Safewords Are Not Enough

“In 1967, John Lennon wrote a song called, “All You Need is Love.” He also beat both of his wives, abandoned one of his children, verbally abused his gay Jewish manager with homophobic and anti-semitic slurs, and once had a camera crew film him lying naked in his bed for an entire day.

Thirty-five years later, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails wrote a song called “Love is Not Enough.” Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and his grotesque and disturbing videos, got clean from all drugs and alcohol, married one woman, had two children with her, and then cancelled entire albums and tours so that he could stay home and be a good husband and father.”- Mark Manson

When I first read this article from Mark Manson, I had to sit back and just reel in how true it was. Now, to me being monogamous and raising a family isn’t the one true way to be a good person, but Love is Not Enough. Love can be greedy, and painful. Love can tear you to pieces and then gobble those pieces up. Love can beat you, terrorize you and leave scars that last your entire life.

Recently I have seen posts from traumatized and scorned bottoms and submissives about being harmed when they didn’t use a safeword. With this came the realization that not only is love not enough, but safewords are not enough. When we hide behind the excuse that someone ‘didn’t safeword’ we are still hiding behind the same problematic excuses we use all over our lives to violate consent and hide from our mistakes. We, as supposedly ethical kinksters, cannot tell the rest of the world that we are a consensual community when we continually allow one word to become the thing that keeps us from harming a person. We need to take safewords off of a pedestal (XCBDSM).

To preface this post, I’m going to share my definition of edge play. The entirety of this article is based around this definition of edge play. You all might not agree with this definition of edge play, but to me this is what I consider risky play.

Edge Play: BDSM play that involves the pushing of verbally establish limits. Edgeplay includes play that has considerable risk of bodily harm included, such as long term bodily damage or transfer of pathogens (blood born or otherwise). This also includes play that employs the use of a safeword and removes the use of other conventional consent words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’.

I like being able to fight back, and say ‘no’ and be frustrated. Sometimes I even like to cry in a scene. I do like to do things that are dangerous. If I cannot do those things and also trust that phrases like “my arm is going numb can you adjust the tie” or “I don’t want you to do that” will be considered, I am willing to give up my edge play. I don’t want one word to be my salvation, because sometimes that one word escapes you. In that moment of fear and panic when you realize that you are feeling harmed, you no longer remember the word that will magically make it stop, you say the words that are most comfortable to you like: “Please don’t” “Let me down”.

You Shouldn’t Want to Harm People

As a top, you can want to hurt people. I am a sadist. I like to see people hurt. I like to watch them squirm and get a release from being hurt. I don’t like to harm people. I want our fun to be within the bounds of “You will walk away from this and be fine and happy”. I don’t want to prove a point that I am the biggest, baddest top around and you shouldn’t either. Nothing good comes from having something to prove when your tool to prove it is someone else’s body.

We use so many words in our day-to-day relationships to communicate with our partner. We tell them how we feel, we tell them when we are sad and when we had a shitty day. We tell them when we feel like we have been wronged. Why should BDSM be any different? Why should we take all of that beautiful, complex language and reduce it down to one word. Safewords are a tool, and we are using them wrong.

Why Red Isn’t The Only Word That Should Be Listened To

I have played in the realm of edge play. Where no doesn’t exactly mean no, and I’m allowed to fight back and struggle. I negotiated the removal of a few of my words like no and stop. “Please don’t use that paddle again” or “I need out of this tie” are still words that I negotiate to be regarded as serious requests. However, the issue that got me into trouble in my personal life was the assumption that if I really didn’t want what was happening, I would say red. I didn’t actually negotiate this as the only word that would stop play, and if my negotiation was ever interpreted that way it was a miscommunication. A miscommunication based on a deeper issue with our education about BDSM I will detail in a moment.

For edge play, I propose instead of taking away all of our words but one, we pick a few words to take away but keep the rest. Keep the requests for release from dangerous bondage, or harmful pain. Keep the “Please don’t ___ anymore”. And even then, remember that your goal isn’t to harm someone, it is to have fun and have a connection and play that is valuable and consensual.

Remind and Educate About Options

Whether it is by accident or purposeful design, we have created our community to assume that edge play is the norm. We write it in the rules of our play spaces, and we tell the newcomers. We tell them that once you enter this space and start something that resembles play, your no will no longer mean no (or that your no will no longer be considered a reason for a DM to stop your scene).  As a bottom you can fall into the trap of thinking that having a safeword-only release from play is just how everyone does it, and if you aren’t comfortable with that maybe BDSM isn’t for you after all.

You can practice BDSM without safewords. You can play and have no mean something. You can play with someone who will listen to you when you ask to be let down using more words than just ‘red’. The thought that when someone engages in BDSM all of the beautiful powerful words they know are going to be stripped from them because “that is how everyone does it” makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Maybe it should make you uncomfortable too.

3 thoughts on “Safewords Are Not Enough

  1. A sensitive top is usually in tune with the feelings of his sub including during edge play…especially if they have playing for some time. It is easy to momentarily forget a “safeword” during intense play. Besides, the safeword isn’t nearly as detailed as to what the sub wants the dom to do (such as your examples of easing the rope tightness, not striking a certain area, etc.). Of course, if you’re in a public play space with someone you don’t know well the “safeword” is the “standard” and maybe we need to be more flexible about the “rules”.

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