I’m addressing one question that has been burning in my gut all week.
Are Red Flags Universal? For reference, I’m only using ones commonly mentioned in BDSM relationships/Dynamics.
I feel the need to emphasize that red flags are personality driven. Your role in the dynamic has no bearing on your ability to abuse and manipulate someone. Never assume that only Dominants can be abusive. Because, I can tell you, that submissives can violate consent and they can be abusive.
Be warned, if you type “red flags in BDSM” into Google, the articles will all center around Dominants. Even the ones that discuss the subs, do so from the viewpoint of a victim. Abuse victims can be any gender, any color, any size or shape, and any role in BDSM.
I started dwelling on this because of a group I am in online. It has members from all over and we started discussing red flags. For many of them, red flags were universal and the answers were very consistent.
Except, half of them didn’t apply to my dynamic.
Did this mean my relationship was wrong? Unsafe?
I came to the conclusion that no, my relationship was fine. The definition of universal was not.
I’m going to quote one of the individuals in my group. I will not share their name for privacy reasons. They told me that the best definition for “universal red flags” was this:
If you consent to it, it’s BDSM. If you don’t, it’s abuse.
I find that much more accurate than the lists online. So I’m going to break down some of the red flags that I am familiar with. This is by no means a comprehensive and all inclusive list not does it account for anyone’s individual experience that differs from this.
Remember, that abuse is never ok.
Things to keep in mind:
1) Both D-types and s-types can be abusive. It doesn’t matter how the relationship is structured. Abuse is not based in consent.
2) Relationships take many forms. What would be a red flag for you may not be accurate for all.
3) Concern for a friend is never a bad thing. Speak up and express your concerns in a private setting. Be willing to listen and never make a rash judgement.
4) BDSM looks like abuse to many people. While we are often proud of our marks, many see it as wrong. As such, remember there are two sides to every story.
5) No word universally indicates abuse. Sentences I’ve used in my own relationship are good examples.
— “I can’t wait for my next beating”
— “It makes Master so happy when I flinch in pain”
— “I always flinch when he hits me”
— “I had to wear pants so my bruises wouldn’t show”
— “We don’t leave marks where people will see”
— “He hits me with love”
**Every single one of those sentences is something I have said. A variation of every single one of them can be found in a pamphlet on spousal abuse. Does that mean I’m being abused? No, it doesn’t. Because we have negotiated the boundaries of mine and his consent. But, being an outsider, you don’t know that. You have to make a personal decision on whether to speak up or pretend I’ve not said anything controversial.
What would you do?
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1) Removal of affection as a form of punishment
Silent treatment is commonly touted as a cruel way to “punish” someone. I often see this one relating to Daddy/little relationships. This is not a good punishment. The basis of BDSM is communication. You can’t communicate with silence. Even worse, for those who have anxiety, past abuse, or a regressive style of age play, the silent treatment is incomprehensible. It simply leads to feelings of inadequacy and mislaid blame.
**This punishment (specifically, four hours without hugs or kisses) is in my punishment jar. It was written and chosen by me. It was approved by Master after he asked for my reason. I told him that it would be a difficult and painful punishment because I thrive with physical touch. But, I also reasoned, that if he wants me to learn, it needs to be a memorable punishment. So, we both consented to it’s use. That means, in regards to my dynamic with Master, removal of affection is not a red flag**
2) Requiring you to do something you don’t want to do.
I find this to be an ambiguous statement that has multiple ways of approaching. So, let’s break it down.
“You will do this because you love me”
— This is a manipulative statement that I would classify as a red flag. Love, or any other emotion, should not be a factor in completing an action or trying something.
“You will do this because we agreed you would take care of yourself”
–It’s never been worded quite like that for me, but I do have rules that ascribe to this thought process. Daily medication is one of them. I am very bad at taking my medication. So, we agreed that it would become a punishable rule. I still don’t like it, but I sure as heck do it.
3. Physical hits during high emotions
–This is another one of the ambiguous ones. For me, this is an absolute red flag. You do not play with me when angry, you do not touch me when angry, and you sure as fuck don’t strike me when angry.
That being said, I do know a couple of people who use BDSM as their therapy for emotions. Think along the lines of having angry sex but it involves impact play. That would make this red flag fall under RACK.
–This is a full topic in and of itself. The universal feeling among other kinksters seems to be that aftercare is a must and those who don’t give it, don’t care.
I disagree. I think aftercare is something both parties are responsible for and should be negotiated.
For some people, if they play with a service top, they don’t accept aftercare because they don’t know them very well. This is perfectly acceptable.
For one Dom I know, he does not provide aftercare. However, he requires that you have a plan in place for your own aftercare before he will play with you. He is upfront about this. I also think this is acceptable. If you have accepted his specification through negotiation, then you have consented to those rules.
On the other hand, if you are left wanting for aftercare, express it. If your partner doesn’t listen, doesn’t renegotiate, doesn’t care, or states that your needs are unimportant (either through words or actions), then that is a red flag.
5. Unwilling to admit lack of knowledge
–You will never know everything. That is a fact of life. Even decades in the lifestyle will never give you all the answers.
