Sunday, 19 January 2014

On Safe Words

The subject of safe words came up on Twitter earlier today and has been the cause of some extensive debate, with alternative viewpoints.  Many of those people I know in real life, but not all.  This is my personal response to the question of safe words, and should not be read as a criticism of anyone personally.  These are my thoughts, unique to me.

I have used safe words. I prefer not to use safe words.  This is for many reasons which I will try to break down.  The reasons are not in any order of importance.

The first reasons, are reasons why safe words don’t suit my personality:
  • I am a submissive.  This makes me see using a safe word as a failure – an inability to complete the task at hand, which in the case of using a safe word, is generally an inability to suffer as the Dom/top wants.  It is a failure of me.
  • Which leads to an internal dialogue of self-hatred, and often a spiralling into despair.  When you add the physical after-effects of a heavy play session to a negative mind-state, then sub-drop is intense.
  • I am also a masochist.  This makes me stubborn, and not want to use the safe word, even when I absolutely should.  I want the pain, even when I don’t.
  • I am competitive, and must always achieve.  This makes me determined beyond reason to endure, to never give in.
  • I have PTSD.  I suffer panic attacks.  Communicating anything doesn’t happen in those circumstances.

The next set of reasons are reasons why safe words don’t suit the way I like to play:
  • I am not a SSC (safe, sane, consensual) player but a RACK (risk aware consensual kink) player.  I thrive on edge play.  Knives, breath play, CNC (consensual non consent), etc.  If it could end in death, I want to do it.  I want the type of play where I can abdicate all decisions to the person controlling me – where I am left with no sense of self, no ‘id’ if you will, I am just a thing.  Safe words are not exactly conducive to this type of scene.  Of course, trust becomes essential in these circumstances, and I don’t go around playing with just anyone.  And mistakes can happen. 
  • Even in circumstances where that nirvana of trust and losing oneself doesn’t happen (and it’s very rare indeed), how does one safe word when one is gagged, hooded, bound?  How does one safe word when that hood is a pillow case covered in water and you can’t breathe?
  • And let’s take the scene down yet another notch: you are strapped down on a bench in a club, full of people.  The beatings have been coming and coming.  You are a mix of endorphins and adrenaline, feelings & emotions swirling around.  You have no concept of time, of how long this has been happening.  The pain suddenly becomes too much, you are vaguely aware you're not enjoying it anymore.  But you’ve forgotten how to speak.  You’ve forgotten that you were supposed to raise your hand. You’ve forgotten everything except pain.  There are times, I am simply unable to remember what a safe word is, let alone what the safe word is and that I should be using it.
The next set of reasons are reasons why safe words aren’t safe at all:
  • I have played with people who have said that if you safe word you will be punished.  Kind of defeats the object, doesn’t it?  A penalty for not being able to endure.
  • I have played with people who have wanted to break me, to force me to use the safe word, to force me to fail.  This also totally defeats the object (and despite my masochism & competiveness, I have sometimes felt so un-submissive to this approach that I’ll safe word pretty quickly).
  • I have had the fact a scene went wrong and was too much blamed on me – because I failed to use the safe word.
  • I have had safe words ignored.

Now, I understand that the use of safe words can give a comforting illusion of safety.  But, it’s no more than a comforting illusion. And therefore, I think, very dangerous.  Just as rape can’t be prevented by not wearing a short skirt, not getting drunk, or not taking an unlicensed mini cab, so putting into place a safe word won’t mean that the play scene won’t go wrong.  Now, I know many of you are thinking, why is she conflating safe words with rape?  Well, when I was raped, I couldn’t think to say no.  I am almost convinced that I didn’t say no.  I do remember being confused and asking why he wasn’t wearing a condom, and at some point trying to fight, but mostly I disassociated and froze.  An unwelcome assault on the body during play can produce similar human survival responses (fight, flight, freeze).  No means no, but even in cases of rape, actually being able to say the word no is actually not rare.  Safe words mean stop, but being able to say those words when you need to is also not guaranteed.  Saying to a sub after a scene has gone too far “but you didn’t safe word!” is victim blaming in the same way as saying “but she kissed him earlier in the night, she was asking for it” about a rape victim.  I know that’s a harsh analogy, but it’s one I believe in.  Whilst a scene going wrong isn’t rape, it’s not even assault, it’s merely a mistake, blaming it on the sub is just wrong. 

Only 7% of human communication is verbal.  So why put so much pressure on the safe word?  You need to be looking for the non-verbal clues (body language, etc) to watch what is happening to your bottom.  I have played with people when I have been bound, gagged, hooded, waterboarded, hung by the neck…. They have known when I needed release, no words needed from me.  If you are relying on a word, then I don’t trust you.  Because you are trusting me in a way that I cannot give.

Trust is critical.  Time is critical - getting to know how you play together is important.  You don’t go into a scene where you hang someone from the neck on a beam in a cottage far away from other people, if you haven’t built up trust and limits over a period of time. 

Safe words can’t protect me from you if you choose to ignore them.  Safe words can’t protect you from going too far with me if I am incapable of using them.  I need to trust you.  I need to trust that you have taken the time to know me and are able to read my body language.  These are just my thoughts.  And I am aware that many of you are making a mental note to never play with me ever.  And that’s just fine. ;-)

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