Are safe words enough for emotional and physical safety?
Why use a safe word?
Why aren't safe words enough?
Here are 4 reasons why people might not use safe words to their advantage:
1. Power differentials between partners
2. Not knowing how to use safe words
What happens when a safe word is used? How will the other partner respond? Will we take a break and then restart? Change activity or intensity? Have a conversation or a cuddle?
The traffic light safe system is a good example where clarity is required. What does 'yellow' mean? Does it mean 'I'm almost at my limit, go SLOWER' or 'I'm almost at my limit, push me a little MORE'.
3. Not knowing when to use safe words
Are you supposed to use the safe word when you're in crisis only? Can you use if if things are a little bit off? What circumstances might qualify the use of a safe word? What if you're bored, don't like what's happening but still feel safe, changed your mind but are willing to keep going, want an adjustment, have an unexpected response to something?
4. They may not be verbally communicative
Use safe words as part of other safe system tools.
- Pre-negotiation conversations/texts - build a scene you both are on the same page about. Activities + vibes + aftercare
- On-going communication - checking in can be with dirty talk, taking breaks, asking for feedback, gauging intensity. It's not just "you ok?". Using a check-out (fav things, feedback) can also be part of closing rituals or aftercare
- Flagging insecurities for your partner. Share anything you're nervous about from body shame to performance anxiety to intimacy
- Have mutual pleasure goals. What would make this experience a success for both of us. Your goals might be different but they share an erotic space
- Use Intensity based safe systems. Try number-based systems like 1-10
- Non-verbal safe systems - holding up fingers to indicate intensity levels, closed fist/open fist for yes/no, noise makers like squeaky toys, blinking, pinching, affirming bum or toe wiggles.
- Aftercare - aftercare is part of a safe system for self and for partner. Agree on what aftercare might look like and what's available (for example, are the full 20 mins of cuddling you want available?) Prepare self-aftercare practices too.
Safety Tips for Dominants
- What emotional tools can you use when someone uses their safe word? Curious questions? Holding space? Helping to ground?
- How might you feel if someone uses their safe word? Frustrated? Relieved? Confused? Rejected? Worried?
- Do you feel comfortable having and using a safe word?
- Are you aware of your bottom's non-verbal signs of pleasure/discomfort?
- Do you trust your bottom to use their safe word? Practice inviting your bottom to use their safe word when they don't really need it. Try asking them to use their safe word at least once during a low-pressure activity or scene
- Reassure and remind your bottom they have a safe system
- Check-in for intensity - ask your bottom on a scale of 1-5 intensity where they are at? They can answer verbally or show fingers
Safety Tips for bottoms
- Self-consent - check in with yourself before. Do you have a tendency to not speak up? Do you feel obligated to take it? Do you feel you'll disappoint your top or be less confident if you use a safety tool? Does it feel less "real" for you?
- Pack a little safety kit - what scents, textures or visuals are grounding for you if you don't feel like yourself
- Ask your top to remind you to breathe, use your safe systems and communicate
- Get to know non verbal signs of displeasure and communicate them to your top after
- Ask your top if you both can use safe words
- Practice safe systems during low pressure activities like oral
- What aftercare can you give yourself as a bonus or if aftercare isn't available/satisfying? Have a bath, make a treat, journal, stretch, draw, watch a funny show - how can you decompress on your own?
- If you could give feedback on one thing, what would it be?