I often share the same story when this “red flag” comes up.
It is well know in my community that I enjoy hard impact play. It is even more well know that my Master is very good at fulfilling that need. During one party, we played heavy. He focused his hits on my ass and thighs. He left me some good marks and when we finished, I went back to my duties regarding the party.
A few hours later, when it got dark, Master was asked to do fireplay. I don’t mind being on the table to show new people what it looks like. In fact, I often find it relaxing.
But, this time I didn’t. It just felt a little too hot. Since I am extremely sensitive to temperature play, I opted off the table after a few minutes. When my back still felt hot after another 20 minutes, I went to take a look. I had a red mark on my back in the shape of a crescent moon. No idea why or how.
So I informed Master, he put burn gel on me and we were good. There is always a chance of burns from fireplay. That is part of my risk.
Two days later (keeping with Neosporin and burn gel), my bra peeled the skin from that spot while I was at work.
It took us days to figure out what had happened. Turns out, one strike from the bullwhip hit my back instead of my ass. Due to the adrenaline of the scene, neither of us noticed. Since we lit skin that was already compromised, it caused me to scar.
Master and I have 45 years of experience in the lifestyle between the two of us…and we didn’t know that could happen.
So, now, we do not do impact and fire on the same person in the same evening. This accident has led us to safer practices. All because we were willing to admit our wrong and learn from the mistake.
Therefore, an inability to take advice is a big red flag. As is being a peacock.
Peacock: strutting around as if you are the Universe’s gift to mankind and are a perfect _____ (<—insert role here)
6. The words “true” or “real”
–These are toxic addeges that are often used to lure new (or green) individuals into a coersive situation. It can make you doubt that BDSM is what you make it.
You can still be submissive and not kneel. You can still be submissive and not wear a collar. You can be a Dominant and not live in high protocol.
You can still be you, have boundaries, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, and safewords.
There is no one “true” way and no particular act that makes you a “real” Dom or sub. (Please keep in mind I am using D/s terms as a generic umbrella. The vast number of roles is simply to large to list).
I dislike, more than anything, the use of these words. I also find they can compromise your learning in BDSM.
I used to have panic attacks when Master would need to remove my collar each night. We used a day collar for work (which due to its design, could not be worn to bed or in the shower). We only used my permanent collar for events. I was convinced that it was bad of me that he had to take the collar off. That I wasn’t showing respect because I couldn’t wear my permanent collar on a daily basis.
So, we moved on the a chainmaille collar. It never had to be taken off. That’s good, right?
It was great until I had an asthma attack so bad that my spouses found me collapsed over a tub, trying to breathe. Master removed my collar, my wife put me in the shower, and I sat in there, hiccuping in tears and trying not to suffocate.
Would you care to guess what I did after?
I went to Master’s bedroom door, asked to enter, knelt down, and sobbed how sorry I was that I couldn’t keep his collar on. I was convinced I was a bad and unworthy submissive because I had medical issues that required my collar to be removed.
Do you know what he did?
He put his fingers under my chin and lifted my head up. My eyes were screwed shut. I couldn’t see the disappointment at my failure that way. He asked me to look at him. He waited patiently until I did.
And I struggled. I looked everywhere but at him. He locked eyes with me. He told me I wasn’t allowed to apologize.
“We don’t apologize for medical issues. We take care of ourselves.”
He put the collar back on me and quite sternly told me that “my collar never leaves your neck, even if this (he lifted the chainmaille) isn’t there.”. Then he kissed my forehead (three times) and gave me a hug.
His understanding doesn’t make him any less of a “true Dom”. My medical issues don’t make me any less of a “true sub”.
They simply make us human.
** I’m aware this list is highly subjective. Mostly, all I ask is that you think freely without judgement. Don’t believe everything you read. Don’t be afraid to disagree. Conversations of differing viewpoints is what helps us grow as people.
Just as I would never ask you to violate your limits, I simply ask you do not impose your limits onto me.
There is nothing better about me because I like it rough. There is nothing worse because I enjoy mental fuckery more than I enjoy physical pain.
I am just another submissive who is trying to find his way in the world.
I encourage you to discuss the red flags. Google then. Blog about them. Leave a comment about your thoughts.
The only way to make sure red flags are remembered is if they are discussed consciously, purposefully, and continuously.
One last question that I hope you can answer. What does a red flag look like to you?
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I hope you enjoy this. I also wanted to ask, are there specific topics you need or want covered? If so, please let me know.
About the Author
My name is Joji. I am 29 years old currently and I have been in and around the kink community about 15 years.I am a collared submissive to Magick42. I am also a Daddy to a wonderful babygirl, and have been for more than three years now and I find it very fulfilling. I am being mentored in and being taught electroplay. I am a masochist at heart and thoroughly love impact play, especially caning. I enjoy reading anything I can get my hands on and am a die hard Harry Potter and Doctor Who fan. I am also the secretary for a group in Idaho called Moscow S.P.A.R.K.E (Simply Providing Another Route to Kink Education). It is our mission to teach safe practices to those new to the community and give them a safe haven to ask questions and learn without judgement. We accept all kinks and all we ask in return is respect between all our members.