This is an excerpt from "BDSM: A Guide for Explorers of Extreme Eroticism" by Ayzad. It has been republished here with permission from the author.
Ask somebody to imagine a torture scene. In 99% of cases they will describe one of the following typical situations: red-hot irons if they’re more traditional, or some diabolical electric device if their fantasies have a modern streak. Psychologists say this depends on the atavistic threat common to both fire and electricity: they are by nature seemingly difficult to control and unpredictable. Moreover, only an unlucky few have actually had first-hand experience with their effects, while most people only have an imprecise - albeit no less terrifying - idea about how much pain they can cause, especially in the case of an electrical current.
This is precisely the reason for the prevalence of the psychological component in BDSM electric play. For subs who have never tried or have little experience with it, it is all about exploring the innate fear not exactly of pain, but rather of the “mysterious” effects of something we have always been taught to fear, yet we only vaguely know. On the other hand, those who have already experienced these games usually find the way the electrical impulses act to be quite exciting. In fact, unlike what happens with other forms of stimulation, you can't resist electricity at all. The body is totally at the mercy of its invisible power, and this absolute lack of control is undeniably alluring for a submissive person.
Even more so than with other games, when dealing with electricity it is essential that the Dom is prepared, that he has studied and knows exactly what he is doing. First and foremost, this means ridding your mind of the ideas peddled by countless movies and war tales, along with their imagery of car battery clamps, electric arcs (the “sparks and lightning”) and field dynamos. The kind of torture using the infamous “hand-cranked” telephones are best left to psychopathic guerrilla fighters in some random desert. Domestic power sockets should also be an exclusive of the leading gangsters in trashy detective movies. The reason – just to put any uncertainty to rest – is very simple: electricity is dangerous.
It is essential that you have no doubts about this point: it only takes one second for an electrical pulse to cause burns, sprains, fractures or permanent brain damage, and with high amperage it only takes a hundredth of a second to kill somebody. These times negate any chance of intervention to address an emergency, therefore those who want to play electrical games can't afford to learn as they go – either you study and scrupulously follow every possible precaution, or you’re better off choosing another pastime.
The good news is that in recent decades many enthusiasts, doctors and engineers have outlined precise and reasonably reliable guidelines for anything involving electrostimulation (or ‘electroplay,’ if you wish). Knowing and following their indications will allow you to safely have fun, experiencing unique and not necessarily painful sensations. Let’s learn the basics then.
How to Get Electrocuted Like a Pro
Leaving aside complicated technical terms and details reserved to the professionals, the general principle of all games involving electricity is quite simple. Every device features two electrodes, respectively connected to the positive and negative pole of the power source: when you connect them by placing them onto a common conductive surface, the current flows between them along a roughly linear course. Whatever stands in its path absorbs a certain amount of electricity and is subject to its effects.
In our case, between the two electrodes there is obviously a human body part, composed of various types of tissue. The effect of an electric flux on this tissue depends on the type of cells that constitute it, on the duration of the pulse and the intensity of the current - or, to be more precise, its amperage. Let's examine these aspects one at a time.
Where the Current Flows
Electrical toys are normally applied to the skin, which however is not all the same. The thickness of the epidermis in fact varies between different body parts, and several characteristics can influence its electric conductivity; for example the moisture and salinity of sweat, the presence of hairs impeding consistent contact, or natural oils that partially isolate it. This means that the same electric pulse can have quite different effects depending on the targeted area, to the extent that it may feel imperceptible on one point but unbearable on another. Understanding which are the most sensitive parts is intuitive:
- Thick and dry skin (e.g. a calf) is sensitive.
- Thin and dry skin (e.g. the inner thigh) is more sensitive.
- Wet or sweaty skin is about 10% more sensitive.
- External mucosa (e.g. the glans) are much more sensitive.
- Internal mucosa (e.g. inside the vagina) are extremely more sensitive.
- Skin injuries (cuts, abrasions, etc.) resist current around 90 times less than healthy tissue; so they must never be involved in this kind of play, due to the risk of causing catastrophic damage.
Another key factor is the amount of flesh involved: the larger the area, the greater the dispersion of the pulse, which therefore has less perceivable effects. In other words, by distancing the electrodes the intensity decreases. One corollary is that the game becomes more bearable (and less dangerous) if you use larger contact points that uniformly adhere to the skin.
