazing, full collection of spankers, ticklers, floggers, canes, paddles, crops and whips - oh my!

Rule No.3: Know Your Tool

This is a little more subtle than it might sound, but it matters. Sometimes we're tired, or haven't had much to eat or haven't gotten enough sleep. It happens, and it happens a lot. While it's fair to say we're not operating heavy machinery here, it's also quite realistic, not to mention safe and sane, to note that many toys really are capable of delivering more than a passing blow. Indeed, some of the ones I keep in my toy bag can, if seriously misused, do major damage. That's not part of any scene I am interested in, so my rule here is simple: You gotta know your equipment. That means more than a simple look-see in an online mag or a toy store. It's not enough to simply read about a toy and then use it on another person, someone you may very well find yourself deeply caring for and loving after a few such scenes.

Nope, knowing your toys has to be a matter of real confidence, and, perhaps most importantly: knowing what you do not know. Knowing what you know is not hard if you apply yourself. Knowing what you don't know, though, is really tricky stuff. It means admitting a kind of weakness, and letting others see that you really don't know it all. There is great strength in this. Being humble, being willing to demonstrate that you are lacking knowledge, really means that you are also a lifelong learner, someone ready to put down the tool and pick up the book in order to listen, watch, learn, understand and then, when you're ready, to share.

Rule No.4: Know Yourself

This is perhaps the most vital part of this whole process. It doesn't matter if you're a top or a bottom, a giver or receiver, doing or being done to: You have limits, both physical and mental. You and you alone can determine where those are. You and you alone are able to step back from yourself and say whether or not you can continue or should stop. It takes more than awareness: it's also about ego, how we try to be seen in the scene, how we determine if we can go on or stop. Making that call can be awkward.

"But that guy went on for hours. What is wrong with me?"

Answer: nothing. Your ability to stand down, whether top or bottom, is a HUGE part of being a superb player, one that others will want to spend time with, will want to play with in the future. Stopping, resting, letting it go - that is a key part of how rough play can work well.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle

You may be wondering why I haven't talked about about how hard or where to hit a partner, or how many times to strike, or whether or not to loosen the rope. These are the things you have to know to even be in the room; it's all part of how you learn to know your toys and tools as well as yourself. If you haven't learned those things, you should not consider rough play.

Those specifics of play are also an integral part of the first rule - negotiation. Does your bottom tell you about their own body, what they are OK with and what they are not OK with? That's essential, required reading as it were. Do you know how to "read" your partner, their breath, their skin, who they played with earlier and how long and hard they've done that? Again, all part of rule No.1.

And yes, it's fair to wonder how hard you should strike. We're not, after all, dealing with a practice pillow, but a warm, loving human body, someone to cherish and care for. So, you start slow, build, and as you build, you check in, communicate, touch, breathe and feel (and how much fun is that to do? Lots: lemme tell ya!). This gives you both the space and time you need to make it hot and to know when you've had enough and should stop. (You can learn a lot about yourself in the process. Find out more about one writer's journey in Bondage With Benefits: What I Learned from BDSM.)

Doin' It Right

Rough play is not for everyone. And yes, if done the wrong way, or if you ignore the rules I've suggested, it can turn out badly, even tragically. It's something you do with a lot of thought and care, something you move into with connection and depth. Done with love and - I know sounds weird, but - tenderness, it's amazingly powerful stuff. But don't take anything for granted: learn, listen, respect, and own yourself as well as your responsibilities. That's how you do it right.