Safewords: In Answer to Bonnie’s Brunch Question

Every Sunday on her blog “My Bottom Smarts” Bonnie asks a Brunch question and invites her readers to post their replies. This week her question was about safewords. I started to reply there, but my response got so long that I realized it was a blog entry in and of itself.

Bonnie’s question:

There are a variety of opinions about safewords. Many spankos believe they are absolutely indispensible and spanking without one is hazardous. On the opposite side, other spankos claim that invoking a safeword constitutes “topping from the bottom.” From this perspective, granting control to the spankee during a discipline session interferes with the lesson being delivered. Between these two divergent views, there are many shades of grey.

Do you and your partner employ a safeword? If so, how and when is it used? If not, why not?

My response is going to be after the break, but I also want to invite everyone to offer their own opinion. As you may have guessed from our other entries, the authors here don’t tend to hold with the idea of there being such a thing as “One Trew Way.”

I’ve circled around on this topic. Most of the 10 years I’ve been in the scene, I’ve played with safewords and without, not really caring one way other the other.

It seemed silly on one level. I agreed with something Janet Hardy (Catherine Lizst — owner of Greenery Press) wrote once on “every bottom always has a safeword, it’s ‘hit me again and I’m calling the fucking cops.'” I felt totally confident in being able to communicate should I need to stop a scene.

But I did have a safeword with Pablo because he wanted it that way. As time’s gone on, my opinion has changed and I now almost always play with a safeword. There’s two reasons.

I like role playing very heavy CP stuff. I tend to struggle and cry and become very upset. This stuff hurts me a lot. And I HATE having the person stop the scene and ask “how are you doing?” With a safe word I can make it clear from the start that I’ll stop the scene if I’m in distress, otherwise they should assume I’m okay and let the scene play out to their fulfillment. (I’ve never had to stop a scene because it’s gotten too heavy btw.)

Otherwise, I’ve found, the scenes frequently stop when I start crying. That’s a hard limit for a lot of tops and for others it worries them until they check in, even if I’ve warned them about it beforehand. For some reason the safeword makes it clear to them that I know I can stop it, and will. I don’t like feeling that via my tears I’m in control of the scene. It feels oddly like cheating somehow.

Also, I wanted to get rid of the safeword between Pablo and me about 3 years ago. At that point we’d known each other and been involved for 7 years, and most of that time he’d been disciplining me. I asked him if we could get rid of our safeword because I’d never used it and my doing so would be an expression of my trust of him. He refused, saying he wanted to know I in a split second end the scene if I need to — because that was what a safeword meant between us. That everything would stop immediately and any questions that needed to be asked would be asked after. He also said he rightly (because it had never be abused obviously) trusted me not to safeword UNLESS there was a reason. (My safeword is not a toy!)

I was mad. I felt like my gift of trust had been rejected.

Flash forward. A little over two years ago on our wedding night Pablo was spanking me (well, what did you do on yours?) quite hard, restrained over one knee, my hands pinned by his in the small of my back. I’d spent the day very nervous, eating very little until quite late. And then having cheese and crackers and some strawberries and cream. Suddenly I realized I was sick. No, that I was SICK, and that I needed the bathroom immediately. I gasped out SAFE (our safeword).

P immediately released me and I bolted to the bathroom, saying nothing else. Literally it was less than a couple seconds at the most. I honestly believe I didn’t have the time then to have said “let me up I’m getting sick” and that I was too uncomfortable and freaked to even formulate those words.

So damn it anyway, he was right.

Some people have told me that they don’t think there could be “real” punishment spankings for them if they had a safeword because suddenly they’d be able to stop a punishment. I respect their opinions, but I also think the idea of that doesn’t really make sense to me. Because the thing is, if I stopped a punishment spanking with a safeword, it’s not like Pab’s not going to ask me why I stopped it. If I told him I stopped it because it hurt and I didn’t want to be punished, that would feel like a betrayal. Like cheating. Because he knows it hurts and he knows I don’t want to be punished. Yet I do consent to this relationship, agreed to accept discipline and punishment from him, further even, have chosen this dynamic between us.

If I don’t want him to disipline or punish me anymore, I could choose that. What I can’t do is abuse the trust between us. I know he’d feel like he was betraying me if I safeworded and he didn’t stop because he thought he knew better. And I’d feel like I was betraying him if I safeworded to see if he’d still punish me after I told him it hurt. That’s a form of testing I’ve never even been tempted to try.

I’m sure this could be more graceful, but it’s almost 2am and I need to go to bed!

6 thoughts on “Safewords: In Answer to Bonnie’s Brunch Question

  1. Bonnie

    Great response, and not just because I agree!
    I think every couple must find their own way. While I feel that a safeword is an important safeguard, I have no desire to press my beliefs on others. After having read your response, as well as some of the others, I think I would have incorporated this thought were I to rewrite my answer.
    Thanks for sharing your insight!

  2. Megs

    I actually do think everyone ought to have a safeword for safety reasons, but I don’t feel that strongly enough to press the point. Personally I wanted a safeword simply because I thought that if I started having an athsma attack, or even if something really really really really bad was triggered in my head I need a way to stop the action. I don’t think this makes me topping from the bottom. Mija, the example you gave was an excellent one, and as you said, I can’t imagine abusing the safeword just because “it hurts too much.” That’s a bit like crying wolf isn’t it?

