View From The Top: We Don’t Need A Safeword

The night Sarah and I met, we immediately fell into bed together — or that’s how it felt. Our first date became an all-nighter after she asked to go home with me. As soon as we got in the door I opened my mouth to offer tea, but she kissed me instead, and I pushed her against the wall and then led her into my bedroom. I felt magnetically drawn to her skin, to putting my hand up her skirt. One of the first things I asked her, sitting next to her on my bed, kissing her neck, was, “What’s your safeword?”

I meant it in a sexy way. In a I want to do dirty things to you but I don’t want to go too far so I can trust you to tell me to back off if I do, right? way. In a I know what I’m doing I can speak the BDSM lingo way.

She gave me this look, a combination of confusion and pity and a little bit of condescension. (It was a signature Sarah look. A look I would get to know very well.) The few inches between our bodies seemed to grow.

She twisted toward me, sitting cross-legged. “Are you going to stop if I say ‘stop’?”

I straightened too, feeling awkward and exposed since she had already unbuckled my belt and unzipped my jeans. “Um. Yes. Of course.”

She smiled, and I relaxed. “Are you going to slow down if I say ‘slow down’?” She wore a low-cut summery dress with big watercolor splotches of color on it, blue and purple and red. It wrapped around her with a belt made out of fabric, tied in a bow at her waist. I love those dresses, with the threat of opening and falling right off of her curvy body, and the tease of it entices me. I wanted to slip my fingers into the bow and tug.

“Sure, absolutely.”

“And if I say, ‘Hey wait, move, you’re on my hair,’ or something?”

“Yeah, I’ll move.”

“Then I don’t need a safeword. You’re not going to keep going even if I say stop, we’re not playing with consensual non-consent or some sort of force. I mean, don’t get me wrong,” Sarah took a breath, then looked back at me with smoky, lustful bedroom eyes. Her lips looked redder, her skin flushed. Her voice dropped quieter, lower. “I like playing with force. Love it, actually. But I don’t play risky games with tricks I just met.” She gave me a playful shove.

I shrugged a little, feeling like I was receiving a lecture. But she was right. “Yeah, I get it.”

“I mean, I think there are other scenarios where having a safeword is useful. For some folks, it’s easier to say ‘yellow’ than it is to say ‘please slow down’ or ‘I need to check in with you’ or ‘can we take a pause and switch to something else but please don’t stop touching me entirely.’” She moved closer again as the conversation about BDSM theory folded back into foreplay, and started to finger the buttons on my shirt. “I’m not saying the only time you should play with safewords is in consensual non-consent. But to me, it’s the only time they’re really necessary.”

“Right, I suppose not everyone is as articulate as you are. Or able to be articulate during sex.” I wasn’t distracted at all by her fingers on my buttons, the way her hair smelled. I was completely coherent. “You know, when you’re turned on, all the blood is flowing elsewhere, not necessarily in the… head region.”

“What would you know about how I am after I’m turned on,” she purred, moving closer. She gave me that sly look again, the one that made me squirm so much that I fought to keep my face stoic.

Her mouth was nearly next to mine, and I strained forward to reach her. She kept our mouths just an inch apart, close enough that I could taste her breath on my tongue. She was almost crawling into my lap when I leaned back onto the bed and landed awkwardly on the pillow.

Sarah straddled my hips and slowly, slowly, sat down on top of me, letting out a little groan. My hands went to her hips through the thin, soft fabric of her dress. The bow was under my palm. I could feel her skin through the dress, but couldn’t feel her panties. Was she wearing any? I explored her hips with my hands, grabbing handfuls of her as she kissed me.

“So, you don’t need a safeword,” I said when she paused the kissing and nuzzled into my neck.

She nodded. I didn’t see it, but I could feel it. Her hair tickled. “Don’t worry. I’ll let you know when I like something, or when I don’t. I like this,” she said, pressing into the strap-on I was packing. “I want to see it.”

“You do, huh,” I teased, pressing my hips back against the pressure of her hand.

“I want you to fuck me with it. I want you to start really slow, and when I start bucking my hips a lot, go faster, and deeper.” I could feel her mouth on my ear as her lips moved around the words.

“I have a feeling you’re good at it. And maybe, someday, just maybe, we’ll do the kind of play where we need a safeword.”

Sinclair Sexsmith is a feminist dominant, poet and strap-on expert who writes the award-winning sex blog Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 36 articles for us.

