This is a conversation starter. A reflection on negotiation in BDSM that is intended for an all-inclusive audience, no matter what label, position or power dynamic you choose.
Please do share and discuss…
Acknowledged throughout the kink community as the most important of all importantness is consent. Negotiation is used to obtain consent, manage expectations and keep each other safe.
“Play” is the term used by most kinksters for the kinky things they get up to; it is a massively ambiguous word and covers a vast range of possibilities covering sexual and non-sexual. To negotiate gives clarity, it sets expectations for all, both for in the moment and for the subsequent outcomes.
We seek experiences for a number of reasons, individual to each of us. To negotiate is to arm everyone with the information necessary to have the best experience possible.
Doing kinky things comes with a level of risk; both physical and psychological (for some). To negotiate mitigates and/or acknowledges those risks. Most importantly it makes it clear that risk is the responsibility of everyone involved by including them in discussions.
At the point of negotiation you are equals communicating your needs. To negotiate shows a level of respect, care and consideration, something I always look for. It’s a positive part of play, highlighting all your favourite things, as well as being useful to avoid things that could be negative for you.
What you may wish to consider and discuss
- Physical limitations or medical issues. Fairly self-explanatory, possibly especially important in bondage. For example I have hypermobile joints putting me at greater risk of dislocation.
- Emotional significance, the expectations of what this means going forward. It is important that all parties are honest and preferably aligned. Play without particular emotional significance, or ‘party play’ is OK too, provided everyone understands.
- Intensity –This can be appropriate to the venue and/or emotional space, for example some may choose to push themselves more in public because they like the audience, others chose to submit only in private. It’s challenging to quantify and is more of a feeling.
- Psychological considerations – what the power dynamic? Are you in a role or playing as you? The intent behind the act can be important; for example, are you hitting me because it’s hot, or because it’s a punishment? Do you want to be pushed or kept within comfortable boundaries? Are there any triggers that others should be aware of?
- Wider impact – are there other partners to consider and is there anything that needs to happen first, like checking in or getting permission? Are you available to play in this way?Is it OK to leave marks and can they be visible when clothed? If you recorded images who can see them? What details of what you did can be shared and with whom
- Specifics to you – How experienced are you? Is this your first time? What are your own limits? Do you have any phobias? Everyone wants to have a good time, they’ll want to know you’re enjoying it on some level, even if that level is loving hating it. Being self-aware and communicating your specific needs is a good skill to develop.
- After-care – What do you need? If you already know you’ll want a blanket and chocolate say so, if you know you’ll merrily bound away you’ll stop any worrying that aftercare was insufficient. This applies to all involved, being the top or dominant one doesn’t preclude you from after care.
- Sexual health – This seems obvious but it would be remiss not to be included. Safety first people! Be open to discussions about condoms and testing if your play is sexual.
- Safe/stop words – Do you use them and what are they? What does it mean to use it? For example, does the scene end and everyone goes home or does the specific activity stop but play continue in another way? Would you prefer another means of communicating like tapping out? Equally it can be important to establish what is not a safe word so things aren’t stopped prematurely, for example crying or saying “no” are not safe words for me
- Logistics – How much time do you have? What are the limits of your venue or equipment? Is it warm enough? It is private (or public) enough? Does the ambiance lend itself to what you have in mind? For example, for me, music is a big deal and sets the mood, for others silence is preferred.
How to negotiate
There is no right way, the important thing is being open and making it safe to have the conversation. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking “anything I need to know?” or “what would you like to get out of tonight?” some people prefer a checklist of likes, wants, limits and desires completed beforehand. Some have something pre-written, possibly published online. Whatever works for you.
There is an argument that negotiating removes organic spontaneity. It doesn’t have to! There’s no need to be formal, to cover everything above or for it happen every time. It is your choice when to communicate.
During a scene negotiation may take on a different form, you can’t possibly cover every eventuality beforehand, including how you may feel at any given time. Things you felt you wouldn’t be able to handle actually feel good or what you had planned isn’t now wanted or appropriate.
There are ways of negotiating during without interrupting the flow or changing the headspace. The most obvious is to ask questions, make them hot, make them part of the scene. Make someone beg for something to determine if they want it. You can also pay attention to non-verbal cues, for example my hips don’t lie, when I start uncontrollably bucking that’s a good thing and you should do more of whatever is getting that effect.
Most importantly, stay connected, keep judging the energy and playing close attention to responses. Also stay alert to external influences, especially in clubs. I’m lucky to have an excellent group of friends who prevent scenes from being disrupted by intercepting interlopers.
Be the best kinky you possible by embracing negotiation, communication and managing expectations. Know yourself and try to learn others as much as possible for the most positive outcomes.
It can be incredibly interesting to find out the differences between people, for example I like rope because I like the feeling of restriction but I have a friend who feels she uses it to tap into her feminine energy. The same activity occupies a very different headspace for each of us. You can’t possibly know without asking and you can never assume – we are all different.
Learn how to balance negotiation without over-planning, overthinking or fretting. The more you do it the more natural it will feel.
Negotiation doesn’t have to be explicit discussion of an eventuality; it can be reading body language and responding appropriately. Most people will frequently have scenes without covering all of the areas above and unexpected hot things happen – hurray! Positive outcomes will result from our ability to gauge context and read each other in the moment. Personally, I would rather be cautious, ask a question and feel reassured. Even when something has been OK before, I would never assume and always check the feedback given. I look for enthusiastic consent when something new is introduced or a cherry is being popped!
Be gentle with yourself if you get it wrong. It is impossible to cover all bases even after years of knowing someone. What works for them one day might not rock their world on another. Be gentle with others when they get it wrong too, they have good intentions (and if you think they don’t – don’t play with them! End of.)
We all fuck up occasionally. We’re human, and in our interactions with other humans it’s understandable that mistakes happen. Even those with the best intentions can misread or misinterpret a situation. This can lead to upset or embarrassment or, at worst, physical or emotional harm. Relationships can be damaged.
As well as acknowledging the positives from negotiation this post is partly driven by collective learning from fucking up, from comforting crying friends when a scene goes beyond expected limits, from replaying niggling moments in our minds that don’t sit right with us, from forgetting to connect our brains to our mouths before we say a silly thing (or worse, say nothing at all) from wishing for a time machine to change an outcome.
Good humans realise mistakes are natural hazard that comes with choosing to interact with other humans (rather than locking yourself in a room, fingers in ears, hiding from the world which I don’t recommend) They don’t beat themselves up over it. More importantly the best humans atone for their mistakes with genuine apologies and use the experience to learn and share, as I have done here.
Thank you to all my amazing friends who helped to compile this post. Much appreciation and love for you all.