Warning: This story describes sexual behaviour.
In a dimly lit room down a quiet Auckland suburban street, a woman named Michelle straightens a black sheet over the window. Then she locks it.
The woman's partner Brad inspects the room and prepares a range of blood-letting implements that the couple will soon use on each other.
Brad will use precision knives and other sharp objects to slice his partner's skin and draw blood. He believes blood is "the life force of someone" and to be "fluid-bound" with his partner is the ultimate form of intimacy.
"Blood play excites me because you are playing with the very essence of someone's life. That little red stuff that dribbles out of someone is what keeps them alive, and they are trusting you to play with that life force.
"To me that is the ultimate form of trust - to trust someone with the very thing that keeps you alive. It makes me feel both humbled and privileged that someone has placed that trust in me."
Michelle believes blood play brings her and Brad closer together.
"It feels very sensual to me and doesn't create pain for me but more of a warm feeling. It's also a bit of a mindset, knowing that there is a chance at any point of someone slipping or cutting an area that does hurt more.
"You have to trust your partner implicitly and it creates a close bond."
So what exactly is blood play?
Blood play is a lesser-known form of BDSM that involves people getting thrills from a kinky activity where they're exposed to potential risks.
Meeting at a public kink event in Auckland almost two years ago, the Michelle and Brad were introduced to blood play, as well as their partners.
Eventually, Michelle's husband agreed for her to have an open blood play relationship with Brad. Michelle says their platonic affair began like a playground crush, engaging in blood play without any sexual intent.
But over nine months, during which the pair cut each other with blades and needles, both of their other relationships ended, which allowed them to develop together sexually.
Tools of the trade
Brad has a few favourites among the myriad objects he uses to draw blood.
"I like blades that are of a surgical sharpness, or close to. I sharpen all my own blades with the exception of one other person, who sharpens my blades when I have them available when I see him.
"Fingernails also work if no tools are handy in a more primal sense, which is just as exciting as the slow draw of a cold blade."
Where does it happen?
The pair admit they play where they can, but mainly in the bedroom as there aren't clubs or venues that currently facilitate blood or edge play in Auckland.
They agree that while blood play isn't the most common way to satisfy a partner, it's not completely off the grid.
"I think you'd be surprised at how common it is in New Zealand. It's not as common as some other forms of play, but there is definitely a huge following in Christchurch," Brad explained.
"I'd estimate one in 10 [In the kink scene] are interested in the lighter scale and one in 50 participate [in depth] based on what I have seen in Auckland."
Keeping it clean
But as blood play comes with risks, the couple ensure safety and health comes first and have regular HIV check-ups.
"You have to be sanitary, so you wouldn't cut someone open who hasn't showered for a week," Brad says.
"After you've done a scene with blood play you'll either put a plaster on or sterilizing strips. But before blood play, you'll also wipe the area down with alcohol."
Hiding the end result?
Engaging in blood play usually every week, the idea of scars and fresh cuts showing may put some off, but not Michelle.
"I feel no need to hide marks as I'm not doing anything I'm ashamed of, or anything that I feel is wrong."
Despite not being worried about what others may think, Brad typically only cuts his partner in places that aren't often seen.
"Most of the areas I play on are covered by everyday clothing. However, in summer if I'm wearing a tank top or shorts, I don't feel any need to cover or hide marks," Michelle says.
Brad also embraces his slices and scars, and admits it's easier with an accepting family and workplace that are all aware of his risky kink.
"I have an open policy with my lifestyle so my employer knows about it to some extent, and understands that I may show up to work with injuries or markings that may look odd.
My family and all my friends know I am kinky so I do not have to hide it from them either."