99 Comments

    • The first few words of this article contain a hyperlink to a previous article about Sarah. In that article, Sinclair says “Sarah isn’t her real name. Sarah isn’t technically a real person, but amalgamation of a few different people in order to better protect the privacy of those involved. I’m also fudging the details for the same reason.” So I think you can rest assured that no one’s privacy is being violated.

    • If you click the link at the beginning of the story you’ll see that Sarah isn’t a real person but a combination of people the author has been with. Also a pseudonym.

    • If you follow the link on “the night Sarah and I first met” it takes you to an article where they explain “Sara.” But here’s a quote -> “Sarah isn’t her real name. Sarah isn’t technically a real person, but amalgamation of a few different people in order to better protect the privacy of those involved.”

    • I’d like to also add that while Sarah is based on a variety of folks, she’s also completely fictional, and this scene is completely fiction. It does however represent various conversations I’ve had — with lovers and friends — about the complexities of safewords and consent.

    • If you want to have safe words every time you have sex go ahead – that’s totally fine and great for you! But the point was that there are other ways to communicate consent (and lack thereof). In this instance, “stop”, “no”, and other phrases were sufficient so both parties engaging in sexual activities agreed an additional safeword was not necessary.

      • Why are they trying to promote the idea of engaging in BDSM without a set safe word though? The safe word is the gold standard within the community for a reason, and that reason is preventing abuse and consent violation.

        But I guess Sinclair is so edgy they don’t need safe words or ordinary protocol. Awesome introduction to BDSM, right here

        • No, consent is the gold standard. When most people have sex, they use words like “no” and “stop” and “ouch” that already communicate lack of consent or at least that a check-in is needed. These words are generally accepted safewords, if you will. In some contexts, like with consensual non-consent, the people involved agree that words like “stop” no longer mean stop. In those cases, a safeword is necessary to communicate real non-consent. (And there are also many other valid reasons for choosing to use a safeword.) But that’s not the kind of sex play Sinclair was engaging in. They agreed to save that kind of sex for when they knew each other better and trusted each other more. They had a coversation and agreed that “stop” meant stop and “no” meant no. No additional safeword was needed because they agreed on how to communicate consent – using the safewords already built into the English language.

        • Sinclair and ‘sarah’ weren’t engaging in bdsm that night. Even so, as people who do sometimes participate in that, they clearly outlined their limits. the safewords in this case, as others have pointed out, were “slow down,” “stop,” etc.

          Why does Sinclair bug you so much? You hate on every one of these articles.

        • This is not at all what this piece says. Which you would know if you read it, but you didn’t. You’re attacking the author based on a strawman argument and after doing this literally every time this column posts, V, I think it’s fair to ask that you stop doing this.

        • I’ve been happily practicing BDSM for over 40 years, mostly with people that are not involved in the leather community or who are involved in the leather dyke community. Safe words are not the gold standard in all BDSM communities. Accepted BDSM kink behavior has changed over the decades, will continue to change, and it is different from community to community. There is room for diversity and tolerance in the world of BDSM.

    • I’m with Meg on this one. I dislike the way that the ‘Always have a safeword’ truism assumes that if you say ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ in a kinky context then you don’t actually mean it, and you need a special word to communicate ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ or ‘Slow down’ or whatever instead. What Sinclair outlines here is how I like to do it: let’s start by assuming that no means no, as you would in any other context, and assess whether or not we need a safeword when we do other things.

      This isn’t to say that safewords are bad! And as acknowledged in the article, for some people it’s easier to use a safeword than to say other things. I just don’t think it should be automatic and I don’t think it should be assumed that you are ‘safer’ using a safeword than not.

      • I’m torn.

        It feels like they’ve negotiated to not do anything that verges towards to the non-consensual and that “stop”, “slow down” and so on should be their safe words. All of which are fine in a theoretical form. And it’s the submissive that’s offering this, as well as negotiating that she wants a basically vanilla session so I should be OK with it.

        But like V, I’m really uncomfortable with it. Perhaps it’s because I know Sinclair is a Domme, I’m reading Sarah as a sub, and I feel like Sarah isn’t taking care of herself. I will not I don’t agree with V’s reaction against Sinclair who offered Sarah the chance to choose safe words and so on and I will give her the benefit of the doubt to keep things vanilla since that’s the agreed scene so Sarah shouldn’t need the safe words she hasn’t negotiated. It’s five years (and a few days) since our collaring ceremony and Mistress and I won’t play without checking safe words. We had to change “yellow” to “bananas” recently because a new gag meant I couldn’t say yellow clearly but bananas was still clear, which we wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t checked. If something happens and we go our separate ways, or before we knew each other, I wouldn’t play without establishing safe words before anything happened.

