Safewords: BDSM safety essential or sacred cow?


standing stoneSafewords give confidence to people who are new to topping and bottoming and help experienced people who are new to each other understand each other better. They are a sensible approach to safety and have been seen as essential certainly for as long as I can remember.

I am not  going to use the argument that safewords can’t protect anyone from abuse by a determined abuser. The same is, sadly, likely to be  true of any system designed to preserve consensuality and safety. Abuse of safewords does take place and needs to  be exposed. No, my view is that, for some, there are alternatives to safewords that may be as effective, but more rewarding..

Safewords  halt scenes that are going wrong, but are they a bit of a sacred cow? Are there other ways of ensuring safety and making submission feel as real as possible?  Could other ways sometimes be better? I think so.

English: A woman flogging a submissive man on ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Safety and consensuality

I understand that something like a safeword is essential to preserve consensuality in a scene and I have absolutely no doubt that there needs to be communication between top and bottom, dom and sub to ensure safety, but I think “take care”, “stop” and “no” are better than a dedicated safeword.

For me, safewords undermine dominance and submission and they turn play into play acting. They can also become an excuse for abuse.

The sub in control?

In many circumstances, it’s my belief that safewords diminish the experience for all.

Why? Well:

There she is, moaning, groaning and pleading and all of a sudden she says “Amber”. Instantly, you know all that moaning, groaning and pleading was false. Just acting (ok – with feeling, but you suddenly know what you were doing was not having the effect you thought)

She “Ambers” again; things get better and maybe you get a “Green” of pleasure… You screw up and she utters a sudden, shouted “RED”. And you realise it isn’t just the moaning that was false. There’s no submission either. She is in control of the scene. She decides what she receives.

Of course, it’s a little less true if you use a single safeword that always brings things straight to a halt. That way all that is controlled is the end of the scene. That seems sensible to me (but see below), rather than providing the submissive with a tool that can be used to take control, which is what the RAG system, I feel, does. but, if that is your choice, why use a special, secret word, and not just allow people to communicate their needs. It seems to me that people want the freedom to say “please stop” when it’s not what they mean.

Now, from the dominant‘s perspective:

There she is strapped down securely. Cheeks and shoulders beginning to glow as you get into the rhythm a good flogging requires (and which for me, produces it’s own zen-like satisfaction). I know she has a safeword. Therefore, I can do what the hell I like, because she has the responsibility of choosing when to stop. And, she can’t blame me for getting it wrong – because she had her safeword to use!

And for the submissive?

“Well, if I safeword, I’ve failed him, haven’t I. Oh I mustn’t safeword – he won’t be proud of me at all. I must be the best I can be.”

Or,

“I can’t space, it might not be safe, I won’t know what’s happening: I might need to safeword.

Another way to safety?

Erotic illustration
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So for me, ensuring safety in a scene comes down to these things:

Real communication, using real language – Then the moans and the pleading are real and satisfying. And, “STOP” means stop.

The dominant should not have power without responsibility – which is what a safeword can give. Instead, he should observe his submissive and communicate with her. Watch her, check she’s ok, check her ability to communicate, her breathing, her mental state – whether she’s drifted away into subspace.

The result, the submissive enters the scene knowing she has given herself to her dominant within the limits they have agreed and her only responsibility is to be the best she can be. The dominant knows he is free to use her – and that the responsibility for making it a satisfactory time for both is his. She is the instrument, he is the musician.

Fuller results from the poll below can be found in an article lined tto under “related links” at the bottom of this post.

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Author: Belasarius

I possess the submission of curvy_bottom, we have a medium protocol, D/s relationship - based on the feeling that we are equa and opposite and that we love each other.

12 thoughts on “Safewords: BDSM safety essential or sacred cow?”

  1. I completely disagree. Your use of common sense words like “No!” and “Stop!” remove a powerful verbal component from the experience. Both Top and bottom cannot enjoy the spoke and heard sounds of pleading, begging, etc. Using RAG allows both to freely explore the verbal aspect of BDSM and D/s. Imagine how much fun you both miss out on by not allowing the submissive to wail and scream “STOP!” or “NO! PLEASE STOP!!”

    Safe words are, to me, the fire extinguishers of WIITWD. Odds are you will go your entire life and never use one. But when you need it, you are damn glad you have it at your disposal.

    Also, you make no allotment for gag play. When the submissive can’t talk, now what?

    I respect your opinion, but I disagree with it.

    1. Many people will disagree with me, and that’s fine.

      I like begging and pleading. But there is only pleasure in it if it means what it says. With a safeword in place, it potentially isn’t truthful. I don’t want that and neither does my girl. If there is no safeword in place and she is begging and pleading then the decision whether to stop is mine. There is jeopardy there, of course, if I get things wrong (it would become abuse and it would weaken the relationship, maybe irrevocably), but it also means I am taking responsibility for her safety, which we both want.

