BDSM activities should be Safe, Sane, and Consens


  • NEGOTIATION IN REGARDS TO A RELATIONSHIP is the communication aimed at reaching a clear, consensual agreement with your partner about the type of relationship you will have and the kinds of kinky things you will do together. The negotiation process lasts as long as the couple needs to hammer these things out--it could be days, weeks, months or even years. Couples also may re-negotiate terms periodically as their relationship evolves and their needs change.

  • NEGOTIATING A SCENE involves a much narrower type of dialogue, in which partners only decide on what they will do during a scene or "play."


Negotiation here does not mean just haggling about details of what a person will and won't do, but instead is a term that covers all manner of discussion and flirtation about what each partner actively enjoys, will tolerate, and absolutely will not tolerate. It is a fact that BDSM often involves activities that are unusual in vanilla sex. Clearing some matters up in advance can mean the difference between having a great time and leaving yourself open for disaster right when things are most promising.




But what does that mean, really? Your idea of safe and sane, and my idea of safe and sane may not be the same; they may not even be in the same neighborhood. I don’t think motorcycles are safe or sane, but people ride them everyday.


Driving a car is the probably the most dangerous thing most of do every single day. People are seriously injured and killed every day in car accidents. So we take precautions to make driving as safe as possible. We have to pass a drivers test to get a license and we have to learn safety rules. We wear a seat belt. Automakers install airbags. We learn to pay careful attention to the road and the drivers around us.


So just like driving a car, there are risks in every single BDSM activity. Nothing we do is 100% risk-free, and it’s dangerous to kid ourselves that it is. Bondage is one of the most common types of play that people engage in, but it can also be the single most dangerous.


So what do we mean by safe?


SAFE means we take no risks that can easily be avoided. We find out as much as we can about safe techniques and safety concerns associated with any given activity. And that we engage in those activities prepared for things that can go wrong. For example. If you are into bondage, one of the best things you can do for your safety or that of your partner is to get a pair of medical scissors and keep them nearby whenever you play, so that if something goes wrong – someone gets dizzy, pulls a muscle, has a seizure or the house catches on fire, you can release them quickly.


Safety includes the responsibility of protecting yourself and your partner from STD (sexually transmitted disease) infection including the HIV virus.


SANE is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Fictional accounts of SM are often distorted for fantasy's sake, and are not representative of real situations and relationships. You might have fantasies about being someone's property, but you have to know you still have the right to say no, or walk away, at any time. It's knowing that just because you saw something on a porn site, you shouldn't try to do it at home. (Many of the bondage models are amazing professionals who have trained their bodies and their endurance much like a professional athlete. To think that a regular person can be tied in some of those extreme positions is just crazy.)


If you think that you can really and truly do anything you want to your "slave," then you are not operating within the bounds of reality. If you think that just because someone calls himself a "master," that means he knows exactly what he is doing and that he is doing it safely, you are not operating within the realms of reality, either. Believing that nothing can ever go wrong in a scene is another form of delusion.


Sane also distinguishes between mental illness and health. A real distinction between mental illness and health is when a behavior pattern causes problems in a person’s life. Washing your hands until the skin is peeling off, or so frequently that you can not otherwise function, is a sign mental illness. SM, like any other behavior, can be a sign of psychiatric problems. However the vast majority of its practitioners find that SM enriches and promotes functionality in the other areas of their life.


CONSENSUAL is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times.


Consent is the prime ingredient of SM. One difference between rape and heterosexual intercourse is consent. One difference between violence and SM is consent. The same behaviors that might be crimes without consent are life-enhancing with consent.


One of the most common tools of communication within a scene is called a safeword. A safeword is any word, phrase, or action that the bottom (or sometimes even the top) can utter or do that causes whatever is going on in the scene to stop or pause. Agreed-upon safewords are taken very seriously; if a top is caught ignoring a safeword, they are often ostracized if not outright banned from the community.


People use whatever they feel comfortable with as safewords. But universally "red" means "Stop the scene completely now!" and "yellow" means "What you are doing is not so great and you should probably switch to another activity unless you want me to say 'red' in another minute."


If the bottom cannot speak during the scene (say, because the bottom is gagged), a common safeword mechanism is for the top to give the bottom a toy or bandana to drop if they need to stop.


Using “no” as a safeword is not generally recommended because some of us tend to say, “no, please, no stop!’ when we really mean YES YES!


Safewords are necessary and invaluable communication tools. Not just because it lets the sub or bottom feel safe, but because sometimes things happen that no one anticipated. Someone may get dizzy, or have a sudden charley horse. It also gives the top confidence in knowing that the sub is going to give them the feedback they need. No dominant or top wants a scene to go bad, and no matter how good a top may be, they are not able to read minds. It’s an unfair burden on the top or dominant to expect them to.


Some couples, when they have played together long enough and learned each other well enough will tell you they no longer use safewords. That is a personal choice they have the right to make, but it is really a bad idea for those just beginning to explore their own desires and limits to not use a safeword.


