Have Safewords Become Controversial?
Safe words are a well-known aspect of BDSM. We are all aware of the pop culture references to them, the joke that they have become in vanilla society. There has been a backlash against safe words in recent years by parts of the kink community – a group who does not seem to understand what safe words are or how they are used.
Let’s define safe words so that we are all starting in the same place. A safe word is a word used during play, it can have a number of meanings indicating that play should be interrupted or stopped entirely. Safe words are simple, easy to remember words, such as red and yellow. I am also including safe signals in this, a simple signal that indicates the same message as a safeword is important if the bottom is gagged or becomes non-verbal during a scene. A safe word can be used to revoke consent for any reason, to indicate a problem or to simply interrupt the dynamic for further communication. Safe words are specifically used during resistance play but can be used in any other type of scene as well.
Arguments Against Safewords
Let’s take a look at some of these arguments against safewords so that you can decide for yourself what style of communication you want to use. Many of these arguments seem to arise from a misunderstanding about how safewords are intended to be used or why some people may prefer them. Really, they are just another tool for communication, I don’t think it serves the kink community when we need to ask are safewords controversial
I just use regular communication, it’s better and more clear.
Regular communication is essential to a healthy kink relationship, but there are times when we need a different style of communication. When we do resistance play, words like “no” or “stop” don’t hold their regular meaning – we have negotiated to that effect. Regular communication is used after a safe word, but we need the safe word to indicate an interruption of the scene is needed.
If you’re not doing resistance play, normal communication works just fine. Everyone practices BDSM a little differently, so use the parts that work for you and your relationship(s).
Its easier to just say what’s wrong.
True, except when it isn’t. There can be a million different reasons why its easier to communicate with a single word whose meaning you have agreed on beforehand.
A simple word can also be easier when you’ve been triggered. Triggering can happen so quickly and often unexpectedly – sometimes a single syllable is all you can manage – for those of us who play through tears or do cathartic scenes, tears won’t always mean the end of a scene. Sobbing out a “red” is easier than trying to explain you need to stop when you’re in the moment – talking about things once you’ve calmed down is a very good idea though
Safe words won’t protect you if someone refuses to stop!
This is perfectly correct and not the point at all. A safe word doesn’t replace getting to know a person and building trust – and I really don’t believe anyone actually thinks that they do! It’s a ridiculous red herring argument.
However, if you are playing with someone at a public event, using common safe words (red, safe word) and the top ignores the safe word, DM’s and other spectators would be able to come to your aid. Many people use play parties to play with a person for the first time – there is a degree of safety in a public space.
The players may forget the safe word.
This one is legitimate. This is why I prefer to use the universal “yellow” and “red”. These safe words are recognized pretty much everywhere (at least in North America – please let me know if other parts of the world use different ones!). They are also easy to remember – think of a traffic light.
Now I know that when some people get into subspace, remembering words isn’t the top priority. When playing with new bottoms, I will often ask them “what’s your safe word?” when the scene starts to get more intense. Having them repeat the safe words to me helps them to remember when things get really intense. If I’m pushing them I will sometimes tease them by saying things like “ouch/fuck/tears is(are) not a safe word!” which reminds them that they have an out if they need it.
Do You Need a Safeword?
You absolutely do not need a safeword if you don’t want one. If it’s a decision you have made because you prefer to use regular communication in your relationship and play, or if you enjoy playing without that ‘safety net’ of being able to stop the action, it’s up to you.
Many people have enjoyed, safe scenes without a safeword. They have decided and negotiated that clear, normal communication will be used to indicate a problem. If you prefer to use plain language during your scene, do that.
It is important to note that some predatory types will tell a bottom that they aren’t allowed to have a safeword, which is different IMHO. They want to ignore the “no” and “stop” requests from the bottom but don’t allow them to have a different communication tool to replace those words. This should be considered flag in a potential partner – a big one.
In some well-established relationships, people will choose to follow a consensual non-consent model, where the dominant has blanket consent. Some of these people will decide that they don’t want to use a safeword at all. The submissive can speak up and ask the dominant to stop, but it is the dominant’s choice to listen or not. The people who engage in this style of relationship are usually well-established couples who know and trust each other well. This is a much different thing than the dominant you just met telling you they “can see it in your eyes” or whatever.
In the end, do what works for you. If you want to have a safeword for every scene, do that. If you want to use plain language, do that. If you want to enter into a CNC relationship with someone you trust and don’t want a safeword, do that. Just don’t let anyone pressure you one way or another about whether you need a safeword.