"Gag Reflexions"
by david stein
with Richard Sommers, M.D.


Copyright ©1993 by david stein (gorgik@aol.com); all rights reserved, including the right to reprint in whole or in part in any medium whatsoever. Printouts for the viewer’s personal enjoyment are encouraged, but please contact the author if any other use is desired. This article combines my “Bond+Aid” columns from Bound & Gagged, issues #37 and #38, cutting any redundancies.

“I feel from your writings that you are a little squeamish of gagging in a thorough manner,” a faithful reader from upstate New York tells me. His letter made me feel that someone had finally discovered my guilty secret: The safety columnist of Bound & Gagged magazine is not an aficionado of gags!

It’s true. I confess — but it’s not really a matter of personal taste. While I like the idea of being gagged, various problems keep me from enjoying the reality. I have a long history of respiratory allergies, and my nose also tends to clog when I’m simply anxious or excited. Even if I’m okay with a gag at first, knowing that I could suddenly have trouble breathing at any time puts a real damper on my enthusiasm. Moreover, I’ve suffered from TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint) syndrome, and I have a strong gag reflex. Stick a ball gag or ring gag in my mouth, and a few minutes later my jaw muscles are in agony. Stick a large cock or plug gag in, and I tend to choke or even vomit (at least a live cock moves in and out — gags just sit there and tickle the uvula). Given all that, I’m not a good candidate for happy gagging, and you’ll forgive me if I seem extra-cautious in my warnings on the subject.

But mine are not exactly rare conditions; many other bondage enthusiasts share one or more of them. People vary — a lot — in what they can take, but the factors that can make gags risky are legion. In addition to those mentioned already, there’s asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and other common respiratory diseases, all of which can cause severe breathing problems with little or no warning. Anybody can catch a cold or another respiratory infection, and a gag that’s too large for a particular bottom’s mouth can cause excruciating jaw spasms or vomiting despite his being able to handle smaller or less intrusive gags very well. And even someone with no known medical counterindications can suddenly develop a breathing problem while gagged for a wide variety of reasons.

Nevertheless, lots of guys enjoy gags, and, at least in consensual scenes, we rarely hear of anyone being killed or hurt because of one. The reader whose letter spurred these “reflexions” says he really turns on to being “gagged to the fullest extent,” and he explains the attraction very well:

“Part of the excitement of being tied up,” he writes, “is knowing I will be gagged and my top will have control. After I have told him what my limits are, I want to be taken a little beyond my limits, and I trust my top with all my being. Gagging me makes the scene much more dominating for him and more fun and interesting for me. I’m happy because I can’t call out, and it’s exciting to see my limits being stretched. My being silenced effectively [means] I have to trust my top further and learn what he teaches.”

Others have suggested that just as being tied up can give us “permission” to enjoy things we’re ambivalent or even negative about — as well as letting us abandon our usual bodily self-control and thrash about or push and pull as much as we like, knowing that someone else has set safe limits — being gagged can “allow” us to play a nonverbal role in the erotic conversation, voicing our passion in elemental grunts and moans and muffled screams. For anyone who tends to watch his words carefully, it can be a marvelous release — if you can relax and enjoy it.

My correspondent says that he loves “the feeling of a gag being forced into my mouth and sealed extremely well, especially with tape,” but he’s worried about it. “I know it is dangerous to have someone gagged in this manner. You have stressed this many times, and I agree with you. But say your top is caring and trustworthy. You have no reason to fear or doubt him. He also agrees to stay close to you, never leaving you, making sure you are never on your stomach, ready at a moment’s notice if something isn’t right. Can you tell me of a gagging procedure that is almost foolproof with all of the above included? Please give me some gagging ideas that are effective without depriving me of the thrill of being gagged.”

Let’s dispose of a couple of red herrings immediately: First of all, there’s no such thing as a gag that can truly silence someone — without killing him, anyway. As long as you can breathe at all, you can vibrate your vocal cords, and the result will be audible, if not as loud as when it emerges through the resonant cavity of your mouth. A gag that cut off all air to your vocal cords would also prevent it from reaching your lungs, in which case the phrase “deathly silence” would be all too applicable. A gagged bottom who’s having trouble breathing or feels queasy will normally start making distress noises well before the problem becomes acute — and he’d better do so, because after breathing stops he won’t be able to. Total silence from a bound and gagged bottom is the most urgent danger sign of all.

The most you can do with a gag that’s safe for erotic use is to block all articulate speech and to reduce the volume of whatever other sounds the bottom makes. If the main concern is to prevent his verbally controlling the top, a wide variety of gags can work quite well without an unreasonable degree of risk — provided both top and bottom behave responsibly and sensibly.

A safe bondage or s/m scene depends on continual clear communication between the top and bottom. If the bottom can’t let the top know when something’s wrong, a small glitch can grow into a major fiasco. Regular bondage buddies, longtime lovers, and highly experienced players can usually “read” each other’s body language and inarticulate noises well enough for the bottom to communicate that he’s in trouble — or having a wonderful time — even when he’s well gagged. But using a really effective gag is not a good idea for most first encounters, no matter how much discussion of limits has occurred beforehand, and novices are always well advised to master the simplest, least risky techniques before going on to more advanced equipment or methods. Even a “safe” gag cannot be made “foolproof,” meaning safe in the hands of a top or bottom who’s stupid, careless, drunk, or ignorant.

