Erotic ElectroStimulation: Voltage
Voltage — electromotive force — is the potential for electron flow. The higher the voltage, the higher the potential force. But what does this really mean and how does it apply to e-stim?
Since electrons are microscopically small, we can’t see them but we can use an analogous substance — water — to illustrate many of electricity’s hidden characteristics. This isn’t a 1-for-1 correspondence, and we are talking about what can see and felt with the naked eye and body, not measured with an electron microscope or other high-tech tools.
Water as a metaphor for electrons
Imagine a water tank filled with water located at the top of a hill. Now imagine a pipe connected to the bottom of the tank of water, leading to the bottom of the hill. At the bottom of the pipe is a valve, which is now shut. The water pipe leading downhill is filled with water. There is a tank full of water connected to it at the top of the hill. What will happen when the valve is opened at the bottom of the hill? Water will flow. It flows under the influence of gravity — the water high on the hill has a greater potential energy than the open valve located many feet below. Water flows downhill, right? Of course.
A potential for movement
We can relate the potential for water to flow downhill, through the pipe, to voltage. In both, there is a potential for movement, a potential force that exists. For water, it lies in the water that is stored in the tank high on the hill. The storage of water and the height difference contribute to the potential for flow. The same characteristics apply to electrons too.
When more electrons are gathered in one location compared to another, and a wire or other conductive material is placed between them, electrons will flow from the place of higher concentration to the place of lower concentration until a balance is achieved. This difference — the potential difference — between these two quantities is what we call voltage. You can think of it like pressure. But be careful, pressure is sometimes confused with flow when in fact it’s a measure of the force itself — like voltage — not the amount of flow that is actually occurring.
Like the water filled tank high on the hill. If it was there by itself, with no pipe connected to it, it would still have the potential to move to a lower energy state, someplace down the hill. There would be pressure felt along the sides of the tank, caused by the weight of the water. And yet, with no opening, the tank of water isn’t doing much. It’s just sitting there. That hidden potential for movement is pressure. And it’s a lot like voltage.
How voltage applies to e-stim
Frankly, we don’t really talk about voltage that much when stimming. It’s not an important quantity to measure, but it does define the kinds of play we engage in. Different devices output different voltages, and some produce very high voltages that create sparks that jump across an air gap. The violet wand is one example of a device that is still in production and used by many BDSM practitioners for the tiny shocks it can produce on the skin and other areas. There are perhaps 3 voltage ranges out there in the e-stim marketplace.
Extra-low voltage devices
Extra-Low Voltage is defined as any voltage less than 50 Volts AC — or VAC — and most made-for-play erotic e-stim power units fall into this category. The ET312 can in some cases exceed this by a few volts under normal load but it’s safe to keep it in this category. Power units in this category limit the injury they can cause by their lower voltage limitation. And yet, even with the voltage limitation, they can produce a wide range of sensations, from a light tingling to painfully unbearable. This is due in part to the shape of the waveforms used to stimulate the nerve endings they are attached to. Suffice it to say — you don’t need a lot of voltage to get your stim on.
Low voltage devices
Low Voltage lies in the range of 50 – 1000 VAC and includes power sources that were not designed for erotic e-stim, including hand-crank magneto generators. These units were intended for field communications (read: military) to generate a rough and ragged AC signal that can easily ring a telephone bell located several miles away. Some say that they are an “acquired taste”— that would be putting it lightly. Such units are potentially injurious to the body unless modified with resistors to limit the output current and voltage. And they’re really painful. The frequency of the output pulses is low and painful, and causes more muscle stimulation that pleasant nerve stimulation in my experience. Not advised.
High voltage devices
High Voltage is classified as more than 1000 VAC and includes the violet wand. These units produce 35,000 – 65,000 V which is enough to cause sparks to jump from the gas-filled glass tubes to nearby skin. These devices seem to break the rule of a complete circuit — see Electro 101 — Why 2 Wires? — but there is still a circuit being completed, although it’s harder to see.
High voltages are able to leap across the air and equalize themselves into objects having lower potential energy without wires. The buzzing, arcing and crackling sounds made by these devices can be a lot of fun. When done correctly, they can feel very tingly and erotic with a low potential for injury.
The high voltages used are accompanied by very low currents, so that when combined, there is very little power being transferred from the wand to the body.
Which brings us to the concept of current.
To be continued…