Everything You Need To Know About Nipple Clamps

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Your breasts are erogenous zones that deserve plenty of TLC during sex. And while being felt up can feel delightful, many people out there enjoy more painful stimulation, particularly on their nipples. Thankfully, there's a handy sex toy that can accomplish just that: nipple clamps.
The name may sound scary, but nipple clamps are just small, simple devices used to pinch nipples, says Galen Fous, a kink-positive sex therapist and fetish sex educator. They work by applying pressure and restricting blood flow, which can provide a painful (and pleasurable) experience.
People who enjoy using nipple clamps describe the sensation as an intense pinching feeling. They're often associated with BDSM, since a dominant partner may put them on a submissive partner as as form of power play. But many people outside the kink world enjoy various forms of nipple play, whether it's licking, pinching, or even biting the sensitive area (and that includes men and non-binary people, too). In fact, a small 2011 study found that women's nipple sensations are processed in the same area of the brain that processes sensations in the vagina and clitoris. So, if you haven't considered applying a little pressure to your nipples during sex or masturbation, you may want to test the waters. (Who knows? Maybe you'll achieve the elusive "nipplegasm.")
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If nipple clamps sound particularly exciting to you, try experimenting with what you have at home before purchasing a set, says Amanda Luterman, MA, OPQ, a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality. "You know that expression, 'If you’re a hammer, everything is a nail?' Well, if you’re sexual, everything is a sex toy," Luterman says. She suggests having your partner place a clothespin on your nipples or just use their fingers as a clamping tool before dropping cash at a sex shop. However, as Fous says, if you've tried and enjoyed nipple pinching at home, you're likely ready to level up and invest in a pair of proper nipple clamps.
For those of you who are brand new to the BDSM toy, Fous says adjustable clamps are the way to go. These are made with a little screw so you (or your partner) can increase and decrease the level of intensity after placing the clamp on the nipple. Sometimes, these are also referred to as "clothespin clamps," since they resemble the household item. (This variety was accurately portrayed in Fifty Shades Darker when Christian Grey tried out a pair on Anastasia Steele's finger.) Like many nipple clamps, they're usually connected by a metal chain. Just know that the heavier the chain, the more weight your nipples carry, and heavier weight makes for a more extreme experience. So start small with a light chain (like this pair), and work your way up to a heavier chain (like this one) for more advanced play.
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Another type to consider is a clover nipple clamp. These have a fixed entrance — meaning: they're not adjustable — so you should only use these if you're experienced with nipple clamps, Fous says. If you're interested in the most cutting edge sex toys, the latest kinds of nipple clamps Fous has seen on the market are made with magnets. Since magnet nipple clamps often aren't connected with a chain, they can also be worn as a removable alternative to nipple piercings. And they can be used by beginners and pros alike.
Keep in mind that nipple clamps are not just for partnered play, and purchasing a pair to add to your masturbation routine is a pretty badass move. Plus, it's a zero-pressure way to figure out your pain threshold. "It's a good idea to practice with nipple clamps on your own and experiment to learn how much sensation and pressure you enjoy before trying them out with a partner," Fous says.
In terms of safety precautions, remember to start slow, with an adjustable pair on the loosest setting, and work your way up. Always listen to your body and remove the clamps the second they hurt beyond your pain tolerance. And if your nipple starts to turn blue, you should remove them immediately, says Michael Aaron, PhD, a kink-friendly NYC-based sex therapist. Since nipple clamps restrict blood flow, if you keep them on for too long, you could cause nerve damage. Unfortunately, there's no medical research on how long nipple clamps should be left on for, but Dr. Aaron says it's best to keep them on for no longer than 15 minutes, just to be safe.
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Also, if you're using nipple clamps with a partner, it's a good idea to pick a safe word so that you have an easy way to communicate that you're not enjoying yourself and want to stop. But like we said, if you start with more mild stimulation and increase the intensity slowly, you'll likely find your sweet spot.
Intrigued yet? If you haven't shown your nipples some love recently, maybe it's time to test out some pleasurable pain.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.
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