Beyond Safewords: Tools to Help You Stay Safe

It’s #KinkMonth! I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ fantastic 30 Days of D/s project, which you should totally check out.

Today is all about safewords, a subject about which I have Many Feelings. Kayla and John ask simply:

So, the question today is, what’s your safeword? If you don’t want to have one, why not?

A set of traffic lights on s dark background, red, amber and green, for a post about safewords

I love safewords. Truly, I do. There are fairly few things in kink I take a really hard line on, but you need to have a safeword is one of them. (Along with “thou shalt not cheat” and “it’s all a game at the end of the day.” But those are both subjects for other posts.

A safeword, for those not aware, is basically a word that means STOP IMMEDIATELY. It’s useful in scenes where words like “no” and “stop” are not supposed to be taken at face value – resistance play and certain roleplay scenarios, for example. The most common safeword is “red,” but any word you wouldn’t normally use in a kinky context will work. My first safeword was “canary.” I also used “aardvark” at one point.

Again: safewords are really, really important. If you’re playing any kind of scene where “no” might not really mean no, you must have a safeword. Others will disagree with me, and that’s fine. But again: I take a really hard line on this. Have a fucking safeword.

But safewords are not the be-all, end-all of safe BDSM. So here I want to suggest a few other tools you might want to have in your “safer kinky fuckery” toolkit.

The word “no.”

In the absence of very explicit negotiation to the contrary, “no” is the untimate safeword for everyone. Unless you’ve very clearly spelled out “for the length of this scene (or relationship, I suppose,) no doesn’t mean no”… guess what? No means fucking no.

A “check in” or “adjust” word.

The most popular of these is “orange” or “amber” (usually alongside red, like a system of traffic lights. “Green,” though less commonly used, means “keep going!”) This is valuable because it differentiates between needing to bring the entire scene to a screeching halt, and just needing to adjust something.

Mr CK and I have agreed that if I say “red,” the scene is finished and we’ll stop playing, commence aftercare and debrief about what went wrong. “Orange,” though, could just mean “I’m nearing my limit, maybe spank a little more gently” or “my arm’s going to sleep, can we change positions?”

Really robust negotiation.

You’ve fully negotiated before you began playing, right? (Read this post for tips and tricks on doing just that.) Of course, things can always go wrong and there’s no shame in that as long as everyone was operating in good faith. But the more fully and clearly you negotiate, the better chance you have of having a hot, sexy scene where everything goes well.

A 1-1o scale.

This is mostly useful if you’re engaging in pain play of any kind. 1 typically means “I can’t feel it,” whereas 10 means “I am about to use my safeword.” The sweet spot will vary from person to person, and you should be ready to communicate yours to your partner if you use this scale.

For me, anything between a 4 and an 8 is enjoyable. Lower than 4, and I’m probably not getting much out of it. 9 is well into the “I’m enjoying the endurance challenge of this but not the pain itself” territory, and 10 is pretty much synonymous with “orange, stop hitting me right now.” I once Topped a guy, though, whose goal was to hit a solid 9 and stay there for most of the scene.

Again, no one size fits all, but the scale is a useful way of communicating if you’re engaging in pain type play.

Body language and non-verbal communication.

If you know each other well, you probably know each other’s body language and non-verbal cues pretty well.

Does he go silent when something’s wrong? Do deep, guttural moans mean she’s having fun, but high-pitched squeaks mean she’s reaching her limit? Do they clench their fists when they’re having a tough time with something? Is crying good or bad?

Body language is far from foolproof, and should go alongside using your words, but it’s a massive part of how we communicate as human beings and can be a really, really valuable tool if you take the time to tune in.

References.

If you want to play with a new person and they’re active on their local scene and/or Fetlife, it’s a good idea to do some asking around and see what their reputation is. Most people won’t hesitate to tell you what their impression or experience of someone is.

Sadly, this method has its problems, and how useful it is will likely depend upon your local scene politics. Kink communities often have a problem with sheltering abusers (especially if the abuser is popular, charming or throws good parties.)

Ask around, always seek a second opinion whatever you hear, and don’t rely solely on this information to keep you safe.

Safe-calls.

This is where you arrange to call/text/otherwise contact someone – perhaps a friend or another partner? – at a prearranged time, during or after a date, to tell them you’re safe.

For example: “I’ll call you by 4pm. If I don’t, please call me. If I don’t answer, I’m in trouble, here’s where I’ll be.”

Aside from the obvious benefit of having someone who knows where you are, who you’re with and can alert the relevant authorities quickly if something happens to you, setting up a safe call and informing them about it can also tell you a lot about the person you’re going to play with. If you say “I need to call my friend at 4pm to let her know I’m safe,” a good play partner will say “sure, maybe set an alarm to remind yourself” and not “WHAT THE FUCK WHY DON’T YOU TRUST ME I’M A NICE GUY!!!”

If it’s a variation on the latter, run.

A spotter.

Lastly, a tool which I feel is under-utilised but really, really valuable. A spotter watches the scene but is not directly involved unless they’re needed. For example, a more experienced rigger might watch a rope scene to make sure the tie is safe. Using spotters is brilliant when you’re learning new skills, but their usefulness extends beyond just beginners. If you’re playing with someone new or someone you don’t know very well, having a third party to observe and check in if necessary can help to keep you safe – especially if it’s someone who knows you, and your reactions, particularly well.

What tools do you use to keep yourself and your partners safe, beyond just safewords?

Kinky item of the day: Jacks Floggers’ pocket singletail. This is not an affiliate link and I have no connection to the company, I just love the hell out of his stuff. I bought this whip for Mr CK last Christmas and we both adore it. (MASSIVE SAFETY DISCLAIMER: singletails are dangerous. Please do not use one on a person until you’ve been taught how by an expert and had adequate practice.)

The image in this post was offered for use under creative commons licensing.

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