So, you’ve got your partner all tied up with nowhere to go. They’re waiting there, willing and able, at the mercy of your every whim. So… now what? Why not spend a little time on the edge? I’m not talking about Edge Play this time (we can talk about that later) – I’m talking about edging. Edging is a type of orgasm denial wherein the person is brought to the brink of orgasm (the edge) without completely achieving a climax. This involves prolonging and playing with the earlier phases of sexual arousal, without allowing orgasm (and/or, in some cases, ejaculation) to occur. Before we go any further down this rabbit hole into the wonderland that is edging, let’s talk about orgasms, desire, and the human sexual response cycle.
Desire (aka: libido) is that feeling you get that says sexual activity is a good idea. It’s your body singing “Let’s get Physical.” We often think of this as your “sex drive” but that’s not exactly right. It’s not a “drive” because sex isn’t necessary to you the way that true “drives” like eating and sleep are (even though sometimes it feels that way). Arousal (aka: the sexual response cycle) is when your body responds to that desire. Blood and other fluids rush to your genitals, your heart rate speeds up, that sort of thing. Orgasm is the climax of this process. Not everyone experiences orgasm every time, and a successful or rewarding sexual experience may not include orgasm at all, but more on this later. Let’s start by understanding desire and arousal.
Since 1966, the Masters and Johnson linear model of sexual response has been the gold standard of how we understand desire and arousal. You may have seen this diagram in a school health class during sex ed. It includes four phases: Excitement, Plateau, Orgasm, and Resolution. I’m not going to spend much time talking about that, though, because it doesn’t really do the best job explaining the relationship between desire, arousal, and orgasm. It also doesn’t account for the many folks who simply don’t experience desire, arousal, and orgasm in a perfectly linear and dependable way. There is much more variety in how we all experience these things, and science needed to do a better job understanding and explaining them. So instead of using the old model, many scientists and sexual health professionals use The Dual Control Model and Basson’s Model to explain desire and arousal.
According to the Dual Control Model you have, you guessed it, two systems that are delivering messages to your brain and body about arousal cues in your environment. One is the Sexual Excitation System (SES) and the other is the Sexual Inhibition System (SIS). Dr. Emily Nagoski describes these as “The Gas” (SES) and “The Brakes” (SIS), and it’s a really spot-on analogy so we’ll use her language here. Basically, you have all these cues in your environment and those cues send one of two messages: This is Sexy, Be Turned On (foot on the Gas) and This is a Potential Threat, Don’t Be Turned On (foot on the Brakes). How does it work? Imagine you’re in a room full of really attractive, smart, well-dressed, charismatic people. The morning sun is shining through large windows, and you can smell perfectly brewed coffee and the sweetness of fresh fruit. A lot of those cues are like a foot on your Gas Pedal (SES), saying, “This is sexy, let’s be turned on now.” Now imagine that the reason you are in this room is that you have a very important meeting at work. You are delivering a presentation to a room full of upper-level executives and this could mean a promotion if it goes well, and unemployment if it does not. The nature of the meeting and the other people in the room are cues telling you, “This is not an appropriate time to be turned on.” All day long, using all five senses, you are managing environmental cues that either press down on the Gas or press down on the Brakes. If the foot on the Brakes is heavier than the foot on the Gas, you don’t feel aroused. If the foot on the Gas becomes heavier, though, you do become aroused.
It all depends.
You can imagine from my little example scenario that not every human responds to the same cues in the same way. A stimulus that hits one person’s Gas pedal could be a Brakes cue for someone else. Some folks have a heavier foot on the Gas, which means they experience arousal more easily and more often than others. Others have a heavier foot on the Brakes, which means it takes more to get aroused, and they may not experience arousal as often as other folks do. Still others have about equal pressure on both the Gas and the Brakes, so sometimes they’re very easily turned on and other times, not so much. Basson’s (2001) Non-Linear Model of Sexual Response take this into account. According to this model, folks can experience desire in one of three ways: Spontaneous Desire (heavy foot on the Gas), Responsive Desire (heavy foot on the Brakes), and Context-Dependent Desire (it depends). I sometimes say that some folks are like microwaves. These are the people who experience Spontaneous Desire. Usually all it takes is the tiniest push of a button and, DING, they’re ready to go. Other people are like slow cookers. These are the Responsive Desire people. They often (but not always) take time and preparation to warm up, but once they get going, it’s hot, to be sure. These folks often need explicit sexual cues to kick-start their response cycle. Then there are our Context-Dependent folks, who sometimes experience Spontaneous Desire and sometimes experience Responsive Desire. Understanding which of these you are, and what gets you going, can help you communicate your needs to your partner.