        Even though we’ve never done role-play or c-nc play where no/stop/slow down would be mistaken for anything else, we still use distinct words (we don’t play insertion games with bananas either). Sometimes the value of special words, out of any context can’t be emphasised enough.

          • I don’t think Sinclair likes feminine terminology, but using they/them pronouns doesn’t necessarily mean that a person doesn’t.

        • This is a very interesting reply, and gives some background for what seemed like a pretty ridiculous comment on “V”‘s part- I’m generally a pretty vanilla person, but I sometimes play around with pain/fisting/etc and the idea that I should have a safe word if I’m doing BDSM-ish things because otherwise my consent or lack of might not be considered valid somehow is pretty uncomfortable.

          However, your background seems a lot closer to Sinclair’s and gives the article a different context – so thank you for explaining where you are coming from!

      • Yeah, that’s a really good way to put it. I feel safer when I know that my words will be taken seriously, and without an unnecessary level of abstraction in the way. If I’m likely to get to the “no ow noooo don’t stop” point with an activity, or if I’m with a partner who isn’t that familiar with my reactions, then a safeword can be useful! But I consider C-NC play pretty edgy, and plain English works just fine for most things.

    • Safewords should be mandatory? Oh, are you going to tell me how to have sex now, V?

      Consent is mandatory. Safewords aren’t a part of that for all people or all situations.

      For me, communication and check-ins are incredibly vital components, but safewords – which actually abstract that communication (like if your sex doesn’t play with limits and stuff, why confuse things by saying banana when you could say stop?) – are pretty much beside the point. I want to feel safe during sex. I want to feel heard during sex. I want to feel connected to my partner during sex. For me, using regular language to communicate during sex is what makes that happen. If I say “wait a minute,” I need my partner to wait a minute. There is nothing more clear or direct for me than saying what I actually mean.

      • Yes, agreed! I use the green, yellow, red set of safewords when playing with my partner, but I have a really hard time being able to use them in the moment. It’s always been a challenge for me to flip from “sexy submissive scene” to “what’s a color? what’s the word I need? oh fuck I needed you to stop what you were doing already!”

        What’s worked for us is negotiating beforehand and making sure my partner does regular check-ins during anything that pushes my limits, with the understanding that I’ll use a safeword if needed. I like that my dominant ladyfriend has taken a lot of the responsibility of making sure all is well instead of it only being on me and my safeword.

        As someone who really enjoys a gag and blindfold, I also know that safewords aren’t the end all and be all of safety and consent. It’s just one tool and one that will fail miserably if you can’t talk and communicate like Sinclair and Sarah did in their scene above.

      • Agreeing with Joanna (per the usual!) — the missing piece here is that what was said was “I don’t need a safeword in the play we are engaging in tonight“, not “I don’t need a safe word…ever.”

        Although I’m honestly not super into the title because it seems a little click-baity, in the context of the rest of the story it makes sense. In the conversation played out above there is a lot of really amazing communication happening, and I don’t know why that’s being missed in some comments.

        The negotiation they have above is something that goes far beyond perfunctory “my safe word is ‘fish guts’, now let the kink commence” and actually gets into an explicit negotiation of what Sarah is consenting to.

    • They didn’t need a specific safe word beyond ordinary words like “stop” and “no” because they weren’t playing with consensual non-consent. You don’t need a safe word unless you’ve explicitly agreed that “no” does not mean “no” for the duration of a specific sexual encounter. Otherwise you damn well better stop when someone tells you stop!

  1. This pings badly for me, because safewords aren’t just for whoever’s submitting. They’re for anyone engaging in kinky shit and I really, really dislike this persistent that a dominant does not/will never need to use a safeword. This reads like someone being talked out of using a component of sex that’s useful and important to them and that’s not great.

    • I really appreciate you bringing this perspective about safe words protecting everyone involved, not just the submissive.

      However, I think I read the piece differently–I didn’t see Sinclair feeling unsafe, but feeling sheepish to be called out as inexpert and about undergoing a learning moment in remembering why safe words exist in the first place. I read it more about cockiness and entrenchment in the BDSM ideology and forgetting that tools come from somewhere. When Sinclair says “I meant it in a sexy way…in a I know what I’m doing I can speak the BDSM lingo way,” I like that Sarah pushed back and reminded them that it’s not just about going through the motions or about lingo, but about connection and paying attention. I thought it was beautiful (and hot), but also a definitely complex piece and grappling with it and having strong feelings feels appropriate.

  2. Did folks like, read this article or just the title and the author’s name and decide it’s open season?

    I’m really not into the fact that this series has people — the SAME people — bring out their pitchforks to turn the comments into the same reductive pile-on over and over.

