What's your safeword? How often do you use it? If you don't use it often, WHY? Abi Brown investigates reason why people don't use their safewords. 

I’ve started dating someone new recently, and our sex life together got pretty intense pretty fast. We were talking about this at some point, and they said something to me that I found pretty interesting:

“I feel comfortable going to those places with you even though it’s still early days, because I know you’re strong enough to use your safeword if you need to.”

I was instantly taken with that way of putting it, and the sentiment has stuck in my head ever since. All too often, people in the kink community seem to think of using a safeword as weakness or failure - Doms take it to mean they’ve screwed up and subs worry that needing to use one means they somehow aren’t good enough. It needn’t be like that, though. Using a safeword shouldn't be a last resort - they’re a tool to help two people communicate more effectively and go to places that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
While I was thinking this stuff through, I took a completely scientific (honest) poll of some of my friends in the pub. My question was simple: what are some examples of times you’ve not used your safeword for a reason you think in hindsight was a bad one? The answers I got were a pretty broad church, and I present you with a few of them here.
*As a note, there are some safeword related issues I haven’t touched on in this list. If you feel like your safeword might be ignored or your partner might get angry with you for using it, then you’re in a situation much more serious than the ones we’re discussing here. It’s worth giving serious thought to the state of your relationship with that person. In BDSM relationships, not respecting safewords is actively abusive - and that’s not something you should feel you have to cope with under any circumstances.

Bad Reason #1: I wasn’t completely panicked and desperate.
safewordA lot of people new to kink get the impression that safewords are only for emergencies, and that if they’re managing to bear what’s going on there’s no reason to stop it just because they’re wishing it was over already. The truth is, though, moments like that are no good for either you or your partner. Healthy communication means letting them know when you’re struggling in a way you’re not enjoying, no matter what the reason. Whether it’s pins and needles or something right at the edge of your tolerance but not quite over it, you can and should let them know what’s going on if you feel like you want to. A safeword doesn’t need to completely stop play. I’m a big advocate for using them to mean “I need to stop and talk about this” rather than “this entire encounter is instantly over”. They’re a lot more useful that way, in my experience.

Bad Reason #2: The sub next to me was taking more with no trouble at all.
Kink clubs and fetish events are often amazing, but there can be a strange atmosphere of competition at some of them. Many subs seem to be quite competitive people, and that means not wanting to be seen to crack first - but that really isn’t a healthy way of thinking about your play. We all know really that what’s right for someone else might not be what’s right for us. If you feel too awkward safewording in front of people other than your partner, it’s worth talking to your partner themselves about that. Between you, you might be able to come up with some kind of more subtle signal you can use to communicate with when playing in public.

Bad Reason #3: I didn’t want to freak my partner out.
It’s true that some Doms take the use of a safeword as meaning that they’ve failed, and that’s probably not a feeling you want to give them. A healthy approach to safewords means you need to work through that together, though. They need to reassure you that you’re being heard and you need to reassure them that everything’s okay now you’re communicating. If this is something you’re worried about and you’ve never actually used your safeword as a result, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised if you do. Your partner cares about you, after all, and any twitches are things you’re best able to work on together.

Bad Reason#4: My ex could go further without me having trouble.
Every experienced sub knows that pain thresholds are strange, fickle things. Mine seems to vary on a daily or even hourly basis. It’s higher if I’ve had a few drinks, lower if I’ve just had an orgasm, higher if I’ve been thoroughly warmed up into the zone, lower if this is a quickie or I’m a bit distracted by something. I have one friend whose pain threshold reduced after she lost a lot of weight, and another who enjoys actual red-hot-iron branding but can’t cope with nipple clamps. I also have one particular ex who could cane me till I almost bled despite the fact that I’m a total wuss about canes with literally everyone else I’ve ever slept with. Go figure. If you find that you handle different things differently with different people, that’s okay.

Bad Reason#5: I was the Dom in that scene, and I didn’t think I could.
This is the one thing on this list I’ve never dealt with personally, but I’ve heard other people mention it more than once. If you’re not the sub in this situation, it’s important to remember that you can stop play too if you need to. If your partner doesn’t understand that you also have things that are past your boundaries, that’s something you need to talk about with them ASAP.

Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to sexual deviancy, far-left politics and wearing too much jewellery. Find her at her website or @see_abi_write.
© John Clark / Flickr and John Clark / Flickr



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[…] true, of course. In practice though we all struggle with this from time to time. My article Five Bad Reasons Not To Safeword looks at some of the problems people might have in this […]

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Excellent write. Some very fine point you've covered here. It is important that people have and use the safeword. It's not a cop out but rather a way of communicating just as much as any other form.

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