- Angie Rowntree, sex educator and founder of Sssh.com
- Carol Queen, PhD, sexologist at Good Vibrations
- Kenneth Play, sex hacker, international sex expert, and sex educator
- Marla Renee Stewart, sexologist and sexual wellness expert for Lovers
- Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven
- Violet C, sex educator and pleasure coach
What is sexual wax play?
Wax play is a form of risk-aware consensual kink that involves dripping or pouring hot wax on your or a partner's body, typically from a lit candle, when you're getting intimate.
The sensation of feeling something warm on the skin—and the visual of watching the slow drip—can activate your arousal. “The wax is hot when it hits so there is a little frisson of pain or intensity plus the person receiving the wax can anticipate it, which heightens their focus and often the eroticism,” says Carol Queen, PhD, a sexologist at Good Vibrations. The elements of pain and anticipation are facets of BDSM that both beginners and more advanced kinksters might enjoy. In a BDSM scenario, the dominant partner might drip the wax on the submissive partner, using it as part of a punishment or teasing.
Wax play can also be classified as sensation play, which "involves the enhancement of senses through deprivation of others, controlled applications of pain, and anticipation—which can all be a really exciting part of engaging in wax play," says Violet C, a sex educator, pleasure coach and resident wax expert with the virtual sex-positivity community Hacienda. It can also be considered edge play, which has to do with acts that challenge the conventions of safety. “We are literally playing with fire, it has the potential to cause legitimate bodily harm to a person, so it is on the 'edge' of what is considered within the typical guides of safety," she adds.
Ultimately, there’s no universal reason why someone might enjoy playing with wax during sex. “Some people might enjoy wax play because it does effectively give you a little ‘sting’ of pain to go with pleasure, but for other people, the enjoyment might come down to the way the wax looks on the body,” says Angie Rowntree, founder and Sssh.com, an ethical porn company.
"Some people might enjoy wax play because it does effectively give you a little ‘sting’ of pain to go with pleasure."—Angie Rowntree, sexpert and founder of an ethical porn company
But you don’t have to be into BDSM to try out wax play. Dr. Queen notes that wax play can be done in a less “power play” context using massage candles that have a low melting point and don’t hurt when they make contact with the skin for sensual massages. “The intensity of drips of hot wax is what some people love about this play—intense sensation and fear, as I said, put it in the BDSM category,” she says. “But anticipation does not need to include elements of fear, and the sensation of beautifully warm, liquid wax—rather than hot wax—can be had by using soy-based or other oil-based massage candles.” These types of candles, she adds, come in containers that you can pour from, so you get all the excitement and sensuality of candle play without the kinkier elements. To use these, burn the candle until a layer of oil has melted, then extinguish the flame and pour the liquid onto the body. Once the oil is on the body, you or your partner can use it to facilitate massage.
Wax play can happen at any point during sex, too. Slowly dripping warm wax or rubbing massage oil from a candle on your partner or yourself during foreplay—for example, as a way of playing with boobs—can get the session off to a particularly steamy start. Looking for some masturbation ideas? Tease yourself with warm wax by dripping it on your body in sensual patterns during solo play.
In terms of where to put it? Candle wax is best avoided in the eyes and hair, where it can cause irritation. Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexpert for Lovers sexual wellness brand and retailer, recommends avoiding dripping wax directly on mucus membranes. “I would stay away from mucus membranes because those are vulnerable, but on the outside of the vulva, outer labia, and on the penis are perfectly fine,” she says. Try dripping it on different erogenous zones, like the nape of the neck, midsection, lower back, and the feet.
Is it safe to play with wax?
Wax play isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it does come with some risks because elevated temperatures and flames are involved. The specific safety issues associated with wax play have to do with the candles themselves, as well as general fire safety issues. What would make wax play dangerous is playing with a candle not designed exactly for this purpose, which could be way too hot and cause burns or skin irritation.
