Building a Foundation for Exploring Your Limits


One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my current Master/slave dynamic is that things I might have hated before can turn out to be things that I love. Being open to the possibility of the future, trusting my Master and putting the past behind me has helped me to let go of things I once considered limits. I’m fortunate to be in a relationship with someone who is kind and caring. I always remember that his intent matters and it makes a difference in how things affect me. For example, in the beginning of our talks he told me that he enjoyed using gags. My immediate response to this was that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I took time to sit with those feelings. They were so wrapped up in the person who had used that tool with me before and the fact that he used it because he wanted to silence me in a way that devalued my humanity.  My Master doesn’t want that from me, at all. Now, I love the gag, because it is a completely different experience. Changing that limit has not only allowed me to experience something in a new way, it’s allowed me to expand my service to him. 

Gags were part of a few soft limits that I had expressed explicitly. As our time together passed and our trust grew in each other, I began to be more curious about exploring this limit.  He had a couple of ball gags in his toy bag that interested me. Once he let me try them just to see how they felt. As we casually sat there on the bed, I fingered the leather straps and placed my teeth gently over the ball of it. He didn’t reach to fasten it, he barely even touched me while I handled it. He never discussed a desire to use them and he never pressured me to think about it because he was honoring my limit. After I finished looking at them, he placed them in the bag and we didn’t speak about them again for a while. Still, I could see the desire in his eyes when we spoke about it that day. Not only would it mean a lot for me to try this, but it would mean that I trusted him and trusted his intent. It also might please him. 

What does a gag do? 

At its most elemental level, it removes the ability for speech. I never realized how much of my time I spend talking. I go to work, I talk in meetings, on the phone, and help to solve problems for other people. Could this help me somehow? When he put it on me and I saw the change in his face, desire electrified us both. I molded to it almost immediately, just as he wanted. 

That, I liked.

The climax of it was so intense that it caused a complete reversal in how I felt about gags. It also replaced some pretty bad memories with a good one. Please note, I’m giving the example of this particular limit that I had, but this can work for many different types of soft limits. 

  • A cautionary note here: I do not believe in ignoring hard limits. However, if it’s your limit and you’ve determined it is hard— that doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. In the end, it’s up to you. The most important thing about limits is being personally responsible for them. That means you have the ability to change and alter them. All of this happens within the framework of trust, which starts with building a foundation through personal reflection, communication and negotiation. Sometimes it is difficult for a slave to admit to limitations and this can make it even more important that they communicate clearly and are open about feelings. No one can read your mind. Additionally, it is important to be honest with yourself about what you can handle physically and emotionally. It is important that this is done with consideration for your safety and well-being. 

This may not work for you, but hopefully by giving a glimpse into my own world, I can provide something of value to others. The following are key foundations that formed our initial guidelines for limits.

The Foundation

  • Personal Reflection: Before I entered into a relationship with my Master I had done a deep dive into the things that I wanted and the things I never wanted to do again. For me, the ‘never wants’ came from a place that was traumatic, but not all of them. Sometimes when I thought about certain kinky activities or how far his area of influence would extend into my life it simply made me uncomfortable. When I reflect I consider how I am feeling at that point in time and why I might want to change things or offer something new. It’s also important to me to think about whether I am really ready to explore expanding (or discarding) a soft limit. These are reflections that I must share with my Master. They aren’t helpful in my growth if I just keep them to myself. He’s fantastic, but he is definitely not a mind reader!   
  • Letting go of the Past: An important part of my personal reflection is thinking about my past. There are experiences I have had that are important in my growth and learning. But, there have also been negative memories that I need to let go of in order to move on and build trust with someone new. One of the things we promised each other when embarking on this journey is that we would try not to let experiences from the past color our opinion of trying things together. I realize that this isn’t a simple process. With hard work and honest effort I can overcome some of the negative experiences, but it isn’t easy. It takes time. Something that helps me is being able to talk to close friends or even to my Master about my history. Sometimes having that special person who can be a sounding board and support, without fear of judgment, is good way to explore feelings. However, if you have experienced a deep trauma that you are struggling with, I recommend seeking the help of a qualified professional. No matter how much the people close to you want to help you, there are some things that people simply don’t have the skill set or experience to help you through. There are even resources out there for kink friendly professionals, if you should wish to seek help.
  • Communication: At first, it was so easy to talk about all of the fun, kinky things that we wanted to do. But, we also did the hard work of talking about the things that might make us uncomfortable. We mainly focused on verbal communication, because for us that worked. However, sometimes the trauma associated with a limit or even the embarrassment might make verbal communication difficult. This is where sharing journal entries or writing emails can be a good way to step into conversation. My opinion is that there is no substitute for face to face communication. However, body language says a lot, especially when we’re talking about deep personal fears. For example, I feel it’s important for me to see his reactions and for me to expose my own to him. 
  • Negotiations: Our negotiations were specific, they definitely included limits that we considered hard. Hard limits go to the core of our value systems. We didn’t write them down, although that’s a completely valid way to keep track of agreements and limits. You should do whatever feels right in your situation. Some negotiations are easier than others. Furthermore, negotiations are not a one time situation for my Master and I. If my feelings are changing about limits it is important for me to discuss this with him and let him know what I am thinking. When we start to work on pushing a soft limit, it is always with the understanding that it might not work out the way we hope. We are testing the waters together at that point, before we make any specific changes about whether the limit stays or goes. In this way, we are free to experiment without fear of not being able to turn back. Additionally, because things can change based on factors as simple as a stressful life situation, a lack of sleep, or the onset of an illness it’s important to check in with each other prior to starting your exploration of limit each time (even if you have already begun exploring this new limit) to make sure that you still feel okay with moving forward.