    Not sure what the solution is, but I fucking hate it, because I want to just enjoy their writing and delight it in the same way that I delight in Alaina’s Bottoms Up column. I want kinky community. I don’t have the patience for a bunch of call-outs based on very uncharitable readings of Sinclair’s work.

    • It scares me how y’all talk about me because I wonder what you’re saying to people in your local community who have concerns.

      Alaina talks about kink in a way I find very respectful of people who don’t like kink, are triggered by kink, etc. I have no problem with that column.

      Sinclair Sexsmith, however, writes in a way that deliberately blurs the line between reality and fantasy, consent and nonconsent.

      I have major issues with their writing and I don’t believe it belongs on Autostraddle.

      I am going to keep voicing my concerns until I am inevitably silenced.

      • Yo, you are not gonna drag me into this conversation. Sinclair and I are not in opposition of one another, we are in conversation. It’s all a big conversation. Like maybe try to participate in it instead of just angry-yelling?

      • So interesting to read that you think I write “in a way that deliberately blurs the line between reality and fantasy, consent and nonconsent.” … That is pretty much the exact opposite of what I aim to do, and the opposite of what the vast majority of folks who read my work and engage with me tell me I am doing.

        I feel confused by your comments. We clearly are looking at one thing and seeing two very different things.

  3. I also prefer to only use safe words when playing with consensual non-consent.

    “No” or “stop” means exactly that until you specifically say it doesn’t. Consent is consent no matter what words you agree to use.

  4. this is great, sinclair! thanks for writing.

    i like having conversations about “how do you like to say no?” (and maybe, and yes) with my partners because of exactly what you mention — not everyone is “articulate” during sex, but i trust people to tell me what works for them. maybe i use no/stop and my partner uses “chartreuse”! the important part is that we understand each other & that we both feel safe to communicate.

    especially when there is only a safeword and not also a slow-down word, i often feel like safewords actually impede communication during sexual activity. you don’t wanna pull the plug on the whole thing, or ruin the vibe, etc., so you hesitate! i say this because i’ve totally done it! it’s helpful to create spaces where talking about what’s happening is okay (uh… and hot!).

    • I love this phrasing, how do you like to say no! I like to say no in a way that doesn’t require a lot of thought or articulation but is also distinctive from words that just flow out of my mouth when I’m into something. I didn’t realize I often say “no” during a good spanking until my partner told me that’s why he was stopping.

      Red and yellow are perfect for us in that context, and we’ve talked a lot more about what yellow means—does it mean just check in? Does it mean stop completely and check in? Go slower? Stop and come back to this? I enjoy talking about communication in sexy contexts.

  5. Could we just have Autostraddle start putting in disclaimers that these articles aren’t for kinkshaming and could we start warning or removing the trolls who come to grief so often?

    We should be able to feel safe and comfortable here. This shit almost never happens to Alaina’s sub articles either. The focus is on Sinclair’s Dominant writing. It’s perceived as a threat and they are often personally attacked and misgendered, while any of us in the community who want to have a conversation are demonized by the same asshole trolls again and again.

    I know AS takes a hands-off approach sometimes, but please… doing something would be so, very much appreciated.

    • In my opinion, adding a note making this an explicitly safe space for kink wouldn’t be inconsistent with Autostraddle’s past comment moderation. For example, I remember a few bisexuality posts where they explicitly stated that bi-phobia would not be tolerated and held the commenters to that. I would hope that such a policy could be communicated/implemented in such a way that vitriol is shut out but people genuinely seeking to learn more are still welcome.

      • Exactly. We DO want to foster discussion, especially about concerns! We just need to make sure it’s done in a safe, respectful way where people don’t have to feel silenced by those who aren’t in the community and fail at listening.

        • I don’t see a kink community here that is supportive of people with concerns- you’ve shut down so many people who were all way nicer than me, including a literal 15-year-old.

          Because kink is more important to you than the (highly valid) feelings of a teenage girl getting harassed.

          • The good news is that incident showed me young queer people aren’t buying your victim blaming and gaslighting, which gives me hope for the future.

          • I don’t think you know what the term gaslighting means, given that you continue to do that to all of us reading and sharing our experiences when you insist we can’t possibly be consenting to the kind of play Sinclair writes about.

          • Um? Kink is not personally important to me. I don’t currently partake in kink or bdsm and I don’t know if I will in the future.

