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. ;-)

12 comments:

  1. I don't like them either - for many of the reasons you've described.

    First and foremost, by using a safeword I think some doms are in danger of being lulled into thinking that they're not 100% responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of the sub at all times - and that's not acceptable. If people think it's acceptable to try to abdicate any responsibility at all to the person they're playing with, then maybe they shouldn't be playing with that particular person in that particular way in the first place.

    If you're just trying something out with someone new, or doing something new whereby you're not confident that you know exactly what effect you're having, then maybe you should just have a straightforward, open line of communication, rather than having to use a code word.

    The other side of the same coin is that most submissives don't want to use a safeword - either because it makes them feel unsubmissive that they have the final say, or because it makes them feel like a failure if they've had to use it. If they want to have one to give them peace of mind, then that's fine, but that brings us back to the point that it's only for the sub's peace of mind - not for the dom's.

    Whenever anybody says they actively like using them, it always leaves me wondering why. From the sub's point of view, is it because they don't trust the dom? And from the dom's point of view, is it because they don't trust themselves?

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  2. Playing with someone who's said they'll punish you for using a safe word is not risk aware.

    Having safe words ignored is not consensual.

    And expecting all doms to be perfect at identifying your non-verbal cues every time isn't even kink.

    If you want to play in a position where the dom is able to do as they please, then, if you'll be ok with it afterwards, that's cool.

    But please don't tell people that looking after themselves is dangerous

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  3. "... expecting all doms to be perfect at identifying your non-verbal cues every time isn't even kink."

    It may not be your kink, but to many subs (and indeed doms), having their partner be closely in tune with them, such that verbal communication is not always required, is very much central to both their kink and to their relationship as a whole.

    In fact, I'd say it sounds to me like you're missing a trick!

    @Neil_Presidente

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  4. "Time is critical - getting to know how you play together is important".

    "I need to trust that you have taken the time to know me and are able to read my body language"

    But even the first time you play together you shouldn't be using safe words?

    It's not kink because it's infantile dreaming for a magical perfect dom who can, as you say, "be closely in tune with them" from the word go.

    If you can find this magical pixie then good luck to you, but for most I think there's a recognition that play will be imperfect first time, and that imperfect play requires more of a safety net

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    1. I find your tone incredibly patronising. I don't know if I know you in real life, but I'll assume not, because I like to think the people I know wouldn't hide behind anonymous to speak to me that way.

      When I start playing with a partner, there is no need for a safe word because I won't get to a state where I would need one - I would simply tell him or her that I had now had enough. Communication, the English language, no need for special words or rituals.

      No. I don't think safe words are the right way to go the first time, the second time, or the 100th time. Because they don't protect. The best failsafe is trust, and even that can be imperfect.

      It's rather odd, don't you think, that so far every sub who's contacted me about this blog has agreed with it. The dom's are a little more split. Some taking your point of view. Some mine, And some sitting on the fence.

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    2. So the first time you play with someone you "don't get into a state" where you risk being out of control?

      And you've never had a scene where "no" didn't mean "no", but you still wanted a way to say no?

      Because for me, whether I'm playing dom or sub, I continue to want a way that we can move out of the context of the scene if needed.

      Of course the best failsafe is trust, and safewords are a tool that can be used as a scaffolding to build that trust & in specific ways after trust is built.

      And, even with those points, I still think that a real, serious debate about the use of safewords is the right thing for the community.

      But to say using safewords means someone's not a submissive? To say safewords are dangerous & pass no comment on people who refuse to acknowledge your limits?

      That's condoning abuse. Which I find reprehensible.

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    3. I did not say using a safe word meant someone wasn't a submissive. Read the piece. I said that for ME I felt it a failure of MY submission. My comments are about ME.

      I do not condone abuse. I said that I have experienced safe words being ignored. The fact that I did not pass further comment does not mean I condone it. FFS, I have PTSD as a result of violent rape so there are no circumstances in which I condone abuse!

      I find your approach to debate & an opinion that you don't share reprehensible. I'll thank you to go away now. If you reply again I will delete it because now I'm bored of you. Good night.

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    4. "It's not kink because it's infantile dreaming for a magical perfect dom who can, as you say, "be closely in tune with them" from the word go.

      If you can find this magical pixie then good luck to you, but for most I think there's a recognition that play will be imperfect first time, and that imperfect play requires more of a safety net"

      There's a hint of frustration coming through there, don't you think? It still sounds to me like you're missing something quite fundamental. If you can't grasp how two people could possibly build up trust and rapport through play without having a 'secret magic word', then that's your own personal failing - not anyone else's.

      As for your safety net, it's called communication. Again, most people can manage it without needing a special word.

      "But to say using safewords means someone's not a submissive? To say safewords are dangerous & pass no comment on people who refuse to acknowledge your limits?

      That's condoning abuse. Which I find reprehensible."

      Nobody has condoned abuse. For some reason, you've misinterpreted quite a few points that other people have made - either inadvertently (communication skills again?) or deliberately (straw man argument). I don't really know where to start!

      And don't you think it's about time you revealed who you are? Your anonymity is wearing a bit thin.

      @Neil_Presidente

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    5. I fully understand how people could build up trust over time.

      I fail to understand how saying that safe words are "dangerous", that a real submissive would see "using a safe word as a failure", etc is helpful.

      I'm entirely fine with anyone playing how they want. But please don't suggest it's the only right way to play

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    6. Anyway, I'm not disengaging with this

      Delete
  5. ... now disengaging with this, even

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  6. "I fail to understand how saying that safe words are "dangerous", that a real submissive would see "using a safe word as a failure", etc is helpful."

    Again, no-one said that safe words were 'dangerous' per se, so it appears that the main thing that 'fail to understand' is the nuances behind other people's comments.

    "...please don't suggest it's the only right way to play"

    No-one has suggested that either. I just think you've got yourself would up over your own misinterpretation of what other people have said. Everyone's entitled to their own way of doing things, and indeed to their own opinion.

    Although, since you still haven't had the balls to put your name to your against your opinions, I guess they can't be worth that much.

    @Neil_Presidente

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