The epidermis is capable of absorbing decent amounts of power, but when the latter increases, the subcutaneous tissue is inevitably also affected. The most important consequence concerns the muscles: by their very nature the passage of electricity causes an involuntary contraction, as anybody who has ever seen a passive gymnastics device at work would know. These spasms are a key aspect of electrostimulation, since they are what makes the difference between a pleasurable game and death.
There are three types of contractions you must be aware of, which depend on the body part involved:
If the twitching muscles are the ones in the anogenital area, the effect can be rather interesting and pleasurable, since a series of pulses causes a strange deep massage with masturbating effects.
The leg and arm muscles, but others too, generate remarkable power. Making them involuntarily contract can be hazardous, as the pulse turns into potentially violent kicks and punches. Holding them, for example with bondage, is even worse: the contraction happens anyway, and can cause sprains, pulled muscles or - in extreme cases - broken bones.
If what contracts at the wrong time is the diaphragm, a respiratory crisis could occur. If it’s the heart, you are looking at a state of fibrillation that can easily result in infarction. This is the main cause of medical emergencies related to electrostimulation and should not be underestimated even in the case of perfectly healthy and fit subjects. This is even more true for people who have already experienced cardiac issues or who use a pacemaker.
The risks listed above are the reason for a frequently quoted rule in BDSM: “Never use electricity above the belt.” This is good advice, but also a very inaccurate simplification. On one hand, in fact, it doesn't take into account that cardiac episodes can also be caused by other games, such as, for example, a prolonged series of small spasms in the legs that “squeeze” the blood vessels interfering with normal circulation; on the other hand, it excludes a whole set of activities that don’t involve the current passing through the heart or diaphragm, which we will see in a few pages.
How long do the effects of electrostimulation last?
Although this isn’t the most elegant anatomical model, we can picture the cells that compose human tissue as tiny bags full of water and various chemical compounds. When electricity passes through them, the contents of each “bag” are affected in a number of ways depending on both the duration of the pulse and the amount of current.
Simplifying to the max, we can say that a very short pulse (we’re talking milliseconds) won't have any significant effects. As the length increases, even staying well below one single second, the intracellular substances will first be polarized, and then even undergo an electrolysis process; in other words they become disassembled and lose their functionality. If we further prolong the pulse, the cell will get cooked for good. All these effects, which in any electrostimulation occur to some minimal extent anyway, are partially cumulative. Translation: in this respect there is no big difference between ten pulses each one tenth of a second and a single one-second “shock.”
For our interests, this leads us to two simple tips. First, do not unnecessarily extend any game involving electricity; secondly, move the electrodes often. This also prevents the body from getting used to the stimulation, thus making it less pleasurable.
How strong is the electrostimulation involved in electrosex?
The last element to be considered is obviously the intensity of the current used. This issue can be discussed at length wasting a whole lot of effort on big words, but in the end only two things matter: what you feel and which effects it causes on a physiological level. For the first aspect, the sensations are as follows, in ascending order of power:
Surface Neurologic Reaction
The nerve endings are stimulated and you experience a “vibration” or “pinprick” sensation.
Involuntary Muscle Reaction
This is the principle behind fitness electro-stimulators. If you direct a current through a muscle, it contracts even if you don't want it to. If you do so with the right rhythm and in the right place, things become interesting.
Cells fry, with effects ranging from a tiny skin burn to the electric chair special, complete with a charred and smoking corpse.
For the second issue, you can refer to the following table, adapted from the only official document published on the matter by medical researchers.
<100 µa (microampère)
No effect unless directly applied to internal organs.
1 ma (milliampère)
Barely noticeable tingling.
Non-painful shock. Circuit breakers should be calibrated to switch off any device exceeding an unprotected output of this intensity.
A prolonged pulse causes diaphragm contraction and thus suffocation.
Involuntary muscle contraction and painful shock. This is when people “cannot let go” and usually die (if the pulse is continuous). The average limit for men is 15.5 ma and 10.5 ma for women.
Intense pain, muscle contraction and respiratory arrest. In most adults at 100 ma ventricular fibrillation occurs. Risk of death. Involuntary spasms can throw the body away from the power source.
1-4,5 a (ampère)
Ventricular fibrillation, muscle contraction and neurological damage. Medical handbooks state that death is ‘highly likely,’ and it is no coincidence this is the level used for the electric chair.
High probability of death, cardiac arrest and severe burns. This is the power of lightning strikes.
