How to nibble, chew, and chomp on your partner, Or: pretty much everything I know about biting

Photo of an orange and red shop sign that says

A while ago, I attended an informal workshop[1] about biting in the context of BDSM and came home with a pile of notes about things I had never heard before in my (non-consecutive) 8+ years of actively hanging out in the BDSM community. I did not expect that before the workshop, so after I came home, I started searching for more how-to information about erotic and pleasantly painful biting to see what else I had missed so far.

Turns out, there really isn’t much information out there. I found a few articles that discussed biting in the context of mildly adventurous vanilla sex, all of which contained advice for avoiding “the real pain.” While it’s certainly useful to know how to scale the pain of biting according to everyone’s tastes (more on that below), “the real pain” still is precisely the reason why many of us are into biting in the first place. So we also need information about biting at that level of intensity. I also found a small handful of short comments on FetLife discussions with a snippet or two about biting technique and safety, but not a single comprehensive how-to post.[2] Even an article about erotic biting on Kinkly [CN: has an image of a mouth with vampire teeth and blood at the top of the page] offers mostly vague advice like “don’t pull too hard at the skin” — but how hard is “too hard”? It also tells the reader to “make sure […] that the bites are quick,” without acknowledging that some of us actually like receiving a longer bite that feels similar to wearing a clamp. Literally the only extensive piece of biting info that was publicly available upon some basic search engine use is Sinclair Sexsmith’s “How to Chomp: Erotic Biting for Pleasure & Pain” (which I absolutely recommend checking out).

I have to say, I did not expect that, either. How come so many of us enjoy biting from anywhere between a gentle nibble and a hearty chomp, yet no one besides that one sex blogger has written up a basic manual with information about how to bite safely (or as safely as you and your partner(s) agree to be) and pleasurably? Is it because we assume that biting is basically a vanilla activity so we don’t need information about it for the kinksters? Is is because we believe that everyone who has a set of teeth already knows how to bite another human so they’ll (hopefully) come back for more? Is it because we don’t think there’s much risk in biting to begin with (again, even vanilla people do it, so it can’t be that risky, right?),[3] so there’s no need for education about things that could go wrong and how to minimize or avoid that risk?

Whatever the reason for that lack of online educational content about biting, I believe we absolutely need more than a single blog post to spread the information about different ways to combine the teeth from one person with the body of another person (or multiple people on either side, if you play in teams of more than two) to create pleasure and consensual pain. We need more than a single blog post to provide input about the potential risks involved so people can make educated choices about the kind of biting they want to engage in. Therefore, I’ve decided to write up and share my notes from said informal workshop with some of my own experience thrown in. (Any errors or omissions in representing the original workshop content are my own.) There will probably be some overlap with Sinclair’s post, but a bit of repetition in different words surely can’t hurt, right?

Let the notes begin.

The first thing that needs to be said about biting is that we tend to massively underestimate the strength of our jaws and the pain they can inflict as a result. In fact, the jaw muscle (masseter) is the strongest muscle of the human body (based on its weight) and can apply a force up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) with the incisors (front teeth) and up to 90.7 kilograms (200 pounds) with the molars (back teeth).[4] Which means that we need to be mindful of how much pressure we apply with our teeth and jaws to someone else’s flesh so we don’t do any unintended damage. So before you complain that your bottoms (yes, I’m talking to you, dear loudly disappointed biting tops on FetLife) aren’t able to endure (and enjoy) your bite, maybe make sure you have an accurate idea of the actual intensity you’re asking them to absorb… Seriously. Try biting your own arm in different ways (more details about this below) to see how it feels and compare the intensity of the sensation to the marks you leave.

Places: Where to bite and what risks to be aware of

So, where can we apply that force? Places that are nicely padded and therefore often good for biting with more force are the shoulders and upper back, the upper chest and breasts, the back of the neck, the upper arms, the butt, hips, (inner) thighs, and the pubic mound. Some of these places are more sensitive than others in general, and of course, people’s individual tastes vary, so check in with your partner about areas where they don’t want to bite or be bitten — and where they really enjoy biting or being bitten. If in doubt, start with a low intensity of bite and increase it slowly.

Places that are more suited to lighter nibbles or at least more superficial bites and grazing than full-on, forceful chomps are the face and ears, hands and wrists, feet and ankles, any kind of genitals, and anywhere else with big blood vessels (especially arteries), tendons, nerves, or bones close to the surface of the skin. As a rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t hit a body part with much force or attach a sharp clamp to it, don’t bite it with much force.

There are a few areas that need particular caution.