            What IS important to me is open, honest, thoughtful and shame-free discourse where people are not told by people like V what to do in bed (“safewords are mandatory”) and columnists are not judged out of hat (and in ways where the actual words they wrote become practically irrelevant, just a jumping-off point for judgment) because commenters are holding personal grudges.

          • V, I did have concerns with the way the 15-year-old girl was treated as well. It seems to me that when people engage in kinky sex, consent between/among the people involved is 100% necessary, full stop. BUT THEY ALSO DON’T NEED THE APPROVAL OF ANYONE NOT INVOLVED. However, once someone is involving other people, say by writing for an audience, other ethical concerns beyond consent of the people involved in the actual sex acts are relevant. For example, I want Autostraddle to be a safe place for teens to encounter kink. And I don’t think being told “go away this is for adults” is a healthy way to talk about kink to teens. But also, maybe the article could have been tagged 18+ if that was the intent and Autostraddle wasn’t able to do the legwork to make that convo safe for teens? I ALSO think that consent between the people having sex is paramount, but there needs to be awareness of pre-existing power dynamics and privilege BEFORE you step into the bedroom. This is personal and up to the people involved to dig into. It’s been discussed some on these threads but I know I would like to see more articles/first-hand accounts with it.

            The thing is, you don’t seem to be engaging people in good faith. You basically run up and down every View From the Too thread screaming about why BDSM is wrong as if you have a personal vendetta against Sinclair. You don’t sound as if you actually read the articles. It’s very frustrating.

          • I should also clarify that I don’t think it would be appropriate to debate the ethics of BDSM in every single post on the subject at Autostraddle.

          • A teenage girl didn’t get harassed. She was treated very well, but she was also in an adult space.

            No one is victim blaming. No one is gaslighting. You’re just a troll who delights in tormenting people different than you.

      • We can manually post and flag things for moderators as well as reach out to staff (the latter of which I have done repeatedly in many articles), but we really need some more decisive, constructive action from AS to protect this space like other spaces are protected.

  6. Being kink shamed sucks, I’m sure. But it’s nothing compared to being a young, isolated queer forced into BDSM submission for queer sex-posi feminist points, getting assaulted by a popular man in the community, whose word EVERYONE will believe above yours, or being disposed of for being “trouble-making.” This story happens all the time.

    Abuse starts with Doms who don’t use safe words or who use BDSM to mask their genuine enjoyment of sadistic misogyny.

    Oh yes, then all of this seeps out into the larger culture, making hurting women-or people- in bed, or play-acting sexual abuse, seem like a feminist thing to do.

    People in kink communities are being harmed all the time. Anyone reading this has a choice to be involved or not. Don’t let pro kink people take that choice away from you, shame you, make fun of you, ice you out, or manipulate you for choosing not to partake or speaking up about the abuse that goes on in EVERY kink community. Don’t let them tell you this is always empowering, healthy and feminist. They’ll try to sweep the abuse under the rug, every time, to protect themselves and keep the right to abuse and degrade people.

    • V, I see your concerns. Rape and coersion are never okay. I would rather approach these concerns with the question “What can we do to prevent that from happening?” You seem to be answering that question with “stop doms from practicing BDSM altogether”. I don’t think that’s the answer.

      • Thank you. I actually don’t think BDSM or Doms can be stopped but I do think a large part of damage control would be keeping people from feeling coerced into kink itself.

        This includes creating a culture in feminism where it’s ok to question BDSM itself. Because not being allowed to question BDSM itself makes for a very Puritan culture where any non-believer is punished… so people with legitimate questions about kink or about how they are being treated in a kink scene, are afraid to speak up for fear of being labelled a KINKSHAMER. This may sound trivial but access to queer communities can mean life or death for some people. So if someone’s local queer community is heavily into BDSM (and defensive about it) there is nowhere for someone who is being abused to go. They get locked out of their own communities.

        In short I feel like we need a feminism that has room for both pro kink and anti kink stances (where one is not being hounded out of existence) and that this makes kink scenes safer by offering more room for unpopular viewpoints, criticism of the scene, and therefore more alternatives for people who need out. Knee jerk defenses of kink limit survivors mobility and also make it easier to discredit them.

        We also need to dismantle the patriarchy and whiteness, both of which shelter most abusers. (I would argue whiteness and maleness create abusers but most people probably feel this is too extreme. But you know.

        • I don’t think BDSM and doms need to be stopped. It’s not a matter of whether or not they can be. I also don’t think anti-kink has a place here? I think there’s space on Autostraddle for people to engage with what they want to and relate with what they want to and ignore the rest, but maybe that’s just me. These particular articles being an exploration of kink doesn’t mean you have to participate in kink yourself to belong in the Autostraddle community. I do agree that people should be able to ask questions.

