View From The Top: I’ll Take That Risk, And That Knife Play

It wasn’t the first time I’d used a knife when playing. But before, it was always just for the thrill and threat of it, never to actually use the blade to cut skin. When I finally did, it was when rife and I played the three minute game. The one where each of you gets to ask the other for something done to your body for your pleasure, and then ask for something that you do to their body for your pleasure. It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. Being so bold and clear about my desire can sometimes be practically debilitating. First, I have to figure out what I actually want. Then, I have to have the courage to say it aloud.

I can’t remember who went first. I remember I asked to fuck his face, rough and hard, and he drooled and choked and hurt his throat. I wasn’t used to being so rough. But I’d watched scenes that he’d done with others, I’d seen the bruises he sported with pride, and I knew the ways he said “I can take it” and “don’t stop, please don’t stop, please hurt me, please,” when we played. We’d spent hours talking and emailing about how deep we wanted to go, how so often the other people we’d played with just didn’t go far enough, and we always craved more.

I’d rented a room in this filthy motel, a staple in the Castro in San Francisco, for us to have for the weekend. It’s notorious for the tricks and cruising gay boys, leaving their doors open and leaning seductively over the railings in shorts and boots. The bedspread was scratchy brown and orange, the walls a dingy white tinted with yellow. The carpet was thicker than I’d expect at a motel, and I was grateful it would be easy — well, easier than other options — on his knees.

I trusted him to let me be as rough as I actually wanted to be. I wanted to push him. He kept asking me to — to push past him saying no, to really use force. I am bigger than him, but he’s stronger than me. We were both creating this desire, both escalating — a swirling spiral taking us up and up and up together. I had to trust that he would actually communicate his no, his safeword, his hesitancy, his serious pain, if he needed to. Of course, I would stop if any of that happened. And he had to trust that I would stay in control, that I would stop, that I would only go as far as was safe.

But I also had to trust that what he wanted now, that he would look back fondly on today tomorrow. I had to believe him when he said he wanted it.

The give and take between us made our play not just a dominant’s desire and a submissive’s willingness, but a well-paired craving, with mutual desire equal and opposite and completely complementary. It isn’t just me doing these acts, and it isn’t just him asking for them, just like it isn’t just me asking and him doing. It’s all of it; it’s mutual. As much as we play with the power and authority between us, underneath it all, it’s co-created, and we are equally involved — with every part of it.

So far, all of that and more had been so smooth and deep between us. We stumbled into each other on accident, and quickly found that we’d both been looking for something more than we’d had for a long time. We’d quickly developed a palette of permission that I knew I could work within and, in fact, the less he knew about what was happening in the scene, the more he liked it. He wanted to be scared, to be surprised. I could work with such a full range of color, such a full range of expression, and I would use as many variations on a theme as I could imagine. We would play for hours, for days. But now, with the three minute game, we were playing with desire in a new way: with naming what we wanted in the moment, and with getting to have it. I never tire of what a powerful experience it is to ask for what I want and then get it. Particularly when it comes to sex, and kink, and my body. It feels magical.

Sitting between the two double beds in the hotel room, on the floor, where I’d left him, the drool was still on his shirt, lips were still pink from the roughing up his mouth took. I liked using the limited space between the beds to keep him pinned.

It was his turn, but he was stalling. He looked away from me, and didn’t make eye contact. He stayed quiet, with something quivering underneath the surface.

He twisted his hips to dig into his pocket, and I bit my lip with desire. He mumbled something. I couldn’t understand him. “What was that?”

“For my pleasure, I would like… would you…” he took a breath, and rotated the blade of his Swiss Army knife. “Cut me?”

I shivered. I’d played with knives before, had cut off clothing and dragged it along lovers’ skin. But aside from barely there scratches, I’d never broken the surface. He’d asked me about it before, saying it was something he’d always wanted.

And now, he was quivering on the floor, looking up at me, handing me an open knife with both hands.

I wanted it. I wanted to take it and use it and slice him open. I wanted to see the red. I felt dizzy with the desire, and scared of it. Am I a monster, to want such a thing? To get off on it? No, I told myself, constantly having this same inner dialogue. You want the power. You want the palpable trust. He trusts you. He trusts you so much, that he’ll ask you to do something you haven’t negotiated and he doesn’t even know if you’ve done before. It’s what he wants.

We’re in this together.

