Yes, You Need Limits (and a Safe Word)

Last night a novice boy hit me up on Fetlife about wanting to serve. I liked a lot of what he had to say, but he was very clearly a novice with no real experience, and he made the typical novice mistake of telling me that he had no limits and didn’t want a safe word. He just wanted me to “rape” him and “punish” him. So I had to do some educating and reframe kink for him. And that seemed like a good idea for a blog post.

One of the most common mistakes that novices make is thinking that serious doms don’t want their subs to have limits. They assume that a dom wants to be able to do absolutely anything at all to their subs, and the sub’s duty is just to take it, whatever ‘it’ is. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never met a serious dom who wanted a no-limits sub. (I’m sure there are a few out there, but I’ve never met one.)

When I interview a prospective sub I make it a point to find out what they have done, what they think they want to do, and what they are fairly sure they don’t want to do (at least for now). I do this for two reasons. 1) I want to make sure that we are likely to have fun together. If the sub wants shibari bondage and doesn’t want pain play, I’ll probably tell him we’re a bad match because I prefer quick and dirty bondage to set a boy up for the main course, which is torture. 2) I want to gauge the boy’s experience level so I know how aggressive or gentle I need to be.

At its base, my questions are both about ensuring that the boy has fun. Although porn makes it seem that kink is about subjecting the boy to unpleasant experiences, that’s because porn strips out the context of kink play. Kink is absolutely supposed to be enjoyable for the sub. So although I may present myself during a scene as being unconcerned about the sub’s pleasure, in reality, I’m very concerned about it.

There are lots of reasons I’m concerned about my sub’s pleasure.

  • I’m not an asshole or a sociopath. I recognize that my sub is a person.
  • If my sub doesn’t enjoy it, he probably isn’t going to consent to it. And without consent, most bdsm play is criminal assault.
  • A sub who doesn’t enjoy what I do to him isn’t likely to come back for more.
  • A sub who doesn’t enjoy what I do to him doesn’t tell other subs they should approach me.
  • I get off on feeling like I am controlling my sub by feeding his needs and hitting his pleasure buttons. It makes me feel powerful, desirable, and sexy.

I want my boys to enjoy what I’m doing with and to them, and that means I want to know what they don’t want to do. I want to know their limits so I can make sure that play stays inside their pleasure zone.

It is entirely acceptable for a novice sub to have whatever limits he feels a need to set. There are a few that I recommend novices set at the start.

  • No bondage the first time. Until you know a dom a little bit, you want to be able to leave if you are feeling really threatened.
  • No heavy pain. Until you try erotic torture, you don’t know whether you’ll enjoy it. You also don’t know how your body will respond to it. So start with light pain and leave the heavy flogging for later. In general, pain play requires developing a tolerance for pain and learning how to process it. Few novices have that right off the bat.
  • No unprotected anal sex. The possible consequences of this going wrong include a lifetime on medication. So don’t just trust that he’s neg and on PrEP.
  • No cutting or other blood-letting. That’s very advanced play, and you want to make certain you trust the dom to know what he’s doing.
  • No sex with animals, children, or other partners who can’t legally give consent.
  • No play that squicks you out. If scat or diapers or something else is an active turn-off, engaging in that form of play is likely to kill your arousal. And bdsm doesn’t work at all if the sub isn’t aroused on some level.
  • No illegal drug use. Drugs and bdsm are a terrible combination.

Novice subs should also insist on having a safe word. The safe word serves two important functions. First, it allows the sub to indicate that something is wrong. Maybe it’s that he’s feeling anxious and no longer enjoying what’s happening. Maybe it’s that he’s reach the limits of his ability to manage pain. Maybe it’s that he can tell something is wrong physically: trouble breathing, joint pain, feeling like he might pass out. Maybe it’s just that he needs to slow down and regain his mental balance because he feels overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter. That safe word allows him to stop the action and check in with the dom about whatever is going on.

But the safe word has a second, less talked about purpose. As a dom, I need for there to be a safe word because it gives me confidence that I can keep doing what I’m doing. Until I’ve played with a boy a few times, I have no way of knowing what he can handle and what he can’t. I don’t know the small signals he gives off that he’s enjoying himself or that he’s not enjoying himself. I don’t know how much pain he can handle. I don’t know if he’s likely to freak out or emotionally shut down or whatever. So the safe word gives me confidence that until he uses it, he’s ok with what I’m doing and that I can get a bit more aggressive with him.

There’s also a side benefit of using a safe word. The first time a novice plays with me, he probably doesn’t trust me a lot. He knows that I say that I won’t intentionally harm him, but he doesn’t actually know it yet. The first time he safe words and sees that I actually stop and find out why he said it, his ability to trust me is going to deepen, because now he knows I’m concerned for his safety and pleasure. And the more he trusts me, the deeper he and I are going to be able to go. Subs should definitely not consider using a safe word as a sign of failure.

When a prospective sub tells me he has no limits, I always take it as a sign that the boy hasn’t yet become serious about kink. It almost always means he’s drawn most of his knowledge of kink from internet porn, and that he hasn’t made any serious attempts to educate himself by following blogs, reading books, or having a real conversation with genuine kinksters.

So when you tell me that you have no limits, that actually makes me a little less likely to play with you. It makes me think you need education before I should think about playing with you. And depending on how the conversation evolves, it may make me think you’re not serious, that the conversation is just wank fodder for you. Spend some time thinking about reasonable limits you want to set before you make plans with a dom.

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