In these oh-so-enlightening post 50 Shades days (note: hint of sarcasm), more and more people are becoming hip to BDSM and all the doors it can open up. BDSM stands for bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M). The terms overlap because, as Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist puts it, BDSM can be a lot of different things to different people with different preferences. Want a little taste of all the ways BDSM is, in reality, so far above and beyond 50 Shades of whatever? Try creating a Fetlife account.

Whether you’ve jumped head first into the vast ocean that is BDSM or merely grazed the waters with your pinky toe, there are many reasons for you and your counterpart to employ the power of safe words. Simply put—words that have nothing to do with the dirty, nasty, oh-so-heavenly territory you’re exploring, and which can therefore snap you both out of the heat of the moment and into whatever course of action you both consented to beforehand.

BDSM

But...Can't We Just Say What We Mean?!

You may wonder why a safe word is necessary. You may wonder why showing your displeasure, or saying “stop,” or “slow down,” is not necessarily enough. The reality is this: as a species, clear communication (especially when it comes to anything intimate or intimacy-adjacent) remains one of our most dire challenges. You can do it any way you want, but try it before you knock it. You can have multiple words that mean different things: people often use traffic lights as inspiration, where “red” means stop, and “yellow” means slow down or ease up. Fruit is popular too. Fact: sometimes people are simply more comfortable grunting “banana” than “stop,” or “can we take a break and try something else but please don’t stop touching me.”  

The following are 5 possible scenarios wherein a safe word can act as a sweet life raft in your deep, dark ocean of arousal.

Note: they do NOT all fall under a BDSM classification; reasons for using a safe word vary as wildly as the people who use them! So whether you identify as a dominant, a submissive, a pretty purple unicorn, or something altogether unclassifiable, pull up a chair.

1. Pain play

You’re in the “hurts so good” segment of the population and proud of it. Maybe it’s hair pulling. Maybe you enjoy being slapped hard on the ass. Or flogged, whipped, or caned. Maybe getting slapped hard across the face gets you wet. Maybe you and your lover have devised a brilliant scheme involving him or her dripping hot wax all over your stomach in the shape of a heart with an arrow through it. Whatever it may be, if it involves pain, there is a high chance that adjustments will be necessary to get it right. Communicate with your beloved about what you want. And then go one further: choose your safe word.

2. Role-play

Maybe you can’t stop fantasizing about someone coercing you into something you don’t want to do. It’s a fantasy; you don’t actually want someone to violate your consent, but role-play involving imbalanced power dynamics and the tension that accompanies it can be extremely fertile erotic terrain—not to mention, potent therapy, when executed properly. So whether your special friend is playing the role of your professor or an armed robber, you most definitely want to choose a safe word.

3. Anything preventing you from speaking

Maybe you’re into being choked. But not too hard! Or maybe it’s hard cock you like choking on. Or maybe you simply like to wear a ball gag. Or you have freaking laryngitis. Whatever the reason, there are many scenarios that make verbal communication difficult if not impossible. Under such circumstances, you need to, of course, establish boundaries with your partner beforehand, and choose “safe gestures” rather than safe words. You might tap your partner's thigh three times to tell him to take his cock out of your mouth. Or, if you’re tied up and blindfolded, maybe it’s clicking your fingers. There are even buzzer systems out there specifically designed for play that limits one’s vocal capacities.

4. You just aren’t liking it

You started out loving the deep anal pounding but now it’s become too much. Or a handcuff is too tight and cutting into your wrist. Or you've discussed the no-go that is anal to vaginal sex with your guy but he seems to have forgotten and you don’t want to end up with a nasty infection. Or you started getting menstrual cramps. Just because you liked something once, or for a while, doesn’t mean you’ve given your consent to keep liking it. Anything can come up, and often does. Safe word, please.

5. It just doesn’t feel…right

You suddenly feel…violated. Or like crying, for no apparent reason—and that’s not what you were after. Or maybe a past trauma was triggered in a way you didn’t expect. Or you suddenly feel like the person you’re with is not the person you want to be with. The human psyche is complex and fickle at times. You don’t need to feel physically threatened to wield the powers of a safe word.

Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of popular safe words to jog your imagination. But remember: safe words are no substitute for a partner you can trust. So, 1) find someone you trust, 2) discuss limits, both soft and hard, 3) establish safe words, and 4) get those jollies, girl.

Image source: Tony Futura