      As to gags, it’s again about observation and responsibility, plus the fact that, maybe I’m a dunce, but I’ve yet to use a gag that, in reality, completely inhibited speech. I think I’d be unlikely to as I’d prefer both airways to be easily useable.

      Thanks for your point of view, I know it’s shared by many and I am not saying that safewords aren’t a good solution for a very wide range of people, just that there is another way.

      1. Actually gag issues can be solved by a simple, pre-determined hand signal, but in that you don’t believe in safety precautions I guess that is not a concern you wish to entertain.

        I am constantly surprised at how many Dominants fear the power of the safe word. Just its existence, not use, seems to threaten them.

        Let me ask you – would you allow another to do to you as they fit and, regardless of how you pleaded, ultimately decide if they are going to stop of their own choosing, thereby establishing for you your limits? In short, your limits are not yours but theirs to decide.

        I will ask the courtesy of a “Yes” or “No” in your reply.

      2. Your comment is a scandalous misrepresentation of my original blog, to say that “I don’t believe in safety precautions” is quite incorrect and obviously so from the original text. I suggest you re-read the piece under the sub-head “Another way to safety”.

        My position is that knowing one’s sub, negotiating her limits, and allowing language to mean what it says, Ie “stop” means stop, is a viable alternative to a code word tht can allow people to play at submission and can allow dominants the ability to carry on, regardless of the sub’s condition “because she didn’t safeword”. Believe me, it happens.

        My girl and I have an arrangement where she is very clear about her limits. But within them (and they are all based on informed, knowledgeable consent), she has no right to refuse anything, in terms of service or play, that I care to require. So, Yes, the limits she has set are respected but, in doing as I see fit to her, our law is our umbrella hard limit (also posted as a blog here), which, I hope you’ll agree is respectful of her safety.

        I don’t fear the power of the safe word, I’d use one with someone i didn’t know well. I just think, as you pointed out in your first comment, that it isn’t about imagining “how much fun you both miss out on by not allowing the submissive to wail and scream “STOP!” or “NO! PLEASE STOP!!”. For both of us it’s about the submission being as real as it can be within the limits she is comfortable with.

        So, yes, within the limits we have agreed over the last five years (which are wide, but which she controls) I will decide how I use her. Because that is what she desires too. This is a love thing after all.

        PS: Gags. First, you can create all the sensation of gagging you want for the victim without removing the ability to communicate verbally. Second, even dropping a handkerchief doesn’t always work with a bound person who spaces. You know that, I’m sure.

        Safety, for me, is about taking responsibility for what you do, about learning how your sub is, physically and mentally and about close observation of her as you play. All things a Dom can excuse himself from if his sub has a safeword.

      3. Well put and passionately defended. I respect that. Did I miss your answer to my question if you would allow another to determine your limits at that moment if the role was reversed?

      4. The question doesn’t arise, because I am not a switch.

        If it did, the answer is implicit in my last comment, c&p’ed below:

        So, yes, within the limits we have agreed over the last five years (which are wide, but which she controls) I will decide how I use her. Because that is what she desires too. This is a love thing after all.

        If I were a sub, I would expect to agree the limits of my use. I would also expect to have no control over the way I am used within those limits – other than the right to walk away from the relationship. I would expect my D to take care of me, because he wants to keep me. But, because my submission is real to me I expect to be used as he sees fit.

        So, would I allow another to determine my limits at that moment if the role was reversed? Yes, of course, because the consent to be used is what my dynamic would be based on.

      5. Absolutely anytime 🙂 I enjoy robust debate, ans whilst I’ll defend my point of view, my mind is changeable and I respect the opinions of others, but it’s good to test and be tested.

  2. I find safe words mostly useful in unforseen and potentially emergency situations such as a muscle pull or something of that nature. I tend to know my sub’s limits and play within them, pushing where I know it will get the most effect. Occassionally though, charlie horses do happen and knowing not a particular word but the way she says something means something is wrong, I respond. So we may not have a word like “red” but we have a saefword protocol if you will.

  3. Just read the above blog of yours and I totally agree with what you say about the traffic light system in that I have always refused to use this with anyone because I would feel so confused if someone allowed me that much control and it wouldn’t even slightly work because I’d feel weird asking for less or more of something at my own whim.

    As I’ve said previously, I’ve use red as my absolute word to mean “I can’t go on this must stop” but I’ve only ever said it when master put me in a box and there happened to be a spider in there.

    I get the impression that if I was to yell out no or please or “please anything but that” you wouldn’t like it because it could maybe be misleading for you in the sense that you want me to submit to taking something in a stoic rather than complaining and begging sort of way

    1. “If I were a sub, I would expect to agree the limits of my use. I would also expect to have no control over the way I am used within those limits – other than the right to walk away from the relationship. I would expect my D to take care of me, because he wants to keep me. But, because my submission is real to me I expect to be used as he sees fit.”

      This

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