Handcuffs are steel bondage devices to secure two wrists close together. Handcuffs are an icon of BDSM imagery and practice; as well as being a popular bondage device, they are also often used as a fashion item to accessorise fetish outfits. There are risks associated with using police handcuffs for bondage as they were not designed for this purpose and can result in nerve or other tissue damage; bondage cuffs were designed specifically for this application. Note: handcuffs should not be used to cuff ankles; even at the maximum setting it is likely that the cuffs will be too small, giving a serious risk of tendon damage.
Even taking into account the safety concerns about using handcuffs, they remain a staple item in many people's toy boxes due to their versatility and ease of use. A popular setup is to have two sets of handcuffs and two sets of leg irons. As well as simple physical restraint, they can be used for spread-eagle bondage on a bed, or a hogcuff by linking the cuffed wrists to the cuffed ankles using the second set of handcuffs. They can also be used for self bondage.
Most handcuffs are still made of metal. They usually they have a ratchet-action to make them quicker to apply (and to make the size adjustable), and can be opened with the same standard universal handcuff key. This was designed to allow for the easier transport of prisoners and keeps you out of trouble if you lose your keys. However, there are handcuff makers who use keys based on different standards. Maximum security handcuffs require special keys. Handcuffs with double locks have a lockspring which when engaged, usually using the top of the key, stops the cuff from ratcheting tighter to prevent the subject from tightening them, possibly causing injury. Double locks also make picking the locks more difficult. Cheap handcuffs (not designed for police issue) should be avoided. Apart from looking and feeling cheap, the locking mechanisms are inferior and can easily overtighten causing injury.
There are several distinct subtypes of metal handcuffs:
- Darbies, with screw locks - a design dating back to the 18th century
- Modern swing-through ratchet cuffs
- with a chain connecting the cuffs
- with one or two hinges
- with a rigid section between the two cuffs
Note: as with all bondage activities, care must be taken. All the dangers associated with physical restraint apply to the use of handcuffs or other restraints. No-one should ever be left alone when restrained. Handcuffs are not suitable for suspension bondage. You are responsible for your own and your partner's health. See also safe, sane, and consensual.
Cheap handcuffs can be bought with the cuffs covered in fur. This may make them more comfortable and enhance their visual appeal. However, they are not intended for serious bondage.
- Easy to apply.
- If correctly adjusted, handcuffs are almost impossible to escape from.
- Handcuffs can be easily adjusted to the individual captive's wrist size and desired tightness (much more so than leather bondage cuffs).
- Handcuffs can be double locked to prevent them overtightening on the captive's wrist (unintended over-tightening of bondage is a common problem with many types of bondage).
- Handcuffs have a particular aura about them, the look and feel of them, the sound as they are locked in place which for many has huge erotic significance.
- For people that have difficulty bringing their wrists together behind their back, handcuffs provide an alternative solution to the problem of securing the hands behind the back.
- Handcuffs are expensive compared to rope or other bondage devices.
- While cheap novelty handcuffs can be bought almost anywhere, proper police handcuffs (the only type that should be used) are much more difficult to buy except on-line. This makes try before buying almost impossible.
- Handcuffs have the potential to cause nerve damage if the victim lies on them or (even more dangerous) hangs from them.
- If you lose the key while playing with them, a very embarrassing call to the fire brigade or police is the only way you are likely to get them off.
British police forces currently use rigid Hiatt Speedcuffs as standard issue.
Since the hinge-type handcuffs are somewhat smaller than chain-linked cuffs when fully extended, they are seen as being more easily utilised by an officer who has relatively small hands, and are also regarded by some observers as more secure because the wrists end up being held closer together than with the chain subtype, and are also bound more rigidly.
In former times, police officers typically handcuffed arrested persons with their hands in front of them, but since approximately the mid-1960s behind-the-back handcuffing has been the standard. In addition, suspects are handcuffed with the keyholes facing up (away from the hands) to make it difficult to open them even with a key or improvised lockpicking.
On occasions when a suspect exhibits extremely aggressive behaviour, leg irons may be used as well; sometimes the chain connecting the leg irons to one another is looped around the chain of the handcuffs, and then the leg irons are applied, resulting in the person being Hogcuffed. In a few rare cases, hogtied persons lying on their stomachs have died from postural asphyxia, making the practice highly controversial, and leading to its being severely restricted, or even completely banned, in many localities.
Plastic handcuffs, often known as FlexiCuffs and in the form of lightweight disposable plastic strips, are common in some countries.