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Safeword troubles

When a safeword gets sticky

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Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 3 years, and we recently started integrating kink into our sexual relationship, with me as the Domme and him as the sub. It’s been going OK, but slowly. We have tried spanking and flogging, and we both enjoy it. We took a class on impact play and have purchased some very fun toys. We also came up with a safeword, which is where this gets sticky. He uses it constantly. If he says it, I instantly stop the scene. There’s no grey area on this, I take consent very seriously. But he seems to use it when he doesn’t really mean it, and then gets disappointed if we don’t go back into the scene. This has led to a lot of frustration and it makes me want to not play with him at all, because the moment I start to really get into it, there’s a good chance it’ll come to a screeching halt and potentially, an argument. What should I be doing differently?

That DOES sound frustrating. It’s gotta be a real boner killer to put together a scene, get into the head space to top, build up momentum and then slam into a proverbial wall… over and over. And I bet it’s frustrating for him: to open himself up to being a bottom, get all amped and then not experience the kind of sensation he desires. 

Fortunately, this sounds like a problem that can be solved with: *trumpets blare* COMMUNICATION. Yes, I know you’ve been talking and taking classes and even arguing through this, but let me help you do so more effectively. 

I’m not sure how y’all got into your kink journey, but I imagine it started with one person bringing up the suggestion. Very often when we come to our partners with requests, we build up courage, do research on our own and then present it. Maybe it’s a threesome, some costumed role play, or in this case: impact. Before we offer up this proposal, we may spend time daydreaming, handwringing, and getting generally anxious about their potential reaction. What if they say no? What if they laugh? Recoil? What if – and this might be the most terrifying prospect – they say yes?

Sexual concepts mean different things to people, and we have to be clear on what underlying desires and needs we’re looking to meet and where our hard limits are.

To prepare ourselves for that conversation, we may do advanced thought and reconnaissance, so it’s easy for our partners to just say yes or no. Like scoping out a restaurant and looking up movie times before asking someone on a date – that often feels sexier than saying, “where do you wanna eat?” back and forth at each other for 10 minutes. 

But sexual concepts mean different things to people, and we have to be clear on what underlying desires and needs we’re looking to meet and where our hard limits are. While both of you might share the language of kink in that you know you want to top and he wants to bottom and you both like spanking, you might be envisioning very different scenes. Even if you learn the techniques of flogging and come up with a safeword, that doesn’t mean you’ve shared with each other the sensations you’re hoping to experience. 

For some, being a sub is about handing yourself over and not having to make decisions, for others it’s about feeling intense sensations on their flesh. For one person, a few naughty spanks accompanied by dirty talk and role play really hits the spot, but for another: it might not be satisfying to do anything less than a full beating. 

Impact play is a very popular form of kink and easy to get into, but is it specifically what you both actually have said you want? And if so, have you both been clear on what kind of physical sensations you had in mind? If he hasn’t already tried it out, your boyfriend may not even know yet that he’s more into sting vs thud, or that he craves a long, slow build up with a mixture of implements. 

For one person, a few naughty spanks accompanied by dirty talk and role play really hits the spot, but for another: it might not be satisfying to do anything less than a full beating.

When your boyfriend pulls out the safeword, he may be doing so not because he wants the scene to end entirely, but because the impact has gone past his limits. It’s absolutely right that he communicates when something is past the point of his comfort and it’s totally correct that you stop when the safeword is used. 

But next time: before you start the scene, discuss more openly what kind of stuff you would both like to do, what kind of scenario you each envision. What is the mood and power dynamic? What are the emotional and romantic tones that you want to hit?

Another option is to have an array of safewords, multiple options to convey more nuanced messages without breaking character. Some folks use a green/yellow/red system to express whether everything is good, the current level is reaching the maximum or to cease play entirely. Perhaps you would benefit from adopting your own system, or at least from describing what those various levels would be. 

Congratulations on starting out on this journey together. Treat each other as teammates, talk bravely about your feelings and this has the potential to provide an incredible amount of vulnerability, intimacy and hot fun.

Have a question for Dr. Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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