Trust Me: On Edge Play in Erotica

Photograph by Howard Beach

Photograph by Howard Beach

Last year, I had the happy honor of going on the (It Girl. Rag Doll) podcast with Molly Moore and Harper Eliot. We covered a lot of ground but, as with all good conversations, there was still a lot left. Afterwards, the lovely Jane Gilbert of Behind the Chintz Curtain asked this question: (forgive the paraphrase)

Is there anything you haven’t written about yet that scares you or makes you nervous?

My knee-jerk response, and the one I’d likely have given were I to have answered on the show, would have been edge play – specifically knives and cutting. In fact, I started writing about this on several occasions, but it never quite felt right. Recently, I realized why my initial answer didn’t work. Knives and cutting aren’t actually the issue for me (as a writer). They’re the way I’m drawn to addressing the thing I actually want to explore: Trust.

Personally speaking, trust is a nuanced, risky thing, which is probably why I feel compelled to write about it despite the fact that it makes me uneasy. While vulnerability is a prominent theme in my writing, I’ve always treated trust as an implicit part of that, rather than explicitly addressing it though higher-stakes scenarios. Something shifted as I considered Jane’s question and I suspect that limiting myself to the implicit isn’t going to satisfy me anymore.

But to bring it back to cutting. Knives and blades are, in and of themselves, not without significance for me. For a long time, I assumed that it was that personal element that made me hesitate when I considered writing stories about cutting or blood-play. Once I dug out from under that assumption, it was pretty clear that knives were only part of the issue. For me, knives (and blades in general) are the metaphorical hinge on which trust swings. I also realized that I’ve been playing with that metaphor implicitly for years.

I’ve written a number of stories in which a woman shaves a man with a straight-razor, and scenes in which a woman allows her lover to shave her pussy even though she’s scared. In life or fiction, shaving someone is, for me, a fantastically intimate act that requires a great deal of trust, especially if straight razors are involved.

My grandfather was a barber. He taught me how to use a straight razor when I was about 12 because the razor (as an object) both scared and fascinated me. I remember him showing me how to hold it lightly, as if it were delicate. He told me it was just a thing. It couldn’t bite me or wield itself. As long as I held it, I was in control. That was a revelation.

The experience of learning to use that razor fascinated me, not in a sexual way (or at least, not in a way I recognized as sexual at the time), but in a very human way. I was being trusted to do something dangerous (with help – my grandfather’s hands guided mine the whole time). In hindsight, I can’t believe his customer allowed himself to play the guinea pig. But then, my grandfather inspired great trust in people and , to my knowledge, he never broke it. Happily, it all went off without a hitch and I spent the next week thinking I wanted to be a barber.

It’s not difficult to realize how much power you have when you’re holding a razor and a person is literally exposing their skin for you. What makes the situation possible is that there is an unspoken contract in place – both parties assume that the person with the blade will not take advantage of their ability to cause harm. That’s what allows the person baring their throat (or labia, or groin) to trust you not to hurt them.

But what happens when the contract is slightly different? What if the contract is not that the person with the blade will not cause harm but, rather, that the person with the blade will cause harm but in a responsible and agreed upon way? You allow the person with the blade to open a door (meaning your skin) and you are trusting them to stop. That takes trust to another, even higher, plane. The interpersonal contract that allows for this is emotionally packed and worthy of nuanced fictional representation. It’s also something I feel strongly about doing right because I do fetishize trust to such a degree in real life, even if it doesn’t manifest as cutting in my own sexual practices.

There are authors who have handled blades beautifully in their fiction – Jane Gilbert did it in this story, and Remittance Girl has done it several times, here and here, as well in her novella, Beautiful Losers, in which there’s a shaving scene that is beautiful, intense and reflective of the emotional complexity that underpins the relationship between the characters involved. Exhibit A did it as well in this story, also a shaving scene, in which trust is central to the story and a single drop of blood is let.

