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Are Safe Words Necessary?

One of the core principles of BDSM play is that players, all players, have a right to protect their body and mind. We stress consent, negotiation, and communication. This includes agreeing on safe words and what they mean.

Most people who practice kink know what safe words are and most respect them. When someone calls “red” (or its equivalent) play stops and the player calling red is attended too. It is a practice I find very necessary and is the basis for the Red Stops Rape campaign.

But, is a safe word always necessary? Does everyone need to have one? Can you play safely and respectfully without one?


I have spent a lot of times talking to practiced D-types about when and how they use safe words with a new player. The answers have varied widely and the discussions are informative.

Just use “Stop” or “Don’t”

I know several D-types I respect who do not introduce new players to safe words at the beginning of play. Of course they discuss what these are and what they mean. But some D-types opt to not use a safe word with a newbie. Instead, words like “don’t” and “stop” can control the action and they use intense communications during a scene.

The reasons these players don’t start with safe words is that some new players call “red” when they get scared or nervous, ending a scene before the newbie really wants it to end. Calling “red” too early is not uncommon. The first few times you do impact or a lot of other types of play the emotional response can be intense. People may innately fear some types of toys. When say, a cane, is brought out, fear can set in and the newbie calls “red” but is not ready to finish with other types of toys.

With practiced D-types who are tuned into their partners, allowing “don’t” and “stop” and frequent feedback to control the play can be more satisfying to both players. Frequently checking in with the new partner and gauging physical and emotional responses can be more effective for protecting both players than using a safe word initially.

As a submissive, I can testify it takes time to learn what your responsibility is during a scene. It takes time to understand the difference between being nervous or uncomfortable and needing a scene to stop. It takes time to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. If a D-type honors “don’t” and “stop” and checks in with the new sub and has their well-being in mind, delaying the use of a safe word can be effective for developing healthy play behaviors.

Negotiating Away a Safe Word

I mentioned in a post more than a year ago that I have people I have negotiated away my right to a safe word with. This post generated some very intense and occasionally hostile feedback from people who felt it was horrible advice. While I understand the concern, most of the responses were based on their needs and not the content of the post.

I will caveat this with: 1) I am an established player with a strong knowledge of my needs and my body, and 2) I have only done this with players I have had extended play time with and trust deeply.

There are times a submissive needs to give up a safe word. This allows for deeper submission, more freedom in a scene, and allows a deeper transfer of power. It should only be done with a D-type there is deep trust and a proven track record with you.

I negotiated away my safe word with two D-types. I did this because it allows me to go deeper into submission and experience the full power exchange with these men. Before I suggested this (and it came from me both times), I had played with these partners for a number of years. They understand my triggers and my responses. They had proven repeatedly they are at least as protective of my body and emotions as I am.

There is something very freeing about giving up that last piece of power during play. Both men use the color system (green, yellow, red) as guidelines during play. We have agreements however, that they do not have to abide by typical rules of calling red. Before each session these men confirm that I continue to agree to play without a safe word and if we are going to do something new or particularly intense, that I still consent.

My experience in playing without a safe word is that I go further with my play then I would normally go with one. Even after 30 years of play, I will instinctively call “red” when pain gets intense. There can be a point I get frightened of the intensity of a scene and want to reflexively opt out of play. However, once I let go of a safe word and was pushed beyond my natural point of calling red, I gained more confidence in what I could take and was actually quite proud of the session.

There is something amazingly empowering when a D-type pushes you beyond what you thought you could do. In one particular caning scene, I called “red” as a guideline. The Dom reminded me I negotiated away that right and delivered a few additional intense strokes. I was left shaking and crying at the moment, but after catching my breath, the pride I felt in taking that and the positive sexual response I experienced deepened my play from that point forward.

The other thing negotiating away my safe word did was allow me to reach sub space more often. I love sub space. I feel floaty and happy and loved. It is rare for me to reach this space. However, the trust required for giving up a safe word, and the intensity of play I get to do without one, allows me to reach that space more often.

Final Thoughts

For most players, a safe word is necessary. Everyone, absolutely everyone, needs a way to protect themselves. Safe words can do that. But so can a partner who is tuned in and has a goal of mutual pleasure. There are times working without a safe word improves play.

A safe word should never be ignored. Even if you have negotiated away the right to safe word, a partner should use your calling it as a gauge for the scene.

Working without a safe word is trickier for many people. It should not be taken lightly. But, ultimately, there are times you might want to consider not using one.

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