So I’d like to take a minute to talk about branding. No, not the kind that ensures y’all know my name, rather the kind that is burned into my skin. Since it’s about to time to do it again, I thought it might be nice to detail how it’s done. And fair warning: this post contains discussions of pain and pictures of my breasts.
Branding is an old word for an even older practice. It refers to the act of marking by heat (usually fire). Though today, the type of branding I’m going to talk about is delivered by electricity (which has been called “the brand of Zeus” before, so I suppose the word works). Specifically, it was done with a violet wand.
Violet wands (then called violet rays) are early 20th century medical devices whose medical applications came under the scrutiny by the FDA and which were eventually ruled to be quack medicine. The basic purpose of a violet wand is to apply high voltage, low current electricity to human skin. This ideally results in a situation where there is a great deal of sensation but little to no harm to the recipient. And while their manufacture and sale as medical devices remains barred to this day, they have since found a home in the kink community.
Now, violet wands have many applications beyond branding: they can be used to cause anything from a pleasurable buzz to a tickling to a painful sensation, they can be used for silly party tricks like making a light bulb light up in your hand, or they can turn your whole body into an electrode and allow you to spark up your partner with each kiss and touch. There are numerous vendors and educators throughout the kink community, though my personal favorite is a charming fellow by the name of Dr. Clockwork. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting at a couple conventions, and he has always been a font of entertaining and educating conversation. Do check out his website.
Below I detail Partner and my personal method. It’s just the way we do it, I’m not asserting that it’s the objective best. We use: a violet wand, a contact pad, and a sterilized straight metal pick (rather like a dental pick). I’m aware that there are specialty branding electrodes out there, but when we play we prefer to stick with a contact pad. A contact pad is a nifty device that allows you to make your skin as well as any conductive object you hold an extension of the wand. You become the electrode. Either the top or bottom can hold it during a scene (electricity goes both ways), but we usually let the bottom hold it as this provides a very easy way to safe sign: just drop the thing.
(General Note: As I usually bottom for these things, the next few paragraphs are written from the perspective of the bottom.)
(Safety Note: Violet wands are extremely safe devices but a few rules should be followed. Don’t use near the eyes, avoid getting anything wet, avoid highly combustible substances like alcohol, and don’t use near any medical implants. Metal picks are sharp and potentially a hazard and I’ve accidentally poked myself with mine a couple times by being clumsy. Try not to be clumsy.)
The first step is to wash, shave, and gently dry the area on which you’ll be working. Then, you’ll generally want some kind of guide to follow for the brand. If you have the talent and resources I have known some people who use proper tattoo stencils or their home-made equivalents. We’ve mostly stuck to kohl eyeliner. It makes clean lines, it’s non-irritating, and it easily washes off after. So once you’ve got your skin prepped and your design drawn, it’s time to prep yourself mentally. You need to get used to the sensation of the electricity and get out any jumps and giggles that would be a very bad idea later in the process. This is a great time to have fun and make sure you and your partner are in good headspace before continuing. Also might want to make sure you have the right music on, are well hydrated, and don’t have to pee. This next bit is where it simultaneously sucks and gets super fun.
Your partner will take the metal pick and very carefully bring it near your skin without actually touching. This will allow the electricity to concentrate at the point of the pick and then jump the gap between the tip and your skin, providing an intense, high temperature spark. While your partner is doing this, they’ll need to adjust the intensity of the violet wand to find a point that works best for you. This is subjective, we’ve found that you generally want to find a point near the highest intensity you can handle and then pull back a bit as you’ll have to endure that intensity for a bit of time. Once you’ve found the intensity that works, your partner can begin to trace the design of the brand.
It’s going to hurt. You are literally burning a design into your skin, and that comes with a little pain (and a slight scent of cooking human). The first pass is the worst. Partner and I go back and forth on why this is: one hypothesis is that pain receptors in the surface of the skin are either destroyed or exhausted in that first pass, another is that it may take the duration of the first pass for endorphin production to spike, or both. Either way, the subsequent passes are usually far more pleasure mixed with pain. Music and breathing exercises are the best way I’ve found to work through the early pain. Under the right conditions, it’s very possible to pleasurably space out. Like intensity, the number of passes you’ll want is also subjective but the more passes you do, the longer the brand will stay. My last one was three passes at about three-quarter power on my wand and it lasted a little over a month.
Once you’re done, there are a few more key steps: Remember emotional aftercare for both yourself and your partner. You just did something really intense and cool together, the feels may be running high. As soon as you feel comfortable getting up, gently clean the brand with a mild, anti-bacterial soap. Some folks advise using an irritant to make the brand stand out more, but I’ve never personally tried it and I hear it can make the design ragged. You may want to keep the brand covered for the next few days as clothes may irritate it, though I find that goes away around day two or three. And that’s really it. You’re done…until it fades and you need a new one.
Pictures of my most recent one below. It’s a cute little “<3” heart because it’s a simple design to start with and because I’m a shameless geek (plus I was traveling a lot and it’s a sweet reminder that Partner loves me). There will likely be a musing on Twitter as I try to figure out what to do next.