Never use a candle that isn’t intended for wax play in the bedroom. “Please do not try this with a random household candle or your latest Bath and Body Works purchase,” says Rowntree. Household candles aren’t designed to be dripped onto the skin so the wax will be much hotter than candles designed expressly for wax play. Additionally, they may contain scents or ingredients that will irritate the skin. “If you purchase a body-safe candle that is expressly intended for wax play then it is designed for contact with the skin, but if you attempt wax play with a random candle, it will probably just burn you and your partner,” she adds.
Within the context of body safe candles, Dr. Queen says it’s safe to drip candle wax on the skin. However, if you or your partner has super sensitive skin or has an allergy to something in the wax such as the color, scent, or oil the wax was derived from, there may be an adverse reaction when it makes contact. To avoid this, try doing a patch test on the skin before getting wax all over.
Because wax play involves a burning candle, both Rowntree and Dr. Queen both emphasize that exercising good fire safety and common sense are necessary during wax play. Never leave a burning candle unattended, and be careful with the open flame so you don’t burn yourself or start an uncontrolled fire. “Make sure you're able to place the candle someplace stable [and] that you have a way to rapidly snuff a flame,” says Dr. Queen. Avoid oil-based lubes during wax play because many of them are flammable, too. If you are using a massage candle or a candle that comes in a container, check to make sure the container isn’t too hot to hold so you don’t burn your hand or drop the container on yourself or your partner.
To make wax play more manageable and to eliminate the danger of a roaring flame, blow out the candle before you start dripping. And, even if you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, it’s best to be prepared for any (unsexy) surprises. “It’s important to have a cool cloth, and a first aid kid nearby in case of any accidents [as well as] a fire extinguisher and access to water," says C. "Once we have taken all the burn and fire preventative precautions, we can think about comfortability."
When you’re done, make sure to dispose of spent matches and candles properly. Dr. Queen says you can throw peeled-off wax in the trash. Never throw a match or candle wick in the trash unless it’s cooled completely, because they can ignite in the trash if they’re still hot. Be sure matches and wicks are completely cooled before discarding or putting them away; running some cold water over the previously hot bits can speed this up.
You also want to be sure everyone involved feels emotionally safe, so practicing tenderness with your partner(s) is important as well. "Be sure to give aftercare to your submissive or bottom," says Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of sexual wellness emporium Organic Loven. "Have some water to drink, along with hugs and cuddles,” she says.
Seeking out some training and tips for how to do wax play can be helpful before you begin. "I would highly recommend taking a course or a workshop on wax play to learn more," says sex educator Kenneth Play. Look for sex and kink educators who offer wax play tutorials and classes if you’re curious.
Safe candles to use for wax play
Read ingredients and focus on candles that are specifically made for the body, like those made of shea butter, soy, or paraffin. "Soy candles do not generate as much heat as a paraffin candle, so there is less risk of burning the skin," says Sparks. "They come from soybeans and are less likely to irritate the skin."
These types of candles won’t get as hot as other wax types formulated for other uses, and the wax can be peeled away easily without irritating the skin. Dr. Queen particularly recommends paraffin candles. For massage candles, look for blends of oils and candles labeled specifically for massage use.
In other words: Don’t try to cut corners by repurposing your old birthday candles. They may technically be paraffin candles, but birthday candles aren’t recommended for wax play because they’re not formulated for skin contact and their size makes them hard to grip. “They will be hard to hold on to because they're so small,” she says “As with trying to hold a burning-low match, soon the flame will reach your fingers and that raises the risk of dropping it and burning the ‘wax submissive’ or starting a fire.” To minimize the risk of burning yourself, look for candles with more space for you to grip—either a wide jar or a long taper can work.
As for which body-safe wax types to avoid? Scented candles, unless they’re specifically formulated massage oil candles, will likely get too hot and the fragrance can be irritating to sensitive skin. Beeswax candles get much hotter than soy or paraffin candles and come with a higher risk of burning and irritation, so Stewart says to leave those to advanced kinksters or to avoid them all together.
