Hello again! So I decided to continue the series with safe words. This is something that I feel is more well-known and having them in your figurative back pocket is rather common but also something I’ve noticed that can be pulled into debates. There are those that believe that safe words are pointless unless you are doing consensual non-consent (CNC) or some other type of play where regular “stop” and “no more” would have been discussed and chosen to be ignored. However, safe words still have their use and it never hurts to add them to the weave of your safety net if it helps you feel more comfortable in order to let go during a scene whether as a top or bottom. And yes, tops can use safe words, too, when things are too intense or they have their own limits pushed too far. They can also reinforce or really emphasize what you are experiencing and need in the moment, too. Therefore, I’ll go over safe words as well as other measures such as signals.
To start, some people don’t have safe words. That works for some people. Usually, it’s because there is enough trust or at least familiarity that either they have other ways of knowing when stop means stop or they have negotiated keeping safe words off-limits as part of their dynamic. It may also be a situation like a punishment where it will not stop since it’s not meant to feel good or be fun unless it’s the equivalent of “red” because something has gone very wrong. For those doing casual play, still getting to know their play partner, those trying to take precautions will have them, and pretty much anyone who wants to use them, safe words a perfectly understandable and usually expected part of negotiations. I’m of the opinion that many people will benefit from having safe words negotiated because of the clarity as well as the opportunity to not only reinforce trust but also to slow down and talk about what they’re going into. Some people might cry out “stop!” but not really want to, in which case a Red or Banana or Osmosis (or any other safe word) will make it clear and less confusing. Maybe you’re trying out something new and it feels reassuring or easier to say Yellow or Red or whatever you need to especially if you feel overwhelmed and it’s the only thing coming to mind. Maybe it’s loud out on a play floor and the bottom says “Don’t stop!” but only the “stop” is heard and leads to some confusion and a break in the building tension. Again, safe words help establish that clear line. Perhaps your safe word won’t ever be used but some parts of kink involve pushing boundaries and if that’s what you’re going for, you may encounter a situation that feels too intense or was not at all how you expected or that you misjudged someone. You may find that if you’re using the traffic signal system, you will rely more on yellow than red and rarely ever use green but they’ll be there to help lead you through tough or tricky spots and not have to resort to yelling like a mad person or risking harm because your need to stop was not heard or understood. Maybe you negotiate that “Stop” or “No more” is a perfectly acceptable safe word and that works! Ultimately, it will come down to talking about what will be going on and agreeing on when it all needs to stop.
As for the safe words themselves, many people in kink know the basic traffic signal set of safe words especially if they play in public spaces such as a dungeon or large play party in someone’s home usually. Red means “stop all play” and is widely recognized so in spaces such as a dungeon they will probably have procedures to ensure the scene stops and may even turn the lights on especially if something has gone seriously wrong. Meanwhile, Yellow or Amber is recognized as “check in with me” which could be to slow down, have a moment to breathe, maybe the spot was wrong, whatever it may be but that it’s time to pause before continuing. Green is go and is admittedly the least used but is good to have in case. Again, these might come in handy even in more public places like a dungeon because of the universal understanding. However, people also prefer to have their own safe words for a myriad of reasons such as it being more personal, it would be more discreet, and so on . The key to these is to make sure it’s a word that isn’t likely to be used during play for clarity’s sake. Common ones include colors such as the previously mentioned “Red” as well as “Blue” and the like, fruits such as “Pineapple”, “Mango”, or “Apple”, and other ideas like celebrity names, car names, and whatever else you can think of. Aside from making sure that it’s not likely to be used during play and cause a false alarm, another good rule of thumb is to make sure it’s not too long, difficult pronounce, or hard to remember. This is something that would be used just as easily when you need a simple, quick check in as it is during an intense panic or pain or some other thing gone wrong. For example, some people may feel comfortable using “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” but it is quite a mouthful and you may not be able to get it all out in a timely manner. It probably won’t hurt to let a Dungeon Monitor or host know what you are using, too, so that they can keep an ear out in case the top misses it or the use of it isn’t taken seriously. At the end of it all, it’s about making sure you can clearly communicate your need for a check in or a full stop to take care of yourself.
Now, one other related note would be safe signs. These are nonverbal cues that can come in handy in a variety of situations. For instance, perhaps a gag is being used or your sub space leads to you becoming nonverbal yourself (I’ve been told I get super quiet and that it’s hard to understand what I’m saying if I’m even able to say coherent sentences depending on how deep I go). Another example would be the loud space of a dungeon or general play party. It can be difficult sometimes to hear one another over all the noise, so having a nonverbal cue can help avoid a miscommunication or missed cue. In these cases, safe signs would provide an alternative to still effectively communicate your needs and where you’re at. As for the types of safe signs, this could be dropping something like a ball or cloth or even moving something such as a ball such as when locked inside of a sensory deprivation box. It could also include finger signs similar to nonverbal commands that some D-types choose to use which can then be differentiated into versions of slow down or yellow and stop or red and any other safe words you choose to incorporate. A combination of sounds and physical signs could be used as well, such as waving a cloth and grunting out something like the tune of the Meow Mix commercial song to get the tops attention to check in (little bit of my kitten there haha). Because of the limitations in communication, it can make the negotiation of these signals that much more important to ensure that clarity so that no one gets seriously harmed in silence. Some scenes have the goal of hurting but rarely are they meant to harm.