The resolution to all of this for me was a new way of thinking about and handling limits. We took our time to build trust and communicate. Because we honored our agreements and negotiations with each other in the past, I felt even more comfortable trying something that I previously considered a limit. The intensity of being able to serve him in that way overwhelmed me and took me to a place I didn’t even know existed. I love that I can still be amazed and in awe of these things. I’m grateful for his dominance, for the way he guides me steady and shows me what I want, even when I don’t know what that is. 

He surprised me.

I surprised me.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

By: Juliette van der Molen

Writer of completely unladylike erotica and other sundry things. After discovering that people actually do these crazy, kinky things, she began exploring the lifestyle in 1993 and never looked back. She writes about her experience in authority based relationships, BDSM fiction and even the occasional hot sonnet. She is currently the assistant direction for MAsT Central New Jersey and the co-host of a submissive support group (SSASE) in the same area. Her work has appeared in Lit Up, P.S. I Love You, My, and The Junction. You can find her in these publications at: and connect with her on Twitter @j_vandermolen and fetlife at: juliette_ .


Author’s Note: Thank you for reading this article! My name is Juliette and I’ve been involved in the M/s lifestyle for 25 years (please don’t do that math!). I’m involved in the MAsT Organization and currently co-host a munch (SSASE) for submissives in my local community. I’m thrilled to be part of those groups and have had the good fortune to meet many amazing community members through them. The things I write about are told through the lens of my experience, which is not all inclusive. I don’t believe in a true way or a right way, I just believe in a ‘right way’ for my partner and I. Because our community is so diverse with a multitude of relationship styles I always love to hear about other experiences. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know your perspective. Or reach out to me on Twitter (@j_vandermolen) or Fetlife (juliette_). When we share our experiences, we strengthen each other and our communities.


  1. theoriginalwhippinggrl says:

    Your article is so thorough and well-written! I full relate to everything you are talking about! When you talk about reflection, what are some of the best ways you specifically go about doing that?

    My Master has asked me to journal, but I am wondering if you have any other advice on the subject.

    • Hi there!
      Reflection is certainly personal and there is no one right way to do it. Journaling is definitely a great place to start if writing speaks to you. Other things that can help are: meditation and deep breathing exercises, unplugging from technology for periods of time, physical exercise (walking comes to mind and Julia Cameron recommends this as a great way for artistic minded folks to ‘walk through ideas and thoughts)..

      Reflection is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s hard to find time and space to be alone and do that. It sounds like you are on the right track with journals. I hope you find them helpful!

      Thank you for stopping by to read my article and for the comment!

  2. ropenewbie says:

    Love your work! It’s clear that you have a lot of experience and knowledge to offer!

  3. theoriginalwhippinggrl says:

    Thank you for your reply. It was very helpful!

    I look forward to reading more of your work in the future!

  4. queenDom says:

    This article is wonderful! Read it this week and last week.

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