Project August: Day 9 – Wherein I Talk About Safe Words

The topic for today’s entry in Project August is safe words. Some readers out there may be wondering what there is to talk about. Safe words are necessary and accepted part of BDSM. Everyone knows this. Well, let me just say for now, I have a slightly different perspective than the general one with which you may be familiar.

The post to which I will be responding today comes from The Submission Mission. (A good blog by someone who is clearly thinking a lot about submission and what it means.) In the post “The Problem I Have With Safe Words”, the author explains:

I hate safe wording. I’ve only safe worded less than a handful of times of which were early on in our play and were deliberately done to test my willingness to safe word. They were situations in play that were designed to push me to safe word because I had expressed a very strong desire to never ever safe word. Each time it made me tear up because it tears me up inside.

I want to serve my Master and I want to be able serve every desire he has. I want to be able to with stand the play he has decided for me. I want to push my limits and I want him to choose that path for me. Therefore safe wording is the last thing I ever want to do, ever.

Safe wording means I can’t. Safe wording means I can’t be the submissive you want, I can’t fulfill the path you have decided, it means, for me, I’ve failed.

I should clarify that I would safe word if I absolutely had to. I would never allow myself to be truly harmed, I would never allow play to continue to a point that would result in true physical or mental damage, I would never allow my Master to violate the limits I have set.

I should clarify as well that although at one time I disagreed with the use of safe words, I understand now why they are necessary. But I still have a problem with them. Well, not with safe words really, but with the way some people talk about them.

“The safe word means the submissive is in control,” is a comment I have heard and seen bandied about. For the submissive to use the safe word to control does, in my opinion, mean the submissive has failed to submit. So can a submissive submit and still have a safe word? Sure. But it does not mean the submissive is the one in control of the situation. So what does it mean then? It means the Dominant is in control, and the safe word used by the submissive is a safety valve that lets the submissive alert the Dominant when something is wrong.

To be fair, when I speak here of Dominants and submissives, I tend to speak in terms of D/s relationships. Which is to say, not in terms of brief scenes where people play at D/s. In those scenes, yes, probably the submissive is in control. (Which makes the submissive the Dominant, but I have a whole other post about that.) But with actual submission in a D/s relationship, the submissive is not in control. The Dominant is in control. And the safe word therein is not a tool used by a “submissive” to control. Instead the safe word is a tool of respectful communication between submissive and Dominant.

Respectful? Yes, respectful. Because rather than saying “I am in control”, as a safe word will in a mere temporary scene between people playing at being Dominant and submissive, in a genuine D/s relationship the safe word says “I know you are in control, but here you have reached a boundary I am not ready to cross.” This is what it communicates because a submissive in a long-term D/s relationship is not just playing at submitting. She actually is submitting.

Safe words are important, make no mistake. A submissive should always have a safe word and have discussed its use with her Dominant. Because Dominants are not infallible. As much as we would like to be, and as much as we would like submissives to think we are, we are not. Dominants are, after all, only human beings. We make mistakes. And use of safe words helps prevent Dominants from making the kind of mistakes we should always strive to never make.

Because, as I have said before, being Dominant is not about abuse or oppression. Any person who claims to be a Dominant and whose only real interest in dominance is abuse and oppression, is not a Dominant at all. He is just an asshole who should be shunned by any and all submissives until he gets his priorities straightened out.

And while I am talking about Dominants and safe words, I should mention of couple of other things.

Essentially my reservation toward safe wording means I put the onus on my Master to decide when I’ve reached my limit. The thing is I trust my Master to not push me to a place I don’t want to go to or a place I can’t make it to. I’m really not worried. I trust my Master implicitly.

I recognize that this causes a lot of discomfort for my Master. There is always a voice in the back of his head that wonders whether I truly would safe word. This is a large responsibility for someone to take on. I think it’s one he feels honored to have in the sense that I trust him enough to give it to him but I think it’s one he’s somewhat uncomfortable with. Truthfully, I can’t really blame him.

This is indeed a large responsibility. Dominants, be careful with it. Your sub may lose herself in subspace, but you need to be aware. I think there is a state of mind that might be called Domspace, but it is one in which the Dominant is fully aware of every detail of the submissive in each moment. A Dominant should never forget his responsibility to his submissive. The role of Dominant is the role of leader. You are leading your submissive. Do not lead your submissive to abuse or mental damage either deliberately or by losing your course.

If this seems like a heavy responsibility, it is. But so worth the effort. The submissive becomes a better person, and the Dominant becomes a better person. The emotional and mental fulfillment of a good job well done as a Dominant is absolutely worth it.

The other thing I want to mention here is that Dominants should consider their own version of a safe word. A word or phrase to use responsibly, as a tool of communication. For example, if the submissive is disobedient or petulant, a Dominant’s safe word used says “I am serious that you need to stop right now.” Or if a sub is about to do something that is against the rules or that perhaps is going to annoy the Dominant, using a Dominant’s safe word used in that situation says, “Stop immediately what you doing and think.” It becomes a short hand that indicates the Dominant is not playing or kidding. It can also be used in a public situation where more overt D/s communication might draw unwanted attention.

Anyway, platitudes may be drawn from wisdom, however they are seldom if ever proper substitutes for actual wisdom. And I consider the “safe word means the submissive is in control” to be a platitude. By which I mean to say, do not let it be the extent of your thinking about safe words. Whatever your D/s preferences are, know what a safe word truly is in your D/s situation, and make sure the other person has the same understanding.

Those of you who were looking for a thesaurus entry for the word safe can go to

Over 1300 words. Time to stop. I have other things to do. Like eat.

Project August continues tomorrow. Can I keep this up? Can I really post every day? Can I really find another twenty-two posts that will generate enough content to keep me from just repeating myself? Good gravy, I sure hope so. Come back every day and find out for sure. Why? Because we like you. Em oh yew ess eee. (If you don’t get that last bit, ask your parents.)

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