BDSM 101: Keeping Safe
While there's a whole lot of fun you can have in the world of BDSM, it's also a higher-risk world than standard sex hook-ups - especially for in-person interactions. Whereas "standard" hook-ups allow you free movement to come and go, BDSM frequently includes bondage, impact play, and power exchange - which puts both partners at higher risk.
Along with that, BDSM communities, unfortunately, have some bad actors. Just like any sex-based community, some bad actors are attracted to the premise of "easy sex" - and even for the people without any bad intentions, the fact that sex and kink are openly discussed can lead some people to make assumptions that they wouldn't make if you'd met on a dating site or in a supermarket aisle.
So, let's explore the world of safety and privacy within the world of BDSM - so you can adventure out into this world while simultaneously protecting yourself.
Basic Kink Safety for Playing Online
- Always make a separate online account when interacting in kink and sexual spaces. Don't use the same account you use to talk about your everyday life as you do to post kink personals.
- If possible, use an entirely separate email address for anything kink-related. Security experts will recommend separate phones, browsers, and computers, but that's generally beyond the realm of most everyday people.
- Look into using a VPN if that's financially and technologically feasible for you.
- Ensure your cell phone has all geotagging functionality turned off for your photos and videos. Ensure any photo or video you send is free of your location whether through the background or embedded data.
- Determine your level of safety with sending out identifiable photos to new partners. For some people, this isn't something they are concerned about. For others, this is a big point of concern. Remember: your face isn't the only thing identifiable about you. Your tattoos, body features, and surroundings can be just as identifiable.
- If you enjoy sharing photos and videos, I recommend setting up a generic corner of your room that's devoid of anything identifiable. That way you can freely take photos/videos in that corner without worrying about reflections, personal photos, or other items in the background.
- Use the blocking functionality of any website liberally. People are a dime a dozen online and easy to meet. If anything about someone is making you feel uncomfortable in the pit of your stomach, don't be afraid to wish them good-bye and utilize the block function.
- Be careful about how much information you share about yourself - especially the extremely personal information. Determine if you're comfortable sharing the exact details of your life - or if you'd like to keep any details "similar" when sharing in sex communities. For example, saying you're 29 instead of 27 - or saying you work "in IT" instead of saying you're a "Systems Analyst for Company A".
Basic Kink Safety for Playing In-Person
- Always meet in a public space first. It's tempting, I know, to go to someone's home for a first meet-up - especially when you're hoping for kink play, but public places give you much better safety resources. If the stranger isn't behaving properly, there are others to call the police. If this person is giving you really weird vibes, you haven't given anyone your home address. If your “date” is awesome, you can always invite them to your home later.
- Be very, very cautious about revealing your home or work address. Don't allow them to pick you up at your home. Don't ask to pick them up at their home. Don't leave your ID sitting out on the table while paying.
- Wait three days before agreeing to meet up with someone after you start to think it's a good idea. If this person is the bee's knees, neither of you will mind waiting three days. However, the excitement of meeting new people can cloud our judgment, and these three days give you extra time to be sure this is what you really want - or time for you to find out that your potential meet-up buddy reacts angrily if you don't instantly agree to what they wanted to do.
- Always tell a third party person you trust where you're going. Read more about this in the “What is a Safe Call?” section below.
- You can still tell a third party even if you're not "out" to anyone. Since you're going to a public place anyway, this can be simple: send a text to a friend to mention you're going to said restaurant or coffeeshop for some "deep work" - and you'll text them afterwards. Preferably, ask them to give you a call at a certain time to "be your alarm".
- If someone is pressuring you to meet up - or treats you poorly or angrily when you don't easily agree to meet up, that's a giant red flag. This person may be dangerous.
- Avoid drinking alcohol on your first meet-ups if possible. Think of it this way: especially if you want to do kink play after meeting, having alcohol in the system will make that more dangerous too.
- Before you meet up with someone, determine what your level of in-person kink comfort is. How far do you want to go? Is a bit of wrist bondage okay - but nothing that leaves both wrists bound? Nothing that leaves your entire body bound? Nothing that locks? Horny brain can make poor decisions, so let your logical brain set your comfort levels while you're home alone - and make a promise to yourself to stick to it. Again, if this person is the bee's knees, you can always meet up again and go further.