          I’m not going to go into feminism as a whole or BDSM communities in a broader sense because that’s a lot to tackle in a few comments and I don’t think this is the right comment section for that conversation. I really did enjoy this article. I thought it was a sexy reflection on what consent really means and how people can communicate consent with each other, in BDSM contexts and outside of it too.

          • Seriously Joanna, you are so out of line, so mindbogglingly aggressive and hostile so often that I honestly feel the moderators spare you just because you’re a member of this community. How is it okay to be attacking other users so openly and readily? Just because someone has a different perspective doesn’t make them a troll! You are the one with a vendetta against the whole world, it seema. I think people are often afraid of calling you out for fear you’ll lash out at them. Stop turning the comments section into a shit storm! Autostraddle is better than that and I know you can be, too, since I’ve seen your Doctor Jekyll side and I know how sweet you can be.

          • Uh-huh. Excuse me for not giving into V’s shit every single time a BDSM article is posted. We want to have real conversations here, not distill everything down to their strawman arguments and personal attacks, EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY POST.

            This isn’t ABOUT a different perspective. Different perspectives I can listen to. I can respect and have a discussion. V doesn’t WANT a discussion. They want to bait, troll, and attack.

            So yes, I’m aggressive and hostile because I’ve had enough. Particularly when AS won’t take the steps to protect people from trolls like that. If I’m “spared” by the mods it’s because everyone *knows* who the troublemaker is and just because I express anger and don’t keep being the constant “good girl” with the smiling face, I make a few people uncomfortable who’ve never spoken to me before. Congrats. The troll has successfully baited and won. V shuts down all legitimate dialogue and discussion, without fail. It’s incredibly disrespectful and insincere. That’s what trolls do.

    • V, you know that you don’t have to read these articles, they really seem to upset you. Also, there is no way you could know that abuse takes place in every kink community, and saying as much is just offensive.

  7. Thanks Sinclair, for showing that ‘no’ and ‘stop’ and ‘I’m not into that’ can BE safewords and that kink doesn’t necessarily always include dynamics where ‘no’ is a play-protest.

    I absolutely value safewords that are not ‘no’ for a lot of kinky play, and I understand that ‘no’ and ‘stop’ can be super hard to say for some people in sub space.

    BUT

    That is not me. I need and perform a LOT of verbal feedback and checking in. I’m a sub with a history of abuse, and for me CNC is just offlimits. I’m probably never going to play with faux-resistance. So my no is always serious and I consider it my job to be able to articulate it.

    If I’m bound I might use finger talk or tapping out (a kind of safe word)
    If I feel like ‘no’ might become to hard, I might negotiate a safe word that isn’t ‘no’
    But ‘no’ and ‘I can be trusted to check in’ are perfectly legitimate methods of ensuring safety as well, as long as my play partners understand my no means NO.

    I think you wrote a verrry steamy story about the kind of communication needed for ‘no’ to operate as no and the level of play between strangers where that can be a safe option. Thank you so much.

    • Unfortunately, I think you’re largely right. Autostraddle definitely needs to lay out clear ground rules, disclaimers, and put an effort into controlling the direction dialogue goes.

      Each article can’t be nothing more than people arguing BDSM or bringing up domestic abuse. There are people who try to have entirely different (and often disingenuous) conversations than the ones we should be having based off the article.

      Obviously we, as a community, cannot keep the conversation focused alone. We’ve tried. People still successfully derail constructive dialogue and bully others. Obviously there are some who believe the AS BDSM community is being bullied and there are others with questions and concerns who do not know how to engage who feel bullied by us merely defending ourselves.

      Perhaps an article about how to HAVE the discussion is needed. So many want a basic, elementary conversation every single time and perhaps we should give them something to sink their teeth into besides us. Either way, AS still needs to protect the BDSM community within the larger AS community and create a safe, reasonable dialogue. It’s an issue of growing pains, just like with a lot of things. People aren’t used to the new or the change. But largely, the AS community is here to connect, learn, grow, and evolve together by listening to one another and having mature, constructive, and personal dialogues. I think that’s what we all want, we just need to deal with the disruptions to that.

      • To add, because unfortunately I have to:

        —Domestic abuse is real. It’s a problem. The BDSM community is not immune to it, but it is NOT a haven or breeding ground for it either. Those who say otherwise are patently false.

        —I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault. A lot of the regular commenters here are. Some of the writers are. We’ve been open about this.

        —It’s okay to be unsure or have concerns about BDSM. It’s all right to be ignorant or scared.

