To begin, a fairly standard disclaimer in all things kink: Don’t try this at home; don’t try this alone; do your homework. It is usually safer to try new things in kink in front of other people, because most kink activities are fairly risky and having other people around, especially if they’re experienced, can help mitigate those risks.
Fire play is extremely hazardous. Preparing accordingly means having spotters, the right venue and the right equipment. Below is the same set-up I use to demo this on others, most commonly at play parties where there is a rotation of observers and participants throughout the night. There are many fire play techniques but I have found this one to be accessible to beginners.
You will need:
- At least one spotter (someone who will supervise your practice), who is trained to use a fire extinguisher or fire blanket, and preferably has done this before.
- A fire extinguisher.
- A fire blanket.
- A bowl and cotton balls.
- Up to snuff first aid, especially for burns.
- A phone handy for 911, if things get really hairy.
- A fuel source; I recommend 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) for the technique detailed below.
- A barbecue lighter. No matches, no candles, no open flames in general. Zip lighters doable, but not recommended.
victimvolunteer; either to ignite the fuel (the “Top”) or be the recipient (the “bottom”).
- No synthetic fibre clothing on the bottom. Naked is safest. Natural fibres are next best, preferably with no or rolled up sleeves. Ideally neither participant has styled their hair with any kind of mousse, gel, spray, or product with alcohol in it. Long hair should be tied back.
- Affirmative, informed consent from your volunteer. Your volunteer should also be assured that you will call emergency responders if necessary, even if they ask uncomfortable questions about what you were doing.
- A venue that is as nonflammable as you can find. Concrete and certain types of tile can take longer to ignite and give you more time to respond to a disaster; carpets grant you no such luxury. In a house, best place is sometimes the basement or the kitchen, depending on how it is set up. If you live in a big city, there might be a dungeon that allows fire play where you can try this (and also meet people to supervise your practice).
How to play:
- Set up a play space. Ideally this space has no children or pets, is on a concrete or nonflammable floor and surrounded by nonflammable walls, and has plenty of room for movement. You’ll need a table with all of your safety supplies within reach easy reach.
- Pour a small amount of the 70% isopropyl alcohol into your bowl. Make sure the bottle is closed before setting it aside. Clean up any spills and dispose of the cloths used away from the play space.
- The Top soaks a cotton ball in the bowl filled with alcohol. The bottom holds up the palm of their non-dominant hand, extended away from the body. The Top applies a layer of the rubbing alcohol to the palm of the bottom’s hand. Not so much that the alcohol can pool, but enough that the skin is wet. The Top returns the cotton ball to the bowl.
- The Top grabs the barbecue lighter from the table. The Top ignites the tip of the lighter in the air, and lowers it to tap the bottom’s hand. Your standard barbecue lighter will automatically extinguish its own flame the moment you release its trigger. The alcohol on the bottom’s hand is now on fire.
- Either participant can allow the fire on the bottom’s hand to “breathe” for about 2-3 seconds. The bottom will feel heat on their palm, and a sensation not unlike tickling, but it should not feel like a sharp burn until the fire has breathed for 3+ seconds. If the bottom feels anything more intense than the tickling, regardless of how long the fire has been lit, they should proceed to step 6.
- Either participant extinguishes the flame on the bottom’s palm by smothering it with their free hand. Run the free hand up and down the lit palm in a “dust off” motion, or alternatively clap the lit hand with your free hand. Both methods quickly suffocate the flame and are the least risky.
- Usually the palm can be lit a second time before needing to apply more rubbing alcohol. Repeat steps 1-6 until you or your bottom are done.
What it feels like:
It should tickle, not sting. It’ll be warm (duh), but it shouldn’t feel like you’re being burned. You have around 2-4 seconds after the fire starts before it starts causing damage. Even then, the stinging should be minor and the worst that should happen is a bit of redness. I’ve never let the fire breathe until the alcohol is spent but I imagine it is unpleasant to do so.
Some people are more sensitive than others. I’ve observed no particular correlation with skin roughness and tolerance–I’ve seen a soft-skinned masseuse take much more than a contractor with callused hands.
If everything has gone well, then the main consideration is irritated skin. The bottom’s skin will be dry, both because of the alcohol and because you’ve been setting it on fire. Moisturize the affected areas–if they are not burned. Your bottom shouldn’t ever get anything worse than a minor burn if something goes wrong, but it requires first aid if it happens. Anything more serious than redness warrants professional healthcare attention.
Some people get an interesting shot of adrenaline from trying this, so they may require some assurance to help them “come down.” I recommend long hugs if they seem nervous or jacked up [offer them verbally first to get consent!].
Safety & considerations:
- Fire is a beast. It can get away from you very quickly. Respect that. We can increase our control over fire with the following techniques: 1) Learning to smother flame with our free hands, because it is the fastest way to extinguish it; 2) Using a cooperative fuel source that doesn’t burn too hot or too stubbornly, one that will extinguish if the bottom flails instead of smothers, and one doesn’t have any lasting effects on the skin; 3) Having tools to confront an escalating disaster (fire blanket and extinguisher, 911); 4) Having extra people to respond in case one freezes or panics; 5) Wearing nonflammable clothing, or nothing at all.