The reason these stories work so well is that, at their centers, trust is (either implicitly or explicitly) recognized as the foundation of the intimacy that underpins the experience. Trust is the risk that allows the blade to work. For me, as both a writer and as a reader, it’s not enough to write about a taboo (or, in this case, edge play) and rely on the riskiness or transgression to titillate. For me, as regards edge play in fiction, it’s the intimacy that allows someone to put themselves in their partner’s hands that’s the turn on. It’s also the universal factor that might allow someone who has absolutely no interest in knives (or breath-play or non-con, etc) to see why someone else might get off on it.

Now that I do understand that it is not blades, but blades as signifiers of extreme and total trust that both turn me on (as a reader) and unsettle me (as a writer), I’ll be able to convey what is valuable to me – that the trust and complexity inherent in the act are what make it powerful and erotic. It isn’t just the transgression of letting blood.


  1. I have written a lot about knife play and other edgy play that we indulge in and it has strayed into my fiction. I currently have a piece about a sub shaving her Dom in the shower waiting to be published in an Alison Tyler Antho…. fingers crossed it sees the light of day eventually.

    This is one such a post I wrote for Kink of the Week

    But if you look at the Kinfe Play category on my site you will see that it features quite a bit and certainly in my photography. Interestingly I have not written a great deal about trust with regards to this or any other topic and that is something I need to change.

    As for edge play in fiction, mine or anyone else’s, yes please.


  2. THIS:

    “Trust is the risk that allows the blade to work … it’s the intimacy that allows someone to put themselves in their partner’s hands that’s the turn on. It’s also the universal factor that might allow someone who has absolutely no interest in knives (or breath-play or non-con, etc) to see why someone else might get off on it.”

    Thank you so much for the mention, Malin. This is a wonderful post – one that perfectly captures the rub of fear and desire. (To me, when trust underscores that friction, something truly beautiful occurs …) Jane xxx

  3. You have such a beautiful way of laying out your thoughts in these posts. It’s like you are solving the problem or answering the question for yourself right before our eyes. You set it out piece by piece, analyze, then wrap up beautifully. As a reader, I love it that you take us through each step. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Maria. That’s one of the loveliest compliments I’ve ever gotten on my posts. I feel like, so often, I’m just figuring things out. Walking through the process helps me understand what I’m thinking / feeling. I’m just happy it translates for the reader! xx

  4. Once again it feels as though you have a direct link to my mind. Razors and shaving have been a direct and explicit symbol of trust in my relationship when they have been used.


  5. Once again you are able to peel back the layers and get to the truth that simmers under our behaviors and preferences. That “unspoken contract” is always worth examining. Love this.

    1. Thank you, Valerie. There were a lot of layers to peel back on this one – I had a lot of assumptions about my own feelings (which was weird) to get past. Those unspoken contracts are everywhere..

  6. Beautiful! This is a wonderful post as usual. So perceptive and rich and thoughtful. Trust! Yes, trust.

    I adore knives and blades, and have a novel coming out with GDP in which knife-play is central. It’s about thieves who hunt one another at night in strangers’ houses, sexually and for power play. And ultimately for passion and love. It’s called Prowl!

    Thank you, Malin!


    1. Thank you so much, Lana! I love knives and blades in fiction, and Prowl sounds incredible – especially with the hunting aspect. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it when it releases! xoxo

  7. When I did healthcare, I had to learn how to use a straight razor for shaving. I did visits for home health, and a old fella I visited for cares wanted me to shave him all the time. He would request me special to come see him.

    I love sharp and pointy knives and would love a custom one from Hammerfell Armoury. I don’t do cutting or let myself be cut by other people. Jolynn doesn’t feel comfortable with knives, so she would have to find someone to do a knife scene with me if I really wanted to, that is very experienced. It all comes to trust like you said. We would have to already know a person really well for me to say ok. Not just any schmuck at an event.

    For Mother’s Day, my thirty year old kid got me a really nice Smith and Wesson knife. I traded him for my oversized Gerber knife that was illegal carry. He and Jolynn fussed about the Gerber knife when it was still mine. :p

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