The main reason why safewords are used is to ensure the scene remains safe, sane and consensual while allowing the sub to freely beg for mercy and cry out things like, “Oh God! No! PLEASE STOP!” and the Dominant doesn’t have to worry about misunderstanding play cries from the real ones. However, if the submissive uses a safeword — the scene is immediately called to a halt. So a safeword really ensures the sub maintains some power and control over their own safety.
Safewords are usually agreed upon before the scene starts with their meanings being established and discussed. It is best to choose words that would not normally occur in a sexual or BDSM scene such as aardvark, physics, or rhubarb. A poor choice of safeword would be “Stop” or “Please” or “Oh God!” 🙂
There are some safewords that are commonly used as play parties or other public events and can be used in addition to a predetermined safeword. The word, “RED” means “Stop the Scene” and the word “Yellow” means “slow down” or “stop doing that”. Another common safeword is “SAFEWORD” and also means “Stop the scene.” These words are helpful because a Dungeon Monitor who hears either of those words will be sure that they are respected. The event organizers usually insist on common safewords as they take away all confusion from observers and participants — this is especially helpful in the case of a sub screaming, “RED!” as they will get assistance from other party goers even if the Dom ignores or doesn’t understand the word.
Some codewords can also be used to call a momentary stop to a scene in order to address a physical or emotional need. These words can be used to say to the Dominant, “Stop the scene — I have something that needs attention.” For example, I use the codeword “Chemistry” as an attention word. It can be used by the sub to say just about anything including:
- I can’t feel my hand
- I just remembered I left the stove on in the kitchen
- You stumbled upon a childhood trauma I’m not prepared to deal with
- You are hitting too close to my kidneys and I don’t want to be damaged
- I am so thirsty. Please get me a drink
- I really have to pee
In addition to words that stop or slow play, some codewords may be used to encourage the Dominant to go harder or do more — or at the very least indicate that they are fine. At a play party, “Green” is the accepted default word for being OK.
If a Dominant is unsure how to interpret where the sub is at, he or she can make a demand such as, “What is your colour” so he can get a clear read from the sub of Green, Yellow or Red.
Sometimes the sub is put into situations where they cannot verbally state a safeword — such as when they are gagged or have a dildo stuffed deep in their mouth. In these cases, a pre-arranged non-verbal “Safeword” may be used such a being given a ball — and if the sub drops the ball, it is the same as saying “Red” or some other agreed upon safeword.
Sometimes, if involved in a roleplaying scene, simply dropping out of character and using the other person’s real name is considered the use of a safeword and should be respected.
Dominants Using a Safeword
While not strictly required, Dominants may also use a safeword if their boundaries are being pushed to much by the sub. This is a way for a Dom to call a stop to a scene. For example, a Dom who gets off on pure obedience may use a safeword with a particularly bratty sub who refuses to do anything she is told.
Dungeon Master’s Using a Safeword
At public play parties, Dungeon Masters may use a safeword in order to call a stop to a scene. This can be done by the Dungeon Master to stop any practice that they do not approve of, breaks the rules of the space or some other reason. If a Dungeon Master call out a safeword, it MUST be respected and the scene must stop immediately. This is usually to point out a significan safety concern that the dominant has overlooked but it certainly isn’t limited to that (some random dude wandering into a scene and starting to grope some bound boobs will get the attention of any DM who is conscious.)
Observers Using a Safeword
In certain cases, observers can call a stop to a scene. This can happen, especially with very experienced observers, when they spot something going on that they perceive to be potentially harmful. Sometimes both the Dom and sub think they are being safe or do not realize that something — say a certain tie of rope — has potentially serious side health effects. So if someone in the crowd calls out a safeword, pay close attention.
Ignoring a Safeword
When a safeword is used, the sub is saying the scene is too much for them and it must stop. Immediately. Not stopping can result in either rape or assault charges and will many subs would certainly guarantee a sub will never play with that Dom again. Ignoring safewords is also considered highly inappropriate in the BDSM community and can result in persons being banned from parties and shunned from the community in general.
