Updated: Nov 20, 2020
“As a Dom you know when to quit or change pace before the safeword is needed.”
This statement came up in a conversation recently, with someone I didn’t know, and it stopped me in my tracks. It immediately unsettled me and I think it’s really important to talk about the emotional weight of safewords - both for the submissive and the Dominant in the situation.
So what is a safeword, and when should you use one?
A safeword is a word that you and your partner have agreed upon before embarking on any play that is going to put one of you in a compromising position. This could be impact play, rope, wax… Pretty much anything under the BDSM umbrella that could put someone in a situation where saying “no” or “stop” might not actually be what they mean.
It has to be a word that is completely out of context so that it can’t be mistaken for anything else in an intense situation. Pineapple, banana, and aardvark are a few I’ve come across amongst kinksters. Many people will have two safewords: one for “slow down”, or “I need a change of pace/implement/restraint” and one for “everything stops immediately”. For this reason, many people use a traffic light system of simply “amber” and “red”. “Green” can also be useful from the perspective of the person in control of the scene, as an easy check-in.
If a scene is going to involve someone being incapable of speech (if they’re gagged, for example, or if it’s known that they find words difficult when they’re highly aroused or panicked), it’s also sensible to agree on an equivalent hand signal, or to hold something that can be dropped, if they need a non-verbal safeword.
So back to the comment that sparked this - why was I quite so irritated by the implication that a good Dom would always stop before the point of their sub safewording?
Firstly, there are many reasons that someone might use their safeword. Sometimes something can get me to safeword that doesn’t normally, or I’ve wanted to try something new, and it doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I would never expect my Dom to have psychic levels of awareness, no matter how well they knew me, and my body’s reactions.
The person I was talking with continued their musings to state that they would feel like they had failed their sub if a safeword was uttered, because they would have pushed them beyond their comfort zone, or actually inflicted genuine injury.
As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t play with anyone who would toy with my limits in that way, so any play will be within my comfort zone - or even right on the edge of it - and I already trust that it’s not going to go beyond that. Using a safeword regularly reinforces trust in both directions. It tells the sub that they’re allowed to use it, and not suffer any consequences for it. And it reassures the Dom that their sub will speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
I believe that implying a Dom has failed if their sub uses a safeword is a really dangerous scenario to get into. GIven that a sub generally loves to please, they will then potentially not use one when they should, because they would never want to disappoint their Dom.
The idea of using a safeword can often be treated as a failure - be wary of anyone who says that they’ve never had to use one, or that no-one they’ve played with has used one. It’s not about how far limits are being pushed, it’s about knowing your own body, and having the confidence to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.
Some of the most satisfying scenes I’ve experienced have involved me using a safeword part-way through, or even to end it entirely. It’s told my partner that I’m comfortable with taking responsibility for myself, and ensures that the aftercare matches up to what I’m needing in the aftermath.
What are your safewords? How do you feel about using them? Let me know!