**Note: We do not recommend that beginners operate
without a safe word, nor do we believe that every relationship can operate
in the same way.
Responsibility for your own safety is a prerequisite to any encounter.
When beginning an exploration of the various BDSM lifestyles, one of
the first things a person is told is to operate under the "safe,
sane and consensual" principal when choosing partners. This idea
should pose no problems, and is one that might be effectively applied
to life in general - not just to the BDSM subculture. In the beginning,
submissives are told never to play with someone who doesn't use safe words,
and never play twice with someone who doesn't respect theirs. The majority
of Dominants take this BDSM tenet quite seriously. They neither object
to nor ignore safe words. For the most part, a submissive can expect to
stop any action with the use of a safe word, can expect the Dominant to
carefully and respectfully insure her of a tolerable comfort level, and
a give her a sense of security before moving on. Obviously there are exceptions,
but, in the public realm, those who disregard basic safety rules are not
generally welcomed back to BDSM clubs and parties.
The notion of a safe word is particularly useful for novice submissives,
those who are eager to explore, but not yet sure what they've gotten themselves
into. The safe word "safety net" allows them to take the leap
without crash-landing on the concrete floor below. There is no good argument
against a safe word for new submissives or for those who have chosen to
play regularly and with various partners. On a personal level, when Master
Stern has encounters with other submissives, He never fails to establish
a safe word beforehand.
His own slave is an exception to that rule. Until He officially accepted
me as His slave, I, too, had a safe word. But as Master and slave, the
safe word no longer fit comfortably into the relationship. This was a
topic of discussion between us, albeit very brief, because we both agreed
that allowing me a safe word was no longer a necessary tool; moreover,
it had the potential to be damaging. I agreed to a total exchange of power;
to be owned, and to give up any "rights" as I had known them,
inside or outside the boundaries of our time together. In other words,
all other aspects of the relationship are controlled by Master Stern,
every decision is made by Him, and His is the voice of authority both
in D/s and non-D/s situations. It makes no sense to leave me with this
one vestige of control in an otherwise power-exchanged environment.
Safe words are, and are meant to be, methods by which action is stopped
if the submissive finds herself pushed too far physically or emotionally.
A slave cannot have the authority to make that determination. The potential
for misinterpretation of the previous sentences is great, and the words
"slave" and "submissive," at least for the purposes
of this essay, are easily defined. A submissive has choice; a slave does
If a slave can "safe word" her way out of an uncomfortable situation,
she is, intentionally or unintentionally, able to render the "total"
power exchange "partial." If a Master accepts the slave's presumed
authority, He loses part of His, and the relationship is no longer a total
power exchange at all, but one that can go either way, depending upon
the mood or discomfort of the individual. What is left is a role-playing
game, not a true Master/slave relationship.
This is not to say personal safety isn't an issue. Of course it always
is. It does say, if only by inference and deduction, that it wouldn't
be wise to enter a Total Power Exchange relationship without first having
had extensive experience with one another, and without having achieved
a mutual understanding that far exceeds the standard parameters of a non-D/s
relationship. "Love" and being in love may or may not be an
issue in the confines of a Master/slave bond, but mutual caring and concern
are paramount. If you have gone through the process of becoming Master
and slave with adequate foresight, have consciously and conscientiously
established a framework proven workable and satisfactory over time, and
have proceeded with reasonability and respect for one another, there is
no place for a safe word. Master and slave are attuned to one another
in such a way that physical and emotional safety are effortlessly integrated
into the lifestyle.
It may sound idealistic, but it is entirely achievable in a relationship
firmly rooted in trust. A total power exchange cannot be achieved without
undeniable trust. The slave must be ready to accept that her Master will
make the right decisions for her, whether or not she agrees, and the Master
must be able to trust the slave's ability to recognize the difference
between a harmful situation and a difficult situation.
For example, I once found myself in a position in which my neck was angled
improperly during a physical reprimand. It was more than discomfort; I
recognized it as a position that might put me out of commission for two
or three days if it were not corrected. Master Stern had no way of knowing
of my physical discomfort; the quarter inch difference between the tolerable
and the harmful was certainly not visible to the naked eye.
I had a choice. I could accept the reprimand silently, after which I would
likely have had to remain prone and medicated, or I could ask permission
to speak, inform Master Stern of the situation, and ask His permission
to reposition myself. Easy choice - but not a safe word. Whether or not
I was allowed to move was still in Master Stern's hands. I also knew that
aside from being of no use to Him for a period of time, Master Stern would
be particularly disturbed if He found I hadn't informed Him of a potentially
damaging situation. He would very likely question my emotional state of
mind and my preparedness for slavery.
For a slave living a 24/7 or TPE lifestyle, a safe word is not only unnecessary,
it's impossible. A person who defines herself as "property...unless..."
is not a slave in the true sense of the word. Barring emergencies, a slave
seeks permission and waits until it is granted before change is implemented.
If I deliberately force something to cease because its not what I wanted,
not what I expected or makes me uncomfortable, I risk losing my Master's
trust and endangering the very thing I want the most; His power and my
submission to it.
In the example I cited above, Master Stern granted me permission to move.
I shifted my position so that my neck was not misaligned, and received
the reprimand without injury and without a safe word. I want to say "obviously
Master Stern granted me permission to move," but I've learned that
sometimes, what should be obvious can be effortlessly discounted through
ignorance or bliss. I do not have a safe word, but I do have the responsibility
to help my Master take care of His property, both for His sake and my
own. Giving up safe words does not mean giving up safety, it is only a
small move toward giving up power.