Not hearing a Safeword
Sometimes Doms do not hear a sub use a safeword. If this happens to you as a sub, be sure to very clearly and loudly repeat the safeword for the Dom. Several times if the Dom does not immediately stop. A Dom who misses a safeword may cause the sub a great deal of emotional distress — as the sub is now feeling they are in rape/assault territory — and this can be especially true with some subs who have a natural inclination to both speak a safeword quietly and then panic and zip up when it is ignored. If you are this kind of sub, resist the temptation to feel increasingly violated for the remainder of the scene: your Dom could have simply missed
the cue entirely. So be loud and clear with your safewords.This is especially true for me. My hearing definitely sucks and I once missed a sub saying her safeword. I stopped as she inexplicably started to bawl. When I cuddled her and asked her what was going on and she replied, “Daddy, I said yellow and you didn’t stop!” :'( It was heartbreaking but smoothed over once she understood that I wasn’t disregarding her need but… deaf.
So especially with me, speak-the-fuck-up. I guarantee you that if I hear a safeword I will stop.
Afterwards: Guilt and Aftercare with Safewords
Some submissives see using a safeword as being weak or a bad sub. They also fear that they will greatly displease a Dominant by using a safeword. While sometimes subs can enjoy being pushed past their comfortable points, it is important to take responsibility for your own health and safety and use a safeword if it is required.
For a Dom, it is important to be both supportive and empathetic to any sub the uses a safeword and not try to make them feel bad about stopping the scene. Respect the sub’s limits and appreciate them for being strong enough to call a stop to the scene — because the sub make be racked with guilt for stopping the scene and they will need your support.
Furthermore, actively discouraging the use of safewords — and sulking, leaving, not talking or being a big baby about are definitely in this category!! — makes it more likely that future scenes become non-consensual. A Dom who chastises or throws the use of a safeword in the sub’s face may harm the bottom’s trust, mental state, self-esteem and likely their body too.
Alternatively, Doms may experience a good deal of guilt when a safeword is used. A Dom may see it as their failure to read their partner, to understand their body language, or that they lost control. This is another reason for an intermediate type of safeword such as “Yellow.”
If a safeword is used by anyone, it is best to assume the stance of no-fault. I find it useful to just look at the facts and not attach emotional meaning to the usage of the safeword. Try to be understanding of your partner and not assign any blame but instead look at the facts: “the ropes were tied too tight”, “the nipple clamps were on too long” or “a dog shitting doesn’t turn him on.”
Forgetting the Safeword
A major concern of some people is what happens if I forget the safeword? The sub could be completely at the mercy of the Dom. If this happens, don’t be a moron — say, “Hey, I forgot the safeword!”
Play Without Safewords
While most of the BDSM community considers safewords an essential part of safe, sane consensual play (myself included), some people feel the lack of safewords is a turn on with a submissive consenting not to have consent over anything that happens. This is consensual nonconsent.
While this may sound like a fun idea, I strongly advise against it because of the vulnerabilities that result from both health and safety and from a legal point of view. Instead, it is better to have safewords and not use them except in an emergency. Ideally, this will never happen but you may be grateful to have them. Also, couples who have a lot of experience with each other often have learned, through experience, how to read each other so well that safewords are not required.Safewords cover the unexpected:
I do love one lovely sub of mine who has only ever once used an intermediate safeword with me. Wow…she’s awesome. <3 But I can read her easily now so it’s hardly required…but in the one case where she used it: it was a total surprise to me. I can (and do) do any perverse thing that crosses my mind with her. But it was the use of a fairly common, innocuous word that triggered a huge emotional reaction with her. And we didn’t know this line even existed till we inadvertently crossed it. And that is why they exist. You can never factor in everything and you both may have no idea about a boundary until it is crossed.