The difference between wax play candles and massage candles
There are a few key differences between massage candles and wax play candles. Texturally speaking, the two types of candles melt differently; wax play candles giving a more hardened texture and massage candles melt into spreadable fluid.
Massage candles, which are a great option as a first foray into wax play, have softer textures and contain oils that are designed to be rubbed and absorbed into the skin. They’ll typically contain moisturizing and nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil or shea butter. Wax play candles, whose wax is meant to harden and be removed, are less likely to be formulated with good-for-you oils.
As for which type is better? That’s entirely up to you and the goals of your wax play session. "The use of this [massage candles] can allow the scene to easily flow into a more sensual, massage scene, while still exploring the excitement and sensations of wax," says C. Meanwhile, specific wax play candles will provide grainier, harder feel, for those so-good-it-hurts forms of pleasure.
Below, check out a few select options to buy, no matter what you're looking for.
Products To Use During Wax Play Sessions
1. An Intro-Level Massage Candle
“Beginning with massage candles is a great way to ease into this type of play,” says C. Think of them as beginner kink accessories. “Beginning with oil candles, whether you are trying to have a sensual or more sadomasochistic experience, is a great way to warm up the body for whatever the evening has in store.”
For something a little less underworld, try Maude’s Burn No 0 Candle, a simple combo of jojoba and soybean oils.
This candle from Dame is made of soybean wax and contains soothing, nourishing ingredients such as shea butter and jojoba, almond, coconut, and avocado oils. It comes in three sophisticated scent combinations.
To use it, light the candle and wait for a layer of wax to melt before dousing the flame and sensually dripping and massaging the oil. The container’s pitcher shape and spout make pouring with precision a breeze.
This edible massage candle is Rowntree’s pick for a sweet and sexy bedroom session. This candle melts into a moisturizing edible body oil, which can be used to massage with the fingers or tongue. It’s made from a blend of hemp oil and soy, which has a long burn time.
2. A Lotion or Massage Oil
Both Sparks and C say it’s a good idea to prepare and protect the skin with a light layer of lotion or oil before you get started, even if you do have a massage oil on hand. “We want the body to be receptive to new sensations, so any type of massaging, or warming up with oils or hands, is a great way to start out,” says C.
Pick up something like Province Apothecary’s two-pack of oils, including its moisturizing coconut and vitamin E Sex Oil and its cedar wood and rose Lover’s Oil.
3. Wax Play Candles
Options abound when it comes to candles specifically designed for wax play. Play vouches for these easy-pour pitcher candles by Agreeable Agony, which incorporate a visual element.
“One of the more underrated parts of wax play is the visual stimulation that comes with it,” says Play. “Something as small as the anticipation of each drop of wax can stimulate us in a primal and almost ritualistic way that creates a really mesmerizing experience.”
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Rowntree recommends this pack of four body-safe massage candles from sex and kink accessory shop Icon Brands’ The Nines line. These six inch tapers are long enough to safely drip and thick enough to safely grip; they are made of 100 percent paraffin wax.
5 tips to turn up the heat during wax play
1. Have a conversation about what’ll happen
A conversion about what exactly will happen during sex is a key component of trying anything new in bed, especially kinks. Have an open conversation with your partner about what you are and aren’t comfortable with when it comes to wax play. Talk about all aspects of the scene and how it’ll play out, and come up with safe words. Stewart emphasizes that this conversation should happen in a casual, comfortable environment away from the bedroom—not just before you try it out.
2. Focus on smooth skin
As mentioned earlier, applying hot wax on areas with hair may get you into a hairy situation (sorry, had to)—it’ll be difficult to remove once the wax hardens. For this reason, Dr. Queen recommends sticking to areas that have smooth, hairless skin. If the person has body hair, though, you can still have fun with wax play. She suggests opting for low-melt waxes or applying oil to the skin first.
