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The Importance of Safewords


    If our past articles on BDSM has raised some interest for you, then make sure your sex play experience is a safe one. Dominance and Submission can be pretty intimidating words, and acting them out has a very intense consequence. So be smart and know what precautions to take. Our local BDSM sex educator, Cherries Jubalie shares some safeword advice for you inexperienced masochists and sadists out there.

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    What is a safeword?

    Safewords are generally a verbal cue or code when playing in a BDSM scene or situation where the submissive, or "bottom", player needs to indicate the activity has to pause or stop.  There are two main theories of the importance of using safewords.  If you are playing by safe, sane and consensual standards in the kink community, a safeword of some type should be negotiated prior to play or entering into a lifestyle situation.  If you are playing RACK, or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, you may not be using safewords for some more extreme and intense sex play.

    How, when and why use safewords?

    People can be creative and come up with various verbal cues such as "George Bush" or "Red Hot Chili Pepper" to indicate when they have had enough activity, or need to get the complete attention of the "Top" [people who are playing with them.]  Some community standards for Safewords are the stoplight colors to communicate what state the submissive/bottom is in during a scene.  Red generally means stop or a pause when things are too intense or painful.  Sometimes Yellow is called out to let the Top know that the sub/bottom can take more but are reaching the stop level.  It really depends on the individuals playing and what they have determined to facilitate the sex play.  

    People also use non-verbal Safewords in scenes, either in a situation where the sub/bottom is restrained or gagged and can not make a verbal cue.  I have had someone hand me a heavy Master Lock [yes the symbolism is rampant] and if I lost my grip or dropped deliberately the activity would pause.  The Top checked in with me to see if I needed something or was done.

    For those people who don't scene or play with safewords there are several reasons for not using them.  Some types of Edgeplay make safewords impractical or the sex play can be unsatisfying for the participants.  If you were in a scene that involved a carefully executed abduction and mock sexual violation, having safewords may take all the fun out of it.  However, with that said, the participants have to agree on no safewords prior to the activities taking place.  There could be more than just consensual ramifications if one partner thought they were going to use safewords and the other did not.  Some of the ways people play in BDSM are at best a grey legal area.  Practicality suggests that having some form of communication and trust that the players all agree to is very important for kinky sex.

    What should I do if someone doesn't respect my safeword?

    This is a loaded question.  If you like a play partner and want to have a scene with him or her, proper negotiation is important no matter what the scene dynamics are.  If you meet with someone who declares they don't play with safewords and this is the first scene you are doing together, thoroughly self-examine your reasons for wanting to play with this person. Actively communicate your boundaries and have a back up plan such as a safe-call with a friend if you disappear for a few hours, or days.  

    One of my recent relationships deepened to the point where we didn't use safewords because of our power dynamic.  I had to trust that he would see my limitations even as we both explored our boundaries.  When we played, we played hard and tragically after five years we had a massive miscommunication and violation of trust that ended the relationship.  As a bottom, it is important to note that it is our responsibility to communicate our limits regardless of whether you play with or without safewords.  That said, at anytime in the relationship, YOU can withdraw consent, but you have to let your partner know it.  The key here is appropriate communication regardless of the power dynamic in Sadism and Masochism, Dominance and Submission, and BDSM. 

    I have been to events where respected members of the kink community failed to hear "Red" in a scene, and in one case, deliberately ignored it.  Now under the first circumstance, it could have been the adrenaline or the noise in the dungeon and gossip abounded, but the Dom (Tom) spoke with the play-partner after and apologized. After all, we are human and sometimes make mistakes.  On the second instance, the deliberate continuation was actually part of the scene where the Dom and the Sub agreed to not using the safeword and the bottom was trying to wiggle out of the deal by being a brat.  At this particular event a generalized "Camp Red" would mean that the player really did need the scene to stop, and the rules of the event decreed that all people in the vicinity would step in and see that the activity was stopped because some of the players were too intense.

    In general, if you have a reputation as a play partner who does not respect safewords, you wont be getting much play once you have done that to a few people.  If you did use your safeword and the play partner did not heed it, my advice is to follow your instinct and contact professional help.  In public play dungeons, there are protocols to follow.  Contact a Dungeon Monitor or owner of the club and tell them what happened.  If it was a personal violation or distinct violation of consent, contact the proper authorities.  Most of all talk to the play partner and find out what happened.  It could be a miscommunication or a very real crime, but regardless of your status in the scene or relationship, you should always bring it to the attention of the appropriate party.  

    Should it matter if we use safewords?

    Of course it should matter.  Sex and sex play should be whatever you want it to be.  However, if you have limits or concerns there should be a means of communicating that to your partner.  The choice of using safewords is up to the individual, but before you plan an abduction scene you should play with people you trust and consider finding a means to let your partner know when the scene has gone as far as you want or need it to go.
    We talk about "no" meaning NO and "stop" meaning STOP, but when the sex play gets going sometimes we really don't mean no or stop.  A running joke in the kink community is "Ow is not a safeword."  To be honest, for some people that may be considered one, but if we don't communicate that as our boundary to our partner then the sex play will not be fun for anyone.

    Having been a Dungeon Monitor on many occasions, there have been instances in which I have had to go on instinct when I saw an intense scene.  As a Dungeon Monitor, I have to trust that things are okay regardless of how extreme or intense the play gets.  But whether or not you are at a public dungeon, or just trying out some "50 Shades" in the bedroom, acknowledging a limit with a means of communication through a safeword system is having smart sex.  If you choose not to have one, then make sure all parties involved know that, and that you are playing with people you trust not to harm you.  Most of all, make sure you know that this is truly just play. Make sure you and your partners are all on the same page.

    Ms. CherriesJubalie is a unique Burlesque performance artist and active member of the Chicago Leather Community.  She is a sex-positive educator and travels the country to present at local and national lifestyle events, art shows, and charity balls.  A sex-positive enigma, she has appeared on NBC's America's Got Talent where censors determined her "ass is too dangerous for Prime Time TV."  She has appeared in independent films such as Dracula's Orgy of the Damned and the soon to be released Dark Realm, and is a featured performer on Kink.com's HogTied.  An internationally known Shibari Rope Artist and fetish model, you can see her in Germany's Bondage Magazine and on the cover of books like Sacred Kink. She is a new contributor to GetLusty.com and we look forward to more of her unique perspectives on sexuality.

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