  3. Natty

    It’s funny but while A. and I both think safewords are a good idea and have talked about having one, we’ve never managed to get around to formally come up with one. Though because of all the illness crap, we do have to stop scenes frequently and the de facto safeword has basically been “Wait! Wait!” As soon as I say that, he immediately stops. It allows us to either completely halt the scene altogether, or to just pause without loosing too much momentum.
    He and I do switch on occassion and as I’ve topped more, I’m realizing safewords are probably far more for the comfort of the top than the bottom. I know concretely how much I’m being hurt as a bottom but as a top I only have clues as to how much pain I’m inflicting. A safeword gives me some assurance that I’m not overdoing it without having to stop and make sure I’m not — something that really does suck when you’re the bottom.

  4. _spankable_

    Emailed my Master the link to this post and it sparked an interesting discussion between us. We do have safewords, in that I know that if I said “red light” or “safeword” or similar, he’d stop immediately and we’d talk about it or whatever. But it’s an informal arrangement – I’ve never actually said to him “if I say ‘red’ you have to stop immediately” and he’s never said “I want you to say ‘red’ if it goes bad”. We just… know.
    Needless to say I’ve never actually used a safeword with him – I’ve never had to and as Mija points out it’s not something you can use just because it hurts too much or something. In fact some of our sessions are specifically about getting me to cry (when I bottle up guilt my head goes to this place where I believe I shouldn’t be allowed the indulgence of tears because I was so bad. Or something. It’s a bit confused.) which means things have to hurt quite a lot (occasionally some lecturing helps too), and I’m glad he doesn’t then feel the need to stop and check I’m okay at the first sign of tears. Mind you, the subbier my mindset goes the more communicative I get because it’s deeply important to me to make sure Master has all the information he needs so he can make informed decisions. So that probably helps.
    Actually the more I think about it, the more I like that our safeword arrangement is ‘unofficial’. We both know that it’s there but neither of us has explicitly said it to the other. Until the discussion prompted by this post, I suppose! But I just realised, I think if I had an ‘official’ safeword I’d be more likely to cry wolf.
    Is that weird? Does anyone else think that?
    Typepad can’t cope with underscores in URLs:

  5. Dyke Grrl

    W and I also have the kind of informal safeword arrangement. We’ve talked about them, and I think there have been times when I’ve used some variation on one, or that she has.
    One of the major aspects of our relationship, and why it works (although it can be a big pain) is that we are very careful of each other, and work hard to communicate. But we’ve also got a good rhythm together much of the time, and we’re very often able to communicate, either within a “scene” spanking, or the other kinds. We also have spankings whose primary purpose is to get me to release tension (ie, cry), so if things stopped at the first tear, they certainly wouldn’t be working.
    I’ve been thinking since I read this post a couple of days ago that, really, what I need is a “spankword” and not a safeword. Something I can say that will clue W in to the fact that the most appropriate response is a spanking. Some people would say I should ask for one, but that doesn’t always work, nor do spankings that I’ve specifically asked for necessarily meet the needs I have. W is cautious, and very wary of giving me a spanking unless she’s feeling confident that it will be emotionally safe. And that can be frustrating, because while I see her point, it’s still hard to figure out how to make things work. Or something. I could be more coherent, but then I wouldn’t post this comment either.

  6. Mija

    spankable: your response reminded me of something and I had to go and look it up. In Greenery Press’s _The Bottoming Book_ by Dossie Easton and Catharine Lizst, they actually address exactly this issue of fear that an explicit safe word will make the bottom stop too soon. They write:
    “we have met bottoms who say they don’t want to negotiate a safeword because ‘if I have one, I use it before I’m ready for a scene to stop.’ Our experience has been that as you learn more about your own limits and those of your partner you’ll learn how to ‘stretch” and allow your limits to be pushed further and further. There’s also no reason why the use of a safeword should mean that you have to stop playing entirely… you can safeword, drop out of a scene, do whatever communication is called for to make the scene work for everybody, and then go right back to stretching those limits.”
    The way I see it is that if I safeworded during a punishment because I didn’t think I could take anymore, P and I could talk about that. Assuming he was convinced I deserved to be punished further (and it is very important that I not feel in control of punishment scenes, all he would need to do was tell me that. Assuming nothing else was going on, I know I’d accept that.
    DG: I like the idea of a spank word. I suppose a very bratty retort along the lines of “you can’t make me” could function as a spank / discipline word maybe?
    Something you mentioned reminded me about Pab and safewords too. Because we decided (sort of) on a “safe” for him when he was topping. Part of it was as a response to some early scenes going very wrong because of resistance that just went beyond his limits. So basically we agreed on the idea of a “timeout.” That is, if he sends me to a corner, I always go, no matter how I’m feeling. Likewise, when he pulls me over his knee, I don’t fight going there (though I sometimes try and leap up).
    Thanks to everyone for contributing to this. And to Bonnie especially for starting the discussion.


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