Better pain management through electricity
June 3, 2008 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Kinkyelectricsex: My partner wants to bring a TENS machine into the bedroom. How safe or dangerous are these things?

It is the device at the top of this page. Everything I've read online says these things are perfectly safe as long as it is connected below the waist (here and here for example) but never ever go above the waist because there is a danger of causing a heart attack. That seems fairly straightforward except that the instructions that came with it only advise against placing pads on a person's head or unbroken skin. They specifically instruct the owner to place pads on the chest, back, arms, and neck as needed (although not, for example, at each nipple). The only recorded fatality I can find involved a device plugged into the wall. And there are places selling electric nipple clips for use with these things.

Are the kinky advice-givers being overcautious? Or am I taking a serious risk just using it on my sore neck and back?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I've been involved in the kink community for years and have not seen anyone use one above the waist. I've seen those clips used on genitalia or inner thighs but never the nipples. The main concern is current flowing between the pads/clips and ACROSS the heart. "Recorded fatalities" don't mean much because you can have a heart attack and not die.

Personally, I won't take the risk with my partner because I am not a medical professional (or an electrical engineer). Judging from my partner's reaction, they can cause quite a bit of pain, but I assume that's what you're after.
posted by desjardins at 6:21 AM on June 3, 2008

By the way, I am close friends with someone who IS an electrical engineer (and his wife is a medical professional) and they don't use TENS units above the waist. That's good enough for me.
posted by desjardins at 6:22 AM on June 3, 2008

Uncle Abdul teaches classes in TENS play. The linked page is his safety sheet. Every class I've taken from him begins the same way: with a safety discussion similar to that page.

There are nipple clamps that can be connected to TENS units and the ones I have used try to complete the circuit without passing current through the chest. Each clamp has one positive and one negative electrode. Using them carries risk. There isn't any guarantee that a sneak circuit cannot be completed through the chest.
posted by jet_silver at 7:24 AM on June 3, 2008

Just as a data point, TENS is sometimes used with the electrodes placed across the chest for people with chronic refractory angina. See this paper from the British Medical Bulletin for details.
posted by xchmp at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2008

First point: start conservatively. Keep it below the waist, there's lots of fun to be had there. Then get involved in knowledgeable kink communities. I don't know an electrical play specific one but I'm sure they are out there. For general very intelligent kink discussion, I highly recommend Midori's yahoo group. Really smart, knowledgeable people there.

Secondly, learn about dipole versus unipole electrical toys. Current has to flow between a positive and negative pole. If you have something like a clamp that has a positive pole on one side an a negative on the other, current will flow between the two and it will generally take the shortest route...through the flesh trapped in between. That keeps it fairly localized. If you have two items that each have a single pole, say a clamp on one nipple that is positive and a clamp on the other that is negative, current will flow between the two, across the chest. So knowing the type of connectors you have and knowing how that effects where/how the electrical current travels will go a long way to helping you play safe.
posted by afflatus at 9:28 AM on June 3, 2008

Sure, some people leave their partners tied up in a closet with only a small straw for air and then go out for ice cream, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Oooooo.... ice cream! :)

Nthing the "keep it below the waist" advice. Adding electricity near the heart is a bad idea.
posted by rokusan at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2008

Boy, don't I feel green.

My mother (an RNA) had one of these a few years ago. When the family was all over for a visit, we took turns zapping each other's legs, etc. - and there was much hilarity and LOLing at how much these things caused your muscles to jump around. Sometimes your vastus medialus looked like it was about to pop right out of the skin.

It never even occurred to me they could constitute sex play though.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:57 AM on June 10, 2008

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