        But what is not all right is derailing every single discussion to re-hash the same issues, particularly when a few people that do this are insincere and are exploiting victims.

        Well, as survivors and as people who partake of kink, we deserve better than to be bullied and accused of terrible things, insulted, and shamed every time we want to have a dialogue. It’s not fair to us and it’s not fair to people who have sincere questions or concerns. We should not be silenced, particularly on the matter of abuse.

        Like with any group you don’t understand, your first responsibility is to listen; NOT to assume. Contrary to how argumentative or aggressive we may seem, it’s only because we’re standing up to bullies. We welcome legitimate, sincere dialogue and having these conversations. That’s why these articles are read and why we comment.

        It’s important to remember not every AS article is all things for all people. A BDSM article is for the BDSM community, so it is our space, but it does not mean other people aren’t valued. An article on bisexuality is for bi people, not for straight or gay people to be biphobic. Trans issues aren’t for cis people to bull trans people. Articles about and for POC aren’t for whitesplaining. This is basic, AS 101. It’s an important part of how we all come to respect and understand one another.

        This is a community. One most of us love and cherish.

        • Lol. And how is liking BDSM remotely on the same level as racism or transphobia?

          You don’t need a safe space. Your comment is an insult to people coping with legitimate systemic inequalities like racism.

          You are not oppressed, kink is not an axis of oppression.

          • Moderators, please address this harassment.

            You’ve consistently bullied survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. You admit to a desire to continue your bullying.

            As someone who does experience and cope with legitimate systemic inequalities, and has been bullied and silenced by you repeatedly over many months as a survivor of sexual assault, I have a right to my voice and a right to be free from your bullying, as does everyone else here.

            You are an oppressor. You do not speak for anyone but yourself.

          • Well, they may have been referring to this whole debacle as a mob, no matter which part of it any of us are. I was going with the most constructive interpretation I could think of until proven otherwise. 😀

  8. Enjoyed this writing! Thanks for a different perspective. Sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to be super cool and pretend to be more savvy than you are, to avoid looking clueless. I think in situations like this a lot of people would make up a safe word off the top of their head, and that’d have bad consequences. It’s good to see a depiction of people talking about their boundaries in plain language.

  9. I’m so glad this series exists! I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about BDSM in such an insightful and sexy way. After an article I usually find myself thinking about a topic in a different light. Even if after reading I don’t feel like something is for me, I still find it interesting to hear a new perspective explained so well.

  10. This article is really good, communication is tricky and I love how this article shows some different ways people do it. I have often struggled with how words work, how everyone has different ideas of what they mean, I like how clearly you have explained what the word safeword means, and how words are the most useful if you have agreed on what they mean, thank you. I love this series, there is so much about bdsm and myself I am learning 🙂

  11. I started bottoming in a BDSM context in the 1970s and 80s. We did not use safe words. The closest that we’d come to vocally formalizing our desires and needs, would be flirting and a brief discussion of boundaries. For me, part of the pleasure of BDSM is submitting to an adventure, where I’m not in charge, and for me safe words lower the intensity of that experience. I feel awkward and contrived using safe words, I’m sure that my old-fashioned preference for BDSM without them has put off potential partners, and that’s okay.

    Having said that, there are many, many different ways to play. If you need safe words, then find partners that also need them! If you don’t want to use them, then find like-minded partners. Surely there is room in our culture for kink diversity, rather than kink division.

  12. To you folks with the scathing comments, did y’all even read the full article?! Evidently not. Otherwise, you would’ve realized that it’s really about communication. That it doesn’t matter whether you specifically pick a safe word or stick to corresponding words in our everyday lexicon, as long as partners are honest with each other when things need to slow down or stop altogether. What’s wrong with that message? Nothing at all. A rose by any other name…

  13. When I bottom, I enjoy being able to shriek “no” and “stop” and “please.” I don’t consider that to be consensual nonconsent; it’s just role-playing, something closer to mock nonconsent. However, it does mean that I need a way to say “I am no longer consenting.” Realistically, I’ve never had a partner who’s been unable to read my body language and tone so that I needed to actually deploy the safeword, but it’s important that I have it in case all else fails.

    BUT – if I were NOT the kind of bottom who likes being able to scream for mercy, then I wouldn’t need safewords. “No” and “stop” are perfectly good signals, and if no safeword has been negotiated then they *must* be respected.

    The top one needs to worry about is the one who plows past all attempts to stop an activity, whether those attempts take the form of “no” and “stop” or “red” and “yellow.” Safewords are handy because they’re completely unambiguous, but if one isn’t into mock nonconsent, they shouldn’t be necessary.