The above data refers to a 60 Hz alternate current applied continuously, and should therefore be considered as purely indicative. All the electrical devices used in BDSM in fact use higher - and safer - frequencies, but more importantly pulses of a very short duration. Even fitness electro-stimulators, for example, run between 80 and 120 microampère without any particular risks. This confirms what we said in the beginning: it is indispensable to use only specific devices for our games.
Batteries Not Included
Given the danger of building your own improvised electrical contraptions or retrofitting objects not originally designed for erotic use, recognizing and obtaining the right devices isn’t all that difficult. There is only one rule: go to a specialized sex shop. You will probably notice that the items bear price tags that tend to cause more heart attacks than the electricity they produce. However, this is one of the few cases in which it is worth spending as much as possible - indeed, the price reflects the quality of the materials and the research behind it, providing a better and risk-free experience. Given the choice, it is also advisable to buy CE or FCC certified devices, since by law they must pass extremely strict tests and therefore guarantee a higher level of safety.
At the heart of any electrical game there is a generator, also known as a "power box." It is a tiny battery-powered unit, equipped with a series of knobs or buttons for pulse control. One of them usually regulates the current intensity while another modulates its frequency, from one spike every however many seconds to a sequence so quick it is perceived as one continuous flow. These features can be duplicated for each of the various available outputs - normally two to six - to which different types of electrodes are attached. Some models feature a safety key consisting in a special plug: the device won't work without it, thus protecting you from accidentally switching it on and especially from the busy hands of children and friends who “want to try it.” There aren’t many reliable power box manufacturers, so it’s worth listing them:
- Electrastim - Basic yet effective power boxes.
- E-play - Sleek German engineering focused on versatility and remote control
- Erostek - Extremely (sometimes even too much) sophisticated devices, finely programmable and even remote-controlled.
- Folsom - On average, more powerful than the competition.
- PES (Paradise Electro Stimulations) - The best of the bunch according to many enthusiasts, designed to limit cellular damage and optimize pleasant sensations.
- Pleasure Tec - Above average power boxes.
- Rimba - Quite inexpensive units, yet sometimes unnecessarily powerful and with imprecise controls.
- Vitatronic - Pretty effective and inexpensive devices.
The above list includes the main brands of devices specifically designed for erotic use. Some enthusiasts also use other types of generators, including medical devices (generally called TENS units) and passive exercise devices, which however reach higher power levels and can definitely become dangerous if used incorrectly. Any power box can be connected to several accessories, which fall into two major categories.
Unipolar accessories are simple electrodes. Given they are connected to only one pole of the generator they can't be used alone, but require another unipolar terminal (not necessarily with the same shape) to close the circuit and thus allow the flow of electricity. The advantage of these accessories is their versatility: by moving one of the two electrodes you can stimulate different and wider body areas. The flip side of the coin is that they carry all the risks mentioned in the previous pages, since it is possible (and extremely inadvisable) to position them in ways that direct the current through the chest. The most common unipolar accessories are electrode pads, like those used in medicine. They are square pieces of sticky rubberlike material incorporating metal particles to conduct electricity. Over time they absorb the skin’s oils and lose their adhesiveness, which can be partially recovered by simply washing them with water and soap. Like every accessory they perform best when covered with a thin layer of conductive gel, which helps to create a smooth contact surface. These objects, also used in fitness devices, are used to stimulate relatively wide areas such as the buttocks or the groin. Their most sadistic variants are clamps - sometimes particularly strong ones - whose use should now be intuitive.
Other unipolar variants include bands and cock rings to be placed around the base of the penis, Wartenberg wheels, and brushes similar to those used by jazz drummers, perfect for caressing or to administer light floggings. Somebody even created a complete glove that can be used to touch the sub in a most electrifying way – but it doesn’t feel nearly as exciting as it sounds. Dildos and butt plugs are much more interesting: they definitely require a degree of caution when used but can offer unique sensations. One peculiar trick, once you have found the right settings, is forcing the anus to repeatedly contract and relax, thus involuntarily moving the toy inside and outside in a curious and endless form of self-sodomy. Every manufacturer also offers accessories designed to penetrate the urethra, especially of males. Although they can give unparalleled and very, very intense sensations, it’s best to be aware that these are incredibly dangerous toys: both because the involved tissue is extremely delicate, and because putting anything inside there involves an extremely high risk of infection and injury, common even in hospital practices performed by expert staff.
