Handcuffs: A Primer

While this blog post contains no scenes of violence, nudity, or sex, and I wish I had read a blog like this when I was a frustrated and confused 14-year-old, I think it is reasonable and prudent for me to cover my ass and say that this blog contains sensitive subject matter that is not for people under the age of 18.

Discovering Leigh, and the scheduled follow up, Defining Giulia (Working title), are two unashamedly kinky books.  There was a most definite intention of the books to examine the psychology of the kinky mind, and to do so in a good old fashioned story.  These are books that contain BDSM, but is not about BDSM.  They are books that are – if I have to guess – thrillers, coming of age stories, love stories.  By no means kinky fuck-books.   Road Runner cartoons contain all of Wile E. Coyote’s strange gadgets from Acme Corporation, but the story is about the perpetual chase, not about the gadgets; they are merely there as a device to drive the story.

Similarly with the stories of Mikey, Leigh and Giulia.  The stories are about the people and their own journeys, the kinky stuff is merely there as narrative devices to drive the story.

To that end, I did not want to go into too many details of the nuts and bolts.  I did not want the books to become BDSM instruction manuals, but it does leave a few practical questions unanswered.

Questions which have popped up in my inbox from time to time, and I write and rewrite the same answers.  Therefore, I present to you this very long and instructional blog post:  how to use handcuffs properly.  (A future blog will deal with the topic of rope.)  Disclaimer:  I do not consider myself an expert.  I am not formally trained, I’m merely a guy who has played with these things for over 20 years, and devoured every book he could find on the subject

The Boring Bit: Safety First!

I would be very irresponsible if I do not put in the mandatory bit about safety.  It’s dull, it’s boring, but it is vital.  Handcuffs are not to be trifled with.   Cuffs are things that can do serious and permanent damage if not used properly and with due care and respect.   This is why this blog is here: so that you know how to make the best, safest, kinkiest choices when it comes to handcuffs and handcuff play.  And without saying: always play with a trusted partner, lest you end up a character in a Criminal Minds episode.  Remember the golden rule of BDSM:  always keep it consensual.


The Psychology of Bondage

I am going to make an assumption here, and that is that you actually want to play a genuine, bona fide bondage game, for whatever reason.  Either you want to tie someone up, or you want to be tied up.  Being tied up is like being pregnant:  you either are or you’re not.  You cannot be a little bit pregnant.  You can be at various stages of pregnancy from inception to birth, but you are always pregnant.  So it is with bondage.  Either you are tied, or you are not.  You can be tied in a varying manner of degrees of strictness, duration and restriction, but whether you are wearing a simple set of handcuffs, or hanging suspended from the ceiling in a complicated harness made form 100 meters of rope, you are tied up.

Which means:  you cannot let yourself out.  If you are capable of escaping your own bonds, you ain’t tied up: it’s just pretend.  Handcuffs are for those who do not want to pretend.  If the thought of not having control over your own escape frightens or intimidates you, then handcuffs do not quite apply to you just yet, and you may look at softer toys for your journey into the wonderful world of bondage.  My pals at playwithme.co.za have some nice things to get you started.  The rest of this blog, assumes you want the real deal.

The Psychology of Handcuffs

Handcuffs stand as the basic instrument of bondage.  They look intimidating as hell, these shiny steel locking rings of restraint, but they are actually the least restrictive and most comfortable form of bondage, and therefore ideal for the new bondage initiate.  I can already hear you go “no way!” but ropes, and even silk scarves, can be a lot more restrictive and uncomfortable.  A set of handcuffs will bind you, but still allow you to do things, albeit with some difficulty – which is part of the fun.

There is also the psychology of power exchange.  When you are tied with rope, anyone can come along and untie you.  But when you are tied with a cuff, only the person who has the key can let you out.  I always loved that idea (Especially at parties, where I can cuff up my partner and let her go about her mingling without me worrying about escape).   It brings a very intimate aspect to the game.

Handcuffs and Comfort. 

The basic premise of a cuff is that it is a hinged locking jaw that swings through a lock-box containing a ratchet that allows the jaw to go into the lockbox, but not back out again.  This ratchet is then released with a key, releasing the jaw, and opens the cuff back up again. (If you ever watched a cop show you should know this…)

This means that a cuff has many locking positions, as each of those locking teeth on the jaw of the cuff, makes it go tighter.  Tight is good, right?

Not necessarily.  Handcuffs have six basic positions that it can be in.

