SM: Safe Magic for Gay Men

Written by Mark Bond-Webster for
The Society
Northampton, MA 01060


Members of the SM community are very familiar with negotiating safety issues. And so it is no surprise that we were quick to respond to the danger of HIV/AIDS. We were among the first to integrate safer sex principles into our lives.

Unfortunately, the danger is not yet past. As AIDS continues to claim the lives of our friends and lovers, we need to maintain our commitment to safer sex. We honor them by living our lives to the full and ensuring our survival as a community.

This pamphlet has been written to help us make informed decisions about our sexual practices. It describes the risks of HIV transmission associated with SM sex. The good news is that many SM activities pose no danger of HIV transmission. Although SM is often singled out as "high-risk behavior" and the SM community stigmatized as a "high-risk group," this is mostly ill-informed prejudice. As this pamphlet will show, much SM is already safer sex.

Although we have tried to be thorough, we offer no more than a set of guidelines. We assume that you are familiar with basic safer sex principles and that you understand the techniques required to practice SM without causing injury to yourself or your partner. If you need more information on any point, check the referrals listed on the back of this pamphlet.

The Basics

Latex Barriers

HIV is spread when the blood or semen of an infected person enters the bloodstream of another person. Skin is a perfect barrier against the virus, but the membranes lining the ass and cock are more vulnerable. To protect them from HIV exposure, latex barriers must be used. These are an essential part of any safe SM scene. There are several that you should know about:


must be worn for fucking. They can also be used to cover dildos and butt-plugs to prevent contamination of the toys. Use a fresh condom for each partner who shares the toys. Use latex condoms only. Natural (lambskin) condoms are an ineffective barrier against HIV.


recommended for fisting.


cots are like mini-condoms worn on the fingers. They can be used for finger-fucking if you have cuts on your fingers and do not want to wear a glove.

Dental Dams

these latex squares are useful for covering wounds or abrasions which may occur during an SM scene: simply tape the dam over the wound to protect against the exchange of blood or cum. If a dam is not available, cut a condom lengthwise and open it out, or use a piece of household plastic wrap.


Use plenty of lube when fucking or fisting. Use mentholated or flavored varieties externally; try a drop inside a condom to enhance the pleasure. Lube is fun, and the play possibilities are endless. Experiment!

Use water-based lubes ONLY. (Probe, Astro-Glide, and ForPlay are popular examples.) Oil-based lubes such as Crisco or Vaseline MUST BE AVOIDED because they destroy latex and cause condoms to break. Beware of lubes that describe themselves as water-soluble: they are not the same as water based and may contain oils.

Do not share bulk containers of lube among multiple partners: a contaminated hand dipped into the tub will contaminate the whole batch. If several people are sharing lube, use one which comes in a pump dispenser or give each person their own supply in a disposable paper cup.

Some lubes contain a spermicide called Nonoxynol-9. This has been shown to kill HIV in laboratory tests and so some men like it as a back-up in case a condom breaks. (Caution: it must never be used instead of a condom.) On the other hand, it causes irritation in some men which may make the transmission of HIV easier. If you are one of those men, avoid it. If you are not sure, put a dab of lube under your arm; if it irritates you, avoid it.

Lubricants and barriers are increasingly available in drug-stores and supermarkets. They are always available at stores specializing in SM equipment, adult bookstores, or medical supply outlets.


Contaminated toys and apparatus can transmit HIV between partners. The best solution is not to share them: each person should provide their own. In a group scene, each person's toys should be clearly marked so there is no confusion.

If equipment is shared, it must be kept HIVfree. Dildos and butt- plugs should be covered with condoms which are changed between partners; everything else must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

To clean equipment: wash well with soap and water; soak for an hour in isopropyl ("rubbing") alcohol or a bleach solution made of one part bleach to nine parts water; and finally rinse thoroughly in hot water. Note: leather cleaned in this way will dry out and crack. To preserve it, polish it with a good quality leather oil after cleaning.


Any break in the skin is a potential site for the entry of HIV and must be covered with latex. Know your body: be aware of any cuts or nicks that you have going into a scene and be alert for others that may occur during play. Clean them with soap and water, disinfect with iodine, and cover with a latex barrier.


Avoid drugs and alcohol when doing an SM scene. Do not use them as a means of relaxation: they will not only destroy the intensity of the experience but will also impair your judgment. In such circumstances you increase the chances of lapsing into unsafe sex practices and risk injuring yourself or your partner(s).

If you inject drugs, it is best not to share your works. If you do, clean them thoroughly with bleach and water first.