Side note: many times, when folks express a desire to “increase their libido,” they can receive advice that tells them do more things that press the Gas pedal (light some candles, watch some porn, grab some toys, etc.). Research shows us, however, that decreasing messages to the Brakes is typically more effective in the long term. For these folks, helping them remove stress and exhaustion, deal with trauma and anxiety, and other ways of addressing Brakes signals can have a much greater overall impact on desire and arousal than simply sending more signals to the Gas.
The Big “O.”
The culmination of sexual stimulus – the climax – is the orgasm. Orgasm often (but not always) is indicated by intense sensation in the genitals, full-body muscle spasms, tingling and excitation, and, for many folks, ejaculation. People who have experienced orgasm several times (or frequently) can usually tell when it’s coming (pun intended) because of the heightened sensations that signal it may be on the way. Once a person has had an orgasm, their body goes in to a recovery (refractory) period that must occur before another orgasm is possible. Some folks, usually those with vulvas, can experience multiple orgasms before their body needs this recovery time, and recovery time can be anywhere from minutes to days. Additionally, not everyone can or wants to experience orgasm each time they engage in sexual activity, and this doesn’t make the experience any less rewarding. I would typically encourage people not to make achieving orgasm the goal of their sexy time, but in this case, I want to specifically talk about playing with orgasm and orgasm denial.
Living on the Edge.
Edging is an activity where you bring yourself or your partner right up the very edge of an orgasm, without allowing orgasm to occur. Let’s talk about it in the context of a kinky couple. I’m going to tell you a story. Imagine a Dominant and a Submissive. The Dominant has their June Kink Crate out and is using those delightful restraints to keep their partner all tied up. The submissive is blindfolded, pinned down, at the mercy of their Dom, ready and willing for the games to begin. The Dominant begins to stimulate the sub, makes them wriggle and squeal with delight and beg for more and more. “Tell me when you’re about to cum, little one” our Dom whispers. When it’s time, our submissive is obedient, “I’m so close, Sir,” they coo. And the stimulation stops. They can feel their heartbeat in their throbbing groin and everything begins to ache. The pleading begins, “Why did you stop, Sir? Please may I have more?” Our Dominant smiles wickedly, “Absolutely, darling, but remember, you may not cum without permission.” Stimulation begins again. Our sub is paying attention to every sensation: the silky soft feel of lubricant, the purring buzz of a toy, the sheets beneath them, and the restraints they begin to struggle against. “I’m so close, Sir, please may I cum?!” Everything stops. This time pleading becomes begging. “Please, please, please, Sir?!” Our Dominant doesn’t reply. Instead they wait for the struggling and begging to stop and they begin again. This dance goes on for a while. The time from stimulation to begging becomes shorter, the cries for orgasm become more earnest. Our submissive notices that every tiny sensation is amplified. What once felt yummy and decadent is now utterly intense and painful. If their Dom only breathed on them they may explode, but they dare not cum without permission. Then, finally, it’s time. Everything inside them feels like they’re on fire and they scream and cry, bucking against the restraints and losing all ability to hold back. “Please, Sir, let me cum! Oh please!!” and suddenly it’s happening. An orgasm ripping through them and they explode with ecstasy.
Edging is a practice. The more you edge (alone or with a partner), the longer you become able to edge. This can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months before an orgasm is allowed to take place, and is an activity frequently employed by kinky couples as part of their relationship. For folks with a vulva, long term orgasm denial can sometimes be followed by a brief period of forced orgasm where one orgasm after another is ripped from their body. This often takes a fairly heavy-duty source of stimulation (like a VERY strong vibrating toy). Orgasm denial, edging, and forced orgasm all can blur the lines between pleasure and pain deliciously – and masochists and sadists alike can find there is a lot of fun to be had in experimenting with this. Folks with a penis may need a longer refractory period than their vulva-having counterparts, and forced orgasm may not be possible if it follows edging. Also, keep in mind, that some edging can be so intense that an orgasm is not possible without a slight refractory period. You’ll need to explore this for yourself to determine what works best for you. Some Dominants like to ask their submissives to edge themselves for a period of hours or days – keeping them “ready” for use. There are a lot of ways to explore edging alone or as a couple. For some people, edging is extremely painful and not enjoyable, so don’t forget to negotiate safe words or safe signals that can stop play if one of you needs a break.
What are some of the ways you can add edging into your sexy-time playbook? Do you have any ideas? To share your thoughts or ask about more ways to play, email me at email@example.com.
For more information about the desire and arousal models I talked about in this article, feel free to reach out to me or check out the following resources:
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals Female Sexual Response Fact Sheet (These apply to folks with all bodies, despite the name)
Emily Nagoski’s website, The Dirty Normal.
Emily Nagoski’s book: Come As You Are.
*This article first appeared in the JUNE 2017 issue of the KinkCrate newsletter. To learn more about KinkCrate, or to sign up, go to kinkcrate.net/professorsex