Gagging must be regarded as one of the most dangerous bondage practices, simply because little else we do can kill someone so quickly if things go wrong. (Breath-control scenes and attempts to simulate hanging can have the same fatal outcome, of course, and they’re even more dangerous since it’s easier for mistakes to happen in these tricky “advanced” scenes than in ordinary tying and gagging.) Even though things don’t go wrong 99.9 percent of the time, the magnitude of what we’re risking should at least make us pause to think about what we’re doing. (Rope burns and nerve damage from misuse of handcuffs are probably the most common bondage mishaps, but no one dies from them.)

Improving the Odds
While any gag carries some degree of risk, no gag can be considered reasonably “safe” if it can’t be removed quickly.

How do I define “quickly”? Remember that from the time breathing stops to the time the brain stops is just 4 minutes on average, give or take maybe a minute. But well before the brain stops — sometimes after as little as 2 minutes — oxygen deprivation can cause irreparable damage to parts of the brain and other highly oxygen-sensitive parts of the body.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time even for a “caring and trustworthy” top who’s right next to you (1) to realize you’re in trouble and (2) to remove whatever he’s gagged you with. If he’s across the room or otherwise preoccupied (as may easily be the case in a long-term scene or a shorter one that involves much other action besides bondage), he might not respond instantly even if you make a lot of noise — especially if you’ve been making pleasure and pain noises all along. Any rule of thumb will be somewhat arbitrary, since there are so many variables, but conservatively (and on safety matters I’m always conservative), I would say that no gag is “safe” unless it can be removed in less than 15 seconds. That’s plenty of time to get off a plug gag fastened with a strap and buckle, or a sock or bandanna tied between the teeth, or one or two pieces of tape applied directly to the mouth. Unfortunately, all the measures to make gags more secure, thorough, or effective — filling the mouth completely, padlocking any buckles, using a hood on top of a gag, sealing a gag inside the mouth with tape wrapped around the head, and so on — also make them harder to get them off, thus reducing the safety margin.

Here are some risk-reducing steps anyone who enjoys gags can take:

“Safe” Gags

A Real Mouthful
Any mouth-filling gag is substantially riskier than one that doesn’t fill the mouth, for two reasons: (1) It removes the possibility of mouth-breathing as a temporary back-up if the nose clogs. And (2), stuffing the mouth not only leaves no room for vomit to emerge from the throat, but it can trigger vomiting in a bottom with a strong gag reflex.

In general, a mouth-filling gag that incorporates a small breathing tube (which is different from a tube gag in which the wide tube itself is what prevents speech) is safer than one that doesn’t, but they can be tricky. For instance, you can roll a sock around a stiff rubber, metal, or plastic tube, or you could drill a hole through a rubber ball gag and insert a stiff tube. (It’s not enough just to drill a hole; without a tube to stiffen it the force of the jaw will compress the hole and block the air.) Very stiff rubber is probably safer than metal or plastic because there’s less chance of its scraping the inside of the mouth or of flattening or breaking from jaw pressure.

The diameter of the tube isn’t critical, but the length is: If the tube extends too far into the mouth beyond the back of the gag surrounding it, it will trigger the gag reflex. And if there’s too much tube extending outside the mouth, breathing through it will be difficult at best; at worst, you’ll simply breathe the same stale air over and over again until you suffocate. The ideal breathing tube should barely clear the back of the gag inside the mouth and extend outside the mouth no more than a couple of inches. Long, dangling breathing tubes — often seen on rubber hoods — can be worse than useless. But it’s easy to test whether the tube is short enough: just try breathing through it yourself (with your nose pinched tight with your fingers or a clamp) for a minute or two! If it takes more and more effort to pull in enough fresh air, the tube’s too long.

Also consider these points with breathing-tube gags:

Saliva is a problem with any mouth-filling gag (and some plug gags that don’t fill it), because holding anything in your mouth stimulates its secretion. If the gag is very absorbent, as some sock gags are, it may soak up the saliva too fast (at least until it becomes soaked through) and make it so hard to swallow that you choke. (Some bottoms find rolled-sock gags and the like easier to take if they’re inserted already damp.) On the other hand, if the gag isn’t absorbent at all, like a rubber ball, you may not be able to swallow quickly enough and end by drowning in your own spit — particularly if you’re lying on your back.

The safest kind of mouth-filling/mouth-sealing gag without a breathing tube is probably a rolled sock in the mouth, one piece of tape over the mouth, and one strap, stretched-out sock, necktie, piece of rope, etc. fastened under the chin and around the top of the head. You can quickly loosen the anchor strap (or whatever) just by pushing it forward or backward on the head, then rip off the tape and pull out the gag. I’m not sure why anyone would crave a more secure gag than this if the bottom is bound well enough that he can’t manipulate it. Anything that makes it harder for him to free himself from a gag will also make it harder for the top to remove it, which greatly increases the risk.

Perhaps the riskiest gag I can imagine — I get the willies just thinking about it — is a mouth-filling gag without a breathing tube that’s sealed underneath tape completely wrapping the head, as in a mummification. You can’t get the gag out until you remove most of the tape, which in an emergency could easily take more time than you have. If you have to go that far to enjoy the thrill of being gagged, be sure your life insurance and will are both in order.


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