While arms and legs are generally fairly safe places to bite, there are nerves running along the inside of the upper arm and down the middle of the back of the knee that can be damaged with a bite in that area. As the receiving partner, communicate any sudden, intense pain at the site of the bite, tingling or numbness in your limbs (towards the hands or feet). As the biter, stop the bite immediately if your partner indicates such sensations. If the symptoms don’t get any better within 10-20 minutes, especially if the whole arm is numb, please see a doctor.[5]

Parts of the face may look well-padded enough for a bite, but there is also the >trigeminal nerve running from the ear across the forehead, cheek, and chin on each side of the head. So it’s best to approach these areas with extra caution. Also, the cartilage in the ears and nose is rather easy to bite through, so proceed with caution.

The neck and throat also have a lot of vulnerable parts. The most mundane risk is the strong discomfort that usually comes with being bitten into the tendons along the sides of the neck. And now we need to get very serious for a few minutes. I’m not writing the rest of this paragraph to freak anyone out, but I do believe in giving people information so they can make choices about the risks that are okay for them personally. And if you don’t know what you’re doing with your teeth at someone’s neck or throat, there is at least some risk to do serious and irreparable damage. I don’t think this is a very high risk (and I’ve obviously survived many occasions of letting people put their teeth to my neck without any problem, even without a conscious knowledge of any of these dangers), but I still think it’s good to be aware of the worst-case scenario of any BDSM activity. So, yes, you can potentially choke someone with your teeth, either by restricting the flow of blood to their brain (“blood choke“) or of air to their lungs (“air choke“). If you bite into the side of their neck and apply pressure to the carotid artery and/or jugular vein, this can interrupt the blood flow to the brain and cause unconsciousness within 10-15 seconds. Most of the time, the person will regain consciousness on their own after a similar time period (if not, call an ambulance). However, pressure in that area can also activate the carotid sinus reflex and cause a drop in blood pressure and even cardiac arrest (death). You don’t need to apply pressure to both sides of the neck for any of this to happen. If you bite into the front of the throat, you can compress and potentially damage the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box). This usually doesn’t lead to unconsciousness, but it is extremely painful and can potentially cause permanent damage to the cartilage and bones there.

It’s probably best to skip areas with scar tissue because they tend to be more sensitive to further damage and less predictable in terms of healing any bruises or other bite marks.

If you want to bite an area of skin that is hairy, be aware that you can accidentally rip out some of the hair during a bite, which of course adds a different kind of pain to the experience.

Technique: How to bite and how to scale the pain and bruising

What factors can change the sensation and intensity of a bite? Besides the placement of the bite, which we talked about in the previous section, there’s the depth and force of the bite, the speed at which you close your jaw, whether you pull or twist the tissue while you are biting it, the speed with which you release the bite, and if/how you touch the place of the bite afterwards. There are also the factors of timing (when in the encounter/arousal cycle you bite) and muscle tension of the person receiving the bite. And finally, there are some factors that can influence how much or how little of a bruise develops.

With any and all of these techniques, always pay attention to your partner’s reactions in the moment. Do they lean into the bite and/or make deep, growling or purring sounds of pleasure and pain? This is probably a sign that they’re enjoying the sensation. Do they flinch or pull away from you and/or make high-pitched sounds of pain? This may be a sign that they’re not enjoying the sensation as such (although they may still enjoy the fact that they’re not enjoying it if that’s the dynamic you play with) and are near the edge of what they are ready to take. However, these are generalizations, and your partner may have different ways of expressing how they are. So talk about this to make sure you read them right. Bottoms may want to tell their partners how it usually looks when they’re having a good time, and how it looks when things are going badly for them emotionally or physically — and tops may want to ask them about it.

Let’s look at the different biting techniques in detail.

Depth and force (intensity) of the bite. Do you just pick up a tiny bit of skin between your front or canine teeth to produce a fairly superficial bite that concentrates in a single, painful point? Do you make sure that you get a whole mouthful of your partner’s flesh and create a deeper and more spread-out sensation? It may be a good idea to place your upper jaw onto your partner’s body first because your lower jaw is the only flexible part of your head, so it’s easier to adjust your bite with the lower jaw instead of moving the whole head. Do you pinch and hold up a roll of skin with your fingers so you can control the placement of your bite more easily? Or do you drag your teeth across your partner’s body and tease them with anticipation until you’ve found a good spot to bite down into? Do you lightly nibble a path from their neck to their chest, from their calves to their genitals, along their arms to their shoulder, or across their backs? Do you find a well-padded spot with no nerves or tendons beneath and chomp down hard, perhaps when either of you is nearing orgasm? Do you just gently close your jaw on them so that you’re almost “holding” them with your teeth without adding a lot of pain? And do you bite a specific spot just once or do you return to it and bite it again, thus increasing the pain and the chance of bruising? All of these techniques create different sensations, and I suggest you try them out on yourself (if you can) so you get an idea how they compare to each other.

