We talk a lot about negotiation in the kink scene. Negotiating what you will and will not do, what you want and what your partner(s) want is kind of kink 101. Most writing addresses negotiation either from a global perspective (e.g., tips for people on all sides of the slash) or as a “how to get what you want from your partner” perspective. There is less information about how to negotiation from the position of a submissive. That, dear reader, is why this post is here!
There are very few hard and fast rules in BDSM that I ascribe too. However, when it comes to negotiation, I believe there are some big no-no’s that everyone needs to be aware of.
Don’t negotiate while impaired. Whether the impairment is alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs (including rx medications which impair cognitive abilities) when you are high/drunk or otherwise inebriated, this is no time for negotiation. Honestly, I love getting high as much as the next person and a little puff does not make me feel like my judgement is impaired, but I know if I am unable to get behind the wheel of a car, I am also unable to negotiate from a safe perspective.
Don’t renegotiate mid-scene. Many of us can tell you, mid-scene we may be craving more, we may feel like we are far from the limit we negotiated, we may want to change the parameters of the scene. Like being drunk, sub space has amazing powers to alter perception (see here for a discussion of sub space). Sure, in the heat of the moment your change of plans may seem like an awesome idea, but it sets you up for regret later. Additionally, it puts the person topping you in a bad position. If your partner(s) agreed to limits/boundaries prior to the scene then you are asking your partner(s) to violate your original agreement. Respect them and protect yourself and don’t renegotiate mid-scene.
Post hoc limits don’t apply to past scenes (Player’s Regret in the modern kink scene). So, you engaged in some play that left you feeling regret or more pain/marks/sprains than you anticipated. Or, you discovered a boundary you didn’t know you had and you feel hurt. You may be mad at your partner(s) for these outcomes. You can learn from these experiences and change your boundaries and limits for your next play session. However, adding boundaries and limits post hoc does not mean these limits were violated in the original scene. I have seen too many subs with player’s remorse viciously attack a D-type on social media for violating a boundary which was not clearly laid out prior to play. Attacking someone for crossing a previously unidentified boundary is also not okay. Learn from your regrets and move forward without trying to take down the people involved in your learning process.
Do’s of Subby Negotiation
Negotiation for a submissive should have a few goals:
Set or affirm your safe word(s) or signals
Clarify your hard and soft limits
Provide parameters for what you desire from the scene
Help you figure out what your partner(s) need from the scene
Figure out your partner(s) limits
Determine aftercare and trigger plans
Most negotiation tactics focus on the limits of the submissive. While our limits are important and we need to voice these, the point of negotiation goes well beyond a do’s and don’t’s list.
We all have limits. Whenever someone tells me they are “open to everything” or “have no limits” its a big red flag. Either they are unfamiliar with many kinks or they have no self-awareness of their own bodies and needs. Sometimes this means they assume things they find deeply off-putting are things everyone finds deeply off-putting and that these things will never come up in a scene. This is a very dangerous assumption.
In the kinky world, we generally talk about hard and soft limits. Hard limits are things we never want to do, period. Soft limits are things we find off-putting, scary, undesirable, not sexy, or would otherwise like to avoid. The further you go on your kink journey, the more you find things move around on your limits list. So your hard and soft limits list will change over time.
Some people use worksheets, some people know the things they really abhor doing, some go by categories to negotiate what is on and off the limits list. All of these are decent approaches to negotiating a scene.
Depending on your partner(s) and the parameters of the scene or relationship, you may not need to cover every limit. For example, if you are engaging in pick up play with someone specifically for an impact scene, and you limit it to impact play, you should negotiate around things within the sphere of impact play but don’t necessarily need to get into your feelings about water sports. For more wide-ranging scenes or longer term relationships, you need to talk about a broader range of activities.
Things you should definitely talk about before a scene or on-going D/s or kinky play relationship:
Stating or affirming a safe word or other signals for needing to stop or re-direct a scene;
Whether or not you want sex acts (e.g., digital penetration, oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex) to be part of the scene;
Specific acts you will not engage in (e.g., scat play, forced orgasm)
Tools and toys you will not use (e.g. , electrical stim toys, chain floggers)
Specific role plays/terms which you find unacceptable (e.g., calling someone “daddy” or “cunt”)
Keep in mind, your hard list for play can change over time. It may also change with different partners. For example, I am comfortable with exactly one partner choking me and engaging in breath play because I know he is well versed in its use and safety. While we have a ton of fun with it, it remains on a hard limit list for others.
TOPS HAVE LIMITS TOO. Yep… this is one most folks tend to ignore or forget. But D-types have limits too. While you may just love it when someone pees on you, your new D-type may find this horrible and gross. D-types are not just machines who live to provide subby types with that heady combination of pleasure and pain. When you are negotiating limits, remember to check in with your partner on what their limits might be. The same list above to negotiate for you goes for your D-type as well.
Purpose of the Scene
Negotiation is for more than just giving someone your list of limits. You and your partner(s) should address what you want out of a scene. Having an idea what you both (all) want going in can make it a much more successful scene.
This may be as simple as saying “I am craving a good flogging this week.” It can be more complicated and include the need for a cathartic scene, the desire to bond with your partner, the desire to try something new, the need to be romantic, the desire to shoot a naughty home video or really any other need you fill with a kinky scene. Being able to state what you want to feel when the scene is done helps your D-type guide the scene.