1 – The “Movie Cuff”.  This is the stuff they use in the flicks – a handcuff is applied to the criminal/kidnap victim so loosely that anyone with half a brain can see the actor can pull that cuff off as if it was a too large bracelet.  This is useless

2 – The Loose-But-Semi-Secure.   Tighter than the movie cuff, but flops all over the arm and wrist.  They don’t “sit” in one place, they ride up and down the forearm, and while it may be secure and unable to be removed, this is where the movie cliché of “breaking my thumb will get me out” comes from.  It may be secure if you want to remain in-tact, but if the serial killer is coming, cracking your thumb off to escape may be preferable to ending up in the wood chipper.  Which is why serial killers (and cops!) never make sure you’re comfortable in your handcuffs…

3 – The “Comfort” Position.  This is my favourite position for long term play.  Define long term?  My personal record in this position (hands in front) is 48 hours.  My girlfriend and I challenged each other, whoever chickened out first had to wash dishes.  This was on a Friday night.  On Sunday night, 48 hours later, we called it a draw.  I washed, she dried.  But I digress.  This is where the cuffs are tight enough to not flop around, and still tight enough to hold you even if you break your thumb off.  But they are still loose enough for you to rotate your arm fully within the circle of the locked cuff.  On the close up on the right, you can see there is still plenty of space between the inner arm and the cuff.  She is able to rotate her arm in the cuffs fully, but is secure.)

4 – The “Strict” Position.  This is one degree tighter than the comfort position.  This will not allow the cuff to rotate around the arm.  It will hold you securely.  This is not quite as suitable for long term play, and most people beg for release within an hour or two of this position.  Because this won’t allow the wrists to rotate, the hands can be cuffed palms-out (backs of the hands together).  In a behind-the-back cuff, the palms-out position is simultaneously more secure, and strangely, more comfortable.  (this is what the well-trained cops do – they will cuff your palms facing outwards.  Even with the key in hand, it’s a lot more difficult to escape from – see picture below, the model’s palms are facing outwards, with the lockbox on the back of the hand.).

5 – The “Punishment” Position.  This is where the cuffs are put on uncomfortably tight.  This is where you are starting to go into dangerous territory, and is not advisable to go here unless you know what you are doing, or have an experienced partner.  The cuffs themselves will press into the skin, and hurt like heck from the moment you squeeze them shut.  This position is exactly what it says: it is used for punishment situations, whereby either the cuffs themselves are the punishment, or is used in conjunction with another punishing methodology.  This is not something that should be used for longer periods. Will it do damage?  Maybe.  The cops have no qualms keeping your hands like this overnight if they need to.  You will have serious bruising and may need medical help if you stay in this for too long, but you will recover, if not lose your taste for the game.   This is not a game to be played if you do not have formal training, and no, reading Gerry’s writings are not formal training.  There is a condition called Cheiralgia Paresthetica – commonly referred to a “Handcuff neuropathy”, that you can get from this tightness.  Don’t.  Just don’t.  See the hands there in the picture on the left?  Thats the punishment position right there.  You can see how tightly that cuff squeezes the model’s hands, she’s feeling it.  My model here is an experienced player of many years, and has the experience and knowledge to know what she was getting into.  She wore the cuffs that tightly for the purpose of the shoot only, and was maybe on for twenty minutes, in total.  Much to her disappointment.

6 – The “Okay, I’m In Trouble!” Position.  This is where you have officially crossed the line.  The cuffs are way too tight!  They are now pinching nerves and stopping blood supply, and is a no-no.  Even a short, ten-minute session here can do permanent damage.  Just don’t go there, okay.  The internet fetish forums are full of horror stories where the uneducated hapless sub begs for “tighter, please”, and the inexperienced alleged dominant go as tight as it would go, and trouble ensues.  If you play like this, you aren’t a kink, but someone who needs psychological help.

Now, something interesting: when wearing handcuffs, the wrists will swell, and what was comfortable an hour ago, may be strict in a few hours’ time.  This is a problem with overnight cuffing.  “not tight enough” may just get into “way too tight” by morning.  Be aware of this, and take precautions.  Handcuffs are generally very safe for long term wear, and there are no real physiological problems one can expect with leaving your partner alone in a safe and responsible cuffed position.  Cops do it all the time.  (Mighty big disclaimer here:  leaving your partner alone in a bound position may have severe psychological impact – know your partner, know your game, don’t just jump into the deep end, ye hear me? Learn to crawl before you fly, or something.)

My personal philosophy is I want the game to last as long as possible, and the more comfortable the cuff is, the longer it can last.  A too-tight cuff can get one going “you know what, actually, no, this is not for me,” and the game ends and the whole experience is a let-down. Don’t let your racing heart disengage your brain.  Do it right, and your partner will happily bring you coffee in bed the next morning with restraints still applied.

Sadly, I just know too many people who won’t even look at handcuffs because of that one experience where someone did not know what they were doing, and left a very bad experience in their wake.

The Application of Handcuffs.

“Slap the cuffs on him, Bill!” the Chief shouts to the beat cop, and it sounds great.  Except, in real life, it does not work that way.  You do not “slap” a handcuff on anyone.  A good quality handcuff is made of hardened steel, and “slapping” a cuff on someone will leave a very nasty bruise at best, and – I’ve witnessed this first hand at a kink party where some idiot was behaving like, well, and idiot – break a bone at worst.  That hard steel handcuff coming at speed towards an ulna bone just where the taper is thinnest and the muscle padding is least will snap it like a toothpick!

