What is a safe word and why do you need one?
As the world’s become more BDSM-literate, elements of kink have seeped into popular culture more and more. It’s probably safe to say the average North American has some concept of what a “safeword” is now, because of Fifty Shades and other kinky influences. But though most of us know the surface-level concept of a safeword, do we really know all the hows and whys of this useful kink tool? Here are some basics to get you started if you’ve never considered safewords before…
Why should you have one? Safewords are a verbal signal that you want the current sexual action or scene to stop entirely and immediately. You could just say “Stop” or “No,” sure, but certain kinky fantasies (particularly those involving consensual non-consent) might call for protestations that aren’t actual objections. In a scene where a dominant partner is “taking you against your will,” for example, you might want to be able to shout “No” or “Stop” without actually stopping the action.
When a safeword has been mutually agreed upon beforehand, it frees up all participants in a scene to enjoy themselves fully, trusting that their partner(s) will end the scene if they want to. Of course, this isn’t a substitute for paying attention to your partner’s nonverbal signals, since sometimes intense BDSM makes it hard to speak. But a safeword is still a must-have for any kind of consent-dicey roleplay.
What should your safeword be? Because it’s vitally important that a partner be able to hear and understand your safeword for what it is, it’s best to choose a word that wouldn’t come up in everyday conversation and that couldn’t be mistaken for a different word. Some common ones, for example, are “pineapple,” “cinnamon,” and “banana.” (It doesn’t have to be a food, but for whatever reason, foods are common choices!)
It’s also important that it be a word you will remember, since you’ll potentially need to recall it at moments of great emotional turmoil that might make your brain work in unusual ways. For this reason, some people like to use the names of especially loathsome things or people (our 45th president, anyone?) so their blinding fury will help them remember what to shout when they need to safeword. Hey, whatever works!
How do you know when it’s time to safeword? Are you feeling so overwhelmed by sensations in a scene that you need them to stop immediately? Have you been triggered into panic by something your partner did or said? Are you having a sudden medical emergency that needs to be attended to? These are just a few reasons a person might safeword during a scene.
It’s important to remember that you can safeword whenever you want to, for any reason. You don’t have to explain yourself, though some explanation could help your partner avoid tripping that particular trigger again.
What should you do after someone safewords? Firstly and most importantly, you should stop everything you’re doing. Remove (or have your partner remove) any restraints being used. If someone has a toy inside them, remove it or ask them if they want it removed. Drop any roles you’ve been playing.
Whichever partner safeworded probably needs some kind of support at this time, but they might not be able to articulate what they need at that moment. It’s still okay, however, to ask them, “What do you need?” Ideally you will have had that conversation beforehand at some point: “When a scene goes wrong, what would you like to happen afterward?” or “What makes you feel better when you’re overwhelmed/triggered/injured?” People’s aftercare needs differ greatly, so use your knowledge of your partner’s likes and dislikes to try to give them the support they need at this time.
What if someone can’t speak? Certain kink activities (e.g. face-fucking, using ballgags) obstruct the mouth, which complicates the whole “using your safeword” thing, obviously! Some people also respond to strong sensations by going nonverbal, so they can’t form sentences or think of words very well even if their mouth is unobstructed.
For these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to have a “safe-signal” in addition to a safeword. Your choice of signal will depend on what types of activities you plan to get up to. For example, if you’re tied down and being face-fucked, maybe your safe-signal could be shaking your head vigorously. Or if you’re getting spanked, maybe you could tap three times on the bed to bring the scene to an end. As with safewords, you should pick an action that wouldn’t come up accidentally during regular play.