One last thing I want to touch on and try not to be too much on a soap box over is the notion that “true submissives” or that “proper slaves” don’t have safe words. There is no one true way, which I know has become a very common and hot issue of debate. However, I am talking about safety nets to catch you if (and most likely when if you’re really pushing limits or just over time because of probability) something goes wrong and you need a breather or to stop for the time being and pick up later. Some people do not want to have safe words and some will not play with those that have them. To each their own and their risk profile. However, there is no shame in having safe words or using them. It is not meant to offend the top, as some people seem to insinuate. If anything, it helps build and reinforce trust because they’re hopefully responding to the use of a safe word and making sure everything is okay and therefore show that they will listen and pay attention if you decide to dive deeper. It could damage trust to not communicate needs and end up hurt because the top didn’t catch where you were and may question how far they can go. Now, as the level of structure in the power exchange increases there is also most likely an increase in communication and familiarity so it is not uncommon for there to be submissives, slaves, pets, and the like to not have a safe word. That is because it has probably been negotiated and there are measures in place to ensure safety be it a debriefing after, weekly, or whatever it may be or simply knowing each other’s faces, noises, and such enough which tends to accompany longer term relationships. It will ultimately come down to personal choice whether it’s about which word to use or whether to have them at all. Trust will play a big role as well communication, familiarity, and your risk profile.
I do want to caution that safe words are not a fail safe against predators or bottoms who push too far, so I want to reiterate that sharing your safe word with a DM or using the traffic signals helps add an extra layer of protection.
Overall, safe words are there to protect you and provide a level of clarity to either slow things down or stop them completely. Keep in mind that the traffic signals set of safe words tend to be pretty widely recognized and if you choose to use a more personal word keep it memorable, easy to say, and short enough that you can say it quickly at a moment’s notice. If verbalizing will be difficult or there will be a barrier to the communication – like the aforementioned box – safe signals will come in handy. Like finger signs! (I’ll just leave that bad pun there haha) Having and using safe words should not be a source of shame or guilt since it is taking care of yourself and preventing any serious damage to yourself or the bond. Using them reinforces that the bottom is reliable in communicating their needs just as the top responding promptly reinforces that they will listen and can be trusted to push the limits without going too far. For some, knowing they have that part of their safety net added on will help them let go more. For others, it may simply be something there for emergencies and they may never face such a situation. Ultimately, taking care of yourself means more time to play and could mean diving deeper because you feel safe doing so. Things can and may go wrong but this is one option for adding to your safety net. No matter what, do what you need to do to feel safe, open, and prepared in your exploration and fun because that’s what this journey is about!
Here’s to an abundance of fun and the courage to explore your delightful desires!
I want to continue adding additional resources at the bottom so here are a few that I have used through my journey as well as a way of providing additional perspectives since different styles or wordings can help certain things sit easier 🙂
- I personally like this one because it goes over safe words, styles of play where you’re likely to encounter them, goes into CNC more, and even points out a vanilla example – https://www.lovense.com/bdsm-blog/what-is-a-safe-word
- Here is a good one that goes over why safe words are useful as well as using them responsibly with a bit on why to negotiate them before play – https://submissiveguide.com/safety/articles/to-safeword-or-not-to-safeword
- *This one covers the same as the previous link but also includes a video that is less than 10 minutes – https://submissiveguide.com/safety/videos/video-post-beginning-bdsm-using-safewords-for-safe-play?series=series-safewords
- This one and the last two make a good set from the Submissive Guide because of what and how they cover the topic. This one goes into the after of using safe words – https://submissiveguide.com/safety/articles/what-happens-after-you-use-your-safeword
- Another dive into safe words as well as the difference in perspectives seen around safe words plus touching on after using them – http://dominantguide.com/encyclopedia/safeword/
- This one covers safe words and different levels of play and familiarity as well as covering some basic negotiations surrounding the play – https://www.yourtango.com/2017304710/how-use-safewords-each-stage-bdsm-relationships
- *Here’s another video for people who prefer visuals or audio – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAUAn1fembM
- This one touches on why safe words are so useful as well as some media references and the consequences of not having a safe word listened to – https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/thinking-kink-safewords-bdsm-sex-feminist-magazine-sexuality-media
- I find this one super useful in going more into the safety signals as well as some precautions and ideas for handling sub space when it comes to safe words – http://bdsmwiki.info/Safeword
- *This one is a good cautionary piece on why trust and communication are important and how the universal recognition of red can come in handy in places such as dungeons since safe words are not a fail-safe – https://notjustbitchy.com/safewords-theyre-just-words/