BDSM Fear Play with submissive on their knees and gagged

Fear Play in BDSM: How to Scare Your Partner Without Freaking Them Out

A lot of submissives enjoy feeling a degree of fear during BDSM. They get a thrill from the rush of anticipation, intensity, and suspense in the same way others might while skydiving or watching horror movies. A sexual experience that feels dangerous, but not so dangerous that we’ll walk away harmed or traumatized, can be an exciting adventure when shared in a controlled environment with a dom we admire. Going through an emotion-charged journey like that together can also strengthen the bonds of affection and trust.

As thrilling as this type of play is for some, it can be challenging for doms to pull off well. Many kinksters consider fear-focused BDSM to be edge play due to the psychological risks involved. Feeling genuinely afraid of one’s partner is a hallmark of an abusive relationship and tops must always be cautious not to cross certain lines to avoid straying toward that territory. A balance must be found in order to keep the dynamic fun and fulfilling. This article is about how to achieve that.

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The Goal

If you’re acting as the dom and your partner likes feeling afraid during play, you want to ensure they won’t end up genuinely fearing you as an individual. There’s a big difference between being scared of a spanking, for example, and being scared of the person doing it to you. You’re leading the experience, whatever it may entail, but your overall presence must be a positive one. Doms need to be present, attentive, competent, adaptable, and comforting toward their subs when necessary.

Your partner should never be afraid you might violate their hard limits or ignore their safeword. They should also feel confident that you know what you’re doing and won’t end up seriously injuring or upsetting them. All potential for fun and closeness will be snuffed out if they’re legitimately worried for their own well-being during your sessions. Taking steps to avoid this is crucial if you’re to create an atmosphere that’s safe for everyone involved.

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Trust Is A Prerequisite, Not An Option!

You and your partner will need a strong foundation of trust to enjoy fear play. This is the kind of thing you should explore with someone you have experience with rather than a new play partner. People often say things like, “BDSM requires trust,” as an example of what makes kink beautiful and intimate. In the community, however, this often pans out between people who are playing for the first time as, “BDSM requires trust and we’re agreeing to do it, so that must mean we trust each other, right?” Nope. Doesn’t work that way. It’s impossible to trust someone in any meaningful sense if you hardly know them or have never played together before. Keeping that in mind and taking your time can mean the difference between a great time and a complete disaster.

You may be dealing with a submissive partner who, despite being new to you, is so eager to play that they insist, “I totally trust you. I’m sure you know what you’re doing. I want to feel afraid of you.” Even in these cases where you get a verbal green light and appear to have consent, you should put off fear play until you have a better sense of each other. Informed consent is the only type of consent that’s real, and that’s impossible to give until we have a good amount of information about someone. Bottom line: Incorporating fear into your scenes with new partners is not worth the risk for either participant. A partner who doesn’t trust you is unlikely to give you the benefit of the doubt if something goes wrong.

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Negotiate In Depth and Communicate Openly

As the top, you’ll want to create a mental list of what’s on and off your submissive’s menu. This will include their preferences (the activities they really want to do), soft limits (the activities they’re curious about and might be willing to explore), and hard limits (the activities they won’t want to do under any circumstances). Gathering this info requires open, honest, pressure-free communication. Ask questions to get an understanding of how your partner’s mind works and listen while they answer. Fear is a subjective experience; what frightens you might not frighten them and vice-versa. If they’ve been through trauma in the past, it’s important to know their triggers. Making rape threats during roleplay, for instance, could very well cause a sexual assault survivor to go past the point of no return, ruining the experience. Stay in desirable territory by focusing on what your sub wants and staying far away from anything they’re not down for.

Keep in mind that your submissive may not actually have a clear idea of what they will or won’t enjoy. Many people with extreme fantasies figure they’ll enjoy a similar level of intensity in real life, only to realize it’s too much while experiencing it or at some point after the session is over. If you feel any hesitation to provide what they request, feel free to ask whether they’re sure, check in during play, and/or decline to perform that specific activity if it makes you uncomfortable. Your feelings and desires matter too.

You might also run into a situation where your submissive wants to play, but can’t or won’t verbalize what they want to experience because they lack knowledge of what’s possible or are afraid you’ll judge them. This is not uncommon, especially with beginners, and there are strategies you can use to get through this. First and foremost, you should strive never to criticize or make fun of them when they open up to you. If you laugh and make them feel silly or weird when they’re honest with you about their desires, they may never be willing to do so again. Secondly, try asking them yes-or-no questions rather than expecting them to lay everything in their mind out on the table for you. Compare the following:

Convo 1
Convo 2

Obviously, the second conversation will give you a lot more to work with. Once you’ve talked through a few possibilities in this way, you’ll not only have a sense of direction to start with, but your sub may also begin to feel more comfortable being forthcoming without you having to prompt them. Remember: You are the dom and the leader of the dynamic. Unless you’re specifically seeking a sub who wants to top from the bottom, you’ll likely be expected to take charge in a way that’s safe and exciting.

