Cupping is a procedure where the open end of a small cup is pressed against bare skin and then some of the air is removed from the cup to create a suction effect which holds the cup in place. Frequently, some of the skin is pulled into the cup by the suction. In most cases, this is done with multiple cups to increase the effect.
Cupping has its origins in ancient styles of medicine and is, in recent times, mostly associated with chinese medicine. As we'll see below, it also is associated with bloodletting.
The are a number of reasons why people do cupping:
- Many people simply like the bruises which can be left by cupping,
- The sensation pf skin being pulled into a cup can be very powerful,
- It can cause much stronger bleeding than is possible with just cutting or piercing,
- After cupping, the affected skin is often more sensitive and this can help with subsequent sensation play.
Wet and dry cupping
Wet cupping is where a small incision is made in the skin over which the cup is placed. The suction causes blood to be drawn out of the cut. We can see this in figure 1. The cups shown here have valves to which a device is attached to pump out the air.
Particular care must be taken with wet cupping to prevent infection.
Dry cupping is where the cup is simply pressed firmly against the skin. Water or an oil on the skin or on the rim of the cup may be used to ensure an airtight seal. The result of dry cupping is often bruising as seen in figure 2.
Figure 3 shows a set of 12 cups with a battery-operated suction pump. Each cup has a small, silver valve to which the pump attaches. Once enough air has been drawn out the pump is detached. Cup sets with hand-operated pumps are also available.
The advantages of using a suction pump are:
- It is quick and simple,
- The amount of suction can be easily controlled,
- The pump can be reattached to the cup to pump out more air if required, and
The cups used with suction pumps are often made of a type of plastic and are quite robust.
Fire cupping involves creating the suction using a brief flame burning inside the cup. Typically, the procedure involves using a swab which has been dipped in a volatile liquid (such as an alcohol mix) and then lit. The swab is then wiped inside the cup, leaving behind a thin, burning smear of the burning mixture. The cup is then quickly pressed against the skin. The fire consumes the oxygen in the cup creating suction. See figure 4.
The advantages of doing fire cupping are:
- It involves heat, which can make this a type of temperature play, and
- It can have a significant psychological effect.
Cups used with fire cupping need to be quite heat resistant and are often made of glass. The cups are also often larger than those used with suction pumps to achieve greater suction.
Of course, using actual flame creates a risk of skin burns and also of setting fire to something accidentally.