- Conversely, we decrease our control over fire by: 1) flailing or panicking, rather than smothering; 2) wearing synthetic fibres and other flammable clothing; 3) trying this alone, without spotters; 4) doing this near flammable surfaces; 5) Wearing or using flammable cosmetics.
- Absolutely no part of this technique is fun to receive if the bottom has an open wound on their palm. Do not perform on someone with a hand injury.
- We soak the non-dominant hand of the bottom, because the bottom is more likely to respond appropriately if their dominant hand is free; they are also more likely to flail if their dominant hand is the one that is lit, because their instinct tells them to use that hand to respond.
- We use isopropyl alcohol because it’ll extinguish anyway if the bottom flails with their hand or slaps it against a clothed body part. Flailing takes longer than smothering and might result in some stinging simply because of the extra second or so of burn time. Smothering isopropyl fire is instantaneous; it might look like we’re touching blue fire with our free hand, which we’re taught is the hottest, but in reality it goes out before our skin ever registers it’s even there. Smothering shouldn’t ever injure you as long as it’s skin-on-skin contact.
- We use a barbecue lighter because it self-extinguishes and keeps your hand away from any igniting alcohol. Open flames have to be babysat, and will also react if some stray alcohol splashes near them.
- We all wear natural fibres because if they do catch fire, they burn at a lower temperature and won’t melt the way some synthetic fibres might. Alternatively, we’re naked, avoiding that problem altogether.
- We keep an extra participant, the spotter, whose sole designation is to respond if either main participant freezes or panics.
- We soak the palm because the arm is easier to control for the bottom and because the panic response with the arms (flailing) will extinguish the fire anyway.
- We light only one fire at a time because it is easy to track; remember every fire you start has to be extinguished.
- The absolute worst case scenario? Something catches on fire that isn’t supposed to be, and you have to put it out. A far more common risk is mild burns, especially if the bottom flails rather than smothers, but they are unlikely to cause anything worse than a bit of short-term discomfort.
- We ask our bottom if they have any known fear responses to fire. Those indifferent to it are probably less likely to panic. Those who have a fear of it but won’t acknowledge it are the highest risk (macho men are less likely to admit they’re afraid).
This is a guide to mitigating risk as much as possible. I would say the absolute necessities are: fire extinguisher, fire blanket, first aid, nonflammable area to play in, isopropyl alcohol, barbecue lighter, one fire only at a time. It’s downright idiotic to skip those ones, although I do advocate for the rest of the stuff listed here. Fire is definitely one of those “better safe than sorry” types of play.
So someone has agreed to be your volunteer for this fire play technique. Before beginning play, you should enter negotiation with them.
- Ask about your bottom’s physical state. Have they been hydrating all day? Eating? Are they particularly stressed about anything? Your partners are ideally well-fed, hydrated, and level-headed. Hungry, dehydrated, and/or stressed bottoms are more likely to respond poorly. You should also be well-fed, hydrated, and able to focus.
- Ask your bottom if they harbour any intense fear of fire (a little bit of wariness is typical). If they do, ask them why they want to try fire play. I am more likely to trust someone who admits they’re scared.
- Ask them what they need out of their aftercare, if anything. This isn’t a particularly intense activity for some, so they might not need much. Others, especially the nervous or scared ones, might need a bit more attention.
- Explain that the main risk, if the technique is executed properly, is dry skin. Explain the more common risk of irritation if the fire breathes too long. Have them demonstrate the smothering technique without any fire (the brush off motion with their hands). Show them your safety supplies.
- Ask them if they’re wearing synthetic fibres. You don’t have to deny them play if they are, but let them know their clothes are a risk. Emphasize that their non-dominant hand should be extended away from their body.
- Ask if they’re wearing products in their hair. I do not recommend proceeding if they’ve used any styling products; they’re basically all flammable.
- Ask if they have any open wounds on their palm. Do not proceed if they do.
- You may want to demo the technique on your own palm. I usually have my spotter ignite for me, so that I have my dominant hand free to perform the dust off motion. I let my bottoms examine my palms to show there’s no redness or irritation. I explain the flame will still extinguish if they flail and panic, but it will burn slightly longer and might irritate their skin. Then I ask them if they would still like to proceed.
I tend to have this set up at play parties, where I have dozens of people trying it out throughout the evening. There are many other fire play techniques but this one is easy, low(er) risk, and doesn’t have to be completely reset between partners. You don’t really need to tell them when to suffocate the flames; I’ve never seen someone who is in control of their facilities deliberately let the fire breathe long enough to burn them. Instinct kicks in when the tickling transitions to stinging.
On a more general note, so-called conventional wisdom in BDSM is often handed down from mentor to mentee. There is very little in the way of standardized knowledge. If you’re curious about fire play, I actively recommend you find multiple sources, and use their commonalities to establish a starting point for your own practice. The same is true of any play, really.
So, to end with the disclaimer again: Don’t try this at home; don’t try this alone; do your homework. And don’t blame me if you fuck it up. :P
Stay hot lovelies,