From Issue 2.6 - June/July 1996
In this consumption-mad culture, someone who takes up a hobby as simple as walking may spend hundreds of dollars on shoes, clothes, water bottles, and other paraphernalia. Small wonder, then, that many people who are first coming out into SM celebrate their newfound sexuality with a shopping trip that may spiral into four figures.
While we like spending money as well as the next pervert, we'd hate to see anybody held back from doing SM by false assumptions about cost. Strictly speaking, one does not need any toys at all to do SM: some of the hottest scenes we've ever seen involved nothing except the bodies of the people involved.
Formal SM gear is not cheap. A good pair of leather cuffs will usually cost at least $50. Floggers typically cost well over $100, and we've seen elaborate leather bondage gear go for more than $1,000. The people who make these items earn every penny: these high prices often equate to a pathetically small hourly wage for skilled and exacting work.
Still, spending a lot of money for toys -- particularly if you're a beginner, trying out a new technique, or just plain broke -- is not always practical. Hence, we suggest you invest in high-priced SM gear only when you've reached a point in your life when that purchase makes sense, and when you're really ready to buy that particular item. You can begin or continue your SM explorations with less costly items -- Lady Green had been doing SM for a couple of years before she ever bought a formal "toy."
When talking to newcomers about SM, we like to divide it up into three major sub-categories: domination, bondage, and pain. Your local stores stock plenty of items to help you explore all three areas, and if you're the "This Old House" type, you can make hundreds more.
Regarding domination, you can buy dog collars and leashes at pet stores, variety stores, and supermarkets. Jay has found collars that lock, although these may require a search; you can also punch a hole through the collar to accommodate a lock. We like to use these as "training collars" for informal play or when entering a relationship witha new submissive. If the submissive does well in his or her initial training, s/he can be presented upon "graduation" with a more elaborate collar, custom-made or purchased at an SM supply store.
Bondage is almost too easy: rope abounds. We use pure cotton clothesline or magician's rope cut into lengths that are multiples of six feet long (a twelve-foot length is probably the most versatile). Woven nylon ropes are also widely available, and sailing and mountaineering stores offer a tempting buffet of ropes in various weights, textures, and colors. We also like sisal rope from the hardware store, but its rough texture really moves it into the realm of a sensation toy. Your ropes will need to be cleaned after use, so purchase a lingerie bag to put them in before you toss them in the washing machine.
As far as sensory deprivation goes, many drugstores carry good-quality and very inexpensive "sleep mask" blindfolds. You might as well pick up some ear plugs while you're there (check the labels for their noise-reducing ability). Lady Green has a large square silk scarf which is set aside exclusively for S/M play. Folded into a broad strip, it's a blindfold; she ties a large firm knot in the center of it to turn it into a relatively safe and soundproof gag.
As to pain, well, now it's getting almost embarrassingly simple. First of all, remember and explore the incredible potential of your own hands and teeth (many people, including Jay, absolutely love the intimacy of pain that comes directly from the body of their partner).
For those of you who enjoy clamps, wooden clothespins are very cheap, readily available, and can be marvelously effective. The heaviest nipple-torture player we know says he can be taken to his limits by a top who simply takes the same wooden clothespin on and off, repositioning it closer to the end of the nipple with each iteration. Interesting effects can also be attained by using many clothespins all over the skin (this is one of the few types of pain play that can make Lady Green shut up and quit talking for a change). "Zippers," in which clothespins are tied at intervals along a cord so they can all be yanked off the skin at once can be a challenge for the heaviest masochist. For harsher clamps, head over to an office supply store and try out the selection of metal binder clips.
Spanking fans have it almost too easy. Sturdy wooden or plastic hairbrushes with rounded-off edges and corners can be bought almost anywhere -- try a beauty supply store for a great selection. A professional domme friend of ours recently presented us with a sturdy bath-brush with a wickedly angled head that is absolute heaven as a spanking tool. Wooden spoons, rulers, cutting boards, and belts all have a long and honorable track record. Many antique stores have lovely rattan rug beaters and leather razor strops (these tend to be sought-after and expensive in urban areas, but a bargain outside the cities). We've even seen a canoe paddle being used! Just remember to check carefully for sharp edges and corners.
Even floggers -- normally a major investment -- can be reproduced with a bit of skill and time. We've seen floggers ranging from gentle to vicious which have been innovatively crafted from an old suede skirt, a few lengths of rope, a bicycle inner tube, some bootlaces, a leather jump rope, and a variety of other materials.
Do you enjoy temperature play? We bet you've got some ice cubes in your freezer. You've probably got some candles around, too (remember that plain paraffin candles are most widely recommended; most other types melt at a higher temperature and are more likely to cause burns). You can also try hot creams such as Ben Gay or Tiger Balm; just remember that some people are allergic to some of these, so a patch test a day or so beforehand is a good idea. Be very conservative about amounts, particularly on mucous membranes (about "half a pea" is a good starting level for most people).
These ideas ought to get you off to a good start. If at least a few of
the items mentioned above fit in well with your S/M play, then you can
head for a leather store or erotic boutique to see what catches your
and your partner's attention. In the meantime, have fun with what your
local vanilla stores so thoughtfully provide. In Jay's novice days, he
went into a variety store to do a bit of special shopping. The lady at
the cash register very competently rang up the clothespins,
clothesline, a dog collar, a leash, some Ben Gay, some candles, and a
few other goodies and never gave them a second look. But as he left
the store, he thought that she glanced at him and gave him just the
Many of these ideas are adapted from "Kinky Crafts: 101 Do-It-Yourself
S/M Toys," edited by Lady Green, and from "SM 101: A Realistic
Introduction" and "Supermarket Tricks: More Than 125 Ways to Improvise
Good Sex," both by Jay Wiseman. For a catalog and price list of books
from Greenery Press, send a SASE to 3739 Balboa Ave. #195, San
Francisco, CA 94121, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.