Safewords – new, more detailed poll – Please take part

BelasariusBack in October I designed a poll on safewords and more than eighty people then on Informed Consent did a pilot version. I’ve taken their comments into account and have now published it on survey monkey, here.

The survey takes less than five minutes, is anonymous, and you get to see the results as soon as you finish the last question.

I am incredibly grateful to all who took part in the pilot and to all who take part now.

When I have a couple of hundred responses, I will publish the results on this blog and link to them from fetbook and fetlife.

The results of my earlier, one question poll on safewords are on this blog, here. I suggest you only look at that AFTER you’ve completed the survey above (If you want to of course).

And, if you want to take part in my continuing polls on BDSM definitions, you can do so here.

Once again, thanks to all who take part.

The tightrope walked by the Dom.

The feet of a tightrope walker.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

This is from my  Informed Consent blog, earlier this year:

We had an interesting exchange this morning. A propos something written in our book (which is not rule book, exactly) and fascinating chat at yesterday’s O&P.

Anyway – the deal for us is that what he does is, he says, not for my hurt or shame.

Hurt as in emotional hurt? Yes.

Oh, so pain and embarrassment is OK then?

“Oh, absolutely”, he said. And, after a pause: “You have no idea of the tightrope we Doms have to walk”.

It was a light-hearted conversation, but it has a point.

He likes to hurt me. he likes to see me blush with embarrassment. But, he likes me to look back and glow because he’s made me proud of what I’ve done for him. He says he hates it if I feels, looking back, degraded or shamed by his actions.

Someone else made the point that “it’s because I can trust him [her dom] not to (intentionally) hurt me that I felt able to give up my limits. I know he will push me way outside of my comfort zone, but never so far that will cause me harm. I don’t envy him (or Belasarius) that responsibility”.

Who uses safewords? Results

standing stoneThree day’s ago I put up a one question PollDaddy  poll on safewords. I closed the poll at 9:15 am on Thursday 9 August 2012.

These are the results. 320 people responded, of whom  11 said they weren’t BDSM people, so they didn’t answer the question. Of the rest, there were 161 submissives, 105 dominants and 43 switches. As with the other surveys I’ve done there always seems to be more interest among submissives, and dominants seem to take more of an interest as the completion deadline looms.

The results, surprisingly (at least to me) show that a clear majority of those that responded do not use safewords, especially if they are in relationships.

The question asked was: “Please tick the answer that most resembles you and your attitude to safewords”

The chart below shows the answers given by all respondents. Most came from the UK, where I promoted the survey on Informed Consent and Fetlife Up to a fifth may have come from other countries, mostly the USA, with maybe a quarter of the non UK responders coming from other European countries.


Two-thirds of dominants said they were more likely not to use a safeword.

Dominants Actual %
Mostly use safeword 36 34%
Mostly don’t use safeword 69 66%
Total 105


Submissive respondents agreed with dominants, in the same proportions.

Submissives Actual %
Mostly use safeword 54 34%
Mostly don’t use safeword 107 66%
Total 161


Three out of four switches said they were more likely to use a safeword than not.

Switches Actual %
Mostly use safeword 32 74%
Mostly don’t use safeword 11 26%
 Total 43  

People in relationships

People in relationships said they were the least likely to use a safeword of any group (only a quarter said they did).

In relationships Actual %
Mostly use safeword 46 24%
Mostly don’t use safeword 147 76%
Total 193  

People interested in scenes and play

Two thirds said they used safewords

Play and scenes Actual %
Mostly use safeword 76 66%
Mostly don’t use safeword 40 34%
Total 116


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.”


“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.

Umbrella Hard Limit



Anything for your pleasure: Nothing for my hurt or shame alone,

Knowing I am your treasure: Don’t maim my body, heart or mind,

Use before unconsenting others I will not condone,

Make me yours for your sake, but never be unkind.


We have a book, with a number of rules and rituals, most set a few years back. But this is what we use to test the ways I use her.


Related articles