Q: Help! My boyfriend of about a year is asking me to try some new kinks that I’m not so sure about. He wants me to lock up his penis in a little cage. I’ve never heard of this. Is this a common fantasy for guys? He claims it is. Is it healthy? I just don’t know if I can do it!! I’ve asked this question to another therapist and all she said was “He’s into BSDM.” My bf says it’s not BSDM and he doesn’t like whips or stuff like that. Any advice or help would be appreciated.
A: Scientists have very little data on kinks or non-vanilla/non-mainstream kinds of things that people do sexually, particularly how common or uncommon such kinks are in the US. A lack of data doesn’t mean that a particular type of sex play is bad or wrong or unhealthy – after all, it was only several decades ago when Dr. Alfred Kinsey collected the first large-scale data on how many people engaged in vaginal intercourse, anal sex, and oral sex. And it was only a few years ago that the US Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws.
It was also only a few years ago (2008) that our research team at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University conducted a nationally representative study of vibrator use among men and women. We found that 53% of women and nearly half of men had used a vibrator (most men had used a vibrator with a female partner but close to 1 in 5 had used one by themselves). Now, vibrator use is pretty mainstream. Vibrating condom rings are available in many drug stores and women regularly host in-home sex toy parties in their homes and dorms and yet it was only 3 years ago that a study like that was conducted.
I suspect that locking one’s penis in a cage (also called a “male chastity belt” though there are different types) is not a common fantasy among men – even though I have no data to back up this assumption (but it’s an educated guess given the thousands of men and women I’ve spoken with about their sex lives, and my familiarity with the sex toy industry). In fact, I would venture to guess that most men may not even know that penis cages/male chastity belts exist or would know what to do with one, let alone how to use one safely or talk about them with their partners.
That said, even if only 1% of men are into penis cages, that’s still a lot of men in the US alone who are into locking their penis in a cage and, as is often the case, giving the key to the lock to their sexual partner. (The partner than often gets to decide when to let his penis out, perhaps based on what he’s done or how “good” he’s been or whatever else the couple decides to do with their sex play).
Given the power dynamics in this kind of play, many people would lump penis cage play into BDSM play (BDSM stands for bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sadomasochism). However, there’s no strict list of what is and isn’t considered BDSM so if your boyfriend doesn’t consider it BDSM, then it’s not BDSM to him. It doesn’t matter whether he or your therapist is “right” or “wrong” about whether cage play is BDSM. What matters is how you talk about it and what you learn about one another.
Your boyfriend was brave and sex-positive to share his desire for cage play with you. You’re demonstrating open-mindedness by learning more about it and you’re showing care for yourself by exploring your own boundaries.
You two might benefit from conversations that include questions like: “How would you see us using the penis cage together?” and “In what ways do you feel that cage play is different from BDSM, for you?” You might want to ask him how long he’d want to be locked in the cage and what your plan is for safer sex play (is there a duplicate key? If the lock doesn’t unlock, is he comfortable going to the emergency room for help? If you get halfway into it and then decide it’s not for you, can he feel okay about stopping?). You might also want to express your reservations and consider whether there are ways that you could be comfortable with cage play.
There is nothing wrong or unhealthy about this kind of sex play as long as you are both comfortable with the idea and not doing it in a way that causes pain, bruising or damage to his penis. If you end up being open to give it a try for him, great. If not, I hope you two can find other pleasurable ways to explore together.
Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, a research scientist at Indiana University and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, The I Love You More Book, and Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva. Find our blog, sex information and archived Q&A at www.KinseyConfidential.org.