What is edge play? Unfortunately, there is not a definition of edge play to be found in the dictionary on the shelf. If one were to ask participants in the bdsm community what they considered edge play to be, one might get the answers of gun play, rape simulation, knife play, fire play, or erotic asphyxiation. Others might say that it would include “pretend” kidnapping or blackmail scenarios.
A term is not defined by its examples, however. A better definition of edge play would be:
Practices in bdsm that ignore the accepted rule of “safe, sane, and consensual” and pose a risk of death or injury, either physical or psychological.
The most common forms of edge play are practices that are potentially dangerous, or, at the very least, taboo. Gun play, for example, in its most extreme form, uses a loaded gun, a potentially lethal activity if the weapon is mishandled. Rape simulation is a form of consensual non-consent, which is essentially still a form of consent with the stipulation that the participant is agreeing to be “forced.” Knife play either risks or blatantly uses cutting, and fire play has the very serious risk of injury. Erotic asphyxiation is especially dangerous if not performed correctly.
As a writer of a book called Edge Play X, I am occasionally asked if I am involved in the “lifestyle.” I find this to be a funny and entertaining question. Yes, one of the main characters in my book is a dominatrix. The other two main characters are a CIA agent and billionaire, and yet, I am never asked if I am a CIA agent or a billionaire secretly living a modest lifestyle to figure out who my real friends are.
As far as I am concerned, what I do in the bedroom is a private matter, so I will neither confirm nor deny that I have or have not participated in any of these activities. And essentially, as a writer, it doesn’t matter if I have. My primary interest in these activities is related to the relationship of edge play to the sex drive and death drive.
The idea of the sex drive and death drive come from Freud. According to Freud, people have two primary drives—one toward life, survival, and sex, and the other toward destruction, or death. Freud initially thought that people were motivated primarily by pleasure, but as his career went on, he found many examples of people purposefully creating distressing play scenarios (in the case of children) or found that people who had experienced a traumatic experience were sometimes prone to repeat the trauma. An example of this would be an abused child who later becomes an abuser. He theorized that an urge exists for life to return to its inorganic state. That is the death drive. Freud also associated the death drive with masochism.
The death drive was not simply about the urge for the patient to die, it was an urge that manifested itself in outward destruction or in controlling and destructive behaviors in the outside world. The sex drive and death drives are polar opposites. Freud saw the libido as an antidote to the death drive, writing, “’libido has the task of making the destroying instinct innocuous.”
Freud would be particularly interested in the practice of edge play, as these scenarios quite blatantly mix the sex drive and death drive. Could it be that through edge play that participants are using it in a therapeutic manner (consciously or not), in that it allows them to face dangerous scenarios and their own mortality in an environment where the libido is quite prominently displayed? Could it be that mixing the two drives is not necessarily psychologically unhealthy, because the libido is ultimately overriding the destructive urges? Perhaps edge play is not so extreme after all because ultimately, a neutral psychological affect can be achieved from mixing the drives, in the same way that mixing a base and an acid can neutralize one another. Yes, some reactions can be dangerous or lethal, but in the right environment, such reactions are rather innocuous. Too bad Sigmund isn’t around to give us his opinion.