Speed and duration of the bite and its release. Do you bite down quickly, as if you’ll miss catching your prey otherwise? Do you apply a lot of force at once to slightly shock your partner and get their adrenaline going? That said, a short quick bite may be less painful for some people because it’s over again so quickly. Or do you find a nice spot to bite and slowly, slowly close down your jaw with ever increasing force until your partner is purring in masochistic delight?[6] You can also do the slow chomp in stages and give your partner time to adjust to each level of increased intensity. When you’re done with a specific bite, do you let go of your partner’s flesh quickly as if you’ve abruptly taken off a clamp? This makes the blood rush back into the area that has been compressed by your teeth and creates an additional pain. Or do you release the pressure very slowly, so the blood can return more gradually? This is usually less painful than a quick release, especially if you’ve held the bite for more than a couple of seconds. (As you can see, we can transfer some information over from playing with clamps (about which I’ll write more at a later date) to playing with bites.)

Pulling and twisting. Do you add sensation/intensity by biting down into your partner’s skin (and perhaps muscle) and then pulling away from their body? This may cause some tearing in the muscle tissue (you may actually be able to hear the tissue tear if it’s quiet enough around you), which tends to result in more pain and a longer healing time. Maybe you like to take it another step further and add a bit of twisting if the tissue is loose enough to allow that, either by turning your head or moving the body part you’ve bitten into? If you have pointy canines or other teeth with sharp edges, you may want to either loosen the pressure or accept the risk (in agreement with your partner) that you may draw blood when doing this. Do you like to add sucking to your biting and almost certainly create some hickeys (which really is just another word for a bruise)?

Touching the bitten area afterwards. Do you hurt your partner first and then “kiss it better”? Do you blow cool air onto the area you just bit into to switch between pain and tenderness? This can either increase or lessen the pain, so check in with your partner to find out how it feels to them. Do you tap or rub the area of the bite or press into it? This usually increases the pain (no, you don’t “rub the pain away”!) and may spread it out more for some recipients.

Timing. Do you and your partner like biting as a way to slowly add some pain to your initial kissing and licking and to increase the heat of your encounter? Do you like biting or being bitten as you approach orgasm to give you that last push over the edge? Or do you treat biting as a whole scene by itself and maybe just add a bit of stroking or gentle slapping or squeezing to warm up the skin before you bring out the teeth?

Muscle tension. It’s generally easier to bite into relaxed muscles. This is especially true for the calves where it’s often good to take a big bite into the whole muscle. Try lying down to relax the calf muscles (and any other muscle that tenses up when you stand). Bending or stretching out a limb tenses and relaxes different kinds of muscles (and the related bits of skin), so you can also experiment with that. The sensation of a bite into a tensed-up muscle or a relaxed one also feels different, so you can play around with that to increase or decrease the intensity of the pain.

Bruising. The more blood flow there is in the area of the bite, the more likely it is that there will be (bigger/darker) bruises (at least according the workshop presenter). This means you can move the respective body part or slap it or rub it to get the blood flowing to where you want to bite later. However, I’ve also found a claim on FetLife that warming up the area in advance with lighter sensations will help reduce bruising, so you may need to test this for yourselves. At any rate, many bottoms simply like it better and can endure more pain during a scene when you don’t go from zero to sixty but start with some lighter sensation and increase the pain slowly. If in doubt, ask your partner what they prefer. If the bottom has recently used substances like alcohol, aspirin and ibuprofen (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/NSAIDs), cortisone (corticosteroids), or blood thinners (anticoagulants), this can increase the likeliness of bruising. Certain illnesses (such as celiac disease, anemia (iron deficiency), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, hemophilia, and others) can also make it more likely that there will be bruises. As I’ve said before, certain techniques (such as re-biting, sucking, pulling/twisting) may lead to more bruising than others.

Many people enjoy making or having marks, so you can use some of these techniques to help with that. That said, I wouldn’t advise the use of medication that also works as painkiller (unless you’re taking it anyway) because that can mess with your awareness of actual damage done to your body. Other people may prefer to not have any bruises (if only because they don’t want to explain themselves to their doctor, physiotherapist, or fellow swimmers), so proceed accordingly and maybe (if your partner still likes having bruises in general) choose a place that can be covered up easily.

