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3. What is a "safeword"?

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This article is from the Bondage FAQ, by numerous contributors.

3. What is a "safeword"?

One of the thrills of SM is that it can stretch your limitations. If
you enjoy this sort of play, you can naturally find yourself trying more
and more new things, accepting greater and greater levels of sensation,
doing and feeling more than you've ever done or felt before.

But the process is slow and gradual, and people are not telepathic. It
may be that you are the bottom in a whipping scene, and your top is
whipping you, and suddenly it doesn't feel good anymore!! and you want
them to STOP!!! That is what a safeword is: a word that means "This
isn't working! This scene is going wrong somehow! Please stop!"

A safeword needs to be taken seriously. Sometimes you may be playing
with a top you don't know that well, and if they do something to you you
don't want, it's important that you have a way to let them know,
IMMEDIATELY. Especially if you're tied up or otherwise made helpless.

Everyone has their own favorite safeword. I personally use "Yellow!" to
mean "Something's too intense; I need you to lighten up, but I don't
want to stop the scene," and I use "Red!" to mean "I'm in trouble and I
want everything to stop NOW, no more games, scene over, let me outta
here!" Some people just have one flavor of safeword, and use "aardvark"
or some other weird word they'd never say in the context of a scene. At
many parties, the universal safeword is "Safeword!" It's up to you. All
it is is a safety valve for when things get out of control. If your top
doesn't respect your safeword, it's a safe bet that they won't respect
other limits of yours, and you will need to decide whether you want to
play with someone who doesn't acknowledge your boundaries.

Using a safeword can be hard to do sometimes. It's important to realize
that no one is perfect, and if you as top do something that squicks your
bottom (i.e. pushes beyond your bottom's limits--"squick" is a recent
bit of s.s.b-b jargon), it doesn't mean you're a bad lover or a bad
person. It only means that you ran into a limit you didn't know was
there, or you were tired or disconnected and not in tune with your
bottom. It happens to everyone from time to time. If you as top feel
burned out and want to stop the scene suddenly, or you get a powerful
reaction you weren't expecting and aren't sure how to continue, you can
use a safeword too; safewords aren't just for bottoms! If you as bottom
feel like your top is pushing you, and you don't want to play anymore,
it's not fun, that's when you want to use a safeword--your top will be
glad you used it to tell them where you were at.

A safeword is just a communication tool, nothing more, nothing less. If
you're playing intensely, it may feel hard to stop the scene, to come
back from the edge via a safeword... but if you need to, that's what
they're for. Some tops deliberately push their bottoms until their
bottoms call safeword; this way, the bottom gets the experience of using
it. A safeword that's never used can seem unusable, which isn't a good
property for a safeword.

Sometimes a top will want to gag you, whether because you're being too
noisy or they want to increase your helplessness or you've been being
impertinent or whatever. You may still want a safeword to let the top
know when a rope is too tight or the nipple clamps are pinching or
whatever. Some people put a handkerchief in the bottom's hand; if they
let go and the handkerchief falls, they know there's something up. I
personally use the old SOS signal: three loud yells spaced evenly; "Unh!
Unh! Unh!" No gag I've ever seen can stop _all_ noise, and that signal
works even if my hands are in mittens or a strait-jacket and unable
to hold anything at all.

Before playing with someone, it's a good idea to negotiate, not only
what safeword you want to use, but how you'll handle it if you need to
use the safeword. When you're just getting into SM, it's almost
inevitable that some scenes will end prematurely or abruptly. If you
acknowledge this possibility in advance, and talk about what kinds of
comforting or remedy you might like, it'll make recovering from a mishap
a lot easier and more pleasant. And because a scene goes wrong is no
reason to think that you or your partner is fundamentally bad or
untrustworthy--mistakes will happen. (If your partner doesn't want
tohear your concerns about the mishap, though, or if they belittle or
deride your concerns, you may well be unable to avoid future mishaps. If
your relationship doesn't learn from painful experience, it may not be
ready to handle doing SM. Of course, this kind of processing is a vital
part of _every_ healthy relationship, SM or not.)

Not every SM player uses safewords. Some people into SM don't find them
useful for the style of play they prefer; more straightforward
communication suffices for them. Some partners find their need for a
safeword gradually diminishes as they come to know each other better.
Some people do SM in which the bottom doesn't _want_ to have a verbal
escape route, for the duration of the scene. (This "no-safeword" play
is also sometimes called "edge play.") One thing that you will learn
about the BDSMLMNOP scene is that styles vary wildly, and peoples'
experiences are astonishingly diverse. But for many people beginning
their explorations (and many who've explored enormously), safewords have
proved very helpful.

 

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