You might also try working through a BDSM checklist together. This is a long list of activities that fall under the kink umbrella, which you and your sub can fill out together or separately. Here is The BDSM Training Academy – BDSM checklist, you can download, print and share with your partner. Checklists are great if your partner would prefer to write their feelings about specific activities down rather than say them. They can also give you a good idea of everything your sub is or isn’t interested in. Note that checklists are not designed to replace negotiation, but to enhance it. You should still have a discussion about the specifics of what you want to try after the checklist has been completed.

“What if one or both of us doesn’t want to negotiate because we feel it will ruin the magic of the moment? Won’t over-discussing things destroy the element of anticipation and surprise?”

This is also not uncommon. Plenty of submissives who lack experience say things like, “Do whatever you want to me.” I highly advise against taking this literally. The likelihood is that subs who say this have expectations and desires that are based on their fantasies, porn, erotica, etc. However, there are almost certainly activities they will genuinely not enjoy. Everyone has limits whether they know it or not. I have never met a kinkster who loved every aspect of BDSM. You are not and cannot be a mind reader and it is unfair for anyone to expect that of you.

My message to anyone who wants to skip negotiation is this:

If you can’t talk about BDSM with your partner before diving in, you’re not ready and shouldn’t be doing it. It’s irresponsible to play without communicating clearly about safety and consent. You know what will really destroy the fun? Trauma. Trips to the hospital. Ruined reputations and relationships. Accusations of sexual assault. Police and criminal records. I’m not joking or exaggerating here.

Those things can and do happen and if any of them become your reality, you’ll be wishing you’d done everything in your power to avoid them. Talking about these things makes us all feel vulnerable, but it’s a small price to pay when the stakes are so high. If you skip negotiation, you do so at your own risk and are playing with fire.

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Use Safewords

Safewords are crucial, particularly in the context of fear play. No matter how hardcore you and your partner consider yourselves to be, you need a way of knowing that it’s time to slow down, ease up on whatever you’re doing, change activities, or stop altogether. Talk with your partner about the fact that safewords aren’t just for them and their comfort, but for yours as well.

You and your partner can keep things simple by having one word. You may also choose to have multiple safewords that convey different meanings. Many kinksters are fans of the ‘stoplight system’, which is easy to remember and unlikely to be mistaken for anything else while you’re both immersed in your scene.

Green = This is good and I’m enjoying it.
Yellow = I’m approaching my limit and want to pause to check in.
Red = I want to stop the scene.

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Have A Plan

Once you and your submissive have negotiated and agreed on what safeword(s) to use, you’ll be able to start thinking about how to approach your sessions together. In many cases, especially if you’re looking to enjoy multiple activities simultaneously, it helps to have a plan. This will allow you to control the scene and focus on your sub’s reactions without worrying about having to be creative on the fly.

How will you start the session? It can be awkward to jump right from everyday life into BDSM play without a fluid transition that makes space for the mood to settle in an organic way.

  • Will you have your sub get into a certain position?
  • Wait for you in a certain room?
  • Change into a certain outfit?
  • Perhaps you’ll be the one wearing the outfit. Once the scene has begun, which activities will you incorporate?
  • What gear will you need to carry each of them out safely? (While playing with rope, for example, you’ll want a strong pair of scissors on hand in case of an emergency.)
  • What might you say to keep your sub in the right headspace?
  • At what point will you wind down and how?

Having at least a general idea of how you’ll approach these considerations will work in your favor when you’re trying to generate a suspension of disbelief, which will allow your partner to explore feeling afraid with you.

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Create Anticipation

You can begin to guide your sub into an excited, nervous headspace long before your scene is set to begin by implying or stating what will happen to them later. This doesn’t need to be particularly complicated or dramatic on your part. In fact, subtlety can be far more exciting. Say you’re on a lunch date and your sub gets a bit bratty with you. A simple, “We’ll discuss this when we get home,” can launch their imagination into thoughts of what you mean by that. See if you can come up with a variety of fun ways to tease and threaten them. By the time you’re ready to begin, they’ll likely be primed to play.

Here are a few ideas I’ve enjoyed in the past:

Within the confines of your negotiated menu, the possibilities are endless if you get creative.

