I am sure we have all heard the sweaty, uber-dom declare; “True submissives I play with don’t have safe-words.” and “My partner isn’t allowed to say no to me.” followed by a grin which could only be described as unfortunate.
I would argue that such an attitude is at best pointless posturing and at worst an indicator of dangerous abuse. So let us explore these two points, the role each has to play in kink and why I would disagree with this attitude.
Safe-words are an integral part of how we provide clear lines of communication throughout our community. Whatever the situation, I don’t think there is a one of us whose ears don’t prick up at the shout of “Red!” in any environment. I think it would be arrogant in the extreme for any of us to think we are so skilled in the reading of body language as not to need, and appreciate, a verbal cue for when things are going too far.
But there is a risk to these short cuts, to relying too heavily upon a presumed common language. Kink lexicography is not yet set and as such can be treacherous.
I have played with people for whom Red! meant: “Stop the scene, untie me, get a blanket it is aftercare time.” While for others it means: “Stop doing what you are doing, check in with me and maybe we shall continue.” For others it even means: “Stop using that item, but carry on with something else.”
These are just three definitions of the same word, and none of them are wrong, just different. However what happens when I expect someone to use Red! to mean stop using the cane and switch to a flogger, where as for them it means: “Untie me and give me aftercare, asap!” In my mind I have respected their consent rules, but for them they are still tied down and only thing that has changed is that I am now using a flogger. What they need and have expressed hasn’t been respected.
This precise concern is what has lead to some refinement of our kink language, many people now use a “traffic light” system; Green, Amber, Red. Green to mean carry on or even do more, Amber to say slow down or switch what you are doing, and Red as a clear indicator to end the scene.
I am a huge fan of pre-scene negotiation which doesn’t just include what they want to do, but also what to do if things go wrong. What kind of aftercare do they want at the end of a scene? What about if they need to safe-word, what kind of aftercare do they need then? What does Red mean to them? How do they let me know something has gone wrong if they cannot talk? The more time we spend learning all this before a scene the better we can mitigate the risk of needing to use any of the information.
This is also the time to check with them what type of safe-words they use, do they use a traffic light system? What does Red mean for them?
Communication is so important at this time, so that we can properly understand each other in the midst of play. Defining how safe-words work for you and your partner is far better done while having a cup of tea than when one of you is hanging upside down on a cross, blindfolded, whips cracking and music going.
Now is the bit where I horribly contradict myself! Remember that less than pleasant fellow I described at the beginning; the uber-dom with the regrettable smile. Yep, him, well here is the confession, I don’t let my partner say no to me either.
So why would I say all that I have about safe words, and the importance of communication when I am now saying I don’t let my partner say no to me? First let me explain that just because my partner cannot say no to me it does not mean she cannot disagree with me. In fact it is precisely because of my love of communication that she is not allowed to say no. When I am playing with someone who I am not in a relationship with, with whom the scene shall be self contained, safe-words are perfectly sufficient and they can say no about anything we discuss, but in my D/s relationships I need more.
I draw a clear distinction between my play relationships and my D/s relationships. One of the biggest differences is that in my play relationships there is no expectation on either party outside of the scene, we play, play ends, we are back to being friends. However, in my D/s relationships a scene is just part of the greater relationship, there are expectations which exist at all times. During a scene the dynamic might be heightened but that relationship does not end when the scene ends.
My D/s relationships thrive when I am fed information, the more I have the better I can structure and direct our relationship. I encourage clear communication whenever possible, and so I don’t let my partner just say “no”. They have to give me a reason, they need to explain why they don’t want to follow an instruction. They know that they need to be able to articulate a problem to me, it forces them to think about why they don’t want to do something, what reason they have and then to express it to me.
If I were to make a statement about an intended activity and she responded simply with “No” then that shuts down the conversation. I am left with no new information and, in my attempts to discern the reason for her having said no, might well settle upon a mistaken idea.
She said “No” to going to an event naked; “But why?” I ask myself “Is she feeling self-conscious about her body? Perhaps I need to work on building up her sense of self worth?” Now I am performing mental acrobatics trying to discern the reason for her reservation rather than focusing on our upcoming event. While in reality it might be as simple as she knows the venue is often cold.
Now in the scenario described above one would expect that such a simple thing would be explained. However, by placing the explanation at the forefront of the conversation it helps with those more complex issues. Is there an issue I am unaware of, does something make her feel uneasy? Then it must be explored, expressed and dealt with. Rather than place the conversation ending word “No”at the beginning of the conversation we remove it entirely.
If me partner ever responds to me with just “No” she knows that she is going to be in trouble, but if she comes to me with a problem and does her best to explain it then she knows that will only be met with care and support. This restriction and forcing of dialog is about more than just the issue being addressed, it is about training her in how to express a problem. I believe it is something us tops should be very aware of; we have to encourage and positively reward our bottoms whenever they come to us with a well articulated issue. They have thought about an order, considered your instruction and found there to be something they see as a real problem in carrying it out. That kind of dedication and care towards our instructions should always be rewarded with positive attention. At times they may come to us with half formed idea, maybe something just doesn’t feel right, then we should encourage them and work together to understand the root of the problem. We should never be angry that an instruction is being questioned when it is being done in a constructive way.
Even though my approach to two distinct forms of consent in the kink community are very different on the surface I believe they have the same underlying motivation, to draw out clear communication between everyone involved. For me communication is everything. Whether it is just confirming what Red means to a person I am about to scene with, or learning about a problem my D/s partner has with an order, through their communication I am learning, and getting better at what I do because of it.