Eileen had a great post today about Safewords (“Traffic Light Colors“). Instead of making eleven comments in a row, I figured I should just write about it here.
Joscelin and I use ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ as is reasonably common. Many people use yellow to mean “slow down” or something like that, but in my scene vocabulary it means “pause and talk to me.” Sometimes it’s obvious that the pause is about the pain being a bit intense, but it’s not always about that.
Red means the scene is over.
Most of the time I don’t really even have proper safe words. I’m never really so away in The Valley of the Bitches that if he looked at me and just said, Sorry, I can’t do this anymore or I need to stop a sec, I wouldn’t understand the difference between that and Oh, god, please, please, don’t.
and I find that a really good point. It’s almost unarguable, and the same is true for me – I don’t ignore Jos when he says “Mistress?” so he doesn’t really need to safeword to tell me his foot is falling asleep.
But I like the safewords. I like that they are so clear cut. The obligation of the other party is crystal clear. If Jos safewords, I have to stop and listen. If he says “red” (which happened once, surprisingly) then I have to help him out of the scene. The ethical boundaries are completely clear and (as Eileen pointed out) they transcend the scene.
And I like that if you’re freaking out, you don’t have to think how to look serious and word your request in a particular way so that you’ll be taken seriously. You just have to remember one word, and you don’t have to say it any particular way.
With my Dutch S&M-practicing boyfriend, I once had a very bad experience. We never used safewords (but had toyed with “flashlight” as a kind of joke based on a time when he’d put a flashlight in my hand for me to drop if I got distressed, or passed out, when I was gagged) but “no” and “stop” were in effect like in a typical vanilla relationship. (See, vanillas don’t usually use safewords because it’s just understood that if your girlfriend says “stop” then it’s rape beyond that point. And it was the same for me and the Dutch guy.)
But we both had a fantasy about him tying me up and really getting to beat me, without my being able to do anything to stop him. And we set about in a very careful way to carry this out. We talked about it a lot in advance. We were hot to try it. I knelt at his feet right before and formally agreed to it.
It was terrible. I wanted to scream but knew if I did he would need to really gag me (so neighbors wouldn’t call the police) and I knew that being able to talk was my only hope of salvation. I prayed for it to stop. (I’m an atheist, so when I pray you know things have gotten really bad.) If I’d had a safeword, I would have used it. I could have tried making him stop anyway, but (a) I’d agreed not to, and (b) I was afraid he wouldn’t, and then I would really go out of my mind with panic.
Afterwards, he asked me how it had been for me. When I answered (“terrible”) he was crushed, and told me that he felt like an asshole. The experience was bad enough that the idea of being really beaten hard without having control over it, which had been a masturbational fantasy for years, completely disappeared as a fun-sounding thing for me for a long time.
But the fact that he (understandably) felt so bad afterwards taught me something I should have already known, which is that safewords can be a service from the bottom to the top. And what I mean is, if you’re bottoming to someone and you’d safeword except you don’t want to let your partner down, then you might want to question your thinking, and just do it anyway. If your top is any kind of decent human being, they’d probably want you to.
Levels of desired consensuality* vary widely. I don’t mean to say that if you would just rather stop, you should always safeword. But if you are really distressed relative to your desired or expected level of distress then you should not refuse to safeword out of a misplaced sense of obligation. (My relationship with the Dutch guy was pretty lightweight. The “terrible beating” that I endured was about maybe 10 minutes of being beaten with a piece of rope. It was probably lighter than 95% of anything I’ve ever done to Jos, and I bet I wouldn’t have a hard time taking it today.)
I feel silly having written this. Nobody who reads my blog actually doesn’t know this, or needs this advice. But safewords are, at the very least, a smart way to start playing.
As for Eileen’s post, what I wanted to post was, “Wow, I totally agree,” but the truth is, it was a useful reminder that I get to have safewords too. I think I knew that in theory, but I had not considered it in actual practice.
I had a situation a couple of weeks ago – not a scene, oddly – that I didn’t know how to either proceed in or get out of, and it would have actually been a perfect time to safeword. At least a good “yellow” so I could ask Jos what the hell was going on and what I should do about it.
(* theoretically we all want the same level of actual consensuality, but I’m standing by this usage, which I think conveys what I mean)