I knew it was a risk. I knew it could have consequences. And I knew I could show up for them, if they happened. I just had to trust that he would, too.

I reached out and took the knife.

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Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


  1. What you write about trust between your partner and you is always so on point.
    It might sound cliché but I’m serious: every time I read one of your articles,

  2. I want to put this question the correct way because I don’t believe in kinkshaming and I have always adamantly defended Sinclair’s right to have sex – and write about it – in exactly the ways that they want to. (Not that they need my blessing – it’s their right as an adult human).

    TW rest of comment for self-harm etc.

    When sex is like this – when there are cuts, for instance – I am particularly interested in Rife’s perspective, although I realize that he is not writing this column. How does he find, within himself, the line between, well, self-harm-by-proxy (destructive) and BDSM (restorative/constructive)? Or would he reject that binary?

    When I was younger and self-harmed, there was certainly a type of release afterwards – and yet, it is something that I certainly discouraged myself from doing and eventually moved past. How is this different?

    (And I DO think this is different, but I would like to hear from those who might benefit from or enjoy this type of play.) I am not trying to kinkshame, I am trying to think openly about a type of kink that I haven’t encountered in writing before. Please understand that this question is coming from someone who partakes in light kink and has definitely experienced deep, dark ass bruises from spanking without giving it a second thought, but simply hasn’t thought much about knife play before.

    • This is a great question and I don’t have an answer as I have personally struggled with the (I’m borrowing your phrasing because it’s great and succinct) “self-harm-by-proxy (destructive) vs BDSM (restorative/constructive)” thing. I know for me the line is unfortunately easily blurred but I’m hoping someone who’s been able to find a balance (or find it within themselves not to need a balance?) will weigh in here!

    • Hi, thanks for your kind comment. You know what’s funny?

      There absolutely have been times when I’ve used Sinclair to do self harm by proxy, when I wanted to punish myself and feel some catharsis. But, that’s always been through flogging, caning, paddling, or punching, not with a knife (which is more similar to how I used to self-harm). Maybe an unconscious part of me does that on purpose to keep me safe.

      Still, as dangerous as self harm can be, I know it can also be a tool, like a drink at the end of a long day might be for some people. Similarly, some need to abstain entirely to keep themselves safe and I definitely respect that choice.

      Does that answer your question at all?

    • Thanks for raising this, and thanks to Rife for answering. This was my question too, as I grapple with whether it’s OK to engage in self harm by proxy (with pretty much all kinky pain functioning that way for me). Not sure that I have my answer yet, but glad to know others are also thinking about this!

    • Personally, for me it comes down to my inner state. I have learned to distinguish between “I NEED this pain”–which usually comes from a negative, rushed, and anxious headspace– vs “I would LIKE this sensation;” that’s usually rooted in a desire to heal myself through catharsis.
      Yet, sometimes that line has been a bit too hazy, so I’ve declined playing until I could dig in and figure out *why* I was craving it. Because in most cases, if you can’t guarantee your own mental stability before play starts, you jeopardize your wellbeing, along with that of other scene participants.
      (As a top, I know I would be devastated to learn that I had unknowingly been acting as a means for someone to hurt themselves in an unhealthy way.)
      When in doubt, especially with edge play, it’s always good to take a pause and thoroughly check-in with yourself and ascertain if the desire is rooted in negativity or positivity: self-hatred or self-love.

    • You mean aside from the mentions of knives and knife play in the title, cover photo and excerpt?

  3. I get these same thoughts and feelings when I write erotica for my friend. I never did any type of edge play but I recently wrote a scene that grew increasingly dark and the feelings were genuine to the point I was questioning everything. Like, there was one scene I got way into where I actually drew blood from her character, wiped it up with my finger and she sucked it clean. That was just the beginning too. By the end of it I was wondering if I was a sick individual but she likes that kind of stuff and asks for me to push boundaries in my writing as if we were really doing this kind of stuff and were in a legitimate D/s relationship. It’s kind of weird but at least now I can understand some of the complexities of this kind of play. I have my own experiences with self harm and wanting edge play with my wife but I don’t trust myself enough to go through with it because I know I would be deceptive in my justifications for it. There has to be a level of trust. I want to hear more about this from the perspective of various types of subs though.

    • There are more types of queer relationships than just ladies loving ladies! It’s awesome that Autostraddle features all types of relationships!
      Please do your research on the participants of the article (a quick google search or even reading previous articles by sinclair) before making comments such as this.

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