No, one does not “slap” on the cuffs.  You “apply” them.

Where do you apply them?

I’m no doctor, but feel your wrist.  From the forearm, towards the hand, you will feel a protrusion where the Ulna and Radius ends in a thickening of the bone.  Then there is a short little indent before the hand begins, then you are met with the wrist bones widening into the hand.  A handcuff is applied behind (on the forearm) of that first initial bone protrusion.  It is acceptable in the “comfort” position that the cuff could be loose enough to go over that protrusion, and onto the back of the hand itself.  In the “strict” position, the cuff should not be able to go over that piece of bone.  And never, ever, cuff someone in that indent between the forearm and the hand so that the cuff cannot move lower down the forearm.  Looking for that is looking for crap.

If you intend to play a longer-term bondage game, and you have some experience in playing with cuffs, applying them over a sleeve or a glove is a great way to make sure chafing and ‘cuff-burn’ is kept to a minimum.  Cuff burn?  Yup, its the one side effect no one thinks of:  the skin under the cuff starts to develop a strange burning sensation, that can get very unpleasant.  This is a function of both tightness and duration.  Don’t however play with gloves if you are not quite used to it.  Discolouration of the hands, popping of veins, and swelling are sure signs that its time to let up, if not totally let go.  Use a glove only if you know your partner, and you know cuffs, else, those easy tell-tale signs of a game taken too far are not visible.  But if you do know what you are doing, a glove or a sleeve can extend play quite significantly.


This is important, and not nearly as intimidating as it sounds.  This function locks a handcuff in a “closed” position so that it cannot tighten accidentally by itself!  A cuff is designed for easy application.  A cop on the beat hasn’t got time to fiddle around with finicky items – it needs to restrain that perp on the ground pretty damn quick – one squeeze and that cuff lock the bad guy’s arms firmly and securely behind him – which is a long way of saying “a handcuff closes easily”.  This is great if you are a cop on the beat, but what if you are at a party and you leave your partner in a “comfort” position and you go off to wander off to have a conversation somewhere else?  What if you leave your partner comfortable cuffed to the bed and leave them there in delicious frustration while you go cook dinner?  One wrong move, and that cuff closes itself in very quickly and oops, now there is serious trouble at hand.  By the time you go back to the bedroom or your partner manages to find you in the nightclub, the damage has been done…

This is why double-locking is the most important feature of a handcuff.  If a cuff does not have a double-locking feature, discard it.  It is worth more as scrap metal than it has as a bondage toy.

With a double locking feature engaged, you can happily leave your partner handcuffed, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be able to escape, or get themselves in trouble.

Storage, Care and Maintenance.  

Good quality handcuffs have lifetime guarantees on them.  they are made of the rough-and-tumble real world of law enforcement.  They should, if looked after, last longer than you by many years.  (I have a set that has been dated to over 200 years old!).  Store them in a dry place, and if you play bath time games with them (which is enormous fun!), make sure you dry them properly and give the insides a spray with lubricant.    Some cuffs are chrome plated or anodised and won’t rust.  Others are a bit more susceptible to moisture, and can rust up.  A good polish with metal cleaner every now and then along with a squirt of oil on the moving parts should get them good as new.  I keep my cuffs in a waterproof plastic container.  I know that they are weatherproof there.

Speaking of storage: when playtime is over and life comes flooding back, I store my cuffs in a double-locked position.  But not necessarily with their keys.   This means that the cuff cannot open, and is, therefore, useless.  Which means that a curious hand can’t find them and say “oh, what’s this, lets’ play!”  Believe me, this has happened to me!  I had a set of cuffs that could not double lock, and at a kinky nightclub one night, someone decided to dig through my toybox while I was absent.  A very nervous boyfriend found me with his very angry and very too-tightly-handcuffed girlfriend in tow, asking me “you have the keys for these, right?”  I did have them, but not before I told him “actually, no.  Those are an old set I lost the keys to years ago, which is why I don’t use them anymore, we’ll have to call the cops to let her out.”  After he shat himself seven shades of pink, I got her out and he never touched my toybox without permission again.

Yes, he apologised and bought me a beer to say sorry, but the whole debacle was my fault.  Now, all my cuffs are stored double-locked.  That way, no curious fingers can get themselves in trouble, and of course, I myself cannot use them unless I have the key to disengage the double lock with me.

Else, well, here we go to the fire department!

Play safe, stay sane, have fun, don’t be an asshole.  Next time:  how to choose handcuffs: good vs. bad vs. run away!

The models, in order of Appearance:  cover image:  Raven Rose, Dr. K (Yes, she is a medical doctor), Raven Rose, Ami-Raine, Raven’s hands,  Ice’s hands, Miss Lizz, Carla SoSassy, and Raven Rose again, twice – this time in her natural habitat.