Tickling is a phenomenon. Outwardly a playful, laughter-inducing activity, it can be lighthearted and pleasant. But it has a darker side: tickling indicates dominance, can reduce someone to tears, and it has even been used as a method to kill people at various times in history, including the Holocaust.

So, what is tickling? First, it is necessary to note that not all tickling is the same. There are two types of tickle sensations that are perceptible to human touch. The first is called knismesis, a light "tickling" that resembles an itch (as a bug crawling across the skin) which is thought to be an evolutionary trait that signals to our brain that a (potentially dangerous) bug or creepy crawly is on our bodies and needs to be immediately removed for safety. The second, gargalesis, which generally produces a laughter effect, is the result of heavier pressure tickles in sensitive areas. Primates and rats are thought to be the only creatures who experience this latter form of tickling. Both types of tickling create different reactions in the brain, but both are quite interesting (and often misunderstood).



The fetish of tickling is called knismolagnia, and is very underrepresented in academic research/literature.

Neurological information has shown that tickling itself does have a reflexive quality. The same way you might cry when you're intensely sad - but also when you are happy and chop onions - a subject may laugh when they are tickled, but that does not preclude discomfort or even terror. In fact, some studies suggest that tickle laughter is similar to nervous laughter or other forms of anxiety that are expressed in unconventional ways. It was thought that the sole reason for tickling was primary bonding between mother and baby, but that has since been disproven due to the ability of humans to be tickled by robots and other machines. Some research suggests that tickle bonding between a mother and child is a mimicry of play attacks - which, if done too harshly can be perceived similarly to real attacks. Whenever tickling is overdone or non-consensual, it can cross over into insidious territory. 



On dominance and submission: tickling is likely motivated by showing submission to an aggressor. The areas of the human body that are typically the most ticklish are not those which are the most sensitive - they're the same ones that are the most vulnerable to injury. Tickling is not, after all, just a laughing matter



Where has tickle torture been used? It began as a simple, undetectable punishment during the Han Dynasty of China, between 205 CE and 585 CE - members of nobility who did not require public shaming or evidence of punishment to be effective would receive this from the courts. In ancient Rome, victims' feet were dipped in a salt water solution and animals were brought in to lick the soles of their feet, which at first might have been a pleasant sensation, due to the sandpaper texture of the animals' tongues, would become unbearable after a short time. Heinz Heger wrote his account of observing Nazi prison guards torturing gay men through tickling them. Tickle torture is cited as a major abuse in the lives of children, when aggressors take the tickling too far (further indicating submission). 

Now that we know the potential of tickling to be torturous, it is left to a Dominant to consider how to execute this form of beautiful agony on Our willing guinea pigs. For a fledgling Dominant, it is easy to use tickle torture because many of the underlying cues that trigger an empathy response in a particularly compassionate Dominant do not exist when the submissive is being tickled (laughter; not furrowed brow, squeezed eyes, screaming). That said, it can also be a double edged sword, as it is quite possible (and easy) to tickle a person until they lose bladder control or even consciousness. Tickling must be carried out carefully, because despite how fun and exciting it may seem, it can be deadly.

Some submissives may think, "AH, but the 
ecstasy of going beyond subspace, into a part of yourself you had long since forgotten - an unbridled, forced laughter at the hands of a 'big kid' and then being able to stop the action instantly with a single word, unlike ever before." While that is a valid thought to have about the fetish, a safe word may be very important if you're nearing a breaking point.  

And here are some more ideas for the kinkier practitioners of tickle torture!