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krisleathers 53F
793 posts
6/13/2005 11:15 am

Last Read:
9/17/2010 4:32 pm

Safewords are Dangerous


OK, the title probably got your attention. I considered titling this rant Safewords Considered Harmful, but only the aging geeks in the audience would get the joke.

I did a brief survey not too long ago about safewords, with two questions to suck people in, and one that was meat of the matter: "Do you consider it inherently unsafe to play without [a safeword]?" I was disappointed but not the least bit surprised to find that most people really believe that safewords keep them safe, and that it's unsafe to play without one.

I have just one thing to say about that: bullshit.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, I've watched safewords go from one of many useful tools to something treated with near-religious reverence within the community. Like most things that are put up on this sort of pedestal, safewords are highly misunderstood.

I'm going to say something that will shock some of you: A safeword does not keep you safe.

OK, repeat that with me. "A safeword does not make me safe." If you believe otherwise, then you are seriously confused. If you break your leg during a scene, calling a safeword will not magically heal it. A safeword won't stop the bleeding, undo the needle stick, make you stop crying, or get that creepy guy away from you.

If your top doesn't respect your safeword, you're no safer than if you didn't have one. A safeword can be missed for all sorts of reasons-- noisy dungeons, misunderstanding on the top's part, and distraction, among others. Oh, yes, malice as well.

If you can't call your safeword when you need it, then it's useless. We're pretty well wired to yell, "stop!" if we need something to stop, but "aardvark" just doesn't come naturally for a lot of us. If you're really in distress, you'll probably be falling back on instinct rather than rational thought, and you might not be able to call a safeword.

Safewords won't keep the psycho from killing you.

According to many of you, I'm an unsafe player. As a top, I tell bottoms that I'll respect a safeword if they want, but that my preference is not to use them. As a bottom, I tell my top (even brand new ones) that I never use safewords.

I'll now pause for people to gasp. Thanks, that was right on cue.

Actually, my topping a new partner speech goes like this: "I'll respect anything that sounds like a safeword until you tell me otherwise, and that includes 'no' and 'stop'. However, I really would prefer that you just use plain English with me."

My bottoming speech is much simpler: "I don't use safewords. Instead, I'll just tell you what's going on. Stop means stop, no means no, more means more. If you aren't sure, just ask."

A few months ago, I had a scene go seriously south as a bottom. This is the first time that this has ever happened to me in something like fifteen years of playing, and it was really frightening. I didn't even know what was wrong, just that something was really and seriously out of whack.

When this happened, I couldn't have come up with a safeword if my life had depended on it... I was so far gone that I couldn't have figured out what the word was. I managed to tell my top, "I'm not OK", and then for the next several minutes all I could do was sob and shake my head yes or no.

If I'd been relying on a safeword to stop the scene, I don't know what would have happened. I probably could have gotten the message across, and my top was good enough that he almost certainly would have noticed my change in demeanor, but I'll never know for sure.

Historically, safewords have evolved for one primary reason: they provide an unambiguous means of communicating stop in roleplaying or resistance situations where the bottom wants to be able to call out, "No! Stop!" without meaning it. If you're playing in situations where the bottom wants to resist, then a safeword is nearly essential.

If you're playing in situations where the bottom can't speak, such as when they're gagged, then a safesignal of some sort is likewise highly valuable.

Safewords can also provide a security blanket for novice players, especially bottoms. It can be highly reassuring for a nervous beginner to know that all they have to do is say aardvark and everything will stop. Actually, I should say to believe that all they have to do, since there's no guarantee that it will actually work. Hell, a safeword doesn't even communicate what's wrong... it's just an emergency broadcast system beep.

Let's circle back to the title. Do I really consider safewords to be inherently dangerous? No, of course not... they're a valuable tool in many BDSM situations, and I would never argue that they shouldn't exist.

However, I do believe that safewords have a real risk, and that risk is a false sense of security. People in the scene these days really and truly believe that safewords keep them safe, or at least safer. If you believe too strongly in the protection of your safeword, you may neglect more important safety precautions.

Safewords also can make a top feel like they have license to be less observant. If the top believes that the bottom will safeword if there is sufficient distress, then they might overlook signals that they really should be paying attention to.

