I’ve spoken before about safe words being controversial and I wanted to continue my thoughts on safe words in general.
Choosing Safe Words vs Plain Language
You and your partner(s) will have to decide if you want to use safe words or plain language. It’s a choice that each person should make for themselves.
I tend to defer to the bottom or submissive on this one. I know, that’s not very dominate! Hear me out though. The bottom is the one who knows how they react during play. They know which is going to be more comfortable for them. I want them to use which ever system is more likely to work when something is wrong, since the sooner I have that information, the sooner I can do something about it.
Some bottoms or submissives will have a hard time remembering a safe word. Or they may feel silly saying one. Of course, they may also find it hard to be verbal and an easy to remember, one syllable word like RED is much easier for them to use.
My general approach is that I prefer plain language unless we are doing resistance play (or I have a bottom who likes to scream things like “no, stop!” during play that isn’t specifically resistance play).
At the same time, I will honor any of the universal safe words if I hear them, because sometimes, a bottom in distress just blurts them out instead.
I will also check in or at least ask about any word that seems out of place during play. For example, if a bottom suddenly starts yelling “eggplant!!” I’m going to ask what that’s about! You may giggle at this example, but it’s happened before. We hit an unexpected trigger during play and the bottom reverted to a safe word they had used in the past. I can’t imagine the potential damage that could have been done if I hadn’t stopped to figure out why they were suddenly super into veggies in the middle of the scene.
Ways Safe Words Should be Used
If you decide to incorporate safe words into your play, all players involved should know when and how to use them. I have listed some of the more common uses (in no particular order, also note that this is not a complete list);
- You feel unwell and need to stop
- You have reached your pain threshold
- The bondage is causing numbness or tingling
- You have been triggered
- You are feeling uncomfortable with the activities, people, environment, anything
- There is a problem with the equipment
- There is a problem with the environment (ex. fire)
- You are getting to the point of marking
- You are tired and want to stop
- You want the scene to stop for any reason
Notice how none of those items were “you wimped out” or “you’re not a good sub”? Safe words DO NOT mean you are less submissive or wimpy or anything negative. They just mean you need the scene to stop for some reason. For instance, in the bondage example, if a person safe words and explains the problem, the top can adjust the bondage and continue the scene. If this isn’t done, the bottom risks permanent nerve damage. No one will think you’re a wimp for not wanting permanent nerve damage.
Universal Safe Words
Let’s go over the “universal” safe words – words that DM’s and others will recognize. I suggest using these in your private play as well so that they become ingrained and you can remember them when you really need them.
Green – everything is great, keep going.
Yellow – I’m nearing my limit, ease up a bit OR I need to change things up a bit OR I need you to check in with me.
Red – stop (check in to determine what steps to take next) OR Stop the scene entirely.
Safe Word – stop (check in to determine what steps to take next) OR stop the scene entirely.
You will notice that there are two ways to use both RED and SAFE WORD. I prefer the “stop and check in” use of the word. If the bottom needs to stop, they can then say so. If it’s just a matter of something needing adjusting, we don’t need to abandon the whole scene when a simple loosening of rope or change of position will correct the issue.
The reason I prefer using this version of a safe word is that a bottom is more likely to safe word to tell me something is wrong if they don’t think it’s going to end the whole scene. If RED means stop everything and move to aftercare, they are probably going to be less likely to use it. They will wait until things are super bad before letting me know.
This is also where YELLOW comes in handy, for those times when it’s a small thing that can be easily fixed.
I got into the habit of this use of safe words when doing professional BDSM. A client isn’t going to say RED 10 minutes into a scene when they’ve paid for an hour if it means the scene is over. Which is totally understandable, but not great as far as communication goes.
There are times when a bottom isn’t able to use a safe word. Maybe they are gagged or non-verbal. You still need a way to communicate. This is where safe signals come in.
A safe signal can be anything that will get the top’s attention. It can be a ‘tap out’ type thing, where they tap the leg or body of the top (the top must stay within reach for this to work). Tap outs also work for wrestling scenes and primal scenes where a verbal safe word might ruin the fun.
A common safe signal is the use of a ball or scarf. The bottom can drop it or wave it to get the tops attention. I prefer something that is both visual and auditory, so I like bells or keys. They will make noise and be a visual cue when dropped or waved around. I often use a nipple clamp with a bell for this purpose (in the bottom’s hand, not on their nipple).
Overall, I much prefer plain language over a specific safe word, unless I’m engaging in resistance play. Plain language is just that. If the bottom has a cramp, they say “I have a leg cramp, can I change positions”. If they are getting to the limit of their pain tolerance, they say “I don’t know how much more of that I can take”.
They aren’t directing the scene, just giving me the information I need to make sure we both have a good time and that we both come out of the experience happy.
Plain language doesn’t always work. As I mentioned above, some bottoms will be less verbal or non verbal during scenes. You need to know this so you can arrange a safe word or signal.
In the end, safe words are there to make communication easier. They are just a tool to use, not the be all and end all. They can be a useful tool to have or they can become redundant or inconvenient for some who prefer plain language.