Why I Still Don’t Use Safewords


Safewords have been a ‘keyword’ in BDSM so much that even outside of the kink world people have heard of them.

Two years ago I wrote an article called safewords are not enough. I stood by my feelings about why safewords shouldn’t be the end all be all of BDSM. Two years later I still feel the same. Many play partners and sessions later, I still don’t use safewords.


Quick Definition (In case you weren’t sure why people use safewords): A safeword is a phrase or word that during BDSM play will end the play. The main reason that people would use a safeword is that all of the normal phrases of consent in our lives like “stop” and “don’t”, don’t apply in the situation. If people want to play in the realm where protesting doesn’t mean the person has to stop, and have that act still be consensual, then you probably should have some sort of agreement of what actually stops the play.

Why Safewords Are NOT Beginner Material

Playing with safewords is some advanced kinky shit. Safewords are scary, because when you negotiate into a safeword, you are relinquishing your typical rules of consent where your say about an activity can be withdrawn at any time by any word of “no thanks” and reducing yourself to one word.

To me, the time where safewords come out is consensual nonconsent. Any play that is with a safeword is some form of consensual nonconsent in my word. Despite the cringe-worthy oxymoron of that phrase, what people mean by consensual nonconsent is that we are playing at not wanting something. We are saying no when we really mean yes, which can get to be confusing territory. If you aren’t careful with things like this you can end up with people feeling taken advantage of.

The Line Is Still Open

Instead of negotiating down to one safeword, I keep my play very open to communication. That is just sexy to me. Communication is sexy. I want my partner to tell me when she thinks she is getting close to the end of her limit, I want her to tell me when her arm is going numb, I want her to tell me when to stop. I will often hear a counter argument that involves words like “topping from the bottom” and “ruining the fantasy”. If you are a competent top or dominant, you should be able to maintain control without removing communication. 

There are ways to keep someone submissive to you while still having them make requests. If you don’t know how to do that, then maybe you aren’t able to be a safe dominant. Yeah, I said it. If your ego is going to be bruised by your bottom telling you when she needs to stop in more words than “red” then you probably shouldn’t be wielding a crop.

We have normalized extreme edge play in the BDSM community. The combination of the availability of extremely hardcore porn and the cultural expectations that we have built mean that we have found a way of doing things, and we don’t question that way nearly enough. BDSM and alternative lifestyles are about finding your own way to fuck and love while being ethical

3 Things to Try Instead of Safewords

So now what? I’ve taken away your safewords. Now how do you play with words, without stopping every time your bottom says ‘no’ or ‘ouch’? Here are some nifty tips:

  1. Name Some Words ‘Play Words’: Before you play with someone, discuss what words that bottom usually says when he/she is playing that might sound like no but mean yes. Think the “omg yes” and “oh fuck” sex words of BDSM. For me it is “fuck you” (I know, I’m such a nice bottom) and “no”. So if we say ahead of time that ‘no’ is just a word I’m saying sometimes but in that current context does not mean explicitly no then we are in the green. That means that if I say “I’m done playing now” that request will be honored with the full weight of the phrase.
  2. Use A Signal System: Shay and Stefanos use this system, and talk about it often in their classes. They have a hand signal system that indicates how the bottom is doing in the scene. This is still more than just a ‘safe word’ because there are more options that you can create such as ‘keep at this level’ and ‘I’m getting close to done’ depending on the hand gestures. If you think that constantly chatting about the status and checking in isn’t sexy, this might be an option for you.
  3. Practice The Communication With Sex First: Really, don’t knock it till you try it. If that open line of communication feels awkward to you maybe you should take a look at your more ‘vanilla’ sexual encounters if you have them. How many times have you fallen into a pattern with a partner where you don’t really say much about what is happening. You start to kiss and then they touch you here and there, and then whoop there is sex happening. What if you start saying when they are on your hair, or that you’re ready for penetration now? Try with the little things and move on. Learning to be ok with hearing your partner talk about these things is important.

4 thoughts on “Why I Still Don’t Use Safewords

  1. I’m confused. You want to keep playing even if you say “no”, but don’t consider the phrase “I’m done playing now” to be a safe word? This article is a straw man argument against safe words. You want a way to keep play going when using words that mean slow down or stop in any other context and list 3 methods of less-straight-forward safewording, but you’re against safewords because… you don’t use the traffic light color system. As a newbie, this is utterly unhelpful.

    1. Hi C.H. Think of it this way – all words that in the normal world would mean “stop” still mean stop. Unless I decide to take away a certain work (AKA no) so that I can say no or complain a bit during play. So I’m done playing now absolutely stops play, but it isn’t a special safe word. I think the definition of a safeword is a specific word or phrase that stops play, but in the real world of consent there isn’t ever one specific word, all words that mean no or I want you to adjust something all should be honored. Then, if you want to play with more edge play you can choose to take away certain words.

      *this is not a beginner article* The concept is a bit complex, and my recommendation for beginners is to do things the same you would do with regular sex (hopefully) where ALL WORDS THAT MEAN NO MEAN NO. Then when you feel more comfortable you can experiment with taking away some words.

  2. Interesting article. I feel like the first thing everyone says about BDSM is “make sure you have a safeword” but no one ever explains why. I agree that for the most part, they’re really only necessary for CNC. Otherwise regular words that mean stop should be honored (unless you’ve negotiated them to mean something else).

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