Sometimes your D-type will have a purpose for the scene. People in D/s relationships often have D-types that will want to develop the s-type’s experience and skills in BDSM. A D-type may want to engage a scene to introduce an s-type to new toy categories or new types of play. They may want to challenge their s-type to deepen their level of submission by engaging in play originally on a soft limit list. They may want to challenge an s-type to show their submission by engaging in play the s-type finds boring or off-putting. As an s-type, you have the power to negotiate around these types of scenes, but keep in mind, depending on your relationship with the D-type, these negotiations may come with repercussions.
Aftercare and Trigger Plans
Many folks negotiate the parameters of a scene but forget to talk about aftercare and trigger plan needs. I have had at least four series of frenetic texts from friends in the middle of the night because they didn’t negotiate aftercare and are spiraling into sub drop and want to know if they should call out the D-type on social media or get the D-type banned from a play space for not providing the aftercare the subby type needed.
No… you don’t get to call out your D-type on social media or call up the dungeon master and demand a person get banned from the space for not providing aftercare your failed to negotiate beforehand.
Aftercare can be tricky to negotiate as a sub. Asking for aftercare means specifically stating that you, a subby type, need to have someone else provide a service for you. This can be difficult and scary (I speak from personal experience). As s-types, we like to serve and oftentimes find it difficult to directly state we need someone to care for us, especially if that care is something that doesn’t provide joy or service to the other person at the same time. But… if you need aftercare, you need to say it.
Aftercare needs will differ for all of us, change with the type of scene, and with the partner. Lots of us see aftercare as the hugs and snuggles after a scene. This may be the type of care you need. If it is, ask for it.
Aftercare is much more expansive than snuggles. It can include things like being complimented on your performance, providing you feedback about your submission, drawing a hot bath or shower, getting you tacos from Jack in the Box on the way home or anything else which helps you reground and feel ready to move forward after a scene. Hell, it may even be getting a gold star on your chart of service behaviors. Whatever it is, you need to learn to ask for it.
Tops need aftercare too!
Most D-types don’t just flip a switch and get into and out of a kink scene. It requires getting into a specific head space. It can also require a lot of physical work. Ask your D-type(s) what they need after a scene. It may be hugs and reassuring them that they didn’t break their toy (that is you). It may be a hot shower or an Advil and Icy Hot. It may be praise and thank yous. It may be cleaning up all the toys without them having to tell you. Remember to ask your D-type(s) what they need at the end of a scene.
Shout out to Princess Kali for teaching me this in one of her Dark Odyssey classes years back: trigger plans are different than aftercare (oh, and go buy her book Enough to Make You Blush, its quite good).
Trigger plans provide guidelines for what someone needs if a scene goes wrong. Aftercare is for if a scene goes well.
Trigger plans are harder to make, especially if you haven’t been triggered in a kink scene and are trying to guess what you will need. If you haven’t been triggered in a scene, you are lucky. If you are making a trigger plan, keep in mind what you find comforting when you have been emotionally upset by other things.
Many of us have “comfort” rituals or items we use when we are really upset. This can range from weighted blankets to deal with anxiety, to consuming comfort foods, to hugs, to long conversations working through what is wrong. Our own way of seeking comfort after being distraught is as unique as each of us.
Its a good idea to have a plan for a scene gone wrong, especially if you are trying something new or if you are in a new phase of life. For example, I was cutter (self harm, see here for more discussion). Eventually I stopped cutting, and then a decade later I wanted to try knife play. Because I was concerned knife play would re-trigger the desire for self harm, I made an extensive trigger plan for dealing with that. Luckily, I didn’t need it. However, the process of preparing the plan actually helped me feel better about engaging in the scene.
How to Avoid Topping from the Bottom
There is a temptation for many s-types to top from the bottom through negotiations. We want to so proscribe a scene as to leave nothing up to change and ensure we get exactly what we want. What fun is that?
Submission is the process of letting go of control, letting go of your power, and allowing someone else to take over. There is a joy in being able to let go the reigns we hold and trust someone else to control the situation. If you negotiate every last detail of a scene you are not submitting, you are dictating how someone will serve you.
The fact that submission requires letting go of some of your power and control can be scary- terrifying even. Negotiation is there to lessen that scary feeling and provide some protections. However, submission also requires allowing your D-type enough leeway to make decisions about a scene that you have to let go of control– even if just for a short time.
To avoid over directing a scene, I recommend limiting negotiations to talking about how you and your partner(s) want to feel at the end, agreeing on a safe word, discussing any hard limits they may be unaware of, specifying aftercare needs, and requesting one or two specifics for the scene. That’s it. Don’t negotiate it to death.
For example, if you are looking to engage in an impact scene with a bit of bondage, maybe just specify you want to be tied up in some fashion, you are craving your D-type use a cane, your safe word is “pineapple” and you could really use a PB&J sandwich when all is said and done. Your D-type may specify they need you to give them a shoulder rub the next day and they want to have sex at some point in the scene. That’s it. Then you can allow the D-type to choose the pacing of the scene, the types of bondage equipment used, the toys they use and how long the scene goes. This gives you both freedom to enjoy each other and the playtime.
Negotiation is a skill and takes practice. Your needs and limits change over time. This means you as an s-type will have lots of opportunity to practice your negotiation skills.
Good luck and stay kinky!