I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly!
From time to time, I make a comment that stirs up a bit of controversy. This week, the heresy was that I made the statement that I see no reasons for “Hard Limits” in established, founded, D/s relationships. I took a bit of flack regarding safety, communications, rights, etc.
So, before we get into my rationale, let’s quickly define a “Hard Limit”: A pre-negotiated activity, situation, or issue that participants considered to be prohibited.
It’s important to note, that my statement was made with respect to established and founded D/s Relationships. That is: Those with established, healthy underlying relationships (see my other articles regarding the “Layers” and what an “underlying relationship entails”) and relationships with developed, understood power dynamics.
I do see value in Hard Limits in other circumstances. For example, in a dynamic that’s built on a new relationship – or one that’s otherwise relatively early in its BDSM development – Situations where the dominant and submissive do not know each other well. In those cases, having the communication required to establish a set of hard limits is extremely valuable and likely even necessary for safety.
As my relationships are all firmly established and founded, I find the notion of limits to be restrictive for the dominant and indicative of a problem with the intent of the submissive. This is the fundamental assertion that raised the dander of many of the conversation’s participants.
My argument harkens back to the discussion of “Layers”; specifically, that different relationship attributes source their intent from the underlying relationship and others source from the power dynamic that is layered on top of that relationship. The requirements for a successful relationship (with or without a power dynamic) are things like: Caring, Respect, Honesty, Open Communications, Trust, Mutual Fulfillment of Needs, Companionship, etc.
It is my contention that, in D/s relationships that have established underlying relationships, the types of things that are “protected” within a “Limit” are naturally handled, without the need for a formalized structure. If you care about the physical and mental health of your partner, you’re not going to do things that harm them. You aren’t going to violate their trust. Therefore, the establishment of a formal “Hard Limit” is redundant. Worse than just being unnecessary, the restrictive nature of the INTENT of establishing a formal hard limit, indicates that the submissive does not trust the dominant to care for them – and feels that a contractual construct to explicitly prohibit them is necessary. I feel that this dilutes the commitment that is being made to that dominant.
The arguments that came back (and that maybe you’re thinking right now) related to the “Safety” of the submissive: That the dominant is obligated to avoid the limited activity which protects the submissive. They also fired off on “the rights of a submissive to control what is done to their bodies”.
To the first concern, I pointed out that there is nothing legal about a hard limit. A hard limit is only as valuable as the integrity of the dominant. People who don’t respect the physical and mental health of their partners will blow through a hard limit like a yellow light at an intersection…until they get caught. Believing that creating a hard limit “protects” you, is foolishly optimistic.
In this way, a “Hard Limit” is like a slavery contract – it’s communication for the purpose of understanding, but it can’t actually be enforced. There is no real binding mechanism. There is only the trust and honor of the partners. In the case of violations, where your partner isn’t honoring, or respecting your wishes, the only recourse you have (in both cases) is to end the dynamic. So “Safety” isn’t a real advantage.
With regard to the rights of the submissive: When you consider the underlying relationship, I feel the point is also moot. Certainly, you have the right to tell your partner what you like or don’t like. You also have the right to warn your partner about things that, in your mind, will end your dynamic. That’s basic relationship 101…and it’s reality with or without a power dynamic. The lack of a specified hard limit doesn’t change a person’s basic rights. I also warn that the existence of one doesn’t guarantee them either.
Imagine a couple who’ve been married for 25 years, who do not have an open marriage. One partner discovers that the other is having an affair. Do you think there’s a practical difference in these two statements?
“I told you that fidelity was a hard limit and so I’m leaving you”
“You violated my trust, I’m leaving you”
There is no difference. These are root-level requirements of healthy established, founded relationships. There is no need for the formality of the construct.
I was asked if I would enter into a relationship with a sub who presented me with hard limits. For me, it would depend on his intent when presenting that limit. If he said, “I just want you to know that I’ve had a trigger on ‘XYZ’ my entire life and I want to make sure I never have to deal with it…please don’t put me in that situation” – then I would not hesitate taking this man on as a submissive (and I would respect his concerns).
But, if he said something along the lines of, “I will submit to you, but only if you don’t do “XYZ” – which is off limits to you.” – Then, my radar would go up and I would be far more cautious before engaging with him. I would want to probe a little further to attempt to determine his true attitude. Is his intent to limit me as a dominant, or does he just not know a better way of communicating this?
Lastly, if he said, “You can do ABC, DEF, GHI, but not XYZ – or I will be gone”, then I would likely not engage at all. It’s all about intent – and a submissive who thinks it’s his role to limit me as a dominant, isn’t a submissive for me.
When someone enters a power dynamic as a submissive, purporting to dedicate themselves to the preferences and pleasure of their partner and to serve them as their submissive, and then spells out the ways in which THEY are going to RESTRICT their partner – it dilutes the meaning of the power agreement (to me). That doesn’t mean the submissive partner can’t communicate their preferences and even specify their hot-stops – in fact, I want to know that and I seek that out…but the attitude of RESTRICTION changes the intent of the agreement – to me – and I would not accept that Hard Limit.
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.