The fail of the SafeWord – #BDSM When Safe, Sane, & Consensual becomes Unsafe, Insane, and Nonconsensual

When SSC becomes UIN

bdsmIn the BDSM community there is much discussion on the actual safety of the often lauded SafeWord. We joke about them in the “Stop isn’t a SafeWord. Asparagus is” kind of way, when in fact it’s up to the couple and NO or STOP are most definitely SafeWords to some. Subs, and doms I suppose – as I’m not a dom I don’t know, are taught as they come into BDSM that there is a failsafe for unsafe play – it’s called the SafeWord.

“Say that word and all play stops” we hear. I was taught that in my beginning BDSM classes. It was reiterated multiple times. The club I was in, in Tucson, AZ at the time, had it’s SafeWord and if you shouted it, supposedly all play would stop. Looking back, I realize there was never a dungeon monitor around the play area so if someone did shout it, would anyone hear? You’ll see SafeWords in BDSM romance books because it’s become the catchall concept of ‘safety’ within an unsafe and possibly harmful environment.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is – when you come to the realization the SafeWords are nothing but hype.

I’ve seen many scathing posts by doms about subs who ‘SafeWord too much’ or ‘won’t SafeWord’. Basically, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In fact, rumours go around BDSM communities when a sub has been heard to SafeWord. The blame NEVER seems to go to the dom. Instead, it’s said that sub isn’t really a sub because he/she SafeWorded. Nobody knows the real reason it happened, but the sub gets blackballed and nobody will play with him/her because he/she now has a reputation.

I even listened in horror as one dom stated he’d play with a sub as often as the sub wanted unless they SafeWorded. If they did it once, he’d never play with them again. Basically “I want to do whatever I want and if the sub’s going to cry out when I hit their limits, they’re out.” My mental reaction? “He’s a sadist, not a dom.”

Some subs will just ‘take one for the team’ and then never play with that dom again. Which is horrible, unsafe, and damaging to the sub.

The need unfulfilled

I’m a sub. I need the D/s emotional interplay in my relationships and I crave the play. However, I’m not sure if I can ever trust a dom again enough to play with them. And the inability of doms to adhere to SafeWords is the reason why. Of the last two doms I’ve played with, one was my boyfriend and the other a dom at a club where we were there for lessons on ‘safe play’. Oh the irony.

When SafeWords Don’t Work

The R Word

My boyfriend at the time and I used No as a SafeWord. No problem with that. It was there and solid. He wanted one kind of play and I had told him No several times. Finally we broke up as he wasn’t accepting that his kind of play was a hard limit for me. The night after we broke up, he anally raped me. I screamed “No” because who wouldn’t? But after a while, I disassociated, stopped saying anything, and just blanked out while he finished. When he pulled out, I scrambled away. Only to be told that if I’d “Just said No a few more times” that he would have stopped.

He put heavy emotional blame on my head that it took years for me to realize was his fault, not mine. It placed the blame for what happened on my head, when in fact it was his fault and it was rape. The crazy thing? I still have a hard time typing that. Because in BDSM, calling something ‘rape’ has bad connotations. It’s like using the A word – abuse. Nobody wants to use it because then ‘what if someone calls what I do abuse?’

I didn’t play for years after that. I didn’t even date. Fast forward 7 years and I was getting involved again, this time in the Portland, Oregon scene.

What SafeWord?

The dom at the club’s “safety night” was flogging me. We had our SafeWords set up. I was to use one word in the case where my pain tolerance was reached so he wouldn’t go beyond it and another if I needed the play to stop. We went along for a little while. He was definitely good. But his strikes increased and he finally pushed me to my pain tolerance. So I called out that word. He even checked with me to make sure I’d said it. Then he went back to flogging me. At first, he lowered the intensity, but then WHAM! He hit me four times in quick succession at a much higher level than my tolerance could stand. Obviously a dom who heard a SafeWord and took it as a personal challenge.

SafeWords are Unsafe

I’ve come to the conclusion that SafeWords are a fallacy. We use them to feel safe doing play that could potentially harm us. However, when a dom doesn’t abide by those SafeWords, they become something to fear. Playing with someone new takes on a more menacing prospect. It’s probably one of the reasons any dom hero I write about will ALWAYS adhere to them. They are supposed to be a failsafe.

However, when the failsafe fails, a sub is left floundering.

Now there is another side. I’ve heard complaints from doms when subs won’t SafeWord. Because yes, then the sub is creating an unsafe environment. However, if that sub has learned that SafeWording doesn’t work, why would they ever SafeWord again?

Yes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch… and two may destroy it entirely. And even though I’ve found SafeWords to be anything but Safe, there’s still that sub in me who hopes to find a dom one day who I can trust to listen and adhere to his own word.

Where there’s trust, there’s safety, but…

Any doms I meet nowadays aren’t willing to stick around and build trust. They seem to think trust is automatic the second you meet at a club and they aren’t willing to try and build any kind of trust as hell, there’s tons of subs who will let them [insert your chosen play here] without having to do so.

So is there any kind of answer to this? No. The safety/unsafety of SafeWords is a topic that will probably zoom around the community for centuries to come.

For me? I wish for the concept, but don’t trust them anymore.

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