Some couples don’t want to use a safeword because they feel it puts the real power in the hands of the submissive. How can you submit to someone when you know you can stop the scene with a single word? It’s a paradox that can really sabotage the mindset you’re trying to experience.


However, you have to keep in mind, a safeword is not intended to be used lightly. And most submissives have a hard time making themselves use a safeword, because the last thing they want to do is disappoint their dominant. Other submissives may go so deeply into a trance-like state of what we refer to as “subspace” that they are physically unable to speak at all. These are two things the dominant or top needs to be aware of, and why beginning slowly when you are new to this is so important.


However, one important warning to consider when talking to a prospective partner is that a top who insists that a bottom may not ever safeword is a poor choice for a novice bottom. BDSM is a risky activity, and a top who refuses to allow the bottom any way out, no matter how miserable the bottom is during the experience, may be forcing the bottom into a nonconsensual situation. Many tops play safely and well with no safewords; but if a top or dom insists on no safeword, be extremely wary.


Because so many novice bottoms or subs are reluctant to disappoint their dominants, tops should be careful to reassure their bottoms that they want the bottom to let them know if there is a serious problem. If the bottom does safeword, the top should certainly investigate why the safeword occurred. But also, it is important for the top to avoid discouraging the safeword by showing distaste or disappointment that the activity or scene was curtailed. To discourage the use of safeword is to risk bending consent and to risk damaging the bottom's precious trust. That is, safewords are generally "no-fault."


Some people cannot bring themselves to safeword because they are challenging themselves to see what they can endure. Obviously this risks self-damage. Responsible tops suspecting this usually work to assess the bottom's goals and motives, and talk frankly with the bottom so that both partners understand their responsibilities if emotional or physical harm should occur as a result. This kind of play does sometimes occur consensually, with both parties agreeing to the risks in order to see where things go. Sometimes the goal of such play is to push the bottom to the point where the bottom does finally safeword. Experienced tops can in fact often find ways to push someone that hard with relative safety, but doing so without both partners understanding the risks is inadvisable.


Because opinions are like assholes: everybody's got one

There is absolutely NO combination of the activities that isn't okay as long as they are safe, sane and consensual. If you only want to submit to or dominate one person or a dozen, in the privacy of your bedroom or in the kitchen, or only when there's a full moon in months starting with the letter J, that's perfectly fine.


If anybody tries to tell you different -- and believe me, there are people out there just itching to do that -- smile and walk away. They are either well-meaning morons or pigheaded assholes or both.


I dislike the word "true" attached to any noun, especially "true dominant" or "true submissive." When discussions get ugly online, someone always ends up lobbing that holy hand grenade of narrow-minded judgement: "That's not true submission. He/she's not a true dominant."


Instead I like to think in levels of submission, or the depth of it. All of us submit to someone at some point in time. Parents, teachers, bosses. Even in a marriage, one partner often submits or dominants in a particular area, depending on their desires and natural aptitude. One balances the checkbook, while another does the laundry. He never cares where they go for dinner; she likes to pick which movies they rent.


It can be easier if you think of dominance and submission as shifting that balance slowly in one direction. But even in a lot of M/s relationships, you'll find certain divisions of responsibilities that may not change. Some slaves/submissives may still balance the checkbook and pay the bills -- because that is the way the dominant wants it, and usually (if they are a good dominant) he/she wants it that way because it just works better for the both of them. Some dominants and some subs want to control or be controlled in things like using the bathroom, asking to leave the room, what they wear and eat. Others don't really care for such micromanagement; they don't need or want it.


What you feel and how you do it matters more than what you're doing. I can sit naked at Sir's feet, but if my mind and heart aren't in the right place, it means nothing. On the other hand, if I'm feeling that rush of adoration and gratitude that comes after a great play, there is no place I'd rather be than at his feet.


Take it slowly

If you want to deepen your level of submission, start slowly. Let the trust build, whether it's in play or in general living. For the dominant, remember to ask only for what obedience the sub can successfully give you. Give only the amount of pain in play that you KNOW he/she can stand. Start with a short hand spanking before you move up to a paddle. Use a paddle before you move on to canes and whips.


To push too far, too fast only sets you both up for disappointment. For example, don't ask your submissive to always be naked at a play party (or just around the house) if you know he/she is really uncomfortable with nudity. Instead, ask him/her to spend one hour, or just fifteen minutes, naked at your feet. When they find they can do it, with your encouragement, they will be stronger the next time you "push" that "soft limit" for just a little longer. A submissive generally punishes themselves for failures far more harshly than their dominant ever can.


In any and all of these activities, trust and communication is the most important component. If you don't trust your partner, and cannot honestly communicate with him or her, you have no business messing around with BDSM. It is a very powerful magic.

"red" means "Stop the scene completely now!" and "yellow" means "What you are doing is not so great and you should probably switch to another activity unless you want me to say 'red' in another minute."


If the bottom cannot speak during the scene (say, because the bottom is gagged), a common safeword mechanism is for the top to give the bottom a toy or bandana to drop if they need to stop.


Using “no” as a safeword is not generally recommended because some of us tend to say, “no, please, no stop!’ when we really mean YES YES!