CN: This post contains many brief descriptions of possible techniques for consensual pain play. Other forms of BDSM (such as bondage, D/S, and impact play) are briefly mentioned in a few additional examples at the end. There’s also a list of physical and mental illnesses and disabilities (as reasons for not doing impact play). The post and especially the footnotes contain several mentions of possible injuries and other unwanted consequences of non-impact pain play (in the context of safety information).
Doing S/M means hitting people or being hit, right? Wrong.
I mean, sure, playing with sadism and masochism or with intense sensations can absolutely mean impact play (I myself especially like canes and floggers for that). But there are many other ways to play with pain and intense sensation without anyone striking anyone else with anything.
Why would you want to do S/M but avoid impact play?
Many people are into intense sensations and/or pain as part of their BDSM, but don’t find impact play is a good option for them.
Maybe you have chronic (or temporary) physical health issues that make impact play risky or painful in unwanted ways. If you’re anything like me, you probably want to avoid getting hit anywhere near your acute sciatica (which can affect the butt, thighs, and calves on at least one side of the body). Maybe you’re dealing with a slipped disk or other spine-/pelvis-related issues and don’t want to risk things getting worse by adding forceful impact in the whole area. Maybe you’re a migraineur or sufferer from other headaches or shoulder issues and therefore don’t want to receive any impact on your upper back. Maybe you have asthma or another lung illness that would be exacerbated by being hit on your back or chest with some force. Maybe you’re hypermobile/have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and need to protect your joints by avoiding abrupt movements or impact. Maybe you’re the top and have wrist or shoulder injuries, so hitting your bottom is painful for you. Maybe one or both of you have mobility issues that make it hard to find a good position or angle for impact play that works for both of you.
Maybe your neurology and/or psychology make impact play undesirable. Maybe your brain doesn’t deal well with sudden changes in sensations or their intensity, so the quick and fast pain that is associated with a lot of impact play isn’t pleasurable for you. Maybe you and/or your partner were beaten as a kid or assaulted as an adult and want to avoid having any memories or trauma flashbacks of that triggered by impact play.
Maybe there are other reasons why you want to avoid impact play. Maybe it’s simply too noisy for the environment you’re in and you need a quieter form of pain play. Maybe you want more physical closeness and eye contact than is possible in many types of impact play. Maybe you just don’t like the kind of pain or sensation that comes with being hit but still would like to incorporate some S/M into your play. Or perhaps you do like impact play but also want to experience/inflict other kinds of pain because you like variety, because you couldn’t bring your favorite impact toys while traveling and don’t want to spend money on any pervertables, because your ‘impact play areas’ are already majorly bruised and need time to heal, or because you’re just a gorgeously greedy masochist who wants all the consensual pain you can get or a wonderfully greedy sadist who wants to have a whole orchestra of pain play types at your disposal.
Ideas for non-impact pain play
Whatever your reason for ruling out impact play or branching out from it, I have some ideas for you! For this post, I’ve put some more detailed remarks on safety and hygiene into the footnotes. These should be enough to give you a rough idea of the risks and risk reduction methods associated with specific forms of non-impact pain play. However, please also do your own research, find additional information, and double-check what I’ve said. I’m not a medical professional, just a happy pervert who is sharing ideas and experiences to the best of my knowledge.
1. Using just the top’s body to create consensual pain
My first category is types of non-impact pain you can create with just the top’s body. So this is written from the top perspective.
You can scratch your partner with your fingernails . You can bite them. You can suck on their skin to create painful hickeys. You can either grab whole handfuls of their flesh and squeeze. Or you can just pinch a bit of skin, with your fingertips or even with your fingernails. For extra pain, you can add some twisting of the flesh/skin in question. You can pull their hair. You can poke them with one or more fingers (this is especially effective on bruises and/or trigger points). You can also dig body parts like your hands/knuckles, elbows, knees, or feet (with or without shoes on) into their flesh. The pain of this can intensify if you push the bottom against a surface such as a wall, the floor, or a bed that isn’t too soft. Generally, rough body play can fit into this category as well, and I’d also put rough sex here.
All of these things can be done with more or less intensity. Most of them can be done at different speeds, too.
2. Using just the bottom’s body to create consensual pain
You can also use (mostly) the bottom’s body to create painful sensations.
One example for this are all kinds of stress positions (such as holding your arms stretched out to the sides for a long time or ‘sitting’ against a wall) to create muscle fatigue and the resulting endurance pain . Some types of stretching can also be used to create pain by using the bottom’s body. You could probably also use or adapt yoga poses for this. Or you can use other types of endurance or strength-building exercise (e.g. push-ups, sit-ups, squats, ballet stretches, laps) until things become painful.
Since these methods in particular are highly dependent on the physical abilities of the bottom and can cause joint injuries if not done right, I recommend careful attention to the bottom’s current range of movement and endurance and not pushing beyond that range without solid anatomical knowledge to back you up.