Here are some other ideas for creating anticipation:

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Stay In Character

Even if you’re not explicitly engaging in ‘roleplay’ during your session, you’re still taking on the role of the leader of the scene by acting as the dom. Taking that responsibility seriously can go a long way to help your submissive let go of superfluous thoughts, come into the moment, and connect with the desired vibe. Speak to them with confidence. Tell them what to do in ways that are clear and direct. Make it known that you are indeed going to do what you’ve threatened to do to them. If you balk, your sub will likely disconnect from the headspace, dissipating the delicious feelings of fear that have been building inside them, so do what you can to stay in the zone.

One strategy that can be effective for generating fear is to pretend to ignore or disregard everything aside from your sub’s safewords. Note that the word ‘pretend’ is paramount here. In reality, you should be acutely dialed into everything they’re communicating to you, perceptive to both their verbal and non-verbal cues. The point is to inspire the illusion of helplessness. Your sub may cry and beg you to stop whatever you’re doing, only to see you smile and hear you whisper, “No. I don’t think I will.” Again, this must be negotiated in advance so they’re confident the moment they use their safeword to tap out, you’ll listen and become the supportive source of comfort they’re seeking.

“What kinds of verbal and non-verbal clues should I be looking for?”

This will depend on your partner and how they express playfulness or discomfort in the context of BDSM. Generally speaking, in my experience, a sub who’s having fun will play along by giggling and blushing, acting bratty, following orders without hesitation, or allowing themselves to let loose by freely moaning, crying, laughing, etc. You’ll feel confident that they’re mentally present and emotionally connected with you.

Everyone is different, however, which is why it’s important to know your partner before diving into the deep end. Having an intuitive sense of how they express themselves will help you know whether to push, slow down, or ease up. If you’re not getting much of a reaction or your partner seems lost in thought, it’s best to check in on how they’re doing.

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Surprise Your Sub

Surprising your submissive with something they weren’t expecting can be a marvelous means of inspiring fear on the spot. You might know they’ve always wanted to try wax play but never had the chance. They’re likely to go giddy with nervousness the moment you pull out the candles. You can take this even further via sensory deprivation. Blindfolding your sub, for instance, will allow them to hear but not see whatever it is you’re up to, putting them on edge and forcing them to listen intently for clues as they wait for you to reveal what they’re about to endure.
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Make Them Wait

Few sensations are more tortuous than having to wait for something ‘unpleasant’ to happen. Let’s say your plan is to tie up your sub and paddle them for some type of naughty behavior they’ve committed. The pain of impact is what they’ll likely be fearing most. You can drag out and intensify this feeling by, for example, tying them into the position you’ve chosen and leaving them there as you lecture and admonish, holding off on the impact portion of the session for a number of minutes. You’ll have them hanging on your every word, perhaps even begging you to begin and get it over with. Don’t give into this type of request; you are in charge and will decide when their paddling begins. Take your time and allow them to marinate in that delicious void of suspense.
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Consider Pushing Soft Limits

The reason a sub may label an activity as a soft limit rather than an explicit preference may very well come down to their fear of trying or enduring it, making it an area that’s ripe for exploration in sessions involving fear. Telling them, “We’re going to try figging today,” when you know it’s on their soft list will likely have their hair immediately standing on edge. Don’t dive into these new or sensitive endeavors at full speed, however. Go slowly, remain attentive, and be ready to ease up or stop altogether if your sub starts giving you signs that what’s happening isn’t working well for them. Hopefully they will love what’s happening or at the very least, be happy they went through it with you.
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Give Good, Long Aftercare

When and how you decide to wind down is up to you and your partner. At that point, you must revert to the kind, compassionate person your sub needs in order for them to make a soft landing back on earth. They should not feel afraid or unsure of what’s going to happen once a session is over. Rather, they should feel safe and cared for in whatever ways they desire. Most submissives want to be held and caressed during aftercare, but everyone’s feelings are different and may change depending on the nature and intensity of the scene. The point is that you must be present and available. Fear is an intense emotion and as a general rule, the more intense a session is in BDSM, the more time and effort you’ll want to invest in aftercare. This will help cement the experience as a positive memory in your submissive’s mind, making them more likely to want to try things like fear play with you in the future.

When handled responsibly, these shared experiences can go a long way to deliver what many of us are seeking from BDSM. To have a partner willing to explore the intensity of fear with you is a gift. Never take it lightly, but enjoy it to the fullest. You never know what you’ll end up discovering about one another.

By Molly Lazarus

Molly Lazarus is a sex blogger, kink educator, and erotic fiction author. Her website, Kink Out Loud, serves as a resource for readers who are curious about BDSM or new to the practice. Offline, Molly acts as Volunteer Coordinator for the Bay Area chapter of Kinky Salon. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest, or browse her fiction on Amazon.

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