  14. Sinclair, thank you so much for writing this.

    It resonated a lot with me because earlier this year, I was in a pretty shitty relationship with a very manipulative person who sexually assaulted me multiple times.

    He was quite top-py and I was quite bottom-y, but we never played around with consensual non-consent specifically. I would sometimes say no to particular things, and what he would do was insist until I gave in (a shitty thing to do in any case) – this really upset me, because I often gave in even though I hadn’t really changed my mind, and so would feel really horrible afterwards. He and I discussed this – I asked him not to insist, because I found it difficult to keep saying “no”, and I also came up with a non-verbal signal that I could use.

    After those conversations, he actually continued to insist and be pushy (because he was an abusive piece of shit human being). I talked to him about a few incidents and he said that because I hadn’t used our non-verbal signal (even though I had said no!!!), that he thought he should keep going.

    I was very confused and upset about all of this – luckily we broke up shortly afterwards and he is now far, far out of my life – but it was only recently that I was able to put my finger on exactly how wrong he was, precisely for the same reason that you’ve outlined here — when you’re not playing with consensual non-consent (as was the case with us), saying “no” or “stop” should ALWAYS be enough.

    I know this is a long and maybe slightly tangential way of relating to your article, but I just really want you to know that you’re making a super valid point that is very important to be aware of! And that I’m very grateful to you for articulating it so well.

    Also, don’t let all the silly comments get to you!! They clearly haven’t read your article properly.

  15. I don’t comment often, but I want to add my voice to those that have been more vocal. Something really must be done about the comments on this series. It is so destructive to be excited every week for Sinclair’s writing, to scroll to the comments hoping to find engaging and meaningful discussions, only to be met with vitriol and hate. For those of us who engage with both of the bdsm series, and for those of us who associate more strongly with Sinclair’s perspective, this column is no longer a safe space. I have seen Sinclair accused of all kinds of horrors, as tho they personally are responsible for the pain and suffering of each and every person who has had a negative encounter with a more dominant type person. I have seen gaslighting and strawman arguments and accusations of sexual assault or harassment thrown around like it’s something to be taken lightly. How can Autostraddle allow this to continue?

    On other articles, I have found the comment section to be just as, if not more, informative and interesting than the articles that sparked the discussion — as an example, the comments on the OITNB recaps and discussion surrounding Poussey. I read EVERY. SINGLE. COMMENT. Every one. Because I am white, and while I immediately sought out Samira Wiley’s response. I stopped there until AS started exposing me to a plethora of thoughts and ideas that I would never have considered or even known how to find if it weren’t for the comments. Isn’t it possible that while Sinclair is writing about issues that can be just as emotionally charged, polarizing, and equally controversial, AS can create a similar space in the comment section here? How can it be that the staff feels the most appropriate response to the tension that has been building over the last several installments of this series is to let it run it’s course?

    I see that there is a comment in this thread that has been removed. So someone is reading and watching. Why isn’t more being done to promote a comment section that is conducive to dialogue? Or to protect Sinclair from receiving this kind of personal attack with every post they make on AS? I have to believe that Sinclair was invited to write here, that their qualifications were considered, and the content of their character judged to be consistent with AS expectations — so how is the rest of the staff content to leave them to the wolves?

    I guess I have taken the long way around, but I find it incredibly disheartening to think that AS would allow this to continue, after so many cries from so many different people to bring some sanity into these comment threads. AS has always seemed, to me, to be a safe space. One that seeks to operate with respect, courtesy, and under the premise of social justice — one that apologizes profusely and with transparency and from a few of the most well known contributors for publishing a movie review from a guest contributor that rubbed members of the community the wrong way. Why is the kink community being left to fend for themselves? Why are those of us who engage in D/s and appreciate Sinclair’s concern with feminism, equality, consent, and question of the systems of power that can operate within D/s demonized?

    I, personally, always find Sinclair’s work to be engaging and interesting. I hope to continue to read their work, but at this point, it’s a wonder they are even still posting on AS. I hope the support they receive is enough to outweigh this few people who are determined to ruin this space for everyone else.

    • Thanks for the long thoughtful comment on Sinclair’s writing, their strength and qualifications as an educator, and the vitriol that some commenters choose to spew towards Sinclair. I agree with you completely.

    • Also, in my first comment, I forgot to mention that consistent misgendering (I mean the intentional ones, not those struggling due to lack of information about Sinclair’s preferred honorifics, etc.) of Sinclair negates the safety of this community for those of us on the trans/gender queer spectrum.

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