Within those parameters, the top can of course also add a bit of pressure or weight at crucial points to increase the stress/stretch. They can either use their own body for this or give the bottom something heavy to hold (such as full water bottles, heavy boots, or a stack of books).
3. Using additional tools and toys to create consensual pain
Of course there are also many tools, toys, and assorted items you can use for pain play without hitting.
Some of them will still cause a quick, sharp pain (so they might not be suitable for people who can’t handle this). Others can be used to slowly increase the pain intensity. Some methods can do both. The type of pain caused by these methods covers a wide range, from deep pressure to surface pinch or snap, from burning to stretching pain, from brief to long-lasting sensation.
One of my favorite non-impact pain toy is a bunch of clothespins or other clips and clamps. Depending on their weight, strength, and size, they can be used almost everywhere on the body (note: clamps are not just for nipples!). Some people enjoy tying together a series of clothespins on a piece of string or ribbon, placing the clamps in a row on the bottom’s body (e.g. along the underside of an arm or across the stomach), and then yanking them off all at once (this is called a ‘zipper’). Others use two sticks (e.g. chopsticks), place a nipple between them and tie the sticks together with rubber bands .
Rope is also a very flexible toy for creating pain. Even if you can’t tie a single knot, rope can hurt through abrasion (e.g. by pulling the rope across the skin quickly and causing soe degree of rope burn or by using a very coarse rope like coconut rope). It can also be used in rope bondage that is painful, whether through pressure of the rope as such, stretch caused by positioning, and/or the pain that comes with suspension bondage. There’s also predicament bondage (which can also be done with other bondage equipment) where the bottom has to carefully balance between two positions/sources of sensation and relief from one element will increase the pain/stimulation from the other one .
There are also items like Wartenberg wheels that can be rolled across the skin with more or less pressure and create a tickly to painful sensation; steel claws, so-called Vampire gloves with sharp tacks sticking out of them, or plain old cutlery forks that can be used to scratch the skin . There’s a variety of electro toys (such as Violet Wands, TENS units, tasers, and electronic fly zappers) that can create sensations from mild tingling to intense pain . You can use rubber bands in different lengths and widths and place them around limbs or even torsos, draw them back and let them go to snap against the bottom’s skin (which might be considered impact play by some, even though there is no hitting) . This method also works through a thin layer of clothes although you won’t be able to see the skin and judge the degree of redness/swelling/bruising through fabric. You can also collect (and disinfect) some crown corks and put them into your palm before grabbing your bottom’s flesh, or make your bottom sit or kneel on them (see note  below). Other painful things to kneel (or sit) on: rice, rough and uneven bast mats/carpets, or just a hard floor.
Another category of non-impact pain play is piercing/needle play and/or cutting. I’d also count sutures and medical stapling here . Some people also practice ice branding/freeze branding. (I suppose heat branding also belongs into this category but I’d suspect most people don’t do this primarily for the pain but for the resulting permanent mark.) A milder form of hot/cold pain can be achieved by playing with ice cubes (let them melt a little bit before you use them so they don’t stick to the skin) or candle wax (plain white paraffin candles are best; beeswax candles get too hot and should be avoided).
And finally, there are some plant-based ways to cause pain. Figging (that is, inserting a buttplug-shaped piece of peeled ginger root into the anus; this creates a burning pain) is one method. You can also use ginger on other mucuous membranes such as a vulva, but I can’t tell you if it’s safe to be inserted into a vagina. Some people also use things like peppermint oil, wasabi paste, tiger balm, chili oil, mint toothpaste, or other warming/cooling substances on nipples or genitals/anuses. Or you can go outside and find a bunch of stinging nettles to drag over someone’s skin (preferably while wearing gloves) .
General considerations for non-impact pain play
As you can see, there are a lot of options for those who want to play with pain or intense sensations, but can’t or don’t want to do impact play.
In choosing your methods for pain play without hitting, consider the tastes and abilities of the people involved as well as the physical and psychological effect you want to achieve. Not all bottoms experience the same type of pain the same way. Not all tops are comfortable with all pain-inducing methods or able to use them at all. Find what works for both/all of you (or what at least makes you curious enough to try).
Before you start, I recommend sharing your interests and preferences in terms of pain play (e.g. types of pain, body parts to receive pain on, favorite toys and tools, roles and dynamics, things to avoid) with each other, asking/telling your partner(s) about allergies/sensitivities (e.g. to grass/hemp, rubber/latex, plants/food items/natural ingredients, disinfectants), and agreeing on how to communicate during the scene (including safewords/safe signals) and what type of aftercare (if any) you want to do.
Any level of intensity in pain play is okay, so if in doubt, start small/slow, wait for reactions, and then decide if you want to do more. If you use any toys beyond your bodies, watch for signs of breakage and understand if and how you can clean them (especially when the items aren’t specifically made for BDSM use).
