I’ve written on the topic of safe words before, but I recently was contributing on a thread on fetlife, where very few (local to me) people agreed with my views so I thought I’d share them here too and reiterate my thoughts with you guys. This is also a bit more from a switch point of view than from a submissive’s in a sense.
I want to first of all make it clear, a disclaimer if you like, I don’t have a problem with YOU and your partner having a safeword in play, just I don’t and what follows are my reasons why.
In case you are new to BDSM, a safe word is a word that if the submissive says it that it means the dominant should either stop quickly and get them out of the scene, or, slow things down or change things and usually people choose a word the sub wouldn’t say in that context, or they use traffic light signals i.e red for stop amber for slow things down or change.
I don’t think having a special word to say during a scene necessarily makes it safe. If the person you are playing with is reckless, or self indulgent, or , hell bent on doing what they want to do regardless of your feelings, they won’t listen to it anyway and they won’t stop. It’s a way of communicating to someone that will listen, but is it the best way? Or have merit? If they can be trusted to stop if you say a particular word, why can’t they just listen and observe other forms of communication?
With Grimly, I’ve always preferred either being able to just tell him something is wrong (if I can) like if I have unbearable cramp or if I can’t cope with something for whatever reason. If I can’t (such as if I’m gagged), then I trust him to be able to tell from my body language if there’s a problem. I can give an example of that. The first time I tried ‘the creature’ I was overwhelmed by it. I wouldn’t have safeworded (if I had one) or said there was a problem because I didn’t want to admit there was. However, Grimly knows me in some ways better than I know myself and knew from my eyes that it was time to stop, since I was close to tears and not even I really understood why. It was just though the sort of overwhelmed feeling and too much at once .I think I thought because i’m used to all the various components of it that I should be able to cope with them all at once, and I just couldn’t. At least not the first time. I’m glad I tried it again though since the second time was amazing.
I think sometimes a Dom can , and should, know when their sub is having a problem before the sub does. Or, at least before the sub might admit to it. I know when I play with Grimly I don’t want to let him down by saying stop and its sort of personal failure as well if I say stop especially if its a scene I’ve had some input in suggesting! My opinion is that a Dom should be able to read when their sub has had enough and be able to bring the scene to a natural and enjoyable end at the right time, not just stop it abruptly. I sometimes see people at clubs and they do the same session with people regardless of who they are just because its what they know, but its not like that you need to adapt for the person, and even then what one person can cope with today , they might not be able to tomorrow. So I think there’s a need to be alert to that. I’ll be honest as Dom, on at least one occasion, I’ve had something go wrong in a scene by misadventure and noticed it before my sub has and I’ve acted on that. I just think its been important to be vigilant. I think agreeing for a sub to have a safeword puts the responsibility too much back on them and I think there are doms out there that have the mentality of ‘I’ll keep going until she safe words’ and I just don’t agree with that. I much prefer the attitude of keep going till the screams get too loud 😉 You can work out if thats a joke or not !
Safe words just don’t work with my fantasies either. When I play with Grimly I want to feel that he’s in control of what happens, not me. Likewise, if I’m being dom to someone I want to be in control I don’t want them to have any say in when the scene finishes but at the same time to trust me that I’ll stop when/if I become aware of a problem. I’ve never yet had someone I’ve played with say to me ‘xxx was wrong and you didn’t notice’. When I’m sub (bottom/masochist however you want to define it) I don’t want the responsibility. I want to be controlled, I want him to choose what happens and when. I want him to be as inventive and imaginative as he can and I don’t want to stop that, unless I really can’t continue and I don’t need to say ‘pink bananas’ for that to happen. I just need to either say to him whats wrong, or look in his eye or something that he’ll pick up on and as far as I can remember there hasn’t been any time when he’s not noticed. I don’t think it works with me something being said thats totally out of context.
I don’t think its easy in general for subs with safe words to use them. There’s reasons for this. By doing it you might feel you’re failing yourself, failing your dom. You might be too overwhelmed by what’s going on like I was in the creature. I think part of the whole power exchange involves the idea of responsibility and care being exchanged as part of that. I don’t know my thoughts are along the lines of ‘you can do what you want as long as I’m OK at the end of it, and well, even if I’m not you’ll kind of deal with the aftermath and actually I trust you not to do something that would fuck me up’.
Some people have challenged ‘how do you have the sixth sense to read how a partner is, do you have some sort of machine to tell?’ . Well, the arrogant comment would be, you’ve seen my playroom right? 😉 I do at least have an ECG. But, I’m not really that arrogant.It’s not arrogant to say I’m experienced though. I have the pictures and words here as proof of that! 😉 This is kind of what annoyed me on the thread, its like people are saying things like ‘not using safe words is like not using condoms’ and ‘i wouldn’t play with someone who didn’t use safe words as i think that implies they’re dangerous’ and things like this…without these people having necessarily had a varied experience and I just don’t think you know for sure your true opinion on these things till you’ve at least tried to understand it and try it out from the other point of view.
I do think of myself as experienced and capable of reading someone’s reactions , so here are just a list of a few tips to watch out for or to try.
Communicate – i think its important to talk before, during and after a scene. Discuss ideas, discuss fantasies and share. I don’t think the talking has to be necessarily right before a scene like I might say to Grimly I really want to try something, and I might have told him that months ago, but I won’t know that he’s choosing to do it this week for instance. I think its good sometimes not to know what’s coming, because otherwise I might hide under the duvet 😉 I think checklists are quite useful as well in a new relationship, to get an idea of what someone likes and importantly what might freak them out and discussion of limits. When Grimly and I first started playing I didn’t want to be gagged because I wanted to be able to say if there was a problem, and he was ok to play that way until we got used to each other. That way I was able to say stuff during the scene quite easily. I think it’s important to remember someone won’t always say when they have a problem (pride?) so I think check in’s are good as well, just asking ‘are you ok with this’ now and again sometimes I think helps if you’re unsure.
There’s also non verbal communication though. This can be all manner of things. Eye contact, body language i.e. hands moving might indicate the hands are cramped, things like this. Also watching for body signs that the sub may be displaying non-actively, are they cold/hot, are they shaking, are they fidgeting , is their breathing or heart beat irregular? Are they bleeding – has an injury occurred that was unintended? There’s more I suppose its just things that I notice and do without thinking about it.
What I’m trying to say is safe words are fine, in fact, they’re perhaps useful when playing with someone you don’t know that well. However, my arguement is they won’t keep you safe from an unsafe person. Getting to know someone and establishing if they’re a good play partner will tell you that, and then just communicating with each other about where things are going and whats going to happen is of a lot more benefit. Like I said, if I’m the sub I want him to take the responsibility, if I”m the Dom i’ll take responsibility I’ll take care of the person, I’ll keep them safe. If something goes wrong I’ll do something about it and I’ll do that fast. I won’t wait for them to remember what it is they have to say to make me notice!
Of course this stuff all works better with someone that knows you, knows how you react to things, than it it with someone you’ve just hooked up with at an event but even with a new person I think its important to read all available signs.