I was recently listening to a Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast about BDSM, and one topic that was discussed was safewords.  Among other things, the presenters characterized safewords as being less important than you might think that they otherwise might be.  That struck a chord with me.  In past experiences with BDSM education, it was always said that safewords were necessary because “no” or “stop” in a scene might not always mean what they mean on the street, depending on the context of the scene.  While this is true, it’s not always the case.

In my own scenes, I typically do not employ a safeword.  The reasoning is simple enough: if a scene is becoming too much, or something needs to be adjusted, we typically just say so.  But because of what I had learned both online and at various events about the necessity of having a safeword, I had always assumed that I was being a bit irresponsible by not having one, even though speaking in plain language instead of using a safeword worked.  With my girlfriend, we speak in plain language about how the other is doing in the scene.  When one of us is gagged, we speak through the gag to communicate.  However, if the top really can’t understand the different variations of “arglbargl” that are produced with the gag, we take the gag out to help facilitate communication.  Using plain language makes enough sense to me, and helps keep a certain playful mood about it, since in the end, it’s really just two people having fun together, and not a theatrical production or anything like that.  If we need to adjust the scene to ensure that everyone keeps having fun, we just say so.

What the Stuff Mom Never Told You episode did was show me that having no designated safeword was normal, and that it was okay to do that.  One of the presenters explained that the only time that they use a safeword is when they specifically negotiate that before a scene.  Otherwise, they use plain language.  This same presenter indicated that they were once playing with one someone who was saying “no” and “stop” as part of their enjoyment of the scene, and that person was confused when the presenter stopped the scene when they said that in order to find out what was wrong.  It was actually a breath of fresh air to get confirmation that despite no designated safeword, I was still being the responsible BDSM practitioner that I knew myself to be all along.

The idea of not using a code word or phrase as a safeword makes a lot of sense, and jives with trends outside of the kink scene.  I work in a job where I do a lot of communication via two-way radio, and best practices for radio communication in recent years have moved towards the use of plain language over the air rather than making use of ten-codes and other code phrases.  While one organization may understand the jargon, it’s not universal by any means.  When you start having multiple agencies coming together in the event of an emergency, that jargon becomes an impediment to effective communication.  And plain language makes enough sense, too.  Why, for instance, say “lemon, lemon” on the radio, when “crowd control situation” is more widely understood?  After all, if one group doesn’t understand the jargon that could slow down the response, or even cause the wrong action to be taken.  So, yes – plain language is good, because everyone understands what that means.

It also speaks to how I like to run my scenes.  I want that two-way communication.  If I’m the top and I’m doing something that my partner doesn’t like, I want to know about it.  Likewise, if I’m not sure that what I’m doing is working as well as we might want it to, I’m going to check on it.  Similarly, I take no issue with in-scene negotiations.  Not every scene is choreographed in advance.  Sometimes things are more playful and spontaneous, but it all still requires consent.

A good example of this latter point is the first time that I ever did a BDSM scene with my girlfriend back in 2016.  The initial plan was to tie her arms and legs up using simple two-column ties, gag her, and then use a few implements on her from my bag.  Then I started wondering if I could play with her boobs.  So I asked.  She said yes through the gag.  So I lifted up her shirt, and boobs were played with.  And everyone enjoyed it.  Though speaking of safewords, that’s ultimately how that scene ended, when my girlfriend, while bound on her knees, accidentally lost her balance and fell faster than I could catch her, and fell face first into the floor, briefly knocking herself unconscious.  Regardless of whether you want to say that passing out from a fall is an implied safeword or withdrawal of consent from the bottom, or if you want to say that I called safeword, the scene was over.  Thankfully, we can both laugh about it now, though in the moment, I don’t think that I had ever been so scared before.

In any case, that need for bidirectional communication is also why I find the phrase “topping from the bottom” to be really toxic. What it’s implying is that the scene belongs to the top, and that the bottom is not allowed to provide any input or feedback, even if what is happening is not doing it for them, if they know a way to make the scene go better, or if they need to alert the top to an issue.  If one of the parties isn’t enjoying the scene, then that’s not a good scene as far as I am concerned.  Keeping the communication lines open helps ensure that everyone enjoys it.  My first play partner back in 2012 would complain any time that I said something about a scene, calling it “topping from the bottom”.  That, among other things, is why I will never play with that person again, and why we are also no longer friends.  When I feel like I have no way to influence a scene that I’m involved in, even as the bottom, that’s a problem.  Of course, if it’s negotiated in advance that the top is completely in charge and the bottom is allowed no input, then go for it.  But that’s not how I like to roll.  I like participating in a scene with someone as an equal, and being treated as such, no matter who is in what role – top, bottom, whatever.

All in all, I’m glad that Stuff Mom Never Told You validated the practice that I’d been following for several years now, where a safeword is not defined because it’s not really necessary. After all, “I think I’ve had enough of the double roller for now,” or, “This rope is really biting into my skin,” is all the indication that’s necessary to adjust the scene.  And that is fine.