Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guest Blogger: Safewords: When “No” Means “Yes” and “Banana” Means “Get the Fuck Off Me”

In the glow of the TV, she slides silky black stockings up her legs. He strips off a work shirt and khakis, revealing red tighty-whitey boxers. As they talk about their kids, he pulls on a pair of ass-less chaps, and she takes off her purple bathrobe to reveal a tightly laced black corset. He buckles on spiky wristbands as she pulls on thigh-high black boots. As he zips a black leather hood on, she leans in and says, “The safeword is banana.” “I love you,” he replies tenderly, and she punches him in the face.

Considering that the sequence I described above happened on a prime time cartoon, it’s not going out on a limb to say that safewords have become fairly mainstream.

To clarify for those who've never seen Family Guy or CSI, a safeword is a pre-arranged code word, phrase, or gesture that will allow you and your partners to communicate what you are really feeling without stating it explicitly. They can be useful in many different contexts— when you’re not sure whether a sexy stranger’s ‘no’ really means ‘yes’, if your partner wants to try spanking for the first time, or even manage triggers.

How to Choose a Safeword:

It depends on what you’re doing and what you want to achieve. If something sexy is happening with power dynamics, it’s better to negotiate sooner rather than later. First off, a safeword doesn’t always have to be something silly that will break the mood of whatever you’re doing. Say you and your girlfriend want to wrestle to see who will be on top during a make-out session. Rather than screaming “purple alligator” when she gets you in a headlock, you could use the traffic light system: red for ‘stop everything’ and yellow for ‘ease up’ or ‘stop the action’. The most important thing about choosing your safeword is to make sure that it’s something you’ll remember if you or your partner is freaking out.

When to Use a Safeword:

Tomorrow, Guide Editor Marie Chesaniuk will put up a post about using safewords in non-sexual situations. However, safewords were originally developed by the BDSM community to be used in a variety of sexual situations. Agreeing to use a safeword together, and both respecting that safeword, is an excellent way to build trust--no matter what you're doing. But what’s a good time to use one?

Say you and a hook-up are fooling around. You think your partner wants to say no to you holding them down and having your way with them, but really mean yes. How do you go about making sure that you don’t force your partner into anything they don’t really want to do?

  1. If either of you is drunk, use your moral compass and don’t play those games.

  2. If you’re both sober(ish) but you still get the feeling that a lot of explicit negotiation will kill the mood, still be sure to establish a safeword. It should be something easy for you both to remember, even if you're scared or nervous. The first and easiest safeword to remember is “safeword” itself.

  3. It’s up to each of you to know your own limits and be able to discuss them if necessary. Safewords are also great to use when you’re not sure of your limits ahead of time: use them in the moment when you’re exploring new things if you need to ease up for a bit. Take responsibility for yourself: if you’re getting freaked out, use the safeword.

Once a Safeword Has Been Used (Respecting Safewords):

If either of you uses a safeword, how do you deal with that? Most importantly, do not criticize your partner for using the safeword. Be polite, back off, and ask them what they need from you. Find out why they used the safeword, if you don't know. If it was an ‘ease up’ safeword and you’re not sure what was too intense, ask them. If it was a ‘stop everything’ safeword, stop everything, do a check-in, and ask them what direction they want things to go. This means genuinely asking them what they want, not trying to coerce them into to doing what you want.

Using safewords is a great way to help cut out explicit negotiation if you and your partner find that to be a turn-off. They're also useful for partners who enjoy being playful, pushing each others' limits, and creating power dynamics. Lastly, many of the games that we play in the dating world may involve people, often women, playing coy or hard to get. By establishing a safeword, both you and your partner know exactly where the line is.

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