Why Use Safewords?

For many, Safewords are an important part of BDSM play. Used like traffic Lights they can indicate three levels of caution:

Green – Everything’s fine, let’s keep on going. This is a very useful check if the bottom is exploring new play experiences or wants to take an existing one a bit further. A little longer, a little tighter, a few more lashes maybe. This is a good way of making sure the bottom’s ok and the top isn’t venturing into unwelcome territory.

Amber – Take it easy, just slow down a little bit. Perhaps things have got a bit enthusiastic and the bottom needs a breather. Or maybe they’ve got a cramp or lost the feeling in their leg or hand. Or maybe that toy is just a bit too big! Amber safewords give both parties a chance to communicate and change the game without stopping it.

Red – Stop now! And stop means STOP. This should be absolute and non-negotiable, and that needs to be understood by all parties. End the game now, release the sub and make sure everything’s OK.

Using Safewords
Although the Red-Amber-Green structure is good you will probably want to assign your own safewords to these levels. You need make sure that all parties involved in the play, whether participating directly or not, are all aware of the safewords, particularly the Red level ones. It’s very easy in the middle of an exciting scene to miss it if you are the Top and doing all the hard work with the flogger.

The bottom should always use the appropriate word for the situation. Don’t feel obliged to to use a green word if you would like to pause or even halt the play. Remember these are your words and you can use them whenever you feel you need to.
Similarly, don’t use a red word if you just want to shift position or let the blood back into you fingers or feet. If you always use a Red word when you really mean an Amber one then partners may see this as ‘Crying Wolf’ and become reluctant to play with you.
That said, the Red words are there for when you want to stop the game completely, if you are hurting too much or, importantly, if you feel the top is not maintaining full control.
If the top ignores you or takes too long to stop after the use of a Red word then you may want to have a think about whether to continue sing them as a play partner.

If you’re playing in a new group or with a new partner it could be agreed that the word ‘Safeword’ itself brings proceedings to a halt either temporarily (Amber) or permanently (Red). This can be a very good way of making sure there is no confusion while you are getting used to each other and settling in.

Remember that safewords are there for both parties. Indeed most tops would be horrified to find that they have done real emotional or physical harm to the bottom. All games have boundaries and no player wants to break consent and lose trust by transgressing them. After all, even if it is the bottom who has let things go too far, it will be the top who has to live with themselves afterwards.

What if you cannot speak?
As so many scenes involve gags which inhibit or prevent speaking it falls on all participants to find an equivalent for the use of safewords.
If the bottom’s hands are free then holding a handkerchief which can be dropped at the appropriate moment can be a useful way of signalling to the top. Another way is to drop something solid which will make a noise as it hits the hard floor. Marbles or dice are good, as are coins. After all, everybody hears the sound of money being dropped.
Other ‘visual’ cues include fingersnapping or waving hands, feet or head. Of course all this depends on how the bottom is restrained and will have to be worked out beforehand.

Finding your limits
Safewords can also be used as a part of the play to find out how far the bottom can take things. A bottom may want to discover for themselves whether they can take fifty lashes or a whole box of needles, or see if they can hold out in an interrogation game. This can be good fun and an important exploration for both top and bottom, but care should be taken and it is incumbent on the top to keep an eye on visual cues and stop the play if the bottom is going too far with holding out.

The last word in safety?
Safewords are very important in BSDM play, particularly when it comes to establishing trust and consent between players. They go a long way in helping players, particularly those who are new to each other, or a particular playscene, to get to know and understand each other. That said, they should never be relied on solely to control or manage a game.
There is nothing more important than feeling safe with a play partner and this goes both ways:
The top needs the bottom to be honest and communicate with them throughout the game if things aren’t right. This can be difficult once the the endorphins have started being released. The bottom can start to get a bit ‘zoned out’ and not realize what is actually happening to them. Or they may simply feel too ashamed to use the safewords when they need to.
Because of this, the bottom needs the top to be able to monitor the game and observe the visual clues from the bottom’s body and behaviour to know when to step in and stop the game. At all times the top should take the position of referee or Game Manager, respecting both the bottom and the safewords, and keeping the bottom safe throughout the game.

Play nicely!
Trust is everything. It is slow to gain and quick to break. Communication is always the key to this so if either party needs to stop the game, for whatever reason, take the time to explain why to your partner. Keeping within boundaries, ensuring consent, and respecting safewords and personal limits will all go to making sure your expriences are exhilarating and exciting every time!

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Mark Tomblesen

About the Author … Mark Tomblesen is a Creative Director with a digital media firm in London. He has worked in the video and DM fields since the mid Nineties.

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