Safety comes in many forms and at any level of risk awareness. One of the very first things you learn when you encounter BDSM is the use of safewords. Even this site has numerous articles covering the basics of safewords. But now, I feel it’s time to gather everything together and really dig deep into safewords; from their use, the safety implied and some of the problems safewords cause.

A safeword, if you are new to BDSM, is a word used during play that stops play completely. It’s a word that isn’t common during play, so saying, “no” or “stop” can be used as a part of resistance play and still have a way to stop play if you reach a limit and can’t go further. A safe signal is a safeword item or gesture you can use when your voice won’t be heard, for example when you wear a gag or in a loud space. Safewords can be used at any time, by either partner in a scene.

Read More: What You Should Know About Safewords

Problems with Safewords

There are problems with safewords. You’ll still hear me tell you that you need to know what they are and to use them in your play, but don’t treat them as protective blanket where you don’t have the responsibility to be aware of risks before you play. (I’ve seen this, it’s not pretty.) I don’t think there is a single safety mechanism that is safe 100% of the time and, trust me, safewords can keep you safe most of the time, but here are a few situations where issues arise.

    Read More: The Safety Disguise of Safewords

      Read More: The Basics of Negotiating a BDSM Scene

        Read More: Use Your Safeword Without Guilt - You Are NOT a Bad Sub For Needing It

          Personal Responsibility and the Rule of Thumb

          Often falsely conveyed in online forums, Dominants don’t automatically know when to stop play. They are not all-knowing. You are responsible for telling the Dominant that they’ve reached a limit and play needs to stop. So, using your safeword when it’s needed is definitely on you.

          When do you need to use your safeword? Let this be your rule of thumb, “if you are thinking that maybe you will need to safeword, the answer is already yes.” As you gain experience you’ll learn how far you can really go before a safeword is needed, but keep it handy as you learn and explore. It is very likely to be needed a lot more at the beginning of relationships than further along. Much of that is because the Dominant has started learning your responses and body language for when you are feeling good and when you aren’t. It’s also more likely, just as with everything else in a relationship, that you both learn what can and can’t be done and play within those boundaries happily.

          Don’t Avoid Using Your Safeword

          I know a lot of submissives, including myself who have felt guilty for using their safeword. It would make me feel like I had failed my Dominant and I would break down in tears thinking that I was to blame for not being able to go further and for “ruining” play.

          Read More: Using Your Safeword Is Not a Sign of Failure

          If you feel a sense of blame or guilt for using your safeword or feel discouraged for using your safeword, then you could injure yourself physically or emotionally. Not only that, you would then have less confidence to test your limits and push your boundaries. I know there’s a lot of pressure to make that decision to decide to stop play because you just can’t take one more second of what’s going on, but wouldn’t you feel better about knowing you can pick it up later rather than harming yourself, insulting your partner or pushing yourself into a trigger that you can’t get out without panic.

          Listen. You aren’t ruining play by needing to use your safeword. In fact, you are protecting yourself and your ability to play again. So please, don’t avoid using your safeword. It’s a lifeline that your partner has given you to use.

          Not using your safeword is not a medal to wear.

          Submissives have just as much, if not more, responsibility in a scene than Dominants. A dominant, especially one for pick up play is NOT going to know when to stop or that your “no stop” is actually you wanting to safeword. A Dominant has given you a safeword because they are saying, “hey, I trust you to know when you need to stop and this way I can really focus on giving us a wonderful scene because you’ll tell me when it’s too much.” The Dominants that I’ve played with appreciate knowing that they don’t have to constantly check in, learn your body language when they don’t even really know you, or that you are just going to hope they stop before you need them to. Value the trust they’ve given you. Use your safeword when you need to.

          The Post Safeword Checklist

            The crucial point to take away is that stating what safe words are in a negotiation session just before playing is not itself sufficient. Some points to reflect on: