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The Gift of "No."

We are at the start of a new calendar year. This means folks out here with lots of resolutions to do new things, restart practices they have let slide, and say “yes” to more stuff. This is great. It is wonderful to try new things and reconnect with old practices you have previously enjoyed.

But today I want to talk about the importance of “no.” To be an ethical kinky person, embracing “no’s” is a quintessential practice. And I’m not just talking about other people’s no. I am talking about your own personal no.

In most BDSM communities and especially in online spaces, edge players and those who do all sorts of kinky play are exalted. You only need to visit the “Kinky and Popular” section of Fetlife to verify this assertion. The bigger the dildo, the more extreme the bruising or bleeding, the faster the post rises on K&P. Being a player who is willing to push the envelop is somehow seen as preferable or “better” than folks with more conscribed lists of “will dos.”

The problem is, there are many, many people who do not enjoy extreme play. It is one thing to get an open handed spanking on the backside. It is another thing to get slapped in the face or a full punch during play. Statistically, about half of us will enjoy the open-handed spanking. Just a tiny fraction will enjoy being punched and kicked as part of our BDSM play. That is great!

Part of clarifying your desires and exploring what you want is to create a no list. I recognize we can all feel internal pressure to try the more extreme types of play. For some of us, there will be a desire to push limits, to go further with our experiences. For most, we will find the bounds of what we enjoy and don’t enjoy.

It is also important to recognize those boundaries are continually moving. For most people, once they discover the world of BDSM, there is a desire to do “all the things with all the people.” The classic sign of a new player is the statement, “I don’t have a no (hard limit) list.” If you find yourself saying this, please recognize you have not discovered all the permutations of kinky play and as you do, that no list will grow. For anyone playing with a partner without a hard limits list, please take time to discuss IN DETAIL what you want to do. Just because a partner says “Sure, I guess” does not mean they have a clear understanding of the actions or risks involved in different types of play.

For many of us who stay in the BDSM world, our list of hard no’s will change with age, with partners, with health, and more. I have been blessed to be in a dynamic for more than a decade with a partner who enjoys the same types of extreme play I do and who, over the past decade, has come to a deep understanding of my physical and emotional responses to help guide play. We did not start out on the edge. We have built up trust and communication and desire. Our dynamic is unique for me. With other partners, I do not come close to the level of edge play my primary kink partner and I practice. And that is okay!

Building a No/Limit List

So how do you know what is on your “no” list? There are actually several guidelines which can help you build an effective list of yes/no/maybes.

Intuition is a great start. Some of us get an uncomfortable, “squiggy” or grossed-out feeling with the suggestion of specific kinks. Recognizing your personal reaction is not “yucking someone else’s yum” as is so derided in the kink world. It is recognizing that a specific kink is not for you. It is perfectly fine to not enjoy water sports (piss play), or being “impregnated” by gelatin eggs from a tentacle dildo, or whatever. [If you are thinking, OMG that is a thing! This is what I mean by there are kinks you have no idea about so limits are important.]

Second, pay attention to your body and emotions. Kink play isn’t just about the physical act. I would argue that it is more a 70/30 split between emotional enjoyment and physical enjoyment, respectively. Just because your body can do something does not mean you get any emotional enjoyment from it. When you try something new, or when you see or read about it, how to you physically and emotionally react?

Where is there heat? I like this question (taken from Sinclair Sexsmith). What activities or dynamics do you have a lot of feels around? Just because something is bothersome or causes you to really question your perspective does not necessarily mean it’s a “no.” What activities or dynamics drive your curiosity and questions? Is the thing you find upsetting also turning you on? Maybe that goes on a “maybe” list.

Then there is actual experience. What we fantasize about, what gets us off when we are masturbating, does not necessarily translate into what is going to get us off in real life. Something can seem incredibly sexy in our brain, but id doesn’t work when we actually play it out. This is why trying things in real life is important! Try a “tasting party” (a night at a play space where experienced players offer as “sampling” of different kinks). Find an experienced partner to try something with. Take a class or twelve and give a new kink a try! You may find your next obsession, or it may fall flat. Both reactions are completely okay because they build your experience and ability to voice more accurately what you desire.

But Will My No’s Limit My Options to Play?

No’s or hard limits SHOULD limit your options. Anyone who insists you engage in a “no” or hard limit activity is not a safe player. Respecting a person’s boundaries is critical for consent. Use anyone who insists a “real” sub or “real” Dom does something as a giant red flag!

Communicating about your boundaries makes things sexier. Seriously. By creating a safe container to play in, partners know they can do all sorts of things without stepping on a trigger or landmine. This freedom to be sexy and kinky is much more fun than fumbling through play always worrying about harming or upsetting someone.

“I’m Afraid to Say No to My Partner”

This is a whole fleet of red flags. Fearing a partner’s reaction to a no is a sign of an abusive relationship. A healthy, consensual relationship is one where either partner can say no to an activity and have that no respected. If you feel emotional, physical, or other harm because you say no, please consider getting help extricating yourself from the relationship.

While I cannot offer each reader personal help here, I would encourage you to check out the Domestic Violence Hotline. You can call, text, or chat online with someone who can provide insight, resources, and help.


Resolutions and Such

I’m not a “New Year’s Resolution” gal. However, I think that continuing to explore your desires and grow your experiences is important (regardless of time of year). This year, while you are growing your personal knowledge about desires, remember, identifying stuff you don’t like is a key part of that journey.


I want to thank Mx. Bliss for our conversation about consent and the power of "no" for inspiring this post. She is a wonderful conversationalist and an insightful kinkster! Check out our conversation on Fat Chicks on Top (episode drops Monday, January 8 at this link). And check out her work and resources here.

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