A high-risk activity. There is no way around it: whether you are a top or a bottom, condoms must be worn every time. HIV can pass across an ass-lining even if it is intact. The risk is even greater in SM scenes where dildos, butt-plugs, or fisting may have torn the lining. As a general rule: if you are going to fuck, do so before heavy ass play; if you fuck afterwards, be extremely careful.


Carries a small risk because it may tear the ass- lining and the skin on the fist. To make it completely safe, wear a glove, use lots of water-based lube, and proceed slowly to allow your partner time to relax. Full length gloves (those which extend all the way up the arm) are best, particularly for deep-fisting. Be sure to trim and file your nails so that you don't cut the glove or your partner.

Do not share gloves: use a fresh one for each person.


Carries no risk of HIV transmission unless you have a cut on your finger. If you do have a cut, wear a band-aid and a glove or finger cot. As with fisting, trim and file your nails to minimize the risk of cutting your partner. Be aware that if you finger someone's ass during heavy play, you may get traces of their blood on your fingers: be very careful not to transfer this to anyone else involved in the scene. Either wash your hands thoroughly between partners or wear cots every time and change them when necessary.


Although douching before ass play is hygienic, remember that it will wash away mucous from the ass-lining and so leave you more vulnerable to infection. Use only fresh water in a douche or enema. Never mix in drugs or alcohol.

Caution: Douching is not a remedy for unsafe sex: you will wash cum, blood, or shit further into the intestine rather than washing it away.


Neither piss nor shit contain enough HIV to present a significant risk of transmission.

Oral Sex


There are two different views on sucking. European and Canadian authorities agree that oral sex presents little risk as long as you don't have open cuts or sores in your mouth. To make it safer they suggest that you don't swallow cum or brush/floss your teeth for two hours before or after sex. American authorities are more restrictive: they argue that a condom must be worn from start to finish, whenever you go down on him.

The choice is yours. You must decide on your own level of safety. And you must establish your limits with your partner(s) before having sex.


Oral-anal contact presents minimal risk for HIV, but a high risk for the transmission of hepatitis and parasitic diseases. For complete safety, use a dental dam.

SM Scenes


Carries no risk unless the restraints cause abrasions or cuts. Ropes are most likely to do so; cuffs and straps are safer. Be sure to check for any breaks in the skin that may have occurred and cover them as necessary.


No risk unless it causes open welts. Bullwhips, canes, and heavy braided floggers are most likely to break the skin. Cat-o-nine tails, crops, and paddles are safer.

Tit/Nipple Torture

No problem unless blood is drawn. Caution: nipples are delicate and quite easily damaged by heavy biting or serrated or toothed clamps. Be sure to check for any wounding during a heavy scene, and take appropriate precautions.

Shaving/Abrasion Scenes

Use disposable razors and files and use them on only one person. Dispose of them carefully, in sealed containers if possible. Shaving sites and abrasions are open wounds and should be protected.

Hot Wax/Heat Torture

Poses no risk of HIV transmission unless it causes open burns or blisters. To avoid blistering, use paraffin wax candles which melt at low temperatures; avoid beeswax candles which melt at high temperatures.

Electric Torture

T orture with cattle prods or other sparking devices presents no risk at low voltages. Higher voltages or "hot spots" in older equipment, however, may cause burns which break the skin, so they present more risk. If bleeding occurs, clean and disinfect the terminals before using the device on another partner.


No risk unless wounds are inflicted.

Body Modification


Piercings under two months old should be treated as open wounds. Permanent piercings should only be done by an experienced piercer If you do/receive play piercings, disinfect the site to be pierced with alcohol or iodine and use sterile, disposable needles. Don't share needles. Dispose of them carefully in a sealed, unbreakable container filled with bleach. Be very careful to protect the piercing site from infection.


Should only be done by an experienced tattooist. The equipment should be sterile and the ink should be fresh from the bottle, not left over from a previous job.


Branding apparatus such as knives, scalpels, and razors should not be shared. Heat brands are safer because the high temperatures kill HIV. Fresh brandings are open wounds and must be protected.


  • Discuss these recommendations with all your prospective sex partners.
  • Make your limits known and respect those of others.
  • Make safer sex guidelines part of your negotiation before having sex.
  • Don't make safer sex part of the power exchange during a scene.


For HIV/AIDS information

1-800 342-2437 National AIDS Hotline
1-800-344-7432 Spanish Hotline
1-800-243-7889 TDD service

For information about SM

Larry Townsend "The Leatherman's Handbook"
Trevor Jacques "On the Safe Edge: A Manual for SM Play"
Pat Califia "Sensuous Magic: A Guide for Adventurous Couples" (Sat Feb 11 02:08:38 1995)