- Don't go further than your knowledge supports. One of the biggest dangers in kink is bravado: like agreeing to a tie that pushes your body beyond your flexibility levels or agreeing to use an impact play toy you don't know how to use. Kink toys and activities can be dangerous (and occasionally fatally so) if used incorrectly. There are a ton of activities you can enjoy that are within your own experience levels. Stick with those. (And if your partner attempts to push you beyond your experience levels, again, be aware that this is a red flag.)
- If you're comfortable and familiar with the local kink community, consider meeting up at local parties or social events – especially if you're just planning on casual play. This way, there's an entire group of kink-aware people who can provide support if need be.
- Always play with a safe word.
What IS a Safe Word?
In the world of kink, communication can get a bit hazy. While "no means no" is generally good advice, in the world of roleplay, "no, please, don't spank me again Daddy!" can also mean, well, "yes, I'd love that, but it's hot if I pretend you make the choice for me".
That's where safe words come in. Designed for clear, open, and quick communication, safe words essentially clear up any ambiguity.
Let's say your safeword is "pineapple". If you or your partner(s) say "pineapple", everybody knows that something is up. There's just really no other reason that most people say "pineapple" in the middle of sex. So, instead of wondering if that "no" actually meant "stop" or it meant "please keep going", we've substituted a completely random word to ensure that everybody is on the same page - and there's absolutely no haziness in the communication.
When a safe word is spoken, it's standard practice for all activity to stop - instantly. If you're mid dirty-talk, you stop mid-sentence. All participants come together for a break in the scene to figure out what's up. It's possible that it's something minor that's easily fixed (like the spanking strokes were getting past the point that the bottom could handle, and they didn't know how else to communicate), but it's also very possible for a safe word to be scene-ending. Safe words regularly come out if someone is unexpectedly emotional, beyond their tolerance for pain, or if something doesn't feel right - and that's totally, 100% normal.
If a safe word is spoken, both parties should take a quick break to chat and see what's going on. Depending on what's going on, the scene may end - and it's vital for all participants to be amicable and supportive if that's the case. It can be frustrating to end mid-play (and/or to have your entire scene outline cut in the middle), but being supportive to everyone's mental health trumps frustration at the moment. If you both need to have a sit-down conversation to talk through frustration later on, at a calmer time, that's entirely normal too.
The "standard" safeword system consists of three parts - and it's easy to remember because it uses traffic stoplight colors! "Green" means go, "yellow" means caution, and "red" means stop now.
As you can imagine, "green" doesn't generally get used too often. "Green, sir! Green!" isn't generally the erotic dirty talk we all think of.
"Yellow" and "red" can be extremely helpful, though. Yellow lets you communicate that there's a non-emergency issue that require plain communication to work through - while red instantly communicates an emergency that requires immediate attention.
For example, "yellow" might be used if a rope is pressing painfully or starting to cause nerve tingling - or if the bottom's attempts to communicate, in-roleplay, that the swats are getting too hard aren't working. "Yellow" can also be used by a Top as well - like if a bottom's choice of language is triggering, bratting has gotten past the point where it's enjoyable for them, or if the Top's mental limits are getting reached. "Yellow" is, generally, used to communicate a non-emergency issue that will cause the scene to end despite the fact that they want the scene to continue, so they're trying to redirect in a way that's better. This can help separate "yellow" from the use of "red" - which is pretty exclusively used to end a scene in an emergency.
You can DIY your own safeword too. You can choose a phrase, a word, a color, anything. The only requirements is that it's easy to remember (even when you're mid-emergency), it will sound out of place during kink/sex, and everyone agrees to it. So, "I think your cunt is hot, Mistress" is probably a bad fit, but "envelope" is totally okay.
If you're ever in a situation where a safeword wasn't explicitly negotiated or discussed, almost all practiced kinksters are aware of the traffic light system. Especially with pick-up play at parties, the safeword may not always be explicitly negotiated as the "house safeword" is the usual standard; still, agreeing upon a safeword before play is just a good habit to get into.
It's always worth mentioning: anyone within a scene can use a safeword. Tops, bottoms, masters, slaves, dommes, subs: anyone. If you're involved in a scene, there's an emergency, or something isn't getting clearly communicated, you can always use a safe word. It isn't just for people who are receiving the play.
What is a Safe Call?
Earlier, we mentioned using your cell phone for good. For in-person meet-ups, your cell phone can become your easy way to access someone you trust while meeting up with a stranger - and pass on that you're doing okay without dragging along a second person as an escort to your “first dates”.
