Negotiating a BDSM scene

negotiation chess

SAFE, SANE, AND CONSENSUAL – we hear this all the time, but what does it mean? I want to take this opportunity to discuss a portion of this, which is the ‘consensual’ portion. One way to make sure that what you’re doing is consensual is to negotiate.

Negotiating tends to get easier the more you do it. In addition, as you play you will learn more about yourself including more things you need to include when you negotiate a scene. (Negotiating a relationship or D/s dynamic is a whole separate article.) The conundrum is that while you want to cover important things when you negotiate, you also don’t want to negotiate the scene to death. Many scenes are about an exchange of energy and may include elements that the top/D-type doesn’t want to necessarily divulge to the bottom/s-type. This is true especially for players that know each other well, are regular play partners, or in a dynamic/relationship. The negotiation I’m focusing on is the “newbie negotiation”. Assuming you are fairly new to kink or new to your partner, or both. Below is an easy way to remember what should be covered and descriptions for each element.

As I have been teaching the BDSM 101 series I have gone over what should be covered (in general) when negotiating play almost every week. I decided to come up with an easy to remember acronym. They are not necessarily in order of importance, but I had to make it into a “word”!

Negotiation Acronym: S.M.A.S.H.T.

An easy way to remember the basic things that should be covered in a negotiation for play.

S – Safewords
M – Medical
A – Aftercare
S – Soft Limits
H – Hard Limits
T – Triggers

Safewords – sometimes it’s not enough to just agree that the typical “stoplight” system be used (note: if you are using other safewords and playing at a public club, be sure to inform a Dungeon Monitor). “Green” means it’s all good and you are enjoying what’s happening. Most people don’t actually shout “green”! Although that may be kinda funny! Usually giggles or moans are good indicators. “Red” is also pretty straightforward. It means you STOP. Stop whatever is happening and immediately check in with the bottom. I have found that people’s understanding or expectation of “yellow” can vary. It’s important to make sure you are on the same page. If the bottom expects the top to simply “lighten up” when they call yellow but the top assumes they should stop and check in (similar to a red with perhaps less urgency) – this may affect the bottoms head space. The bottom should tell the top during negotiation that, “if I call yellow it just means you’re going too hard but don’t stop and talk to me because it will interrupt my head space.”

Medical – not just obvious things like surgeries, joint issues, injuries, etc, but also things like asthma, blood sugar issues, or allergies. Allergies can be food related but also if they have any allergy to natural fiber, you may need to double think about the type of rope you’re using (if any) or if other toys have been stored with rope that can cause a reaction. Also, if there are animal allergies and you have toys made with any kind of fur, etc.

Aftercare – this varies from person to person and possibly scene to scene with the same person. Some people enjoy close snuggling or putting their head in the tops lap while others may need some time alone or to not be touched. (side note – even if they ask to be left alone they should always be somewhere that you can keep an eye on them) Always have water at the ready for both parties and food may be desired as well. If you know you need to eat right after, I suggest having something that you bring so that you are not relying on the club to have food once you’re done playing. Even just throwing a protein bar in your bag is a good back up.

Soft limits – this refers to limits that the bottom isn’t interested in or has concerns about, but are willing to try them or push. This may also include activities that the bottom knows they don’t like, however, is willing to do them from a place of service or submission.

Hard limits – limits that are a no go. Not happening. Nope.

Triggers – psychological or emotional responses that can affect the scene (usually negatively). These can be body positions, for example the bottom may be fine on a cross but if they are bent over furniture it makes them feel too vulnerable or exposed. It can also remind them of childhood punishments and cause a negative response. Verbal triggers, often in the use of humiliation and/or degradation play. The bottom may not be ok with any “negative” talk – only affirmations or positive feedback. They may also be ok with some types of humiliation but not others. For example sexual humiliation is ok but don’t call them anything negative in reference to their intelligence or weight. Certain implements can trigger someone. Perhaps as a child they were hit with a belt as punishment. For some they may seek out belts for impact due to this experience OR it may become a negative trigger/reminder. Particular parts of the body is something else to consider. You can have a bottom who is a heavy masochist that you can do almost anything to…..except don’t touch their feet! (for example) Maybe you have to stay away from face slapping due to it triggering memories of past abuse, or their stomach due to insecurities, etc.

All of the above should be discussed with concern for both parties. The top may have medical issues or triggers that the bottom should be aware of, both should be on the same page as far as safewords and limits, and the top may have their own requests for aftercare!

Also, make sure you understand the intention of the scene. I know two people that did a full negotiation – listed all the things they both liked – then as they began, realized they BOTH assumed they were the Top! Decide together if this is more of a casual, teaching scene. Perhaps one or both of you are looking for experience but not necessarily power exchange. Do you want it to have a certain energy? Energy of the scene isn’t always something you can control, and in my opinion it’s usually best when you don’t try to, however, if one person is looking for a very sensual energy and the other desires a more strict and disciplined energy that’s good to know up front.

You may need to add to this depending on the type of play or intensity of the scene – but this should cover all your basics.

I hope this helps!

Jennifer Masri is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in Alternative Lifestyles for individual and relationship issues. She also teaches the BDSM 101 class series at Sanctuary LAX in Los Angeles every Monday evening. Read more about Jennifer here: http://www.akinkshrink.com/.

What do you think is important in negotiating a scene?

Comments

  1. I think it’s also important to negotiate the length of time the scene will be, or at least a time limit. I love to play but a couple of times the scene has gone on way longer than I thought it would and it’s awkward as a submissive to tell a Dom that I need to stop it…

    But a great article…

  2. most helpfull because we are new to bdsm

  3. I can understand where you’re coming from in terms of setting a time (see my article coming up on Dungeon Etiquette), however, you also don’t want to limit yourself. The opposite of your scenario can happen as well. Let’s say you’ve negotiated an hour scene but an hour into it things are going well and you’re both in a groove. Do you just stop because the time is up? I would say if you are new play partners it’s not a bad idea with some flexibility thrown in. Perhaps set a time to check in and see how both parties feel. Also, as a Top, if you know you enjoy longer scenes, communicate that to the bottom. Again, communication is the key! 🙂

  4. As a old school long time Dom I commend you. Very good advice especially to the newbees. We all have our unique needs and wants. Learn the persons before a session. Enjoy them and make sure they understand the power exchange and what subspace is all about.

  5. Very good article that all should read especially new D’s or subs or if a new partner to play with.
    I am starting with a new submissive that has just had a negative experience with a Dom. It took a few talks until she understood that I needed to hear the story from her perspective so I could evaluate and make sure that I would not cross a line either physically or emotionally. Her story left me bewildered at the Dom’s lack of respect and concern for his precious gift (submissive). That only through her willingness to give the power to him does he have any.
    Anyway after hearing how he had (in my opinion) abused his role/authority and wasted a rare opportunity for long term submission from a truly giving submissive, I went through how I handle my submissive and one large part of this is strong communication before, during and after a session.
    I am proud of her willingness to submit after she was brutalized and that her heart for service still beats strong ! She is a rare gift that I cherish.

    • It’s lovely that you were able to gently push through her walls and provide her a safe space in which to express herself and offer her submission once again!

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