PRESENTING OUR LIMITS
We have already expressed our wishes at this point of the negotiation; it is time we also made clear what we do not want to do, not least because these two aspects are related to each other.
Our limits are the boundaries beyond which we put what we do not like, what we are not willing to do or what we do not want to do in a certain way. The limits are therefore not only about “what” but also about “how”. For example, we can clarify not to do a certain practice (“I don’t like whipping.”) or not to do it at a certain intensity (“It’s okay for me to use a light flogger but I don’t like the nine-tails cat.”) or in a certain way (“I like trampling but without any overtone of domination and submission during the session.”, or “Start whipping me only when I am aroused enough.”).
Having limits is not a sign of being less or inadequate, but a choice that we and our partner must respect.
The limits apply to both tops and bottoms, and may change depending on various factors, such as the person we are playing with, circumstances or our mood.
Limits can also move forwards or backwards over time, i.e. we may find that a practice we didn’t like before now interests us, or that something we loved is now bothering us. The problem is not to overcome a limit at all costs, but to do so with pleasure.
The course of the session (or even of a whole relationship) also determines the possibility of altering certain limits: if we create the right vibe and trust our partner, we’ll be more willing to further some aspects of the game (e.g. our ability to resist pain or our willingness to establish deeper dynamics of power exchange) compared with a situation in which we don’t feel very involved.
Let’s see below some aspects for which clarifying the limits before a session can be useful.
Let us start with the possibly most subjective and easily misunderstandable aspect of a negotiation.
I myself was told, “We can do anything, but nothing sexual.”. What does that mean? Is making rope panties, squeezing a nipple, kissing a body part, whipping genitals “something sexual”?
Sometimes we cannot or do not want to be specific about certain aspects of sexuality, a concept so broad that it can be interpreted in a malicious way however.
It is therefore generally better to ask what is actually meant by “sex” and to be very clear on this point.
Indeed, for some people “sex” is anything involving genital contact; for others it is but only if that touch it is aimed to arouse; for others still it depends on the intentions on which the session is built, and some people see “sex” exclusively as intercourse.
For these reasons, it is better to specify which body parts we do not want to be touched, and which types of contact are allowed (touching, caressing, squeezing, etc.), especially regarding the most intimate ones (kissing, biting, contact with the mouth, genitals or other erogenous zones,etc.).
Also, in the case we want to do something during the session that we did not discuss with our partner during negotiation, it is generally better to postpone and clarify it later than to do something that our partner might not want.
Finally, especially when we don’t know each other well, it’s helpful to set up a safeword so that we can stop the game right away if something goes wrong in this respect.
Sometimes it is difficult to make the best choices when we are aroused and emotionally involved, but it is also true that on certain occasions a chemistry happens such that the session takes place in the best possible way without having to define every aspect of it. Each experience and relationship is unique and therefore intuition, communication and common sense can always be of great help to us.
Do we want to be touched or not? And if so, how? Are there any body parts we don’t want to be touched? Do we allow using sex toys?
It is likely – but not implied – that a BDSM session will require some proximity to the partner, but we do not necessarily have to be open to every form of contact anyway.
We may not want to be touched in a rough or intense way, or we may not like overly intimate contact, or we may have different preferences depending on the body part.
As previously discussed regarding sex, it is best to clarify before the session whether there are any body parts we do not wish to be touched – or touched in a certain way – especially when it comes to more intimate contacts (such as kissing, caressing, etc.).
How do we feel about experiencing or causing pain?
BDSM doesn’t necessarily involve playing with pain, but pain is a significant component in many practices. It is therefore good to clarify not only how the session should be conducted in this regard (“I don’t want to feel pain.”, “I want bearable pain.”, “I want to be brought to my limit.”, “I want the pain to be progressive / right away at its fullest.”, etc.) but also defining safewords – or communicating directly – to have a sense of when everything is going well, when to slow down and when to stop, especially with partners we don’t know or with particularly intense practices.
