#What is – safe word

Safe words. The always present catchphrase when kink is around.

But what is the safe word?

While most people with even the slightest understanding of BDSM would have heard of a safe word, many fail to understand the reality and relevance of how a safe word actually connects with their actions in the boudoir.

First, a safe word is just a word. While it’s called a safe word, in reality nothing about that word itself can keep you safe. It really is just a word. What keeps us safe is the message and the set of instructions that the word gives us.

It can be any word that communicates the same message. For some the use of an obscure word is necessary; this can range from an individual’s name to something quite unusual. And for others ‘stop’’ conveys the same information. The word you choose has to be something that works for you and the interactions you intend to be a part of.

A safe word in and of itself is useless until the meaning behind it is clearly agreed upon. It’s not enough to put forward a word and call it a safe word if there is nothing behind it. If the submissive/bottom is calling out ‘pineapple’ and the dominant/top has nothing to tell them what to do next the word is nothing more than a bunch of letters strung together being said.

A safe word communicates an instruction. Promptly and clearly to the other person. What that instruction is varies. For some it means the entirety of the interaction is over. For others it’s a ‘pause’ button, or a way of halting what is happening so the submissive/bottom can further communicate something that is going on for them – the need to change positions, a cramp, to catch your breath, lessen the intensity etc. Whatever the meaning is, the what that comes next after the word is said needs to be understood and agreed upon.

A safe word is just one of the ways to communicate with each other. It’s not the only tool in the kinky tool box. Some argue that a safe word is for both (all) participants, and while I can see merit in the idea I’m not going to put it forward here. Why? Because the makeup of the interactions that constitute kink creates the need for two very different communication requirements. While both (all) participants have the obligation to communicate the submissive/bottom often has elements of the play that creates a very unique set of obstacles to effective communication. Obstacles that can be situationally overcome through the use of a safe word. As I said it’s not the everything that some make it out to be, but when it’s used in a way that is realistic and used with the intention of communicating an agreed upon meaning; a safe word can be a positive tool within a healthy sex life.

In saying this I need to make something very clear. The safe word is the not the responsibility of the submissive/bottom alone. Let me say that again – THE SAFE WORD IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SUBMISSIVE/BOTTOM ALONE.

A submissive/bottom has the right to expect their safe word will be acted upon in the way that was agreed to.

While a safe word is a communication tool predominantly said by the submissive/bottom it is useless if it goes no further than being said. Communication is ALWAYS a two way street. What is said by one must be heard and acted upon by the other. We communicate in dozens of ways and this doesn’t stop when the kinky fun begins. Communication is the only way to great sex and satisfying kink. You cannot get to the great stuff without having the foundations present and maintained. A safe word is a part of this foundation that has to be present.

Now before I become the next ‘kink shamer’ or meeting point for those whom a safe word cannot be present in their world STOP. The safe word is an idea that allows us to convey and discuss a complex need, it a means of communication that is present in kink interactions. By all means tell me how you don’t need a safe word but please understand that I’m not interested! I find the argument a backdoor way to try to recreate what already is. When you deconstruct the argument of no safe word, what you are left with is an agreement that communication is essential and a part of all healthy, functioning relationships.

Check ins.

A check in is another way to use the idea of a safe word. Most often it’s a ‘traffic light’ system of colours: red, yellow and green. Again the meaning behind each word (or number, which is another system of check in) needs to be clearly communicated and agreed upon. It needs to be clearly understood what comes next after the word is said.

As a quick guide

RED– I need you to stop immediately. I have something that you need to know right now.

YELLOW– I need you to alter what you are doing. Stop so I can tell you what it is I need from you to keep this going.

GREEN– I am okay with everything that is occurring and I don’t have anything you need to know.

 Safe word when unable to verbalise a word.

Some elements of kink are used with the intention of removing the ability of the submissive/bottom to speak. It’s one of the obstacles that are present and need to be overcome. If you choose to put an obstacle in the way you need to put something in place to work around it if/when the need to communicate arises.

Again, this is something that must be decided upon before the bedroom door. If the intention is to remove the ability for the submissive/bottom to speak their safe word you need another way to communicate the meaning and instruction.

Some ideas –

Using an open/closed fist to communicate a stop/go message.

A bell or buzzer which the submissive/bottom can ring when they need to get the attention of their dominant/top.

Giving the submissive/bottom something to hold onto and drop when needed.

A tapping signal.

One thing that must be considered when implementing a non verbal safe word is the environment you are in. If you have loud music on or are in a public play space where there is significant background noise that could inhibit your ability to hear the bell or tapping you might want to consider something else. If you are going to give the submissive/bottom something to drop, make sure it’s something that is going to be obvious. A black scarf being dropped onto black flooring could be easily missed.

Safe words seem simplistic and are often presented as such. But they are a part of the complexity that is communication. We must acknowledge that having a safe word is not a magic word that protects us from harm. The best intentions may be present and honourable but if the integrity of what a safe word is – a means of communication, is violated the interaction can very quickly move from kink to abuse. Implementing a safe word that communicates a clearly understood and easy to understand and acted on message is the only way to make a safe word work.