(6/16/14) A few weeks ago, our weekly webcast featured a discussion on incorporating various kinks and fetishes into relationships. We received a few very nice responses to it by email and one in particular brought up a point that we think should be addressed. We’re not going to reprint the person’s email out of respect for their privacy, but instead just focus on the key question generically:
“When you’re first trying things out, how do you avoid going over the line, especially if you’re unsure of where the line is?”
It’s a great question and since we made it a point in the webcast to focus on “consent” as a key element for exploring various activities, we think it’s important to address the concern because not having a strategy in place to handle this kind of thing could easily cause a negative outcome that leads to withdrawing consent. Of course we’d hate to see that happen, so here are a few considerations. Keep in mind that there’s no universally “right” way for all circumstances. These are just possible approaches which may have some positive benefits.
1. Incorporating a “safeword.” There are many reasonable scenarios, especially if partners are “new” to each other and learning each other’s unique responses, where a kink-scene needs to be slowed or stopped. Somewhere along the line (mostly from club-based play), someone came up with the concept of using a traffic-light system for controlling the intensity of an activity without making it complicated–and it does work well. The idea is that the person controlling the activity (the “dominant” or “top”) would be assessing how the participant being controlled (the “submissive” or “bottom”) is doing at various points during play. If all was well, the submissive simply says, “Green.” If they’re becoming uncomfortable or just needs to slow down, “Yellow.” If they feel they’re approaching a limit, “Red.” The person controlling the scene would then be responsible for adjusting or stopping accordingly. Generally, it works because it’s a very simple thing to keep in mind (i.e., green=go, yellow=caution, red=stop) and use under duress when necessary. In the throes of passion, it’s quite possible that they wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively, so the simplicity/succinctness of the color system counters that problem. Additionally, if the dominant is on the ball and continually assessing–and asks the submissive for a safeword, but doesn’t get one from them, it should be a clear indicator that they need to stop until the submissive is capable of communicating again.
2. Using a “silent safeword.” While the above may seem to make good sense and while it might work in most cases, there are several scenarios where a submissive might not be able to communicate verbally during a scene. A simple example: What if they’re gagged? Hmm. So, the alternative is to give the submissive an object to hold in one hand (like a rubber ball, for example) and use it in place of verbal communication. If the dominant asks for a safeword and all is in fact well, the submissive just holds it up. If they’re having a problem and needs to slow, they can just wave it around a bit. If they need to stop, they can just release it and let it drop.
(Additionally, in either of the two above methods, the submissive does not necessarily need to wait until the dominant conducts an “assessment” in order to use whichever safeword they need to. They can easily just blurt it out or drop the object at any point, especially if they need to stop or just a take break.)
3. Being a “responsibly connected dominant.” While the above techniques can work well, there are some who believe that they inherently detract from a deeper possible connection between partners and actually remove some measure of control/responsibility from the dominant, thus requiring the submissive to take that responsibility and be in control. It’s a legitimate concern and it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that safewords are therefore not the “best” strategy. Indeed, some believe it to be poor leadership. That may seem somewhat arrogant and harsh given the fact that many use the safeword system just fine, but we’ve seen too many situations where a problem arose during a scene that the dominant did not pick up on, but where the submissive was too out of it or too proud to safeword (or simply clung on to the little ball because they tensed in the passion and just couldn’t let it go). The resulting statement of, “Well, I kept going because they didn’t safeword…” is a lame, poor excuse when an oops happens and it’s ludicrous to try to shift blame to the person who was supposed to be giving up control and putting their well-being at risk. Instead, a dominant who invests significant time in getting to know their submissive along with their unique reactions, tendencies, limitations and capabilities–and builds on that connection by conducting scenes that are intentionally designed to be incremental at first and only ramped up as warranted by actual performance, always retains control and responsibility and develops a clear understanding of when a scene needs to be slowed or stopped. Yes, that degree of competence takes time, but for many, it’s a much more responsible approach for avoiding the kinds of situations that are likely to lead to negative results.
Besides, what’s the damned rush, you know?
We’d love to hear your rational thoughts on this topic along with any constructive suggestions you may have for helping others achieve positive outcomes in their exploration. You can either comment directly (using the “reply” button below) or send them to us via email. We look forward to hearing from you!