Of course, there can be a lot of individual variation in what you or your partner like on any given day or in general. Therefore I always recommend talking to each other about what you enjoy, share how certain sensations or techniques make you feel, and to keep each other in the loop about how you are during a BDSM scene or other sexytimes, by using body language, sounds, and/or your words (all of this applies to both tops and bottoms). If you haven’t tried a specific thing before, or not with this person, or not on this body part, it’s generally a good idea to start with low intensity and go slow. I also recommend agreeing on a word or signal that stops the whole action if it gets too intense (this can be anything from “stop” to “red” to “safeword” to “potato” — or you can use a classic, non-verbal martial arts tap-out where you tap three times on any part of your partner’s body that you can reach).

Troubleshooting: What if something goes wrong?

What if you accidentally hurt your partner more intensely than you planned, because you underestimated your jaw strength or hit a nerve or tendon at a painful angle? Try adding some “distraction pain” to the other side of the body. That means, pinch or hit or bite them on their other arm/leg/hip/shoulder, but at a lesser intensity. Apparently, our nervous systems can only process so much pain at the same time, so by dividing its attention this way, you decrease the intensity of the pain your partner feels.[7]

If you caused more pain than you wanted, it may also be a good idea to openly acknowledge that you didn’t intend this level of pain (“oops, sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to hurt you that much” or “mwhahahaha, great, that hurt even more than I thought it would!” both may work, depending on the dynamic you’re currently in) so your partner knows you’re aware of it and doesn’t lose trust in you, and to give them time to process the pain and decide whether they still want to continue.

When biting someone, for example on the upper arm, you may accidentally bite through a blood vessel which will then burst without breaking the skin. You’ll be able to see a dark lump forming under the skin pretty much immediately. This hurts quite intensely and may look rather scary, but isn’t dangerous unless that person has problems with blood clotting. If you want to reduce the swelling and bruising, apply cold (like a cool pack or ice cubes in a bag and towel/scarf).

If you accidentally punctured the skin and drew blood, disinfect the wound immediately or at least rinse it with water. Human saliva contains a massive number of potentially infectious bacteria, so a human bite is a lot more risky than a dog bite in terms of infection. Watch the area over the next few days and please see a doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary or the pain/swelling/redness gets worse. And if it’s bleeding hard and doesn’t stop, apply pressure and call an ambulance.

As the biter in this situation, you may want to use “dentist” mouthwash (chlorhexidine) to disinfect your mouth and avoid any blood-borne infections. If you don’t have any mouthwash at hand, rinsing your mouth with water is the next best idea.[8] You can also use this kind of mouthwash before you start biting anyone to reduce the bacteria in your mouth that you can potentially transmit, especially if you know your gums bleed easily.

If you created more bruises than desired, you can try applying cold by way of a cool pack, a bag of ice cubes or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or scarf (up to ten minutes at a time, then take a break), resting and raising the area (if possible), and refraining from adding further pressure (including massages). It’s normal for a bruise to look worse the second or third day after the bite (they tend to go from red to dark purple or even black to lighter purple and shades of yellow and green before the skin returns to its normal color, which is easier to see on people with lighter skin). Bruises can also “travel” a bit during the healing process, although I’ve seen this most often with big bruises in the butt and thigh area and less with smaller bruises from biting. Some people swear that arnica products reduce the healing time for their bruises, others haven’t found them to have any effect. They probably won’t hurt you in case you want to give them a try, though.

Other considerations: What else to think of when you have the intention to bite

The first thing you may want to make sure of before you bite someone is that you actually like their smell. If you want to check how someone smells as a person below any scented products they may use, try sniffing them behind the ear, in the area right beside their nose and below their eyes, or at the inside of their elbow.

Related to that is the question of taste. Many skin care or make-up products, perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, or deodorants may make you look and/or smell great, but they may also make your skin taste absolutely awful. So if you’d like to be kissed, licked, nibbled, or bitten, either leave off such products altogether or try to find alternatives that are at least taste-neutral. You can test this on yourself: Just apply a bit of the product in an area you can reach with your mouth, let it dry, and give it a lick.

As the biter, you may find that a tongue piercing can be uncomfortable when you bite in a way that fills up your whole mouth. You may like to wear flexible jewelry or even take out your piercing for a short while — or you may adjust your biting technique so it doesn’t bother you.