Of course you can combine many of these methods of non-impact pain play with each other (sadistic rope with a side of biting? scratching and clothespins? grabbing and trigger point poking? needles and nettles? kneeling on concrete with boot soles digging into your thighs?) or with other types of BDSM, such as bondage (chains and wasabi paste? leather cuffs and rubber bands?), D/S dynamics (sitting on crown corks while reading poetry to your top? stress positions and coach/student role play?), sex (giving cunnilingus while kneeling on rice? fucking your top while you wear a ginger root butt plug?), or even impact play (hickeys and punches? knocking off wooden clothes pins with a riding crop?). I always encourage creativity in kink!
As with all other forms of BDSM/sex, watching your partner and paying attention to their reactions is not just a way to ensure safety (or keep risk within the agreed-upon parameters) and consent, but usually also a whole lot of fun! Yes, this goes for both bottoms and tops.
I’m sure there are other methods, tools, and toys than can be used to create consensual pain as well as more implement-free methods to do so. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
Additional notes on safety and hygiene
 ⇑ Fingernail scratches carry a fairly high risk of infection. I recommend washing your hands beforehand and disinfecting the skin afterwards, even if you can’t see (yet) that it’s broken.
 ⇑ Bottoms who are standing for a longer time should not lock their knees because this will increase the risk of them fainting. Many of us need reminding of this, especially when we’re distracted by other sensations. (This also applies to bottoms who are standing for impact play, no matter if they’re upright or bent over.)
 ⇑ Clamps hurt when they are put on, then usually dull a bit, and then hurt again when they’re taken off and the blood rushes back into the tissue. This is particularly important to remember when judging the bottom’s limits.
 ⇑ The risks associated with rope bondage, especially suspension bondage, are often underestimated. Please make sure you at least read a thorough how-to book, or better yet go to a workshop to learn from an expert or three in person. There’s a lot to learn about types of rope, placement of wraps or knots, prevention of nerve and joint damage, and overall risk awareness.
 ⇑ Anything you can scratch with can break the skin. Some people’s skin breaks more easily, and not all injuries are visible. So make sure you clean, disinfect, and perhaps even sterilize your scratching toys (if possible) before and after play, reserve them for one person only (to prevent spreading infections), and/or throw them away after use. You may also want to disinfect the area of skin you scratched afterwards. If you did indeed break the skin, an alcohol-based disinfectant will sting and can add an extra sadistic touch to your healthcare efforts.
 ⇑ I advise extreme caution with any kind of electro play, especially if you have any heart issues (such as arrhythmia, a pacemaker, etc.). Please research the risks carefully and thoroughly because each electro toy works differently, and some can indeed cause death if not handled with the necessary care or applied on people with increased risk factors.
 ⇑ Rubber bands are porous and can’t be properly disinfected. They can create small skin injuries that may not be visible. Therefore, they are single-person toys (or better, single-use toys if they’ve come in touch with blood or genital fluids). You may also want to consider disinfecting the skin afterwards.
 ⇑ Needle play, play piercing, suturation, medical stapling, and cutting all require very careful hygiene procedures and the correct technique to avoid infection, unwanted needle injuries, and other accidents. I highly recommend going to a workshop on needle play before you do any of it to another person. If that’s not possible, maybe you can get the relevant hygiene information and some pointers on skin anatomy from a medical professional or even a professional body piercer? I used to think that needles were always advanced play for experienced BDSM practitioners, but Xan West’s excellent post “On Doing, and Writing, Blood Sports” (which has a description of a needle play done by someone at their very first play party) has made me reconsider this. I now think it’s still play that isn’t a good fit for newbies in most cases, but there may be exceptions to this rule, especially when someone experienced is coaching the experience.
 ⇑ Heat branding really is an activity that should be left to experienced players who have learned the proper technique and safety precautions. This really is something you can’t learn from the internet but need to learn in person, from someone who knows what they’re doing. I don’t know much about ice branding myself, but I’ve linked to a post that has a bit more info above. Both heat and ice branding are very likely to leave permanent marks (which is often why people do these things in the first place). Unlike tattoos, branding scars can’t be removed, so I recommend careful consideration of what it means to carry this mark from that person in your skin forever (and possibly way past the duration of your relationship with them).
 ⇑ These types of play can’t really be stopped once you’ve applied the irritant. You may be able to remove some of the substance, but generally just have to wait out the effect until it stops by itself (scenes like this are also called ‘tunnel play’ because there’s no escape once you’ve entered them). So make sure no ones has any allergies/sensitivities to the substances you want to use (and maybe have some anti-histamines or even an epi-pen handy), consider wearing gloves when handling/applying them, and start with a very small amount at first. Oh, and don’t forget to take off the glove and/or carefully wash your hands so you don’t accidentally rub chili oil into your eye… The same logic applies to barrier-free sex after the application of such substances (so wash, wait, and/or wear a condom/use a dental dam).
This is a post for the Kinktober prompt “pain play, S/M.”
Image sources: Wikimedia Commons (Wartenberg wheel, CC BY-SA 3.0; dragon claws, CC BY-SA 4.0; couple); Pixabay (chili, clothespins); Peakpx (frog); Pexels (rope, hand); unknown (teeth). Collage, cropping, and color editing by me.