3. Note the height of the drip
Let’s get into the details of how, exactly, to drip the wax on the body. The important thing to note is the height from which you are dripping it on the body. When thinking about the temperature, you’ll want to start with your hand up high because the wax will cool as it falls. “If wax is dripped from a higher height, it has time to cool down a bit before it hits the skin,” Dr. Queen says. However, dripping it from a higher height also increases the chances that the wax may splash somewhere you didn’t intend it to such as the person’s face or bedding, so don’t start so high up that the wax misses its target and makes a mess or causes an injury.
"If wax is dripped from a higher height, it has time to cool down a bit before it hits the skin."—Carol Queen, PhD, sexologist
You might find that the wax is cooling too much from the height you’re dripping from, in which case, you can incrementally lower the candle until you reach your desired temperature.
4. Incorporate blindfolds and bondage
To take things up a notch, Dr. Queen suggests incorporating a blindfold or bondage. Covering the eyes with a blindfold or binding the hands or feet with ropes or cuffs add sensory deprivation into the mix, which can heighten the sensations. “A blindfold is a great companion [because] it heightens the emotional responses of anticipation,” she says. “It may make the wax hitting the skin feel even more intense because of the element of surprise and also it heightens power play elements.”
Dr. Queen adds that bondage during wax play provides a similar effect in that the submissive can see the wax coming but can’t move away. “The bondage itself evokes that power differential that many people love,” she adds.
5. Practice proper aftercare
Aftercare at the end of you wax play session is important. The first step, says Dr. Queen, is to peel off all the wax and make sure the skin beneath is fine. Calm irritated skin with a soothing aloe vera cream, and take a shower or bath to remove any wax residue. Aftercare also includes making sure your partner feels comfortable after wax play. “People’s needs can vary after a scene,” says Dr. Queen, so provide “whatever the wax submissive needs—water, food, cuddles, and a bath.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Wax Play
Does hot wax hurt?
Generally, the wax has cooled considerably once it reaches the body, so Dr. Queen says the experience shouldn’t cause pain, but there are some exceptions. “If someone has sensitive skin or has a low pain tolerance they could find it painful,” says Dr. Queen. “The lower the height it drops from, the hotter it will be, and once it hits the skin, it will cool and stick,” she adds.
For some people in a BDSM dynamic, a lack of comfort is part of the appeal. “Many people wouldn't say that it hurts, because the excitement that can come with erotic and BDSM play mediates pain, [so] this why I and many others use the term ‘intense sensation’ instead of ‘pain,’” she says.
How exactly wax feels really depends on the wax you use. According to Dr. Queen, oil-based massage waxes will feel much like what they are—a stream of warm oil—while paraffin and soy waxes will have a thicker, viscous texture that’ll feel harder as it dries. “If a lot [of wax] is poured, it [feels] sort of like a shell,” she says.
Before trying out wax play, make sure to have a cold compress, ice pack or cooling gel nearby in case you or your partner need some relief, Rowntree advises. Take breaks if you need to and as always, be sure to check in with yourself and your partner as you’re playing to make sure everyone is comfortable and having fun.
How do you remove wax from wax play?
For easier cleanup, Stewart recommends laying down a blanket or towel that you don’t mind getting a little messy, because you likely don’t want to spend time washing wax off your bed sheets or couch.
Since wax can get pretty stubborn once it's hardened—which is important to note for folks with body hair—be ready with tools to help you remove it, like a loofah or a butter knife. “If you want to experiment and be a little kinky, you could put a butter knife in the refrigerator or freezer and use that to scrape the skin,” says Stewart (the knife shouldn’t be sharp or large enough to pierce or cut the skin). Try to remove as much of the wax as possible before you shower to save your drain and take care to use soap or body wash to get rid of any residue.
As always—but especially if using wax play candles will be new to your relationship—make sure to communicate with a partner before you light the wick and commit to continued consent throughout the experience. Otherwise, check out safety precautions to note below and then find several recommended options for wax play candles to shop.
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