We could say that bipolar accessories are for “topical use,” since they combine both electrodes (positive and negative) and therefore act only on the very circumscribed area between the two. There are two main implications: a generally more intense effect due to the short distance between the poles - which suggests a reduction in the intensity of the stimulation - and the possibility to also use them on nipples. Personally, although I have never heard of accidents where such toys were involved, I still believe the off-chance of an overcharged pulse upsetting the cardiac cycle is too much of a risk. Those who harbor fewer doubts, however, can buy bipolar clamps - great for applying elsewhere, too - and breast cups.
There are also bipolar versions of cock rings, dildos/plugs and wheels, but there are probably more interesting objects. Among them: the vaginal shield (a curved plate with two conductive bands in correspondence with the labia): the gynecological speculum, whose mechanical expansion provides an interesting contrast with the electricity-induced contractions, and the parachute, used to wrap up the scrotum. Additional torture options are available for male genitalia, including electrified penis sheaths, the so-called "butterfly board," which is actually composed of two plastic squares (one of which features an access hole) between which the penis is squeezed and shocked, and various testicular presses, made even more evil by the flow of electricity.
An alternative to the objects mentioned so far are those devices that use static electricity, the same that sometimes crackles and gives you a shock when you touch a car door. These are based on the concept of two surfaces close together, one of which is charged with electric energy: when the body gets close enough, the charge finds a route through the air and the poor victim, closing the circuit that brings it to the other surface. The well-known result is a blue spark, a pop and the victim's yelping. Besides being very spectacular these devices are often capable of unleashing considerable power, which makes them also pretty threatening.
The king of electrostatic torments was created in the U.S. as a quack medical device at the beginning of the last century, when newfangled electricity seemed to hold the magical solution to all the world’s problems. It is called Violet Wand and it is composed of an insulated handle connected to a power source, on which you can mount various metal or glass accessories. The name comes from the latter, which are evacuated or filled with noble gas that glows purple (or other colors in recent models) when traversed by electricity, giving rise to lots of tiny “lightning sparks”: a sort of miniature version of the expensive “plasma spheres” sold in some gadget stores. When the wand is placed close to the skin, the discharges jump toward the latter with an effect that, depending on the distance and settings of the device, ranges from light tingling to very intense pain. Metal accessories are better conductors of electricity and are thus more intense than glass ones.
There are several reasons why violet wands, despite their pretty interesting uses, are not very popular anymore. Firstly, they are typically vintage products that haven't been manufactured for decades: the last ones date back to the 1950s and are considered expensive collectors' items. They were later replaced by ugly medical-looking devices, designed predominantly for beauty salons. The older glass accessories are also very fragile, so much so that they can be damaged by simply touching them with bare hands. In fact, the undetectable natural oils the skin leaves behind on the glass act as attractors for the electrical discharges, which in the not-so-long run create micro-fractures from which the gas leaks, rendering the attachment useless. If this weren’t enough, vintage devices may cause return peaks in the domestic electrical wiring system, which can disturb or damage any delicate electronic gear connected to it.
Finally, some models are quite difficult to control since their power output is regulated by a semi-mechanical device that wears over time. This means that with use it tends to fail and cause power fluctuations that can involuntarily administer stronger shocks than intended. In other models the same thing happens due to the metal ring used to attach the accessories and which may generate unwanted sparks. All these issues have been resolved in the violet wands produced nowadays, although they have also lost their classic (and let's face it, intriguing!) mad scientist's lab look and are usually much tamer than their ancestors.
In 2012 another alternative appeared on the market: the trademarked Neon Wand solved all safety and reliability issues thanks to the use of digital components as opposed to analog ones like the devices of old, and it is calibrated to generate pulses which are more pleasurable than painful.
Should you be seeking more punitive instruments you can turn to battery-powered rackets, available in two versions. The most common is sold in gadget stores as a “mosquito-frying paddle” and is almost impossible to use for erotic purposes since its charged surfaces are protected by a metal net which is very difficult to remove without damaging the device itself. The ready-made version on the other hand was originally created to control reindeer herds in Alaska and northern Europe, just like the more traditional - and normally too violent for human use - electric prods. It is a plastic object almost half the size of a tennis racket, featuring a metal net and a button on the handle. If pressed close to a body, it unleashes a very intense shock suitable only for the most committed masochists. As a matter of fact, the pulse is so powerful that, if the contact point is too small, it can cause tiny surface burns and even melt some synthetic fibers, like those of certain lingerie.
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