Safewords are a very important aspect of BDSM. A safeword is a word that lets your partner know that you need to stop the scene. This practice is used in most BDSM dynamics, especially where words like “no” or “stop” aren’t said with intent to end the scene. For example, a submissive may jokingly plead, “no” during a spanking, even though they want to continue and aren’t in any real danger. In this case, a safeword can be used to let the Dominant know when the submissive really wants to stop instead of when they say “no” or “stop”.

Photography: Salem

It’s important to only use your safeword when you need it, and to use it every time you need.

Not everyone who uses safewords has ruled out “no” or “stop” as words that mean they’ve had enough, so always be clear with your partner(s) when choosing a safeword by saying, “I want you to only stop when I say the safeword” or “I want you to listen for any request to stop including the safeword.” Either method is fine–it all depends on the type of scene and what works best for you and your partner(s). Some people specifically have a safeword, but also want their partner(s) to respect refusals during the scene, and that needs to be upheld.

So, what words can we use as safewords? Really, anything! But for the sake of safety, I recommend choosing something that follows these guidelines:

  • Make your safeword easy to remember
  • Don’t choose something in a language you don’t speak
  • Keep safewords short
  • Use something that you wouldn’t normally say during a scene

A great example of a safeword is the traffic light system. In this example, there are three words, as opposed to one. Each word means a different thing.

Green: “Everything is okay, keep going!”
Yellow: “Slow down or change activities.”
Red: “Stop the scene immediately!”

When using this system or others like it, one partner is able to check in with another at any point. One could simply ask, “What’s your color?” if they wanted to check in, and could be provided with an answer very easily.

Some people just use one safeword, and that works for them. In that case, you can use anything you want in order to establish that you want to end the scene. No matter what you use, just be sure it gets the point across that you want to stop.

Having and using your safeword is very important, especially in dynamics that agree to ignore words like “no” and “stop”. Playing without a safeword is very dangerous. If your partner suggests you play without a safeword, I suggest you find a new partner. It it a huge red flag if your partner tries to pressure you to play without safewords. Even if you think you know your partner well enough to know what you can take, you need to explain to them that accidents happen and sometimes you need a quick and easy way to end the scene to communicate problems. You should always use a safeword or keep words like “no” and “stop” as safewords.

If someone is gagged, use something non-verbal as a safeword. I dated someone very prone to seizures who was unable to verbalize her needs just before a seizure, so I taught her the sign for “stop” in American Sign Language and we used this and other hand signals as her safeword in case she went non-verbal.

Other example can include options where the person is also bound:

  • Ringing a bell in their hand
  • Throwing a bouncy ball
  • Squeaking a squeak toy
  • Honking a horn
  • Using the buzzer from a board game
  • Shaking of the head

These can be used in place of a safeword for those who wish to have a visual or non-verbal audio signal instead. These can also be used in combination with verbal safewords.

Keep in mind that aftercare is required after a partner safewords, since safewording often happens directly after a person has experienced pain or an emotional trigger. It is very important to provide aftercare to your partner every time they safeword and to check in extensively if you begin the scene again. If you need to know more about aftercare, check out my aftercare guide. Also, keep in mind that Dominants should safeword when they need it, too–it’s not just for submissives! Everyone is only human, and we all have limits. Be sure to use your agreed-upon safeword to keep play safe for everyone!

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