Do we want a domination and submission dynamic to be part of the game?
Many BDSM practices involve an exchange of power, but not necessarily a true domination and submission relationship. It may even happen that a bottom asks a top to do something to them, or that a dominant asks his submissive to be his top. Therefore, the dominant is not always the one who performs a certain practice and the bottom is not always the person who surrenders part of their freedom.
As previously stated, it isn’t just a matter of deciding “what” to do, but also “how” to do it. A certain practice can, in fact, be carried out in the perspective of a game between equals, as a power exchange or as part of a relationship between a dominant and a submissive partner.
What practices do we want to engage in during the session? Are we interested in specific games or are we open to various kinds of experience?
Especially when playing with a partner we are not very familiar with, it is better to clarify whether the session is focused on a single practice or whether we are willing to integrate a certain game with other activities. The higher the number of things we want to accomplish, the more complex the negotiation will grow.
Of course in this area too we can decide not to finely stipulate everything that is going to happen and leave a discretionary margin to the partner, if we are confident that both of us will be able to handle any situations that were not perfectly defined during negotiation.
In some cases and for certain practices it may be useful to also point out to the partner any time limits resulting from our tastes or needs.
For example, we can indicate that we prefer a quick and light session, or a very intense but not long one, or that we need some time to find the right mood, or that we like a certain practice but it may get boring if it lasts too long.
This isn’t just about avoiding problems, but also about enjoying the session to the fullest.
Can pictures or videos be shot? Will they be published or distributed in any way?
If we want to publish or disseminate images depicting other people, we must clarify this point well with all the subjects portrayed and possibly get them to sign a release form.
Are there going to be any problems if marks are left on the body after the session? How long will they last?
Some people may have jobs or personal situations that make it difficult to justify or even allow the kind of traces that may be left by a certain practice.
It is therefore good to make our needs known, inform and inquire about the possibility for a certain practice to leave marks, especially in the case of an experienced top who plays with a bottom that is less so, so as not to suffer any nasty surprises at the end of the session about an aspect that was predictable for one of the partners but that the other did not expect.
A trigger is an “emotional detonator”, i.e. a word or action that can unleash a significant and often uncontrollable reaction, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Touching a part of the body, saying a certain word, making a certain gesture can be something extremely enjoyable and exciting, or they might lead to a negative response that can, for example, remind us of a traumatic past experience, hurt or annoy us, and compromise the whole session.
If we are aware of them, let us therefore make our negative triggers known, just like the positive ones.
Leaving it to the other to discover what our “vulnerabilities” are, or undisclosing them to experience the thrill of discovery must be a personal choice, and not something owed to our “role”.
As we can see, there are many aspects that can be negotiated before playing. Some of them are mutually exclusive (if I want to perform rope bondage I won’t have to specify that there may be physical contact) or they may not interest us (if I’m not going to take pictures I won’t have to make sure my partner doesn’t mind being photographed), or they may not concern a certain practice.
So there is not always a need to negotiate every aspect. These are just some of the most significant areas that can be touched upon in a negotiation, and it is up to us to understand, with a little intuition and common sense, which ones to address and which ones not.
One way to avoid overly lengthy negotiations is to limit the practices we will carry out, especially during our first experiences with a new partner.
Another suggestion is to tackle certain limits little by little: in a first session we could play more as equals and experiment with power exchange dynamics later on, or we could decide to introduce a more sexual involvement within a session only after we have achieved sufficient intimacy with our partner.
It is good to inform the person we are playing with about our limits, but it is equally beneficial to ask questions if something is not clear to us. If, for example, our partner has forgotten to specify how they feel about having sex in session and we are interested in doing it, it is better to ask rather than rely on a hypothetical consent.
So let us try to explore the possibilities of playing in a gradual way, familiarizing ourselves with the limits of our partner and playing with peace of mind and no anxiety.