So the rule of thumb is typically that it’s better to stick with the more widely known Safewords. In Southern California we use the “traffic light” safewords of green, yellow, and red. It may or may not be different in different parts of the country or internationally – however, since I didn’t research that I won’t presume to know.
First I will explain what (basically) these safewords mean in case any readers are newer to the scene. Green means the bottom is enjoying what’s happening. Now, you don’t hear “green” very often because typically if a bottom is really enjoying themselves they are just in the moment and perhaps all that’s coming out of their mouth are pleasurable moans, screams, etc. Red means the Top needs to stop whatever they are doing and check in with the bottom. It may mean there is one aspect of the scene that needs to stop or that the entire scene needs to end. Yellow has a more flexible meaning. To some it may mean don’t stop and check in – just lighten up on what you’re doing or switch to doing something else or use a different implement. It could, however, mean to others that they want a verbal check in from their Top – although they aren’t in as much distress as if they call red.
Now the reason I typically don’t recommend changing the safewords you use is for two reasons. One – if you keep changing them it will be harder to remember them in the moment you may need to use them. Two – if you are playing in a public play space then the DMs (Dungeon Monitors) will know what words to listen for in case they need to step in.
So let’s discuss the only time I suggest changing your safewords. Let me say first – if you decide to change them you NEED to let the DMs know and maybe even a few more people who may be around for your scene. If you call one and your Top doesn’t stop, you have people around who will know that and can step in if you need help.
Ok, so, in the 7ish years I have been playing I have only changed my safewords twice. Both for scenes that leaned heavily on role-play. In my case, interrogation role-play. The reason they were changed was to be able to call safewords while still staying in character and using words or techniques to maintain the scene itself.
Both scenes involved my Top trying to get information out of me. In both cases we also had several other people involved in the scene to various degrees of involvement. In one scene she was trying to extract a location. In this case we had one other person who was the only other person (besides me) that knew the “location” who was not directly involved in the physical aspects of the scene but was there the whole time. When I would “give in” and state a location, my Top would verify with the other person. If she stated that was not the location then the scene continued, however, the check in gave me a little break and also represented my “yellow”. If I gave a location and it checked out – that was my “red” and indicated that the scene was over. Basically that the interrogation “broke me”.
In the other example my Top was trying to get a “secret code” out of me. In this case I would give a password for my email. (Yes this was someone I was in a relationship with and trusted.) If I needed to “call yellow”, aka needed a break, I would give the wrong password. It gave me a few minutes while she attempted to use her phone to open my email. However, when I was ready to end the scene (aka red) I gave the correct password. Once she could open my email she knew I was calling the scene.
Yes I changed my password the next day.
I hope these examples made sense. If not, feel free to comment below with questions. The bottom line is that it’s better to stick to the universally recognized safewords. Only change them if you feel it will otherwise be a detriment to the scene and always make sure the DMs or others around you know what’s up.
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 on her blog, A Kink Shrink.
I love the idea of roleplaying where one uses the roles to allow the sub to influence the play including calling the end. I do not think it is a replacement for safewords. In large part that is why I love it. The sub DID NOT safeword, instead the scene played out to a logical end. It tastes different.
That Jenn describes scenes with multiple people involved strongly implies a lot of negotiation and a firm understanding of how the action in those scenes was intended to replace safewords. It is vital to understand. I had a sub who was interested in a superficially similar scene. It would have involved the combination to a briefcase. But her desire was for far more realism in the breaking. If the scene had occurred and I had let her get away with giving a false combination 3 or more times I would have lost all respect in her eyes. By the 3rd or 4th time I would have been compelled to continue torture after she gave a combination to stay in role. At least until she was screaming hysterically that it was right. And if it was not I would have been compelled to start up again in some manner so intense that any ‘rest’ was not worth the cost. Superficially similar, some significant differences underneath. Either scene is fine if it is fine with all involved, but it is rather important that all involved are on the same page.
I also want to point out that if playing publically you very likely have a safeword, like it or not. If you call out the house safeword and the Dom/me does not behave as required by the house rules then the DMs will get involved. That is a very good reason to use some safeword other than the common Red if your idea of what should occur when it is called is different from the house rules. Since in at least one local dungeon the formal rules say red equals scene over I would want something more available. My personal preference is that a safeword forces an immediate checkin. Red cannot be safely used that way in many public spaces.
There are aspects of the sub controlling the scene that make me wary of the red, yellow, green system. Also there are variations in what each means. It does require at least a brief discussion. Having a sadistic bastard side I’ll live with any problems if green means harder please. One other variation for green is ‘all warmed up’.
Many who are more into the D/s end of things than just physical play dislike safewords. Before anyone says something negative about this I want to point out that in my experience that the ones who get vehement to the point of being vicious are almost always subs. To me the red, yellow, green system seems especially bad in that context. It sounds like a demand or a granting of permission by the sub. There is another safeword with a long history, ‘mercy’. While the end result may be the same as red I think it is far different. Red is a demand, mercy is a request, perhaps a request that will always be granted, but it still sounds like a request. They taste different.