Friday, June 15, 2012

A Safer Word

I'm surprised by the increasing controversy over the idea of a safeword, also sometimes written as "safe word". A safeword is code word or phrase that lets you communicate something out of character during a scene. Since many submissives actually enjoy resisting, crying out in pain, saying "no" or "stop", complaining, or begging, this allows for them to do so freely. And, as a top, you don't have to decipher mixed messages. It's an unambiguous way for your sub to tell you something. Peoples' preferences range from using safewords to top from the bottom, to thinking safewords ruin the whole experience. I'll try to cover the range in this post, and end with a bit of advice on dealing with safe words.

There are actually many different uses for safewords. For people inexperienced with a type of play, new to a partner, or who prefer the bottom to stay in control, three safewords are usually used. Most often in this case, they are the colors of a stoplight: green, yellow, and red. This choice prevents the mix up in the meaning and severity of the safewords. For those new, or with a new partner, these words are also easy to remember. Green means ok, harder, or more. Yellow means slow down, or stop doing that. And red means stop the scene, something is wrong, or we need to talk. Some may wish to forgo green, but it's actually very helpful when experimenting with a new type of play, or testing the pain tolerance of someone new to you. Sometimes to prevent the green safeword from giving the bottom too much power, it's only allowed when the top asks instead. Green?

Nonetheless, sometimes two safewords are used. This set up allows the bottom to signal the top to stop or move on, without interrupting the scene. Which in turn allows the top keep intensifying things without stressing about going too far. And there's still the red when you want to stop the scene to discuss something. This tends to be more common among subs who like to top from the bottom, and is generally frowned on by more serious players. I understand that the idea of two safewords can be appealing to some who don't truly feel dominant, but for many subs this gives away too much control. Pushing someone to their limits and having them call out yellow, isn't as good or as much fun as pushing them just slightly beyond their limits. Pushing limits is a great way to bond and grow together as a couple, and this tends not to happen when the sub can stop you. For those who aren't truly dominant, this is something easily overlooked. And for those of us who do enjoy being in control, a yellow safeword can really spoil this part of the fun. That said, a good way to learn a new sub's physical limits is to work him until you get that yellow.

In most relationships there is just one safeword. While red is often used by professionals or people with many partners, for individual couples the word is often unique, and frequently even meaningful. A good safeword is something that doesn't usually come up in a normal conversations or during play. This way you don't accidentally stumble across the word, it's more easily recognized, and stands out when spoken alone. When there is just one safeword, it's used to let your partner know (top or bottom) that the scene is to stop immediately, and that a frank conversation will follow. It's often assumed play will resume after things are worked out, as not to discourage the safeword's use. It's also a good idea to remind your partner of the safeword before playing or when your playing starts to get interesting. If you go long enough without needing the safeword, you or your partner could forget it. If they seem to dislike being reminded of the safeword, perhaps you need to talk about it again. It may be time to go from 3/2/1 safewords to fewer.

As a top, I generally dislike the idea of a green safeword, but am comfortable using it in the form of a question with new subs. I also dislike yellow and insist we drop it when we drop green. This often leads sub's to believe that I equally dislike the use of a red safeword. However, like most tops, having a red safeword make me more comfortable when playing. I hate breaking my toys, so this takes the stress out things and makes it easier for me to enjoy myself and get lost in the play. Some subs however feel exactly the opposite, and have trouble getting lost in subspace when they have a safeword they can use if they decide things become too uncomfortable. Just a side note, but I've noticed these also tend to be the people who prefer secure bondage opposed to bondage one could possibly get out of.

In this case, and what I like to eventually graduate to with any sub, is what I call a saferword (or safer word). This is a single safeword which is only to be used when there is a serious - i.e. medical - emergency. For example, when he or she can't breath, something is wrong physically, or when continued play could result in real physical damage. The saferword will result in the end of the scene. Play will not be picked back up afterwards, which is the opposite of what it usually emphasized when encouraging a safeword's use. For your sub, this is virtually identical to having no safe word, but still allows you to have fun without stressing over damaged goods.

If you're only playing the dominant role, or still prefer to give your sub some control without ruining the fun, oftentimes you can train your sub to give you such hints without them realizing it. To get green hints from them, when starting different say something along the lines of, "let's see what kind of reaction I can get out of you with this." As they react more to something you can say things like, "Oh, I like squirming / whimpering / moaning / whatever." This won't work instantly, but after playing a couple times you'll notice that although your sub starts off quiet, he or she will build up to some nicer reactions as you intensify your play. Once this is working well for you, you can stop with the "let's see" heads up type comments. Getting a yellow from this is as simple as seeing them react less despite no decrease in intensity on your end. You can also feel out a yellow by switching to something new for a minute, but returning to what you were doing. If they reacted very well to the new thing compared to the previous, then they are likely more interested in that. Likewise, if they react strongly to you coming back to the previous form of play, then they aren't ready to move on yet. Of course some subs can go on forever, so feel free to move on eventually; you really shouldn't do something till your sub is bored of it. Overall, this ends up being somewhat similar to how some tops play even when focused on their own enjoyment.

I agree that with some forms of play, there's really very little risk, and no safeword is needed. However, if steps are ever taken, and more serious play is eventually worked into your fun, your sub may find themselves in too deep at some point and actually be traumatized or seriously hurt due to a lack of a safeword. I see no harm in taking a little time to pick a fun, meaningful, yet unique safeword with your partner. If you or your partner really hate the idea of a safeword, use it as I had suggested, as a saferword; only for emergencies. A safeword can come in handy when you least expect it.