It really bothers me that safewords have achieved a nearly religious reverence in the SM community these days. They aren't the be-all and end-all of communication or safety, and they shouldn't be used as such.

I'm ranting, but I hope that I've managed to help a few people think about the value of safewords, and in the ways that they are misunderstood and misused.


Deepbluenothing 54F
6252 posts
6/13/2005 3:04 pm

Excellent post kris... you should consider posting it to the magazine or the advice lines so it will be available for a longer time rather than disappearing down in the blogmire...


DStigmatta9 53F
588 posts
6/13/2005 4:48 pm

Excellent article!!..Would have to agree that a word isn't going to stop anyone,BUT would also hope that at 'least'if a safe word 'is'included it would be respected...

In The Darkness There Is Silence,it is there You wil hear Me...


krisleathers 53F
744 posts
6/13/2005 6:01 pm

DStigmatta9, you could hope for that, but it's tilting at windmills.

See my P.S. in a separate entry for an example of why. It can happen even with people that you've played with for a very long time and trust deeply.


krisleathers 53F
744 posts
6/16/2005 2:05 pm

bodski, I dropped a fairly long reply to this over in your blog.


PekUSA 63M/54F
18 posts
11/4/2005 1:44 pm

Safewords this, safewords that, blah, blah, blah. I understand how the safeword is construed and how both D/s's want to impliment them in their play. The advocates of using this "safeword", IMO, here on this blog seem to not be in an ongoing relationship. I suppose that is why these "subs" want to top from the bottom because of the inherent lack of trust with their playmates and the "Doms" choose this method to try and instill trust. Like kris said, "Bullshit!"

When my sub and I first delved deeper into our D/s, BDSM lifestyle, discussion about safewords determined that if there is the immense trust, security, safety in my sub submitting to my carnal ways in domination, safewords were not necessary, say, to cry out if her ass was on fire, the ropes are a little tight, that hurt when you pulled my hair, etc. Discomfort is part of bondage; pain is part of spanking; raucous sex by toys, oral, anal, is for controlling her orgasmic aura, not for silly safewords. The good Dom reads the signals of his sub and nourishes her, responds to her needs, soothes her feelings, relaxes sore joints, lets her have a short rest so as not to ruin her. This is a relationship built on trust. No safeword is needed. I won't break her neck by pulling her hair, but she had better be paying attention.

This, not to be misconstrued with a sub getting herself into a rather harsh slave enviroment with a known to be sadistic session before her. (It sounds like kris got in to one of these unbeknownst.) There, the safeword is also not used. The sadist pushes the sub to their ends towards a masochistic approach. This Master is not concerned for their nourishment because they have agreed to such intense levels of pain and ravagement. This is not simple play.

However, W/we do have hand signals for certain areas of play that involves toys that can be dangerous. And in that case we have hand signals and if you ain't paying attention as a dom, some serious shit can occur. And if you are the sub and you trust your Dom, and the hand signal is used, it is because it is highly necessary and NOW! And the good Dom knows it. This play can be safe, but you need to watch certain areas. In that case, the sub, unless unconscious, knows the hand signal well and trusts her Dom.

Early on in a session, I made a common mistake of asking her if she had had enough. To her chagrin, her answer was "Fuck you!" It was at that point in our new areas of this BDSM, she learned not to be disrespectul when she is bound and tied, and that I was the one that determined when she had had enough. A very fast learning experience. If any questions might be asked today, maybe like "Are you ready to procede with more?", there is only one answer, "Yes, sir!" No safewords.


krisleathers 53F
744 posts
11/5/2005 1:54 am

PekUSA, you are so far away from the truth of what happened in the scene that I described that you and it aren't even on the same planet.

I wasn't playing with a new partner-- in fact, we'd been (and still are) together for quite a while. And it wasn't because of a "known to be sadistic session before me." In fact, it was a sadistic session, but the scene gone south had nothing to do with physical intensity.

Instead, we accidentally ran aground of some Serious Emotional Shit that had been buried. It wasn't overload, but an emotional break.

In fact, you completely missed the point of my rant. I wasn't advocating for no-safeword scenes (wherein the top gets to decide how much is too much), but for better general communication and less reliance on intentional code words.



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