This, essentially, is the basis of a Safe Call.
Before heading out to meet with your new date, you hit up someone you trust - and you tell them where you're going and with who (with as many personal details about that person as possible - including any photos). You ask them to give you a call at a specific time - and you ask them to call the police at a time shortly thereafter if you're not answering your phone or getting in contact with them.
Some people prefer to come up with secret lingo too. Like "Oh yeah, Jessie is doing great" can be a discreet way to tell someone that you want them to call back with an "emergency" to easily end a date you feel unsafe in. Or "Oh, it was a long day at work, but thanks for asking." can end up meaning you want the friend to show up at the restaurant because you're feeling really uncomfortable about the idea of leaving alone.
In most cases, though, a safe call ends successfully, though, with the kinkster openly saying they're having a great time. This can also be a fun, casual way to introduce your friend to your new date too - if that's a step you plan on taking with this relationship.
Most kinksters are very familiar with the idea of a safe call - and if they aren't, take some time to educate them about what it is. Anyone who has your safety and comfort in mind will not mind - and if they're good with remembering, they might even remind you to contact your safe call friend when it's time. Getting upset or angry about the call should be considered a red flag.
Safe calls are highly recommended - even at public place meet-ups - but especially if you're thinking you might go back to someone's house to play. Depending on your comfort level, consider using safe calls on a few subsequent dates as well; it's a minor inconvenience considering how much additional safety if gives you. (Just make sure to make the favor up to your friend sometime!)
SCC vs RACK - and Why they Matter
Safety and consent are the name of the game in kink - as, honestly, they should be in pretty much anything in life. Two acronyms to make this easier to remember are SSC and RACK. (I can, and regularly do, make the argument that no one should need an acronym to remember to avoid violating consent and safety, but still, both terms give a glance into the safety-first methodology that's pretty common in kink spheres.)
SSC stands for "Safe, Sane, and Consensual". Essentially, this means that any kink activity should be safe, something "reasonable" people would do, and have the consent of everyone involved in the activity.
RACK, on the other hand, was borne out of three regular complaints about SSC. First, depending on the kink and its intensity, you could simply make an argument that some kinks were simply "insane" - especially for edgeplay kinks that make most people do a double take. The term "safe" also seemed to gloss over the fact that a multitude of kinks simply aren't as zero-risk as the term presented; there's a lot of risks in different kinks.
The final issue was a little more complex. While SSC prioritizes consent, some kinksters didn't believe that it covered the full "breadth" of what "consent" means in kink. Because of the complexity (and risk) of some of the kink activities we do, RACK proponents argue that you can't really "consent" without knowing all of the risks - which is something that the SCC didn't really cover. Whereas most of us grow up knowing a lot of the potential risks of "vanilla" sex activities (like how intercourse can lead to pregnancy or STIs), the same can't be said for kink activities.
If someone said you could win 2 million dollars today, most of us would probably consent. If that same someone then clarified that there was a 10% chance you'd die within the next year if you accepted....well, that changes the consent profile dramatically. RACK argues that all parties (both top and bottom) need to be fully aware of all of the potential risks before going into a scene to the best of everyone's ability - otherwise, you can't really consent.
Recently, a new challenger has come onto the field. Introduced by a team from Idaho State University, they suggest following the 4 C's: Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution. They believe this set-up better encompasses what you need for negotiation in kink by focusing on the bond of the participants (caring), a willingness to discuss the activity and how it goes down (communication), agreement of all participants (consent), and awareness that most kink activities are inherently unsafe, so participants should approach with caution.
(As far as research papers go, this one is pretty easy reading if you want to give it a chance yourself )
Essentially, all of the camps have their own pros and cons, and it's all about which version calls to you - or feel free to fall in love with all of them; it's your kink life. The basic premise remains the same: all kink play should have fully-informed consent, be as safe as possible, and be done for the enjoyment of everyone involved.
Mistress Kay lives in the world of sexuality and kink. With a house that's quickly running out of space for things that aren't sex books and sex toys, she spends what free time she has writing femdom help articles (http://kinky-world.net/category/bdsm-advice/femdom-advice/), trying the latest and greatest in sex toys, and exploring the sexual universe with her partners. She can be reached at Kinky World (http://kinky-world.net/).