Safe words are an essential communication tool during kinky play and it’s good to have a closer look at the dynamics before you engage with your partner in any BDSM activity or scenes.

Wikipedia defines a safe word as follows

In BDSM, a safe word is a code word, series of code words or other signal used by a submissive or bottom to unambiguously communicate their physical or emotional state to a dominant or top, typically when approaching, or crossing, a physical, emotional, or moral boundary.

Whilst that’s a very well worded definition, I would like to add that safe words are not just for the submissive, but equally for Dominants. Granted, in every-day life it’s probably the sub that will call safe words more often, but it’s not unheard of that a Dom(me) is faced with a request plea that just goes against what they feel comfortable with. Safe words are for those moments too.

How to Find Your Safe Word

In theory, you can agree with your partner on any code word. But in practice, simplicity has proven very useful.  I once thought ‘apple sauce’ was a super funny safeword until I didn’t remember it… and heard myself say ‘yellow’ instead. Needless to say the situation wasn’t very funny. So, the classic traffic light system leaves little room for interpretation and it’s likely that you can remember it also under stress:

Using Safe Words: Red, Yellow and Green

It’s good to have different levels to indicate how you are doing. That way, you have a means to say when you are only a little uncomfortable. In the traffic light system, this typically means three stages:

Red. Red means a limit or boundary has been crossed and all play stops immediately. Usually for the evening. No questions asked and you go straight to aftercare. When all is well again, it’s good to talk about what happened and how to avoid the situation in the future. That doesn’t have to be there and then, but it’s good practice to have that conversation rather sooner than later so memory doesn’t get too blurred.

Yellow or Amber. Use Yellow when you are reaching the limit of what you can take right now. It’s an indication that it might be time to calm things down a little. Those limits can be physical or mental and it’s good to share what’s going on. Like “Yellow, I am having a cramp in my left leg.” or “Yellow, I am really scared in a bad way now.”

As a sub, sometimes it’s hard to say what’s going on but things just start to not feel right anymore. What sounded like a hot idea when you discussed it, turns out to feel a bit icky, maybe more abusive than you are comfortable with. And that’s okay – you can just say that. “Yellow, this doesn’t feel right.” That’s good enough.

As a Dom, using yellow is a great way to learn just how far you can go and get to know your submissive and their particular limits better. A technique I find very nice as a sub is, when a yellow is answered with acknowledgement and a question, such as “I understand this is hard for you to take. I got you. Do you think you can take five strokes more for me?”

DO make sure that when you call your safe word, that you do so loud and clear. If your partner doesn’t react right away, repeat it louder and more clearly. Sometimes a soft spoken ‘yellow’ can be misunderstood for a passionate ‘yeah oohh’ and mhm…. well…. just not cool 🙂

Green. I had never heard of Green, until Hans pointed it out to me. And I am a fan of green ever since. Green means you’re fine, you can handle this. Things can go up a nudge. It’s a great way to share with your partner that you are having a good time or that you really would love for them to spank your bottom harder.

Tip: If you are playing with hoods, BALL gags or any other toys that limit your ability to speak, do agree on a nonverbal safe word like a hand movement or maybe holding an item that you can drop. Or a squeaky toy – which, be warned, will most certainly ruin the atmosphere ;o)

Will My Partner Be Upset When I Use a Safe Word?

My first reaction to this question is: that does not matter. Safewords are there to protect you. That is your priority and your responsibility. I found the latter very confusing in the beginning. As a sub, I thought it’s my responsibility to take as much as I possibly can and just suck it all up. That’s a pretty unhealthy attitude to have, because ultimately it gave people room to cross my boundaries – and unintentionally so, because I didn’t take the responsibility to tell them about where my limits were. Which in turn felt pretty shitty for the Dom.

Experienced Dominants will welcome you using safewords. They will welcome you taking responsibility for your boundaries. I since learned how reassuring it is for a Dom to be able to trust that a sub does use safewords and how much further it allows scenes to go.

Note: Not so experienced kinksters might have an initially negative reaction to safewords, especially if Red is called without any Yellow beforehand. New Doms are likely to assume they ‘did something wrong’ and might not be aware of how BDSM play can trigger land mines – ghosts from the pasts that might have nothing to do with them. It’s not a bad thing then as a sub to express your need for immediate aftercare and talk later.

Why Can’t I Just Say ‘no’ or ‘stop’?

For one thing, sometimes it’s fun to say ‘No, no, Sir, please don’t hurt me’ as part of play. If you are in bondage or engaging in role play, or maybe even rape play, then saying ‘No’ is just part of the game. And it would be very frustrating if a Dom would have to stop at every No and go “Okay like, do you REALLY mean ‘no’ now or is this still part of the scene?” Just takes the edge of it, you see.

Secondly, whimpering ‘no’ is also a pretty normal reaction to getting your bottom spanked for a lot of folks or ‘please please stop’ when you are subjected to some serious impact play. But as strange as that sounds, that does not have to mean that you aren’t enjoying yourself and having a jolly good time.

So, a safe word is not there because Doms wouldn’t respect a ‘No’. Quite the opposite, it is there to make sure they can respect a ‘No’ when it actually IS a ‘No’ and give their subs a wonderful play session the rest of the time.

Did I forget to mention something? Do you have fun safe words or anecdotes you’d like to share? Leave us a comment, we would love to hear.

Sonja is a co-founder of boldpleasures. She's on a mission to free people to revel in their true sensuality by removing the stigma surrounding kink. Sonja writes about first steps, ditching the shame and how to combine kink and 'normal' family life. She's a mother of two and happily married.

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