Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Words are never safe

So my friend and partner's boy, the rubber freak, recently wrote about safe-words.  He and I have some of the same ideas about safe-words.  I decided to comment on them as well, but first I want to establish a base reference.

What's a safe-word?

In BDSM play, a safe-word is something you can say while playing that can tell the other person that you need to stop or slow down.  It's usually a word or phrase that the participants would not use in normal conversation.

But why would you want a safe-word?  Well, playing in BDSM involves occasional ambiguous consent.  There are times when a participant may want to say "no" in play and not actually mean it.  Also, it's a method to give a participant a way to feel in control, able to end or alter how the scene is going.

Effectively, safe-words become an alternative to direct communication between the participants.

There are alternatives to safe-words, frequently for people who are for one reason or another are unable to communicate verbally.  Some examples are: a specific series of nonverbal noises such as three quick grunt in a row; holding a ball in the hand and dropping it to signify a concern; snapping fingers; or smacking the hand against the table, chair, or thigh.  However, these alternatives to safe-words become more than safe-words because they're substituting as the primary method of communication.

Concerns about safe-words

What I see as the first failing of the safe-word is that people get the impression that a safe-word will protect them from a bad scene.  There's an unspoken assumption there that the safe-word will be honored.  Pepole need to remember that safe-words are not magic-words.  The important part of a safe-word working is that both people are trustworthy and respect each other.

The second failing I see in safe-words surrounds the idea of being able to say "no" and not mean it.  It's essentially planning to deceive your partner(s) in play.  By establishing that "no" doesn't actually mean "no", it teaches the perception that other words don't mean what's expected of them as well.  It creates a potential ambiguity in what the participants mean and the opportunity for miscommunication.

A further failing in the "no" no meaning "no" is when "no" actually does mean "no".  When someone's engaged in heavy BD/SM, they may experience intense endorphin rushes and emotional stimulation.  In such a high stress situation, the various participants may not remember to use their safeword and will resort to "no" and "stop", because they've spent 99.9% of their speaking life using words to mean what they actually mean.

Continuing the line of thought of words and their meaning: if my safe-word is "banana", then "banana" becomes the equivalent of "no".  If I wanted to say "no", and now "banana" means "no", what's to keep me from saying "banana" instead, especially if I'm being trained that "banana" means "no"?  I'll end up just as likely to say "banana" as "no".  I might say "banana" without meaning it.

What does this mean to me?

For me, BDSM involves building trust and communication.  To build up to more intense play requires establishing a strong understanding of one another's limits and abilities.  To have that mutual trust built on a pretense of play-acting means that the base of the relationship is shaky.

I see safewords as a barrier to honest and open communication.  When asked about safe-words, my response is "I don't use safe-words."  What I mean by that is "no" means "no".

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