According to the workshop presenter, if you have an allergy to animal proteins (“meat allergy”), you may want to approach biting with extra care. Tiny bits of your partner’s skin will come off into your mouth when you bite them even just gently or drag your teeth across their skin and could potentially trigger an allergy reaction.  Do whatever you would do in general to protect yourself and ask your doctor if you’re unsure about your risk.[9]

And finally: know your teeth! Do your teeth have any sharp edges or chips? Do you have any teeth that are noticeably pointy? If your teeth are in any way crooked or overlapping, that may also affect how your bite lands and whether there is any extra pressure in a specific area. If in doubt, try biting yourself to check. Braces will also have an effect on how your biting feels. And if one or more of your teeth are loose, you may want to be careful with the force you apply so you don’t hurt yourself.

On your marks, get consent, bite!

Alright, this concludes this collection of pretty much everything I know about biting at this point in time!

Before I leave you for today, I would like to remind you once again that individual differences are always more important than generalizations when it comes to how a particular technique feels and what kind of pain or sensation it creates. So please take this post as a starting point for your own explorations and further research and adjust things according to your needs and those of your partner(s).

I also would like to emphasize that everyone has a different risk-profile, and that it’s not always the tops that want to risk more. For example, some people will want to carefully avoid any chance of breaking the skin, while others may want to bite until it bleeds on purpose. Listen to your gut and your brain about the level of risk that you feel okay with, inform your partner of your boundaries, and accept theirs. If you have different ideas about the acceptable level of risk, I suggest letting the more cautious partner decide what to do so you don’t violate anyone’s consent.

And now: happy biting and being bitten! I hear Halloween season with all its vampires and werewolves on the prowl is particularly inspiring for some…


Notes

[1] Due to matters of privacy for both me and the presenter, I unfortunately can’t give more precise credit here. (If you suspect you may be the presenter I’m talking about and wish to be credited in more detail, please get in touch so we can discuss how I can make that happen without giving up my own privacy.)

[2]  Granted, FetLife’s search function is notoriously terrible, so I definitely have missed any wonderfully detailed posts that are hidden in people’s personal writings (if you know of one, I’d be very grateful to receive a link for my personal education through my contact form). Also, I’m not linking to any FetLife discussions here, because FetLife is a closed platform and I want to respect people’s privacy. If you have a profile there, enter “biting” into the search field and click your way through the group list to more or less retrace my steps. My point still stands, though: Information about biting technique and risk assessment are very hard to find, compared to information about the many kinds of impact play and other pain-inducing activities.

[3] I have a whole ‘nother rant about the assumption that risk education is only for the perverts and that vanilla sex is inherently without much risk (besides perhaps the transmission of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or an unwanted pregnancy), but that is for another day.

[4]  If you want to remind yourself of the strength of your jaw (and don’t have any physical conditions that interfere with your ability to do this), try breaking a fresh, raw carrot into two pieces with your hands and compare that to the effort of biting through the same carrot. If you’re like me, you’ll feel that you didn’t even have to chomp down very hard to bite through the carrot, whereas it took noticeably more effort to break it with your hands. (Yes, I’m aware that breaking and biting don’t use the same type of force. However, this isn’t an academic physics experiment, just an everyday approximation of our own jaw strength, and for that I think the comparison is sufficient.)

[5]  This is of course true for all kinds of nerve issues, whether caused by biting or by anything else.

[6]  Well, at least that’s what I would do. :)

[7]  I’ll go look for a linkable source for this claim and will add it to this post as soon as I find it. (If you, dear reader, know of such a source, please let me know where I can find it.) Until then, all I can offer is the fact that distraction as such is a well-known element of coping with chronic pain, even though it’s usually not framed as distraction by a different kind of pain. And exchanges like this one.

[8]  Some people suggest having a shot glass full of strong alcohol to disinfect your mouth in an emergency. However, drinking alcohol isn’t a particularly strong disinfectant to begin with (to disinfect, alcohol should have a concentration between 50-80%) and most liquors like regular vodka, whisky, or brandy have only 40%). And if you just caused an accident by misjudging your force or biting too quickly, drinking alcohol (which will further decrease your cognitive abilities) probably isn’t a great idea anyway. Besides that, many people and also many play party venues/dungeons have a strong rule about not mixing alcohol and BDSM play at all, so this is something that may be a hard limit for your partner or the hosts of the event.

[9]  This is something else I’ll try to find a source for. If/when I find one, I will add it to the post. Again, if you’re aware of something I can reference or link to, let me know?


Today’s #Kinktober prompt was “biting.”


Image source: Flickr/Pascal Terjan, CC BY-SA 2.0

2 thoughts on “How to nibble, chew, and chomp on your partner, Or: pretty much everything I know about biting

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